Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Chronic Cat

After me and my first cat, Spencer, moved out on our own for good for my senior year in college, he started getting lonely during the days. He was used to having another animal around to communicate with. I had a friend whose cat had kittens and it just seemed like the right thing to do to take one of them home and give Spence a friend.

That friend was Lucy.

It turns out that Lucy was destined to be mine from the beginning. I once spent the night at my friend's house while the kittens were quite young and instead of cuddling up to their mom during the night, they cuddled up with me. Lucy still cuddles with me on the couch to this day.

More importantly (and more to the point) though is that Lucy has taught me so much about chronic illness just by being her. See, Lucy has Feline Cystitis and problems with anxiety. Feline Cystitis is basically the same diagnosis as Interstitial Cystitis and is sometimes treated with the same drugs (i.e. amitriptyline) in lower doses.

I remember the first time Lucy had a flare up. I had just gotten back from New York City and was unpacking my stuff when I saw Lucy sitting in my bag that had gone with me. Knowing how much she likes bags I didn't think much of it. But when she left it turns out she had urinated on a (brand new, of course) sweatshirt and there was blood in the urine. After that, things with Lucy got more difficult. I called in a very knowledgeable vet who thankfully makes house calls because I have the most skittish cats when it comes to traveling--not to mention that that would have made Lucy's condition worse. She told me it was a form of cystitis, and that researchers were doing many studies on it as it is akin to interstitial cystitis in humans. Lucy was placed on amitriptyline and over the next few months things went back to normal.

Though Lucy was off the prescription meds for over a year, she still needed certain attention paid to her habits. Wet food was introduced twice a day to ensure that she had enough moisture in her diet. Herbal supplements were tried to see if they helped her pain. Most importantly, though, I realized how much her anxiety aggravated the problem. If I was out of town and she was not visited for a couple of days, her anxiety would be high. She didn't like it when we moved in with my now-husband who is allergic and insisted on a cat-free bedroom and so she pounded on the door relentlessly throughout the night (for which I tried many solutions but only a fan outside the door would work).

About a year after Lucy was diagnosed with Feline Cystitis, I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis. It wasn't so much of a surprise to me as my mother has it, but I instantly knew why Lucy and I had a bond. We knew what it was to have a body that just did not want to cooperate--but only one of us had a voice to express the frustration that situation brings.

Studies have shown the following similarities between Feline Cystitis and Interstitial Cystitis in humans:

  • Humans with interstitial cystitis show an increase in sensory nerve numbers in their bladders. Cats with FLUTD show the same thing.
  • Humans with interstitial cystitis show loss of the mucous bladder lining that should be protecting their bladder tissues from the irritants in urine. Similar findings hold true for cats.
  • Both humans and cats also have a waxing/waning disease course. In other words, in both species the condition comes and goes recurrently.
  • In both species there seems to be a stress factor in times of recurrence.
Any time my IC flares up or Lucy's does I feel like we can sense each other's pain in a more acute way than my healthy cat and me do. She'll curl up on me or beside me and try to prevent me from going on the computer or doing anything strenuous and she'll follow me around seemingly to make sure that I'm doing alright. And, like now, when her body flares up, I do the same for her--getting her the medicine she needs, trying new techniques and just being conscientious that she might be in pain.

It's not fun having a Chronic Cat--there's a lot of understanding, patience, and willingness to clean up messes that comes along with it. But in that work lies a connection, a peace, and the impetus to move forward in creating a community of support. So many cats with Lucy's condition are in shelters and rescues and even put down for this behavior--if only people would realize that they could help a cat and reap such amazing rewards, maybe they'd give them a shot.

For me, though, having a Chronic Cat is just a reminder that nature built us, but didn't equip us without flaws and that sometimes a nap in the sunlight on the floor is not laziness, but a treatment program with invaluable benefits.


Catherine Morgan said...

Hi. My name is Catherine Morgan, I'm a health & wellness contributing editor for BlogHer. I just wanted to let you know that your blog is featured with ten others, on a post I did today. :-)

Donimo said...

I have a chronic dog to go along with the chronic me! My Papillon has stomach pains and digestive problems like me (though otherwise he is waaaay healthier and more active than me). I would like the simplicity of having a well dog, but my chronic condition does help me be patient and determined with him and his care. I really like your last paragraph! I think Jackson and I will take a nap now...