Cookie and I had a wonderful morning on Sunday. Instead of the heavy wind and rain that might have come our way from Hurricane Irene, we had fast-moving majestic clouds with bright sun and deep shadow and capricious breezes that tossed the maple tree branches, sounding like ocean waves.
Cookie has accompanied me on mornings when I go outside practically since she’s been with me, but lately we’ve been battling a flea infestation and Cookie’s flea allergy is worse than ever. We’ve got things under control at the moment, but even with all my precautions outdoors to keep flea populations at a minimum, they are still out there and I don’t want Cookie to start her cycle of scratching, pulling fur and general skin irritation at the bite of just one flea. Today, it just seemed right.
I had intended just to hang out for a bit with my cup of coffee so we began on the deck but were soon down the steps and out into the yard, moving easily from the deck to the yard as Cookie explored and I did a little cleaning, transplanting and reorganization. Cookie would occasionally saunter out to the end of the yard and give me a sidelong glance, ready to slip off into her wild area under the trees, but for the most part she supervised what I was doing and downloaded her pee-mail.
This year we had a sudden flea infestation in July from boxes I’d carried down from the attic wherein squirrels had nested, leaving behind bazillions of hungry fleas who wasted no time going to work on their new blood source. Cookie’s age and health were a bad combination for my 19-year-old tortie best friend—after nearly a month of treating the house with diatomaceous earth, constant vacuuming and combing and bathing the other cats were holding their own but Cookie was the target of too many fleas and began suffering more than just the skin allergy.
She would bite viciously at herself, pulling fur out in clumps, trying to scratch the same area she was biting and lacerating her tongue with her hind paw, and sometimes falling off of the table, my desk or a chair in her frenzied effort to get rid of the torture.
Cookie also developed an anemic condition from blood loss from all the bites and would leave blood spots behind wherever she slept. Using Frontline it was pointless to bathe her because it would wash away the effectiveness of the medication, and I could comb her all day and not get rid of enough fleas to make a difference.
We had almost had her heart rate under control with her hyperthyroidism medication but likely the anemia and stress of the situation pushed her heart rate up again, and worst of all she slipped into renal failure.
I used Capstar, an insecticide in a pill, that kills all the adult fleas on the cat within hours. I am horrified to use all these chemicals, especially on Cookie in that condition, but that was what worked to stop her reaction with thankfully no side effects, and the resulting conditions could finally be successfully treated.
I had a pretty frightening week in late July when, to try to treat all the conditions, I was dosing her with sub-cutaneous fluids twice each day in small doses to not overburden her heart, checking her heart rate regularly and administering double doses of high potency liquid vitamins, getting a few reiki sessions, using flower essences, using everything I had on hand, hoping she’d start to eat more and awake from her lethargy, just look at me like Cookie again, make a Cookie noise, and by the end of the week, she began feeling better.
Still, all through August, she kept wavering back and forth between feeling like her old self and just being a little tired, not as active, and certainly not doing all the Cookie things I’m accustomed to. I had to dose her with fluids now and then, and had to resort to Capstar again as even just one or two fleas could start the reaction again.
So this morning, she wanted to go outside and so did I, her Capstar should take care of fleas today, and I’d learned from years of senior cats that the little walk around the yard in the morning can make for a great day all around, so out we went.
After our initial session I told myself it was time I went inside and “get to work”, but I instead decided to grab my crochet and recorded book and sit on the swing with Cookie for a while. It’s been years since I had the chance to even just sit on my swing for any length of time. Cookie happily napped on my lap while I followed the story and crocheted, listening to the whoosh of the breeze and watching the shadows and sunlight play across the deck and yard.
After our relaxation, Cookie and I actually went back out to the yard for a while longer, and when I decided I really did need to go in—one cup of coffee can feel like a gallon if you wait too long—I had to carry Cookie inside at her protest. She hadn’t had her medications yet and she and Kelly needed their lunch, plus, even though it was cool, I’m always concerned about Cookie’s hydration and body temperature at her age.
