I am the author of "MAGGIE the Dog Who Changed My Life" and "FINAL YEARS Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed." My hope is to increase awareness of animal intelligence, emotions, & the special relationship between humans & animals. Covers pet loss, puppy mill awareness, pet health, animal rescue, the spiritual bond between animals & humans, & their sixth sense way of reading us. Born out of my special bond with my black lab, Maggie.
As many of you know, Cinnamon, our 17 year old cat, was doing so poorly a couple of weeks ago we feared we’d have to euthanize her. We are travelling in our camper with her, so we weren’t able to see her regular veterinarian. After a blood test, the Montrose vet diagnosed her with early kidney failure, a very significant anemia, and probable leukemia or lymphoma. It took me a couple of days to get out of my shock and emotions enough to consult with our vet in Boulder. With his voice of calm, Craig said Cinnamon’s kidney disease was not that bad, and the he sure wouldn’t be able to say from looking at her white cells that she had a blood cancer without confirmation from a pathologist.
“We need to know if her anemia is regenerative or not,” he said. “That will tell us if her kidneys are causing it (this is a non-regenerative anemia) or if there is another cause such as bleeding somewhere, a blood-borne infection that is destroying her red blood cells, her own immune system destroying red cells, or possibly a cancer.”
He said he often gave older anemic kitties B12 injections each week. He and another vet in his office both suggested trying a course of antibiotics in case there was an infection from a tick or other blood borne pathogen causing her anemia, increased white count, and poor health. Soon after our conversation, Cinnamon’s appetite took a turn for the worse. I spoke with the Montrose vet re: Craig’s suggestions and one of my own.
“What about steroids?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that help if it were cancer?” I knew of a dog with a stomach cancer that lived another quality year on steroids after he initially stopped eating and was diagnosed with cancer. When I took Cinnamon on Tuesday, July 20 for a second blood test (this one to go to pathology), the Montrose vet suggested we give her a steroid injection that would last 8 weeks rather than giving her pills each day.
“It will help with any inflammation her body is dealing with, whether from an infection or cancer,” she said. I was desperate at this point, as Cinnamon had lost most interest in eating and was rapidly losing weight. I knew the steroid could help her appetite and her sense of well being. At 17 years old, I wasn’t very concerned about the long term affects of steroids – just giving Cinnamon quality now.
The blood and pathology report came back the next day. There was NO report of increased or suspiciously shaped lymphocytes (one part of the white cell count). Her neutrophils, part of the white cells that fight infection, were “slightly toxic looking.” Cinnamon’s anemia IS regenerative, which means it is not being caused by her kidneys. The Montrose vet still stuck to her cancer suspicion, though. Why, I’m not sure – perhaps her own instincts, perhaps not being able to admit she was wrong about what she saw on the first slide a week earlier. The truth is we still don’t know what is causing Cinnamon’s anemia. But the vet did prescribe the antibiotic, and a vet tech very kindly came out to our truck at my request to give Cinnamon the steroid injection so she didn’t have to go inside the vet’s office.
The steroid injection was a Godsend. Cinnamon’s appetite began to improve within the first 24 hours. Her mood improved and she began to seem like the cat we knew again. The wonderful thing is that cats don’t have the adverse affects from steroids that humans and dogs do. I planned to wait a few days before beginning her antibiotic. I wanted Cinnamon to have a chance to gain some of her lost weight back and enjoy eating again. Plus, I was afraid to rock the boat – I had my cat back. What if the antibiotic made her sick? The Montrose vet told me esophageal stricture in cats was a possible side effect of Doxycycline if it got stuck in her esophagus and that I needed to follow the pill with 6 cc of water. I knew I wasn’t going to get into a forceful match with Cinnamon at this stage in her life, which is another reason I waited to give the antibiotic. We’ve always had such a rapport and understanding –I wanted this to be the same. I knew what we were enjoying was the masked symptom effect of the steroid injection, and that Cinnamon’s anemia was still raging. The antibiotic may be a shot in the dark, but it may also be her only hope at cure.
Finally, we started the antibiotic last Monday. I give it in 2 small pieces in pill pockets which she takes like treats, followed by several of her favorite treats, and then I place her water dish in front of her and she drinks of her own accord (one blessing of her increased drinking). We’re 6 days into it and 8 to go – no side effect thus far.
I won’t know until we repeat Cinnamon’s blood test after we get home in August if this course makes a difference in her anemia. We don’t have a firm diagnosis. Perhaps she does have cancer, I don’t know. I will not be doing invasive tests to find out. For now, we have our purring cat back, and her purr lulls me to sleep at night while her soft fur caresses my arm. I will savor every quality moment with my Cinnamon until the journey’s end, grateful for this extra time.
Photos: All taken on 7-28-10 in our camper except bottom photo of Cinnamon relaxing on back taken this morning.
"The Apology Video" was made by Retriever Rescue of Colorado (www.therroc.com). RROC is the 2009 National Youtube Contest Winner for this animal advocacy video. "The finalists were selected by Ben Stein and the SPCA of the United States and the winner was voted by America."
