Born Wild, but Willing to Change
By Gary Michael Smith
Earlier this year you read Fuffy's saga in
"Born To Be Wild, Thank You Very Much." That was
nearly a year ago and much has happened since then -- both good and bad. Keeping everything in
context you'll have to remember that when Brenda and I tried to domesticate Fuffy, we hadn't
known him that long. He barely would let us touch him, so in retrospect it's no wonder he
destroyed everything in his path in the house over the course of a few days until we finally gave
him back his freedom.
Since then he's escaped the suppressive semitropical heat of New Orleans in the dirt
under the house, coming out to sit in our laps every morning while we read the paper and drink
our chai in our Adirondack chairs on our deck. His evenings had been spent sleeping on a stool
that I built for him and placed right outside our bedroom french doors. (We kept the blinds up
about 6 inches so he could see, which he was fond of doing.) He was there most mornings,
waiting for his food and fresh water, probably still thinking about having watched us sleep with
the two inside cats on the bed.
Occasionally, Chatgris and Hambone would go to the glass and stare at him, curious as to
why he's out there and they're inside. And Fuffy seems to be wondering the same thing -- why
they look so calm and comfortable when he's just trying to keep swarms of mosquitoes off his
ears. Over the past eight months Fuffy's been through Tropical Storm Cindy and Hurricane
Dennis, monsoon rains, and a Christmas day snow. He's even run inside during rainstorms only
to realize what he'd done before bolting back outside.
This past weekend, however, we almost lost him. Granted, we worry about him
constantly, what with stray dogs having already killed one 14-year-old feline, other stray cats
vying for dominance, and even an adult and baby opossum wandering onto our deck to eat his
food and drink his water -- neither of which he'll touch after that; something about the smell they
leave, I'm guessing.
Last week on a Thursday we noticed Fuffy having trouble urinating. He'd squat for
minutes on end, then lick himself and go lay somewhere. Five minutes later he'd try again. I
didn't like the looks of it, having seen such lower urinary tract disorders before. Friday seemed
to be better. After squatting, then leaving I'd check the spot only to see a little dampness. We
continued to watch him. By Saturday, he was distressed again, squatting with nothing coming
out so I told Brenda that we'd better take him to the vet.
Twenty years ago I had the same problem with a beautiful gray Persian named Muffian.
Diagnosed with Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS), a condition that affects up to 30 percent of all
felines in their lifetime. If FUS is not treated, the acute stage will result in complete blockage.
The cat's bladder becomes painfully distended with urine still being produced by the kidneys,
resulting in uremic poisoning, which is the accumulation of wastes in the blood stream caused by
the inability of the kidneys to eliminate such wastes from the body. This causes permanent
damage to the bladder and death if not immediately treated by a skilled veterinarian. Sources
state that you only have 72 hours at the most at this acute stage to make sure the blockage is
corrected before the bladder ruptures and the cat dies.
With Muffian, I had waited too long to bring him in. I told Brenda this story and she
agreed that we needed to take him in. Unfortunately, it was Saturday after 2 P.M. and only the
Emergency Veterinary Hospital was open. We took him there and sure enough, he was blocked.
The doctor couldn't even express his bladder so Fuffy had to endure a catheter from Saturday
afternoon to Monday morning when we could get him to our regular vet at The Cat Practice.
There, they flushed his urinary track a couple times, removed the catheter, and gave him
medications to relax him and to prevent any further infection. After testing his urine they
confirmed what we all thought: precipitation of struvite crystals (ammonium phosphate of
magnesium) in the urinary tract.
This time was different from his last veterinary visit, eight months ago when we'd first
tried to adopt him. The vet didn't write "bad kitty" on his chart based on his stay, and even told
us on Tuesday that he was the perfect patient -- winning everyone's hearts. I was told that his diet
is of utmost importance now since it has to be strictly monitored for foods with low phosphorus
(phosphates), proteins (ammonia), and magnesium content. Plus, he needed to be sedated for a
few more days to relax his urethra, allowing him to comfortably urinate. And he needed
antibiotics to keep away infection from the litter box.
