Yes, Kevin is a girl, and a very lucky one at that! Kevin arrived at my house sometime around April 2020 and joined in with my very small colony of Community Cats that I care for. She didn’t have any interest in coming near me and would often run away as soon as she saw me outside, so I assumed she was totally feral. She visited at least once every day for food and water and very slowly learned she didn’t need to run from me because I wasn’t going to try and touch or chase her.
Fast forward to early May 2021. Kevin was still around, in fact she was now spending about 22 hours a day at my house, and only leaving for very short periods of time. That was okay with me, because my yard is very safe and accommodating for the outdoor kitties like her. But what wasn’t okay with me is that Kevin was having a lot of trouble breathing. She was having a lot of heavy, abdominal breathing and multiple episodes of open mouth breathing every single day. And as the temperatures got higher her breathing was getting worse.
As soon as I noticed her breathing problems I set about trying to trap her so I could get her to the vet. But Kevin is too smart for her own good and easily avoided all my traps. Instead she spent the next three weeks watching every idiot cat in my neighborhood trap themselves multiple times per day. But I had a secret weapon – a very friendly cat in my colony named BT, who showed Kevin by example that I”m totally trustworthy and I give excellent belly rubs and chin scritches.
From the first time she let me touch her it was only about 1 week before I was able to simply pick her up and bring her inside. She was of course morally offended that I was doing so, but she didn’t really fight me and instead just hissed a lot and made sad crying noises like she was dying.
Two days after catching her Kevin saw our local feral vet where she was weighed in at a measly 4.7 pounds (she was literally skin, bones, and hair mats), and diagnosed with both tapeworms and hyperthyroidism. The vet was concerned about quality of life for a street cat living indoors, but it turns out that Kevin must have been somebody’s pet at some point in her life because she is really affectionate and adjusted to life indoors very quickly. Here she is being cuddly and affectionate in less than 12 hours after being indoors:
For her hyperthyroidism Kevin takes a pill twice a day. She’s excellent at taking pills. You don’t need to force her at all, just give it to her with some yummy treats and she gobbles them up with lightning speed. Her medication is also available as a gel that can be rubbed into her ear. Personally, I prefer to use the pills because they’re cheap, super easy to give, and you don’t need to worry about wearing gloves or finger cots to handle them the way you do with the ear gel. The ear gel will disrupt your own thyroid function if it absorbs through your skin (and it will if you don’t use protection).
Kevin might eventually be a candidate for radioactive iodine treatment, which would permanently correct her thyroid function, but first she needs to be stabilized on her current medication and go through the proper evaluation process to decide if she’s really a candidate for that procedure.
In July 2021, one month after her first vet visit, Kevin was also diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. This diagnosis was not a shock to me, because untreated hyperthyroidism can actually mask kidney disease. At that visit the vet and I were able to get a good look in her mouth and it was clear she needed dental surgery too. Kevin had some obvious gingivitis and some suspicious swelling in her gums. A week later she had dental surgery where she lost 3 teeth (due to FORLs) and had a sample from her swollen gums sent of t pathology to determine the cause. The two most likely causes were oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) or stomatitis. Both of those are bad, but stomatitis is treatable whereas OSCC would be very quickly fatal.
Kevin’s biopsy results eventually came back as stomatitis, which was the best news we could hope for. Two weeks after her original dental surgery she had a follow up visit with her vet to check on how her mouth was healing. The incision where she had three teeth extracted was healing beautifully, but the rest of her mouth was massively inflamed due to the stomatitis. She was given some medications to calm the flare down in the hopes that she could avoid surgery to remove all her remaining teeth. The medications worked for a couple weeks, but she had another flare at the end of August 2021 so on September 1, 2021 she had her surgery to remove all her remaining teeth.
After healing from her surgery she had one remaining, nagging problem. She had one nostril that was always just a little gooey or crusty with excess mucus. Each of the times she had been put on antibiotics for her other issues her nose improved, but as soon as the antibiotics were finished her extra mucus came back. I’d learned from Oliver that the best course for diagnostics was to skip all the trials of foods and medications, and skip all the nasal swab tests, and go straight for a CT scan with rhinoscopy and biopsy. So that’s exactly what I did for Kevin. And it’s a very good thing I did that because Kevin had nasal adenocarcinoma, a cancer in her mucus membranes inside her nostril. We caught it incredibly early and she was able to do radiation treatments for it which reduced her excess mucus production and had a pretty good chance of putting her into remission for her cancer as well.
