Sam's Story continued
Life on the Screened Porch – Sept. 2008
In the world of an FIV+ cat, no news is good news. Thus it is that Sam’s Story hasn’t had an update recently – there hasn’t been much to report. The cats – and I - love being on the screened porch in the summer. Bill and I have dinner on the porch most nights, and we have some comfy seating there, which, of course, is usually occupied by Sam and Scamper. All the houseplants go out there for a summer vacation. We’re on the second floor, so the birds fly by at just about eye level. On the other side of the house there’s a bird feeder attached to the bedroom window. Scamper thinks this is just the most exciting thing! There’s a relatively large bird that comes to the feeder VERY early in the morning, and since the feeder is quite small, there’s a great deal of wing flapping to land just right. This results in Scamper leaping across the bed and embedding her oh-so-sharp little claws in the screen. I believe the bird enjoys this game as much as Scamper does. Sam finds it all mildly interesting, but he prefers to spend the time trying to lick my face or groom my hair. No need for alarm clocks in our house!
Sam’s skin and ear issues are much improved. His coat is back to being thick and silken and he hasn’t had an ear flare-up in several weeks, although his ears do need cleaning weekly, much to his chagrin. It’s a good thing he’s treat oriented! I’ve tried several ear cleaner options and have settled on an herbal one made locally and intended for humans. In past years spring allergies have caused him to scratch the hair off the backs of his ears, but this year not so much. When he did start to scratch I found that homeopathic Rhus. Tox. helped quite a bit.
Scamper has a squinty left eye caused by a chronic herpes (upper respiratory) virus. Although it doesn’t seem to bother her, it bothers me. The eye stays squinty and pink most of the time, and I worry that the eye will be damaged. One night I came home to find it was quite red and she was rubbing at it. I waited until she settled down for an after dinner nap and approached with the eye drops. I managed to squirt some right into her eye, and the next day it was very much better. Fortunately, we haven’t had a recurrence of the redness and rubbing - now that she knows what the eye drops are about, I’m not sure I’ll get away with that again, That’s how it has gone with trimming her nails – the first time she just watched me trim all of them. Since then, I’ve been lucky to be able to trim one or two nails at a time.
Both cats will answer to their names, but the word “cookie” brings Scamper on the run. Sam thinks about it and wants to see the goods before he gets up from a comfortable place. Sometimes I wonder if he’s older than we think he is, but on the other hand most mornings he spends some time beating up every toy he can find and playing hide-and-seek/tag/you-chase-me-I-chase-you with Scamper, some days for several hours at a time, so he really does have plenty of energy and flexibility.
Scamper and I have been working on picking her up. She’ll come right up to my nose most of the time and loves to have her ears and the spot between her shoulder blades rubbed, but picking her up off the floor has been an experience – she would panic, her claws would all come out, she’d flail and try to fling herself to the other side of the room. But “cookie” being her middle name, I put a treat on the floor with myself between her and the treat. In order to get the treat she has to submit to being picked up very briefly and gently returned to the floor. She’s gotten so she doesn’t panic anymore, but she’s very good at avoiding the picking up part. She really wants the cookie, though, and she’s beginning to realize nothing terrible is going to happen. In fact, after being picked up she seems to get a bit braver in other areas, like not thinking she has to run if one of us sits down next to her. I don’t require that she enjoy being picked up and held, only that I be able to pick her up when I need to. We’re using the same strategy to work on being restrained on the floor between my knees so I can clean her goopy eye, and we’ll keep working on ear cleaning and nail trimming. In addition to the desensitizing, I’m giving her a combination of flower essences meant to decrease her fears and increase her bravery. (See Recommended Reading for the book on flower essences.).
In poking around in the Herbs for Pets book (see Recommended Reading) looking for something for Scamper’s chronic herpes, I came across St. John’s Wort as an aid in keeping the herpes under control and also as possibly very helpful in both AIDS in humans and FIV. Digestive issues can be a problem with St. Johns Wort, but Scamper’s tolerating it well and Sam seems to be doing better on it than he did on the mushroom product we were using. I had stopped that back when he began to have ear and skin issues. He’s had none of the regurgitating his breakfast he used to have two or three times a month or more, and he seems to have brightened up a bit. Scamper is also getting Mullein for the herpes, and after two or three weeks her eye seems a bit less pink and a bit more open. Neither product is expected to be a cure, but hopefully to limit the herpes virus and strengthen their immune systems.
Sam enjoys observing company, especially the kind with a cookie in hand, but Scamper usually makes herself scarce when there’s anyone at the house. One day in August we picked up my brother, who has Alzheimer’s, and brought him back to the house for “happy hour” on the porch before meeting his wife for dinner. Tom is a very quiet, gentle person who loves animals, and I was hoping Scamper would at least show her face. Not only did she show her face, she let him pet her, took a treat from his hand, and sat close by and listened to the discussion. Seems like a small thing, but a really big step for her and a treat for Tom, and for me!
I’ve often wondered how many cats that develop illnesses like allergies, asthma, chronic upper respiratory issues, and more serious things have an underlying issue with FIV. Most shelter cats get tested, but then if they’re outdoor cats they can become infected any time they get in a fight. Cats who don’t come from shelters sometimes get tested, sometimes not. Most owners wouldn’t see a reason to test – we’d have no idea Sam was positive if we hadn’t decided to test him, and since he’s been indoors for four years now and mostly in very good health, we’d have no reason to suspect any underlying issues. Now the American Association of Feline Practitioners is recommending universal testing for FeLV/FIV for all cats when they are first acquired, following a high-risk event (like a fight) and whenever they become sick. The complete document can be found at CatVets.com under Practice Guidelines. We haven’t yet been able to do any bloodwork on Scamper, and I’m still very curious to see if she is truly FIV+. She grew after she came to live with us, so I think she was more like ten months than a year at that point, which would have made her younger than six months when she was tested. Not that it would make a big difference in the way we take care of her now, just a matter of curiosity.
Fall is coming, and the cats love cool mornings. On days that will be hot and sticky, they go right back to bed after breakfast. On cool days they stay up and play, watch birds and traffic and generally have more energy. I guess they’re just smarter than I am. Next time I’ll try for some pictures of Sam and Scamper in the back window trying to keep track of the falling leaves on a windy day!