Resting on my lap, always purring, is Cowboy Joe. Cowboy and his brother, Franklin the author of part of my book, are fifteen years old. They are the sweetest cats. I got them in 2004 on our wedding anniversary. Earl was delighted. As I wrote in my book, Drinking from the Trough: A Veterinarian’s Memoir, now available in audio book, we only wanted one cat. Well that plan fell through when Fletcher started defecating on the guest bed after I returned from a year working in Virginia. We got him a buddy, Kitty Al, who died of renal failure at, yep, 15.
At fifteen, there are the three most common conditions that cats get. The most common is renal insufficiency, or kidney failure. By the time the lab work shows this, 75% of kidney function is gone. It is treated by diet and later on, fluids.
The next is diabetes mellitus. It is treated by insulin and diet.
The third is hyperthyroidism. This last can be cured with radioactive iodine, but is very expensive. People with these cats have a decision to make. Most choose medicine and diet.
Cowboy has thyroid disease. The antithyroidism medicine, methimazole, used to come only in pill form. It is a joy to pill a cat-not. Now, it is compounded into a plastic pen where you twist it to get the medicine out, then apply it to the inner pinna of the ear, where there is less fur. Cowboy prefers a gloved finger putting in his ear. I have to be careful because I have hypothyroidism, and I don’t need my thyroid gland suppressed any more.
Joe has lost about ten pounds so far. That’s a huge amount of weight. He was a huge cat, eighteen pounds. Now, he is what we called in vet school a “rack of bones.” The funny thing is that he has such a luxurious coat, and the longest, fluffiest tail in history, that you can’t see now thin he is. As time has gone by, I can feel all the parts of the bones we learned first year in vet school. He likes to eat Ivy’s dog food; but I recently took all three types of cat food I have tried, three bowls, and the cats can eat what they want. I fill the small-size bowls to the top so I can see if food has eaten.
Matthew, 17, is doing fabulously. He has renal failure with normal blood work. His urine is just very dilute. He is still Top Cat. He has surpassed Pruney’s record, and is the longest-living cat Earl and I have had.
Cowboy Joe is comfortable, rests on my lap or the bed, and purrs all the time as he has always done. The medicine keeps the litter plans drier, and he is calmer because his metabolism has calmed down.
I worry a little because I am only taking Ivy to Tucson. Lately, he has started to labor when he breathes. Frank, with his heart murmur and kidney failure, does too, but they are comfortable. Open mouth breathing is a sign of major distress.
That will be the time to give up, and remember what great brothers they have been. It will be hard, because I named him Cowboy Joe in honor of the University of Wyoming sports teams, and Earl was a rabid fan. One day, they will be in the Wyoming stands, Cowboy Joe resting on Earl’s lap, cheering on the ‘pokes.