This blog post is a personal one. It’s about my cat Gizmo. Gizmo is a 14 year old domestic shorthair that meows incessantly at me for food or to go to bed…or food. He really likes food (but he isn’t at all heavy, he just likes to eat… as many small meals a day as possible). He is a royal pain in the…. (well you know what) with all his meowing at me. But, I love him to pieces!
A Little Bit of History
Initially he wasn’t even my cat. He belonged to my husband before we got married, but somehow over the years he chose me. He climbs under the covers with me in the winter and sleeps on my pillow in the summer. He prefers to be as close to my face as possible and gets a bit frustrated when he can’t get in the right position. Once when he was injured and had to wear a cone, he shoved it against my head so his forehead could be pressed against my face…not in the least bit enjoyable. If you follow our clinic Facebook page you may have seen the occasional photo of him.
A little more than a year ago we unexpectedly lost our other cat Playdoh. Initially we thought we would wait a while before getting another cat…or maybe we wouldn’t bother. I was concerned with Gizmo being older it would be hard for him to adjust to another cat in the house. Plus, what age would be good? I wouldn’t want a kitten, that would be too much for him, but sometimes older cats don’t adjust to each other well. We decided to wait.
The wait didn’t last long. Less than a month later I realized Gizmo seemed sad… and lonely. He missed the other cat that he snuggled with… he missed his friend. Well I guess we needed to get another cat. It was extremely important to us to get a cat that would work for Gizmo, I didn’t want him stressed over a cat he didn’t like. Fortunately the Moose Jaw Humane Society has a trial program, for 2 weeks you can see how the relationship works. If it doesn’t, you can bring the cat back. Perfect! So off my husband and our two children went in search of the cat that would fit our home. They checked out and visited with many cats. Finally when my husband was beginning to feel like there wasn’t going to be the one, he found an approximately 18 month old female that felt “right”.
When he got home with her, I had given explicit instructions to keep the cats separate, I wanted to introduce them properly. Cats base recognition on scent. She needed to be in our home for a bit, to smell like she belonged. This plan also didn’t last long. About an hour after arriving home my husband called me at work and said “Gizmo is laying beside the crate she is in and won’t leave it, can I just let her out? There hasn’t been any hissing or growling.” So out she came and over the next few weeks they became even more bonded than Gizmo had been with Playdoh. We named her Pekoe. The two of them became inseparable. The played a lot and cuddled even more.
I have tons of photos like these of the two of them curled up together.
Now the Part Where You Need to Trust Your Instincts
Over the Christmas week we were away visiting family. When we got back I noticed something didn’t seem right. Gizmo was super sucky – my husband thought it was just because we had been gone for a few days. However on top of that I noticed that Gizmo and Pekoe weren’t cuddling. In fact, they weren’t playing either. It seemed odd, but I tried to chalk it up to the chaos of Christmas time. With Gizmo being 14 I tend to worry about him more.
Regular blood work is important especially in older pets. I checked to see how long it had been, 9 months. Dr. Barb Eatock who examined him 6 months ago recommended a Wellness Panel and a thyroid check before he had a dental. I figured now was as good a time as any to do the blood tests. Even though I partially felt like I was being paranoid, it also just seemed like something wasn’t right.
As an additional note, he was eating and drinking well and bathroom breaks were normal, but he wasn’t coming to bed with me like he normally does either and it was just so strange to see the two cats like the photo below.
I brought him in for bloodwork, upon weighing him we discovered he had lost about a pound (over 5 months that is a lot for a cat, especially when we weren’t trying to lose weight). Blood results showed nothing significant, in fact for an old cat his bloods were pretty good. Dr. Jo-Ann Liebe decided to ultrasound him just to be sure there was nothing of interest in his abdomen. It was all clear. Nothing of concern there. The plan: re-weigh him in 2-3 months and monitor at home. A few days later he was playing with Pekoe and they were cuddled together. Next day; back to no playing and no cuddling and he still wasn’t coming to me at night. My gut told me this wasn’t right, something was wrong.
By fluke I had him back in the clinic 6 days after his first check. I weighed him and over those 6 days he had lost more weight… but he was eating! Dr. Barb Eatock and Dr. Tracy Fisher decided to do a full body x-ray, as well they would recheck his CBC. Both showed nothing abnormal. There is a new test out for pancreas function, it has only been out for 2 months. Based on the weight loss and him just not being himself, they decided to run this test as well. Bingo! It was POSITIVE. Gizmo has pancreatitis. Pancreatitis in short is the inflammation of the pancreas. This inflammation is problematic because “the normal pancreas has a number of safeguards in place to keep its digestive enzymes securely stored. If these enzymes escape, they will digest the body! This is exactly what happens when the pancreas gets inflamed: the enzymes escape and begin digesting the pancreas itself. The living tissue becomes further inflamed and the tissue damage quickly involves the adjacent liver”¹. Continued inflammation can lead to further complications including diabetes and even death.
In dogs pancreatitis is caused by an excess of fatty food and in some breeds is very common. Symptoms often involve vomiting and abdominal pain. In cats however there is no definitive cause and the reason for it is almost never known. Also the symptoms in cats are far less obvious – occasionally there is vomiting (Gizmo only vomited a tiny amount once over the course of the 2 weeks leading to his diagnosis) and reduced appetite is another symptom. Gizmo was still eating fine, however eventually his appetite would have diminished, that is almost certain. Gizmo’s treatment involves pain medications and a diet of a moderate calorie gastro canned food. In a few weeks I will re-weigh him to see if he is maintaining his weight and then I will try to switch him slowly back to his regular food. The unfortunately thing is that there is a high risk of recurrence so his diet change may be permanent and I will always need to trust my instincts when I think something isn’t right. I want to be sure to prevent a long-term flare-up.
Now after only a day of medication, Gizmo is already feeling better – a definite sign is that he and Pekoe are back to snuggling on the couch.
The story of my cat Gizmo is meant to help you realize you should trust when you feel something is wrong. You know your pet better than anyone else, you know when something isn’t “right”. Don’t make an assumption that it is old age or the weather or the hectic season or that you are imagining things. Trust yourself when you notice their norm is no longer their norm. Maybe there is a chance it turns out to “just be a part of aging” like arthritis, but even that causes your pet pain and there are ways to manage it so they are comfortable and pain-free. You can do something about their comfort and their health – you, together with your veterinarian can do many things to make your pet as healthy and happy and as comfortable as possible for the longest period of time possible. So if you find yourself in that position where you notice something is off, trust yourself and call your veterinarian. An early diagnosis and treatment of a problem can be the difference between life and death.
I am extremely grateful for this amazing veterinary team I have and am fortunate enough to work with. I trust them inexplicably and I know that my pets are receiving the absolute best care that I can provide for them. Thank you Albert North Veterinary Clinic; veterinarians and team members, you are all amazing!
UPDATE: Gizmo is doing well. He is off pain medications and seems to be feeling pretty good. He is back to cuddling both his housemate and his family.
1. THE PET HEALTH LIBRARY
By Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DipABVP
Educational Director, VeterinaryPartner.com