Please take a few moments to watch -- a video I recommend watching to anyone before committing to a dog or any animal, or before you consider taking your commitment to your animal too lightly.
The oil spill has devastated many economically on the Gulf coast. Many people don't realize that animal casualties extend beyond the birds and marine life destroyed and affected. Family pets in the Gulf are being given up to shelters in large numbers because their owners can no longer afford to care for them. Once members of a family sleeping on beds and couches in their homes, beloved pets are now placed by owners with broken hearts into overloaded shelters. Sometimes more than 40 pets per day are given up ...
Thanks so much to all of you who have expressed your care and compassion about Cinnamon, my cat, (some of you already know her from my book as Maggie’s buddy)with her recent illness and diagnoses. I’ll share the story here for those of you who want to know.
A year ago, I changed Cinnamon to a grain-free diet to see if a decrease in carbohydrate content would help her lose weight; I decreased the amount of her dry food to ½ cup per day and increased her wet food servings at the recommendation of our vet (I had noticed some bad breath and was concerned re: her teeth. They were fine, but our vet suggested the dry food could contribute to her bad breath).
Cinnamon lost 3 lbs. over the course of this past year on this diet with the decrease of carbohydrate, which I was absolutely delighted over since she was overweight at 14 lbs. for years. She began moving more nimbly, and showing interest in going outside with me again at home. Her bad breath disappeared. I was very happy with the results. My preference would be to feed her a whole food diet, but I tried this with her when I changed Maggie, our dog, years ago. She refused it then and continues to. I had hoped to blog about the wonders of a grain-free diet and how naturally Cinnamon lost weight with it. I still think grain-free food is the way to go with our cats if they won’t eat raw or whole food. But instead, I am writing about a fairly sudden health decline in my beloved feline girl.
In the last couple of months Cinnamon’s water consumption has increased. On the one hand, she was less energetic, which I expected at age 17. On the other, she still had occasional bursts of running spells up and down the hall. She continued to love hanging out on the floor with us as we did our yoga stretches, rubbing against us and purring. She still taunted me by biting my head when I was lying down stretching, inevitably being in the way of me doing my complete stretch. I knew with her age and the increased drinking that kidney disease may become a concern.
We are currently on our yearly mountain camping trip with our animals. This is the 6th year that Cinnamon, our cat, has gone with us--it’s a time we are all closer than we are at home in our small camper quarters, both physically and emotionally, without the many distractions of daily life at home. She has always seemed to thrive when going with us. On the first leg of our trip, Cinnamon seemed herself for the most part, but the amount of food she was eating declined. The increased drinking continued. I decided it was time to take her to obtain blood lab tests when we arrived in Montrose, CO.
The news came back over the phone an hour later as a shock. Her blood work showed an increased number of white blood cells, and a very low red cell count. This means Cinnamon is very anemic. According to the Montrose vet, there was no sign of infection in Cinnamon’s urinalysis, no fever. She believes from looking at the white cells on a slide that Cinnamon has leukemia or lymphoma. Needless to say, this is not what I expected to hear. In addition, she does have early kidney disease. The Montrose veterinarian said we could send the slide to pathology for a definitive cancer diagnosis, but she felt pretty certain looking at the slide that Cinnamon had cancer. She also indicated it was just a matter of what killed Cinnamon first. Ridiculously, in my shock and emotional state, I said she didn’t need to send the slide. I liked the vet when I saw her, but I was struck on the phone by the matter-of-fact way she delivered her information, devoid of compassion.
I asked her about changing Cinnamon to a kidney diet and she indicated it might be just as well to leave her on her current diet given the probable leukemia/lymphoma, and difficulty of changing her.
“Is there something we can do to treat her anemia?” I asked.
“Nothing without significant side effects,” said the veterinarian.
I felt hopeless. “What about subcutaneous fluids? Wouldn’t that help her kidneys?”
“You can try that and see if it makes a difference at all,” she said. “You can bring her back in right now and we’ll give them if you like.
The lack of hope offered, the reluctance to treat, her nonverbal communication all left me with the feeling that Cinnamon days were truly numbered and possibly few. But we jumped in the truck immediately to try the fluids. But rather than the improvement you’d expect from re-hydration in kidney failure, we saw the opposite over the next 36 hours: increased lethargy, withdrawal, no interest in eating (except the moment we returned from the vet), her purring ceased, and Cinnamon just wanted to be left alone. It felt like the life was draining out of her. I was devastated. I even contacted a vet in Ouray, where we are now, to see if he’d come to our camper to euthanize her if it came to that. I didn’t want her to be stressed by going to a vet again in her last moments.
