Cow was an unexpected addition to the family. On Saturday November 2, 2019 I was preparing for the impending loss of Cat, and getting used to the idea of being back down to 4 cats. I was ready for less, not more. But my vet’s office had other plans for me…
Late that morning I received a call from one of the techs asking if I could foster a cat. He was a stray, brought in by the woman who had been feeding him when she noticed something wrong with his eye. She was a very petite, older lady, and he was a giant ball of anger and claws. She wasn’t confident she could give him eye drops, and had her own very sick cat to care for.
Naturally, having a complete inability to turn away an animal in need, I said yes and headed off to meet him. I mean, it’s just two weeks and then he can go back, right?!
Cow, named by the tech who gave him to me, was indeed “extra spicy” when it came to just about everything. He had a very short fuse, and would only tolerate about a minute or two of petting before becoming Angry Bitey McHissyface. Eye drops were a challenge, but we made it through them.
As I watched over him in those first two weeks I realized that Cow’s eye was not healing fast enough and that he was having trouble eating. Cow was very skinny when he came to me, but his initial blood test results were really good, considering he’s probably 7 years old and has been a stray for several months. So, I assumed his teeth were a problem.
After two weeks his eye took a dramatic turn for the worse and he ended up having it removed. While he was in surgery they were able to do a dental for him and found that all his top teeth needed to be removed. Since he was already under and doing well with anesthesia we went ahead and removed the 3 tumors on his back too. It was a big day for him.
Cow’s return home from surgery was pretty eventful because he decided he’d rather try to kill himself than wear the cone. I couldn’t be up all night to monitor him and needed to work the next day, so he ended up spending the night at the emergency hospital instead. At the hospital they gave him some extra pain medicines and put him in a soft cone instead of a hard one. Within about 1 hour he settled down and after that had no trouble with the new cone. Cow spent about 18 hours in the hospital and came home for good the next evening. From then on his recovery from surgery was uneventful.
The day his staples and stitches were removed he decided that he wanted out of his isolation room for the first time. Unfortunately he decided that at 2:30 am, when he made his first meow since living with me – he has a shockingly deep voice. Luckily he only meowed a few times then went back to sleep.
The day after his staples and stitches were removed he came out of isolation and into the house for the first time. I expected there to be a bit of drama between him and the other cats, but nothing happened. I let him out, he wandered through every room, then settled onto a pile of toys to play. Then he went to sleep. It was the most relaxed cat introduction I have ever been through. That’s when I realized that I had completely failed in my fostering of Cow and that he was now my cat.
For several days following his initial release I was still putting Cow in his room when I was at work. Eventually I started leaving him out for half days and then full days. As far as I know we’ve not had a single fight, spat, or even a prolonged disagreement between him and the others. Well… Muffy hates him… but that’s mostly because she doesn’t seem to like other cats in general and he took her room when he arrived. She does hold a grudge, but she doesn’t get violent about it.
Cow, as it turns out, is also not a mean, angry cat. After being with me for about 6 weeks he figured out that he’s allowed to be a lap cat and transformed from Angry Bitey McHissyface into Soft Cuddles McHuggerpants. I can hardly keep him away at this point. Once he made that discovery he completely stopped trying to swat or bite. His transformation has been truly amazing.
I was really hoping that Cow would be a healthy cat, at least for awhile, but it wasn’t meant to be. Cow had his major surgeries in November 2019, but failed to put on weight after that. Cow was eating normally and there were no clues in his blood and urine test results that would explain the low body weight, so I assumed he had heart disease. A quick visit with the internal medicine specialist and one echocardiogram later we had proof that Cow has moderate hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was diagnosed in March 2020. He had an abdominal ultrasound the same day which showed some thickening in his stomach lining and intestines. We don’t have a definitive diagnosis on that yet, but we’re working out whether it’s food allergies, IBD, or cancer.
Cow died on July 22, 2022 just three short years after joining my family, and exactly 7 days after I lost Kevin. Cow’s death was quite sudden and unexpected, but I think some of that “sudden” feeling was because I had been so focused on Kevin in her final week that I missed the early signs that Cow was in a health crisis.
Cow had stage 2 kidney disease that had been diagnosed in 2020 which had remained stable until early 2022. In February 2022 his kidney values had changed slightly to show that he had crossed the threshold into stage 3, but otherwise had no changes in symptoms. His next warning that something may be wrong came at the beginning of July when he lost a few ounces of weight. It wasn’t major and unfortunately I attributed that weight loss to some sudden changes around the house. Right around that time I’d been unable to get one of his favorite foods so he wasn’t as interested in eating as he normally would be. One of the community cats I’d cared for over several years was suddenly living indoors in hospice care, disrupting Cow’s routine by taking over the spaces in my home office that Cow loved to sleep in during the day. A different community cat that I’d cared for over the previous year had also started spending a lot of time indoors, causing even more disruption. It simply did not occur to me that Cow’s changes in his attitude and appetite were for a physical health problem because I just assumed it was more a mental/emotional problem of all the disruptions.
Unfortunately Cow’s attitude change was very much a physical problem. On the Wednesday before he died I realized that Cow looked a little depressed and he was not eating much and I reached out to his regular vet to schedule an exam and labs to see what was going on. I didn’t think he was in crisis at that point so I wasn’t worried that his appointment was scheduled for Thursday evening. But by Thursday morning I realized that I hadn’t seen Cow eat anything at all that day or the day before, and that he was looking more sick or uncomfortable than he had the day before. So, instead of waiting for his evening visit with his regular vet I took him to the local hospital that morning.
After an exam and blood tests my fears were confirmed. Cow was either in total kidney failure, or was in crisis with an acute-on-chronic kidney problem. Overall, having a cat in a kidney crisis is bad, but with Cow it was worse and more scary than for the average cat because of his heart disease. Treatment for the kidneys is to push lots of IV fluids to help remove all the built up toxins from the blood. But with heart disease it’s important to withhold fluids because excess fluids can cause an overload and push a cat into congestive heart failure. So with Cow we were in a precarious situation and fighting to give him as much fluids as possible to help his kidneys without giving so much that we damaged his heart.
At his intake Cow’s kidney values were so high that I expected he would need 2 or 3 full days of IV fluids before we saw any real changes in those numbers at all. But because of his heart I didn’t know if he could physically take being on fluids that long, even with all the extra care and monitoring the hospital was providing. So for him my hope was that even if his numbers remained very high that he would at least have improvement in his symptoms to the point that he would start eating again. Unfortunately that did not happen.
After 27 hours on IV fluids his kidney values hadn’t changed at all – which is exactly what I expected – but his heart could no longer take it and he went into congestive heart failure. At that point his vet took him off the IV fluids, pushed some diuretics, and put him on oxygen to help his breathing. And I made the decision that it was time to euthanize. None of his symptoms from his kidneys had improved and he was out of treatment options for them now that his heart was giving out.
Before he died I was able to spend some time with him. At first he was distressed because the oxygen mask he had was noisy and he couldn’t see me – he’d been laid on the table with his right side towards me, the side with no eye. But after getting him turned around so that he could see me and snuggle with me he settled down quite quickly and even fell asleep in my arms. It was so good to be able to see him relax and feel safe even though I knew this would be the very last time we were together. He was euthanized a short time later. He didn’t even stir from his nap as the vet gave him the sedative and then the final injection.
One positive thing that would come from Cow’s death is that the hospital that cared for him was a teaching hospital and they accept body donations to use for teaching cases with their vets, both new and experienced. Cow’s body and medical history was donated to them so that they could learn from him in order to hopefully improve their care of future patients in the same situation.