Canaries

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/

Honky (Sick -July 2018 – Jan.2019):

HonkyJan19.jpeg

Not long after the gas station opened at the beginning of July, 2018, I noticed something was wrong with my big white cat, Honky. His eyes were often puffy and red, and he had gotten increasingly picky about food. During one mealtime Honky began running all over the house, growling and hissing. I didn’t know if he was being bothered by one of the other cats or if he had been stung by an insect or what. It was very odd.

This happened again a few days later. Then it started happening almost daily. He was really upset and panicked. His reaction was like getting zapped with an electric shock. I figured he must have a bad tooth that needed to come out, so we went to the vet.  Honky had an abscess over his upper fang. He was given an antibiotic, which helped him to feel a little better, and some pain meds. The pain medication was supposed to be given orally. It was a small amount of liquid that is applied to the inner cheek. However – getting ANYTHING in the mouth of a cat with severe oral pain is nearly impossible. Honky obviously felt terrible.

After he had the extraction(s) I hoped he would be on the mend. I had been through dental stuff with several other cats and usually they start to feel so much better in a few days, when their mouth isn’t tender any more, with the bad tooth or teeth gone. Honky seemed like he felt a little bit better, though not as much as I expected.

The puffy red eyes were still coming and going. I wondered what was causing this ? The vet didn’t know. It wasn’t mechanical – like when a cat has entropian eyelids (the eyelids turn in and the hair irritates the eyes).

After the first gasoline infiltration I wondered if this was causing it ? The puffy eyes were not directly coinciding with the day of a refuelling, though ?  Sometimes he was weepy and squinting. His eyes were never pus-y – like with a bacterial infection. He seemed like he felt unspecifically rotten, but I had no idea what was going on. His pre-surgical bloodwork had been perfectly normal, with only a couple of values slightly elevated due to the abscess.

In November the terrible mouth things began again. He acted like he had been given an electric shock when he was eating. Sometimes this would even happen when he wasn’t eating. He would be normal then suddenly he would be snarling and screeching in pain, running all over the house. Was there a retained root or a bad tooth that had been overlooked ?

Back to the vet, booked in for more probable extractions. It’s very hard to get a good look in a healthy cat’s mouth at the best of times, but a cat in acute mouth pain is not going to volunteer. The vet would get a better look while he was under. He suspected it was a condition called Stomatitis. The body launches an immune response against plaque. The gums get very raw, and in the worst cases the lining of the throat gets very inflamed and turns bright lipstick red. There can also be oral ulcers. There is no cure for Stomatitis. A full mouth extraction is a last resort, but can help some cats.  I previously dealt with Stomatitis in a couple of cats – and their issues and symptoms were similar to each others. Whatever was going on with Honky was odd, especially with the eye symptoms. A few more teeth came out. His gums looked bad but not the worst, and there were a few small ulcerated areas.

By this time Honky had become frightened about eating, and would only eat one type of pureed food, only in one type of dish. At mealtimes he would hide, and I would have to search for him. He would only eat after I pet him and soothed him and held the dish while he slowly ate, in a room with the door shut. Several weeks after the last round of extractions the horrible electric shock reaction returned again. I woke up with Honky snarling on the bed – not eating anything. It was very upsetting and awful. There were  more trips back to the vet. His mouth was healing fine, the stitches were dissolving properly, and the ulcerated areas seemed like they had started to heal. But the pain wasn’t leaving.

I wondered if euthanasia was the only kind solution ? Not only did he feel physically terrible, he was withdrawn and fearful about something as basic as eating. I felt awful having put him through two dental surgeries that didn’t seem to help at all.

I was reluctant to allow a steroid injection – if what was going on was stomatitis. Most cats have worse flare ups when the steroids wear off. Steroids are not without risk. A friend’s cat had a steroid shot for a flea allergy and died suddenly of heart failure the next day. Steroid use can also induce diabetes in some cats.

I read as much as I could about possible diagnoses, and treatment options. Different conditions can cause mouth ulcers. Chemical exposure can cause mouth ulcers and eye irritation. Lupus can cause mouth ulcers, but he didn’t have any other symptoms. Cats in late stage kidney failure can get mouth ulcers – but his bloodwork showed he was NOT in kidney failure, not even at stage 1. Stomatitis can cause mouth ulcers but not puffy eyes. Some research suggested that Bartonella (a blood borne parasite transmitted by fleas) caused stomatitis, and could also cause eye problems. Other research hotly disputed this theory, with many citations. Most cats in areas with fleas have been exposed to Bartonella, and will test positive and few get sick from it. Even testing for it is useless due to how widespread this is.

