I don't even know where to start with the events of the past three weeks, so this may be a little jumbled and rambly.
On Tuesday, October 16th, in the evening, we noticed that our kitty, Augie, was a little lethargic and not eating. We were concerned, but had had kitties be a little under the weather like this before, and it turned out to be a little kitty flu or something not too serious. We called the vet first thing the next morning (Augie was still feeling bad, but didn't seem to be worse than the previous evening) and made him an appointment for that afternoon. This vet was one we used because of the decreased cost, which comes in handy when you're caring for a lot of cats. We had used them many, many times with no problems.
We got him to the appointment, where the vet and tech checked him out, told us he had a high temp and was dehydrated and that he was sick with something viral. They wanted to admit him overnight for fluids and observation. We agreed, and said a tearful goodbye to Augie because we were pretty worried. The vet's office was 45 minutes away from home, so we left and came back towards home. About an hour after we left Augie, the vet called my cell phone to say that he had died.
I don't want to go into detail about my and Brian's reaction to this, but suffice it to say that we were devastated, cried a million tears, and went back to pick up his body. We each held him for a long time. It was so unexpected and it really destroyed us. We took him to Mama and Daddy's, where they were so wonderful to us and agreed to let us bury him in their beautiful backyard by the garden. We buried him at sunset.
This picture was taken just a few days before Augie died.
The aftermath of Augie's death was gut wrenching, grief-filled and so raw. We were not expecting our five-month-old kitten, whom we had rescued from heat and dehydration at Whitewater Park over the summer, to die such a horrible and sudden death. I could write an entire post on his death and the questionable circumstances surrounding it, but I will save that for another day.
Augie died on a Wednesday. We spent the next several days grieving heavily and searching everywhere we could for answers. WHAT took him? WHY? We found some viral diseases that fit, but without a necropsy (which we could not bring ourselves to agree to), we had to accept the fate that we may never know what killed him.
On the following Sunday, we noticed that one of our other babies, Simon (who is just over a year old) was acting lethargic, disinterested and was not eating. We immediately thought the worst. He and Augie were best buds, and the virus we suspected is HIGHLY contagious. We felt sure that Augie had transmitted it to Simon. We isolated him from the other cats right away. On Monday morning, we took him to another vet, five minutes from our house. A vet we have used before and trust wholeheartedly. (We will never be able to go back to the other vet--for our suspicion over Augie, and simply because we can't handle the association of that office to Augie's death. It would just be too hard.)
They examined Simon, and did some blood tests. He had a horribly low white blood count, and a fever of over 104. This was not good. Augie's death was very fresh in our minds, and we were absolutely convinced that Simon was experiencing the same condition. The vet agreed that the symptoms were scarily similar and she said she suspected the culprit to be panleukopenia, or feline parvo. It is also called feline distemper. They gave Simon some fluids, and something to bring his fever down. I brought him back home.
He worsened overnight, with the fever spiking again, and now he had bloody diarrhea and vomiting. We were scared and took him back to the vet Tuesday morning. She ran some more blood tests, this time testing for the major things it might be--panleukopenia, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline infectious peritonitis. None of these diseases are good, to say the least, with panleukopenia and FIP being potentially fatal, quickly. These tests would have to be sent off, so our waiting began.
Simon was extremely sick over the following several days. I posted on Facebook to ask for prayers, and so many wonderful people responded. We are so appreciative of that. We took turns sitting with him, in his isolation chamber (our master bathroom), I sat on the cold tile floor, looked up through the window at the golden, gorgeous foliage in the tree canopies in the backyard, and I prayed. A lot. I don't remember a time that I felt as close to God as I did sitting there, praying for my sweet boy to make it through this. And I sang. I sang "In The Garden," "Jesus Loves Me," and several other comforting hymns. Choking back tears, I sang to God, to Simon, and I felt peace. And Simon got sicker.
Brian and I were really just running on fumes by this point. Not eating, not sleeping, nursing Simon around-the-clock and at the same time, still grieving Augie and worrying sick about the other cats showing signs of this awful disease.
On Wednesday night, Simon spiked a high fever again. We called the vet on call, who advised us to rub Simon down with a cool, wet rag at least every couple hours and to give him water via syringe by mouth. We did. We got him through the night, keeping him cool and checking his temp often. And holding him, rocking him and praying. He was not very responsive. He had a glazed-over look in his dull eyes. Eyes that were usually full of life and mischief, now those eyes just stared blankly at me. It broke my heart. He seemed so tired, so lifeless. I asked God then and there to please not let Simon suffer. That if He had to take Simon, to please do it, and peacefully. But that if Simon was going to make it, to PLEASE give us a sign.