Even after I carried her upstairs—because she would not go herself, even when I waved the bit of raw venison and the can of food in her face—she worked her way down from the drafting table where she and Kelly eat and wanted out the door of the studio. I opened it thinking she might want to use the litterbox in the bathroom, but she headed directly down the stairs and to the back door, sat down and looked longingly outside.
Most of the time, you can trust animals to let you know what they need and I might have decided to go outside with Cookie for a little more time. But their decisions aren’t always the best, and sometimes you have to offer a little direction. Cookie has never liked to be carried so she protested again as we went up the stairs and back into my studio and closed the door and doled out lunch. She ate, then curled up on a blanket I’d put on the table for her, had a bath, and fell asleep. And slept, and slept, and slept. I checked her heart rate and hydration thinking I’d let her be out for too long, trying to decide if I needed to do something, but she gave me the tortie eye and eventually she got up, stretched, had a drink, ate a good bit of canned food, had another bath and went back to sleep.
I’ve continued the full flea assault on the house and all the cats, including using Capstar once a week but on just Cookie and Kelly. The girls have been staying in my studio, which was pretty thoroughly cleaned to begin with because of my renovation and easier to clean than any other room because I set it up that way. It’s been odd for them not to be part of the household most of the time, but once the fleas were under control downstairs, and Cookie was sufficiently strong and recovered enough, it was wonderful to see Cookie coming down the stairs and joining me at my daily tasks again. Best of all, she’s been sleeping next to me again.
But I can see she’s not back to her full self, and she’s compensating quite a bit for the discomfort of these conditions. After consulting regularly with my vet, I have continued the fluids and vitamins daily, and we’ve increased her methimazole which has brought her heart rate down.
For now it seems the renal failure isn’t just a temporary situation, but a chronic condition. I’m not sure if the situation with the fleas caused it, or if she was headed for it anyway as we had discovered in her exam in June, but in any case, to say it makes me very sad is one of my life’s biggest understatements.
I know that Cookie is 19, and I’ve been watching her lose abilities and agility slowly for the past few years. She had a difficult kittenhood, and I’m a little surprised after all her early health issues and physical limitations that she has gotten to be 19 without any problems. She’s never had a lot of strength or flexibility in her hips and hind legs, never been able to run and leap but she’s always improvised in every way she can find, stepping from one thing to another to get onto my desk, the cabinet in the kitchen, my bed, or the washer and dryer, always cheerful and completely ready for whatever comes next.
But even though I knew our time was getting limited, without anything specific I didn’t worry about how much time we had, just a little bit of fooling myself. Now with a chronic, end-of-life condition our time is finite, though that is mutable as well—Peaches lived six months after we began treatment, Stanley lived four years, diagnosed at about age 21.
At this point, she is still easily tired and her hind legs have less strength than before, wobbling a little more and threatening to take her down sometimes, and she can’t or won’t get up on some things she recently enjoyed, like the kitchen cabinet, her favorite hangout. Unless by some miracle we clear up this condition sufficiently, Cookie won’t be literally getting into things in the kitchen anymore, something she’s done all her life, and I will miss that part of our relationship more than I can say.
She won’t be following me around the house to supervise every little thing I do; I’ll be on my own. That and many, many more thoughts of everyday things…Cookie has always been with me in the house, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, my impish little spirit familiar, my little Cookie-roo, Cookie-flower, Cookie Dough, Cookie Baby…the list goes on.
For now, when I look at her, my Cookie is still there, even if she’s not playing the same little Cookie games as before. And she has even done a few of her sweet interactions with me which she hasn’t done in some time—hopped onto my back and walked around and purred when I leaned over, and sat up on my lap, put her paws on my collar bone, looked me in the eye and given me a precious nose tap. She’s telling me not to worry. I am listening, but I need a little other reassurance as well.
We’ll see the vet again soon for tests and discuss a few other symptoms, see if there is anything else we need to do. I lost Peaches less than a year ago and I lost my mother in January, and I told Cookie I’m just not ready yet, she has to get better, this was just a practice session. But for certain at this point our schedule will change, and just like this wonderful morning out on the deck, every moment will be precious.
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