M. Giant's
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Thursday, December 11, 2003  

Who Are You Calling Geriatric?

Strat hasn’t been thin since the year we got him. He was an eight-month-old (give or take) street cat. Half-starved, with his white fur, pink ears, and pink nose, he looked like a huge, long-legged lab rat. Or a hideously deformed rabbit.

He matured and grew into his role as house cat. He adjusted to his promotion from derelict vermin to pampered prince. In other words, he filled out. He grew a belly. He was quite proud of his belly. He liked to show it off. When company came over, he’d flop over on his side and sort of pat it. If that didn’t draw attention to it, he’d commence cleaning it. Ostentatiously. It was like he remembered the days before it was there, and now he appreciated its presence and what it represented. “Look,” he seemed to be saying. “My people love me. You can tell by my morbid obesity.”

Eventually we put him on a diet. We started feeding him and Orca a fixed amount of food each day instead of filling their bowls whenever they asked. They went on an exercise program whose primary task was chasing the red dot from a laser pointer. Strat lost weight. Got normal again.

In 1999, we went on a two-week road trip. We gave the housesitter strict instructions not to feed them soft food more than once or twice the entire time. Judging from the furry white bowling ball that greeted us when we got home, we could only conclude that that aspect of the instructions was ignored.

Back on the diet. Back on the exercise program, which had been lagging. It’s tough to get a nine-year-old cat back down to fighting weight when he’s pulled a Jerry Lewis like that, but we didn’t give up, and a couple of years ago he was able to climb up onto his six-foot-tall kitty condo again.

Above: Strat, circa July 2002. Partial view of Orca in upper right corner.

A few months ago, Banana checked in on the cats when we were gone for a weekend. “Has Strat lost weight?” she asked in the note she left us. That would be nice, we thought, but Banana has three feline bruisers of her own. In comparison to that trio, who she sees every day, Strat must look less Brando-esque to her than she used to.

Last month, I was sitting at the computer and he wound himself around my ankles, a sign that he wants to be picked up. I hefted him into my lap. But I didn’t feel it in my stomach or chest like I used to. He was definitely losing weight. I told Trash.

We wondered if we should worry. But he wasn’t acting sick or unhappy or pissed off. He was vomiting less than ever, and the catbox wasn’t any more foul at the end of the day than it used to be. We agreed to keep an eye on him and make an appointment with the vet if it continued.

Last week, we made an appointment with the vet.

I told the vet’s assistant about Strat’s weight loss, and the lack of an apparent explanation thereof. She put him on the scale: ten pounds, two ounces. Not underweight, by any means. Then she checked his chart to see how much he weighed last year.

Fifteen pounds. He’d lost almost a third of himself.

I don’t know how we missed this. If there had been any other signs of ill health—any—we would have caught it right away. But we never weigh him, and it’s not always easy to notice weight loss in someone you see every day. That doesn’t stop us from feeling at least a little bit like bad cat parents.

The vet found a dental cavity that might have been making it difficult for him to eat, but she didn’t think that could account for all of the weight loss. Hyperthyroidism was more likely. She drew some blood and sent it off to the lab. The results would be in the next day.

The following afternoon, I called the vet’s office to see what was up. The person on the phone pulled up Strat’s record. I heard typing. Reading. More typing. More reading. And some thinking.

“Let me see if the doctor’s available,” she finally said.

Oh, shit.

After that scare, it was a relief to learn that Strat is only diabetic. We’re starting him on a new low-sugar diet today, and twice-daily insulin shots next week. This morning the vet showed us how to do the injections, and she made it look easy. Strat himself didn’t even feel it. The vet assured us that after a week or so it’ll be second nature and we won’t worry so much about accidentally driving the needle out the other side of the skin fold or mistakenly giving him an embolism or inadvertently doing a biopsy on his liver. We’ll have to bring him in once a week until his glucose levels get balanced, which could take a couple of weeks or several months.

And we’ll have to adjust to the injection schedule. That part is going to be harder for us than for him. You’re supposed to do it at the same time every day, twelve hours apart. That means getting up at eight, even on weekends. It means staying home until eight in the evenings, or being home by eight, or schlepping him around with us, which I don’t really think he’s going to go for. It means having a used-sharps container in our kitchen with a big biohazard logo on it.

Mainly it means having a diabetic cat. A geriatric, diabetic cat.

Yes, geriatric. At the first appointment, the vet said she wanted to rule out other diseases that geriatric felines are susceptible to. “He’s not geriatric,” I said, covering his ears. “He’s only thirteen.” Apparently that means geriatric. Anything over eight is geriatric, apparently. Which seems ridiculous to me.
That represents two-thirds of some cats’ lives. It’s absurd to think of someone who still chases flashlight beams, who gets very confused about gravity after a few huffs of catnip, who can’t figure out how to get the last of the milk out of a glass, as geriatric. I was old enough to drink when he was a baby, and now he’s older than me in cat years. I’m not sure when that happened.

Strat has no idea what any of this means. All he knows is that he’s had to go to the person we call the “professional kitty friend” twice in the last week, and he gets a lot more soft food. Like, a lot a lot. Orca seems sort of sullen and resentful about the situation, but we can’t read much into that because it’s her default state.

Meanwhile, just picking up Strat is a little bit scary because it’s so easy. Although with all the soft food he’s been getting, he already feels a bit heavier than he did yesterday.

We can do this. We’ll do what we need to do to get Strat’s blood sugar down to the 80-120 range, as opposed to the five-figure number it is now. We’ll help him pack the pounds back on so I don’t forget when he’s lying on my chest. He’s our little guy, and it’s our job to look out for him.

I kind of wonder who would be giving him injections every twelve hours if he was living on the street, though.

posted by M. Giant 6:02 PM 0 comments


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