Right after that, Brian held up a set of stainless steel measuring spoons that we had with us in the room and dangled them over Simon's head. Simon reached up and pawed at them! We immediately took that as our sign and thanked God. (We had been using them to measure out powder for kitten formula, which we had given Simon via syringe to help get nutrients in him--he had not eaten on his own in days, so we were force-feeding him human baby food with crushed cat food in it, and kitten formula.)
On Thursday of that week, Brian went with me to take Simon back to the vet. Despite our "sign," he was so sick by this point, we thought surely the vet would recommend putting him to sleep. We were beside ourselves with worry and grief, both our continued grief over Augie, and anticipatory grief over potentially losing our Simon.
She did not recommend it. She said he was in the thick of the disease, and we had to use supportive care to keep him alive while his natural defenses tried to kick in. She taught Brian how to give Simon sub-q fluids, which we were to administer every 12 hours, as well as give Simon a dose of an antibiotic to help his gut and stop the diarrhea. Brian was so grateful to have an active role in Simon's care. We were both feeling so helpless, just the simple act of giving him fluids made us feel like we were DOING something, finally.
Over the next couple days, we did just that. We gave him his fluids, we gave him his antibiotic, and on Friday, his fever spiked again. I took him back for a shot to bring his fever down. I knew this shot would only last for about 24 hours, so I mentally and emotionally tried to prepare myself for what may come next.
On Saturday night, there was no fever, but Simon seemed to be giving up. Once again, we held him, prayed and cried. I was absolutely certain that he would die during the night. I was up a lot that night, as I was many other nights, checking on him.
Sunday morning, I went to check on him early, and he was still with us. Not only was he with us, he was bright, playful and was grooming again. It seemed that he had turned a corner during the night. He still would not eat and drink on his own. We were discouraged, but still hopeful. Over the next few days, he continued to improve. On the following Tuesday, October 30th, Simon finally ate some canned food from a plate, on his own. When he took the first bite, I cried and just thanked God over and over (and over). We had force-fed him for nearly seven entire days, and now our prayers were answered--he was eating.
We finally got the test back from Cornell--it had been delayed by Hurricane Sandy--and it was positive for panleukopenia. The other tests had come back negative. So at least we finally knew what had made him so sick, and also, what killed Augie. It didn't matter that the test took a while, because the treatment Simon would have received would have been the same. There is no cure--only supportive care to get the cat through it.
Panleukopenia is a terrible, and often fatal, disease. I wish I had never learned the word. It kills kittens like Augie VERY quickly, before you really even see symptoms. An older cat like Simon has a better chance of surviving it, although only if caught early enough. I have read that during their suffering with this terrible virus, cats often lose the will to live. They need a lot of love, care and time spent with them. We were absolutely exhausted--beyond exhausted--but we gave him everything we had.
This disease is preventable through vaccination. We had no idea that this was even a THING, let alone something that could be vaccinated for. Even if a cat is strictly indoors, they still need this vaccination. The virus is extremely hardy, can live in an environment for up to a year (!) and the only things that kill it are bleach and fire. We feel devastated that had Augie been vaccinated, he might have lived. We are certain he picked up the virus from the vet (the one who is 45 minutes away), a week before he got sick, when we took him there for his neuter surgery. The virus incubation time fits perfectly, and he had not been exposed to anything, anywhere else. I will tell more of Augie's story in a future post. He deserves his own.
Simon is now mostly back to his old self. His appetite is great, he is loving and playful, but he still has to be in isolation for several weeks because he is still shedding the virus and therefore infectious to the other kitties. He has a sunny windowsill to sit in and look out, toys, yummy canned food brought to him three times a day, and a soft pillow bed to sleep on.
When we go in to see him, we have to completely change clothes, wear protective gloves and shoes, and then change back before coming into contact with any of the other kitties. We are very careful about contamination, have bleached everything we possibly can, and remain on heightened awareness and worry about spreading the virus.
We are planning to get the other cats vaccinated against panleukopenia, just in case. Thankfully, they have not shown any symptoms of this awful and deadly disease. Hopefully they won't have any adverse reactions to the vaccine itself. So, our ordeal isn't quite over, but we can sort of see a light now.
Our sweet Simon boy, about a week before he got sick.
All of this, what seems like a lifetime of exhaustion, tragedy and stress, has happened in the last three weeks.
Some people don't understand our love for our cats, but it is very real and it is very deep. With no plans to have human children, our cats ARE our children, and we will do whatever we can possibly do for them. In return, they fill our home and our hearts with love beyond measure. We appreciate everyone's prayers and support so much.