Do you want to help cats like Kevin?
If you are interested in helping cats like Kevin you can search in your area for any local groups working in TNR (trap, neuter, return) programs to humanely control feral/community cat populations. You can also look for local rescue groups providing medical care for street cats or for cats belonging to low-income families who need assistance in covering medical costs. If you’re not able to find any organizations locally you are also welcome to donate to any of the organizations who have helped in caring for Kevin so they can continue caring for other cats just like her in my community.
Organizations Involved Kevin’s Care
Tucson C.A.R.E.S provides the humane traps used for attempting to catch her and any of the other community cats needing TNR or veterinary care.
Santa Cruz Veterinary Clinic provides free TNR services for community cats like Kevin and provided most of her original medical care totally for free.
Santa Cruz Vet Clinic is able to provide their services to community cats like Kevin thanks to funds from Pima County (funding available due to the exceptional work from No Kill Pima County) and from the Asavet Charities fund created by Dr. Karter Neal, owner of Santa Cruz Vet Clinic.
H & W Cat Grooming removed the remainder of her matted hair and made her squeaky clean with their full grooming service. H & W also donates a lot of their time in cleaning up rescue kitties for adoption at local shelters, and regularly maintains the grooming of several cats at a local kitty cat retirement home Hearts That Purr Feline Guardians. Although H & W is not a charity, you could absolutely purchase and then donate a grooming service through them for any of the shelters they work with.
Kevin died on July 15, 2022, just 409 days after officially coming into my family. Of all the health challenges she experienced in her life it was actually the stomatitis that caused her death. About a week before she died she was happy, energetic, eating as much food as a cat twice her size and putting on some much needed weight. Then one day she very suddenly had another flare of inflammation and everything changed.
Saturday, a week before she died, she spent the morning being her normal, happy, cuddly self. In the afternoon her stomatitis flared so badly that she was unable to eat from a plate, and even eating from a syringe (something she liked doing when her mouth hurt) was too painful. Sunday was more of the same and she was barely able to take in any calories. Monday she went to see our dental specialist – an appointment that had been scheduled previously to see what we could do to manage her symptoms if/when she had future flares. The dentist added a steroid and prescribed an immune suppressant and worked on scheduling an exploratory surgery for the following week.
By Tuesday morning Kevin still had zero improvement in her symptoms, was still unable to eat, and had now lost almost half a pound since Saturday afternoon. Luckily my primary care vet had availability and is willing to do risky surgery on my cats when needed so I was able to get Kevin in for a feeding tube that day. Along with her feeding tube Kevin was given another steroid and some stronger pain medications. She spent the rest of the day alternating between seeming very happy, and being in a drugged-out stupor – pretty normal considering the anesthesia and the pain medication she was given.
Wednesday was a great day for her. Her mouth was definitely not bothering her as much as it had been and she was finally getting (almost) enough to eat through her feeding tube so she wasn’t feeling so desperately hungry. She was now resting comfortably, “eating” frequently, getting enough hydration, and cuddling out of happiness rather than as a comfort-seeking behavior. Thursday was more of the same and I felt like we had a great chance of getting through this awful flare and getting back to normal life. And then it all changed late that afternoon. Again, without any warning at all, her painful mouth symptoms came back just as strong as they had been before she got her feeding tube. At this point she had 2 different steroids, an immune suppressant, 2 different pain relievers, and 2 different medications for nausea, and was still having symptoms of either pain, or nausea, or both.
Friday morning I knew that it was time to make the very difficult decision to have Kevin euthanized. At this point her medications had plenty of time to work to eliminate her symptoms and they hadn’t done anything for her. To keep waiting on the medications would simply be putting Kevin through more pain and the only reason I was considering that was my own selfish desire to still have her in my life. But I knew that it was truly in her best interest to end her suffering. So, late that morning we went back to the primary care vet’s office for our final visit. Although it was painful to have to let her go it truly was the right thing to do.