I mentioned to the vet that we were going to try again to domesticate him since he
already seems halfway tame now and since he needs such specialized care during recovery. He's
simply too vulnerable to contend with neighborhood dogs, cats, opossums, squirrels, and blue
jays who have a propensity to fight him for his food. Also, lying in the dirt isn't exactly
conducive to a sterile environment. Since he's already familiar with the other cats through the
glass, and has come a long way in socializing with us outside, we're going to give taming this
"wild squirrel" another shot.
We converted the guest bathroom to his private suite, taking the doctor's advice and
setting him up with both dry struvite diet (SD) food and a wet food to help break up any
remaining or new crystals. (I've since learned that other good diets include Science Diet's CD,
Purina CNM, Wysong's Uretic Diet, and a couple diets from Eukaneuba.) Naturally, he got the
spare Fresh Flow pet fountain we'd had in storage since buying a newer, easier-to-clean fountain.
When I first put him in the room he immediately claimed the bottom shelf of the linen alcove as
his own, so I cleaned it off and spread out a towel for him. I also set up a new litter box with
Feline Pine and dragged out the ionizer/ozonater to purify his air.
Remember that he didn't seem to be box trained on the first try? Well, the vet said
otherwise when I picked him up, that "he's been using the litter box just fine." So Tuesday
evening I sat next to where he lay on his shelf and read to him for hours. He slept mostly but lay
on his back with feet skyward if I rubbed his belly. Around 4 A.M. on his first morning home he
began his nervous chirping and pacing and clawing at the window again, so we went in and gave
him his next dose of the four medications. He calmed and went back to sleep.
Brenda took a day off work to keep him company while he spent most of the day
sleeping, pausing only for bouts of heavy drinking and binge eating, and going often to the litter
box. Because of the stress on his penis and urethra, the vet warned us that he'll continue to have
trouble urinating for a few days. But with a couple days, he was so distressed, panting hard, eyes
half closed, stomach spasming that we brought him back to the Kitty ER late one night.
The vet figured he was blocked again because his bladder was full, so he catheterized him
yet again and drained his urine. We took him home this time and brought him to our regular vet
the next morning. And as it turned out he wasn't blocked; as it was explained to us the bladder
gets lazy while a catheter is in place. Once the catheter is removed the bladder has forgotten how
to squeeze out the urine.
This time our vet prescribed a valium-like medication to help him relax overall. It seemed
to work well. Besides calming him dramatically to where he'll just stand and look out a window
instead of frantically clawing at it to escape, it also relaxes him enough to endure the stress of
two other cats roaming around. We still have to keep an eye on him and give him more medicine
when he seems to have trouble urinating. We've even moved him from the guest bathroom to our
master bedroom to watch both him input and output. We also have to watch his moods. The
other night Brenda tried to gently pick him up to move him over so she could get into bed. It was
dark, he was drugged, and he lashed out with both paws, slashing Brenda's face before she knew
He's calm now, getting free reign of the house with Chatgris and Hambone, and they all
seem to be getting used to each other. We still have to keep him sedated until his urinary
problems stabilize. And we've finally settled on one diet that is good a) an older cat, b) two 2- 3-
year-olds, c) easy of their stomachs since they were used to "sensitive stomach" formula, and d)
have few preservatives for Fuffy's condition.
After having returned a prescription diet, urinary track food, and a special over-the-
counter formula because they simply wouldn't eat them, we settled on Science Diet Sensitive
Stomach because they actually all like it, it's good (or not bad) for them, and the vet okays it.
There were many lessons learned here, and it just seems that raising pets -- like raising
children -- is a constant learning experience.
[Later...] Fuffy's stopped eating. The vet said he had a fever and probably a virus.
We're still giving him three of the four medications, but this morning he pretty much
emptied out his stomach -- threw up everywhere. So now I'm force feeding him 30cc of A/D.
We're pretty much at a loss of what to do.
[Then, August 19, 2005] Bad news: Fuffy died yesterday. Don't know why or what caused it,
vet said he had a fever. We'd isolated him in the bedroom so he could
in peace, but we found him under the bed when we got
home from work. He was stretched out in a position that usually
he was very comfortable and relaxed. So I'm hoping he died peacefully.
[Goodbye, Fuffy -- we know you'll be sorely missed.]
Gary Michael Smith is a cat lover in New Orleans who hasn't gotten much sleep lately.