A Bartonella infection seemed to sort of fit what was going on with Honky. Even the treatment plans are widely different, with many different approaches. Honky was given a steroid injection. After about a week his mouth seemed to finally be healing, and he was now eating cautiously, but normally. The plan was, if his mouth was healing, that he would start a long course of an oral antibiotic thought to resolve a Bartonella infection. He’s responded to treatment, so far, so good.

The bigger question is what made this infection overtake his body like this, if this is what the problem was ? Honky has always been a healthy guy, aside from some genetically bad teeth. What turned on his immune response like this ?

Birdy (Sick then euthanized Dec./2018)

BirdyJune26:18.jpg

Birdy was a petite odd eyed white cat who had been with me since 2005. She got her name from being abandoned on the doorstep of a former vet, in a birdcage.

Birdy was a lone wolf type, stuck in a household of several to many cats. I volunteered with a cat rescue and had many foster cats come and go. Birdy probably would have been happiest being an only cat, but I didn’t know that when I adopted her. Her solution was to live by herself in the bedroom, as much as possible. She had her special food, and water, and her solitary litterbox in there, and this suited her fine. She could come out of the bedroom when she felt like it – which she did sometimes. She just had no interest in making cat friends.

Since she became an older gal, she developed hyperthyroidism. This is a benign growth on the thyroid gland. No one knows why so many older cats are developing this, but it is very common. Birdy took twice a day medication to control the condition, and it had been well managed. She had been on this medication since 2015.

At the end of November I got really sick with food poisoning. The culprit turned out to be some new cheese I had just purchased, as I accidentally repoisoned myself with it to extend my misery. The cats seemed unnerved by my malaise and odd hours of sleeping and waking during that wretched week.

I noticed Birdy was being a little picky about her food, but seemed otherwise her normal self during the days and nights of nausea. I wondered if she was just sympathetic ? She got even pickier and was struggling with constipation and dehydration. Constipation had been a constant issue for her, for years, as she was very stubborn and would only eat one type of dry food. She was given a stool softener on all her meals, but the dose sometimes had to be adjusted. Too much would make her barf, and not quite enough would not offer relief.

Once I was well enough to leave the house for more than a few minutes I bought groceries. Birdy seemed excited about the roast chicken I offered her, but would only eat a few tiny bites. This was not right.

I took her to the vet the next day (Tuesday). She was looked over and seemed thin, and okayish – except for her dehydration. At this point she was still jumping into my arms. I took home supplies for subcutaneous fluids, and hoped this could help her over a rough patch. She didn’t seem to be responding to the fluids, so I admitted her to the clinic on Weds. for a day of IV fluids. She seemed slightly improved when I picked her up, but even with an appetite stimulant wasn’t interested in eating much. She went back for more IV fluids on Thursday. Her color was starting to become worrisome, she was begining to look yellowish. Cats that suddenly stop eating can develop a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis – Fatty Liver Syndrome. The cats that develop this are usually overweight cats who stop eating who suddenly lose a large portion of their body weight. I had been assist feeding her a high calorie food called A/D since she became worrisomely fussy, starting Monday. It didn’t seem like Hepatic Lipidosis was what was going on. I kept hoping that she would turn a corner. She spent Thursday on IV fluids, but seemed about the same. At home she wasn’t interested in being close to me which was unusual. I took her back on Friday for more IV and had bloodwork run. The vet called me around noon to discuss the results. it was very, very grave. She had severe kidney failure, anemia and liver failure. She was not responding to IV fluids at all.  The dumb part of my brain was still hopeful, while the rest of my brain that knew that responding to IV hydration was the bare minimum of survival and recovery. The vet was very kind and patiently asked me questions. It was obvious that Birdy wasn’t recovering, and felt progressively worse. Euthanasia was the only kind and realistic option.

If you have never had to make this decision you have no idea how tough it is, and how terrible it is to schedule this event. I had a couple of hours to prepare myself, and they were horrible hours. When I got to the clinic (weeping the whole way) the staff whisked me to the special room they had in the back, with dim lights and soft furniture. I had been through euthanasias before. I understood that if I didn’t feel that it was the right time yet, that I could say so, and that until the point that the euthanasia drug is administered the procedure does not have to occur.

Animals are often sedated prior to euthanasia. The Birdy they brought me was limp, nearly comatose. I asked if she had already been sedated. She hadn’t. Her body temperature was dropping and her breathing was starting to slow. She was starting to die, on her own. Natural death can be a protracted and painful process that can take a long time. I just wanted to release her. She died instantly with the injection. I saw how the pink color of her toes turned ghastly pale when her heart stopped beating. My heart broke.

Here’s the thing about Birdy : she spent most of her time in the north bedroom, my bedroom. This is the bedroom that is closest to the gas station vents. The window was always open a crack, and the door usually shut. She would have had the most exposure to the gasoline vapours.