I began wondering if the fluid had done more harm than good given how significant her anemia was. Could even subcutaneous fluids dilute her blood further, in essence temporarily decreasing her red blood count further? I consulted with Cinnamon’s veterinarian in Boulder whose opinion I value greatly (we had the blood work sent to him). When he told me that we really had to be careful with giving her fluids given her anemia, it validated what I felt about the fluids (although the Ouray vet disagrees). He offered me hope, although not false hope with his uncertainty about Cinnamon’s leukemia/lymphoma diagnosis, saying that he would expect to see a higher white count than she was exhibiting. He also assured me that her renal failure was early and not likely the cause of her anemia (the kidneys make erythropoiten, the precursor to red blood cells. In more advanced kidney disease this hormone ceases to be made by the kidneys). He said they often gave vitamin B12 injections to older cats since they can develop in an anemia from lack of this vitamin, just as older humans can. He also suggested giving her ¼ tablet of Pepcid daily because kidney dysfunction can also decrease the stomach hormone gastrin, causing an increase in stomach acid leading to decreased desire for food.
Hope! A direction! After asking the Montrose vet to prescribe B 12 injections, my husband, Tom, drove back to Montrose to get the B 12 so I could give it to Cinnamon in the camper without moving her. Cinnamon gradually improved over the next few days (which I attribute to being further away from receiving fluids and perhaps to the Pepcid—the B 12 can take a week or so, I understand). I also found a chewable multi-vitamin with iron that may also help her anemia.
My heart leapt with joy when Cinnamon jumped down from the camper bed and walked over to Maddie’s bed to cuddle with her, licking Maddie’s head with a fury, the way she’s always done. She became more interactive with us again, and her purr returned. Her appetite seemed to return somewhat, but is variable. Yet her overall energy has changed, diminished from only a couple weeks ago. I know our time together is numbered, and for now I’m grateful we do not have to say our final good-bye yet. At times she seems so frail – at other moments she’s more herself. At night in our camper she lies next to my head and purrs.
“Your purr is music to my ears, my little Buddha,” I tell her. I pray I can hear her song for some years yet, knowing it may only be a matter of weeks or days, unless we can get her anemia turned around.
Photos: Top left, Cinnamon in South Padre Island, 2-8-2010
2nd from top on right, outside camper door in Lake City, 7-10-2010
3rd from top on left, in camper on sleeping bag, 7-8-2010
Bottom center, in camper on my sleeping bag, 7-8-2010
Thank you all for your suggestions, offers of information, for caring.
If I didn't know better, I'd say the kitty in this photo IS my own 17 year old cat, Cinnamon. But it isn't -- it's Tabby (see below). I post this today in Cinnamon's honor as she struggles with newly diagnosed kidney disease and a very significant anemia that one vet thinks is probably due to leukemia or lymphoma. I'm hoping she is wrong.
Cinnamon is a lifeline for me, part of my soul. I have had her longer than any animal in my life. It is she who brings me peace and a sense of being centered in my life. She was Maggie's best friend, now Maddie's. But most of all, mine ...
I pray, Cinnamon, that you will rally and be with us several more years. We love you so. This is for you,
who brings out the best in me as Tabby did for Jonathan ...
Cinnamon with Maddie on 7-11-2010 on way from Lake City to Montrose (in back of our pick up)
Jonathan Rosenberg made his money from dot-coms. He now spends that money helping cats in need.
A few years ago Rosenberg created Tabby's Place in honor of his family's beloved cat who succumbed to cancer in 1999. Upon hearing of Tabby's diagnosis, Rosenberg says he began questioning his purpose in life and whether or not he was doing enough to give back. He then resigned from his job and committed himself to creating the cat sanctuary, which offers an adoption center, a hospital and a hospice center.
As the story below points out, sometimes animals with the worst problems, can bring out the best in people.
National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado Springs Rescues Dogs and Educates People
Thousands of puppy mill operations exist in our country. According to National Mill Dog Rescue, documented problems of puppy mills include "overbreeding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of socialization with humans, overcrowded cages, and the killing of unwanted animals." To the unsuspecting consumer, this often means buying a puppy facing numerous veterinary problems or who harbor genetically borne diseases that appear years later.
Some dogs live their entire lives in puppy mills, and for one reason alone: to produce more puppies. Repeatedly bred, many of these females are killed once they can no longer reproduce.
National Mill Dog Rescue has been a non-profit in Colorado since 2007. NMDR was inspired by Lily, a puppy mill dog they rescued from a dog auction in Missouri. Lily was worn out, with a rotted jaw, and mammary tumors all along her left side.
National Mill Dog Rescue began with Lily. Their pledge is to "put an end to the cruelty and evil of the commercial breeding industry," more commonly known as puppy mills. They educate the public about puppy mills and and buying dogs in pet stores (who are usually purchased from puppy mills).
NMDR says, "there are many reputable breeders and shelters from which to get dogs." I fully agree. They have an informative FAQ page at http://www.milldogrescue.org/faq.html that answers the following questions about puppy mills:
What is a puppy mill?
How is puppy milling different than reputable breeding?
Aren't you just supporting the mills by rescueing dogs from them?
Why shouldn't I just go to the pet store and buy a dog?
Where else can I get a dog?
How do I know I've found a reputable breeder?
Why are your requirements so tough?
Why do the mills turn dogs over to rescue?
I encourage you to visit the NMDR site to see who they are, what they do, and to learn more about their answers to the questions above. Please share this information about puppy mills with everyone you know about what puppy mills are. Many folks still don't realize the horrors that are perpetuated in puppy mills on precious, innocent dogs.