There was a passing reference in a paper about human health and exposure to gasoline vapours, regarding animals: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp72.pdf

Right. Liver and Kidney tumours. Page 5. Published June 1995.

“Some animals that breathed high concentrations of unleaded gasoline vapours continuously for 2 years developed liver and kidney tumours.”

Birdy had bloodwork done in June and there were no signs of early renal failure at that time. She never had liver issues or even slight anemia.

Brutus (Sick -Feb. 2019)

Brutus2017.jpg

Brutus looks like a tough guy but has special needs. He has a condition called megacolon. The nerves in his gut don’t work properly, which can result in severe constipation or obstipation (poop that is too big to pass). He gets fed watered down canned food only, with a stool softener added to 100% of his meals, which he eats in a separate room with the door shut. Brutus’ greatest love is other cat’s dry food – which he will gorge himself on until he is completely plugged up and feels like his belly is full of painful gravel. The cats are only fed at mealtimes, no bowls of kibble for 24/7 free feeding.  He is also a chronic carrier of Hemobartonella (not the same as Bartonella, but also a flea borne blood parasite) aka Feline Infectious Anemia. He’s had a couple of flare ups of this in the 10 years he’s been with me. It can be fatal if untreated, but the symptoms are pretty obvious to me now. So far it has responded to a course of doxycycline. Other than that he is just a normal cat.

He was rescued from the euthansia list from Hamilton Animal Control. They used to have a policy that cats at the city shelter had three days to be found by their owner or euthanized. Something like 95% of the cats at that shelter were euthanized, as many as Toronto which is a much, much bigger city. They’ve changed some policies and I’ve heard Hamilton is much better now in this regard. Anyhow – I said I would foster Brutus, then realized that his issues made him unadoptable. I had also gotten too attached between all the worry and drama of Brutus and his problems – which were of course completely unknown as a sad cat in a cage with a big X on his chart.

On Feb. 9, 2019 I had another gas infiltration. You don’t have to go back very far here to read about it. It was the second infiltration in 10 days. This had never happened before. The most terrifying thing is that there is NOTHING I can do to get rid of the gas fumes. Even if I opened all my doors and windows – the fumes are coming from OUT THERE. Doing this would just let more gasoline vapours IN.

The next day, Feb.10, 2019, Brutus seemed a little off his food. He barfed up his breakfast shortly after he ate. He ate some of his supper but seemed like he wasn’t feeling great. The next day he ate about half his normal meals, and seemed dehydrated.

On Monday night (Feb. 11) I was giving him a once over and discovered his lips looked yellowish. This was really not good.

He went to the vet the next morning.  I was feeling especially fearful as this is exactly how Birdy’s troubles started out, too. The vet was nervous but she didn’t say so. In vet speak: “A yellow cat is a dead cat.” Jaundice is a symptom of very serious liver issues that are difficult to properly diagnose and treat. Brutus’ bloodwork was very alarming. His liver values were crazy sky high. For a cat with these results, you would expect a severely nauseated, weak cat with a tender belly that can barely stand. Yet while Brutus was under the weather he seemed sort of okay ?

In contrast to Birdy’s bloodwork, Brutus was not anemic, did not have kidney failure and was responding to IV fluids. Getting an accurate diagnosis for cat liver problems is a challenge, that usually involves an ultrasound, needle biopsy and possibly a surgical biopsy. This gets expensive, and invasive, particularly for a cat in potentially frail condition. The possible reasons for Brutus’ liver problems were Hepatic Lipidosis (he had been eating every day, so unlikely), a blockage in his liver or gallbladder ducts, a cyst or tumour, possibly cancerous, or an infection.

The biopsy process is not without risks, particularly as cats with liver problems can develop blood clotting problems.

It seemed that since he was responding to IV fluids, that he was probably not blocked, and that it was probably not a tumour. The best guess was that he had an infection. He was started on antibiotics and retested the next week. While his liver values were still above normal, they had come down considerably, so he was responding to the treatment. Brutus’ condition was confusing. He seems like he will be okay (I say this cautiously). Even during other health crises, Brutus never had liver issues.

I am extremely concerned that this sudden, apparently acute decline happened the very next day after another infiltration. What would any reasonable person think, in this situation ?

Gasoline vapours are heavier than air so they sink. The cats would breathe a more concentrated amount of vapours, for a longer period of time, when the house was infiltrated, as the fumes settle on the floor at ground level.

I hate this so much.

Will the rest of my cats start to fall like dominoes, too ? This is already too many.

https://www.ewg.org/research/polluted-pets/chemical-exposures-and-pets-health

 

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