Tag Archives: Pet health

Effie’s Nomination for Pet Enemy #1: Downy Brome

Lots of us call them foxtails, or cheatgrass. It’s also known as Downy brome and timothy. We take the little spears out of our socks. They snag our cats and dogs with their slender spear-like tips. If not removed, they can cause pain, and possibly an abscess that could become infected. Dogs’ ears are particularly vulnerable. It’s good spring forage for cattle and sheep. By summer it’s in its pernicious spear mode.

Downy brome grows all over Effieland, my cat Effie’s large enclosed garden area, safe from predators and raptors, with overhead wire fencing. I spend at least ten minutes combing the horrid little spears out of Effie’s fur, every time I bring her back in the house, usually at least six times in a day.

The weed is prolific and uncontrollable. Anything that kills it would kill everything in the garden. Weeds are well adapted. They grow among plants we don’t wish to kill.

I once accepted a dog from a fellow university student who was returning home to New York and was unable to bring the wonder dog who had followed her home that summer in California. She showed me the abscess in the dog’s shoulder and gave me money to cover the vet bill. I brought Jenny the dog to a vet who surgically removed every fragment of the foxtail that had lodged in Jenny’s shoulder. The vet urged caution, because the abscess could have festered and become chronically miserable, and foxtails grew everywhere in Santa Barbara. They’re also prolific where we now live, in the Eastern Washington prairie.

A spear of Downy brome

My beautiful Effie, groomed and spear-free after coming in from Effieland, where we grow five varieties of grapes, as well as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries; we also grow sunflowers, lupines, flax, and poppies. And we are besieged with marauding Downy brome.

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Unwished-for inevitabilities

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I don’t like it, I don’t want to concede to its reality. But there it is, the rough beast slouching, crouching, armored with the manifest covenant threat.

My precious cat’s survival has been pulled out of so many hats, and now symptoms of mortality leech through some imaginary vanguard.

He’s had lungworm, a broken hock, diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, hyperthyroid–and our tough cat brawls his way to his 17th miraculous year. He’s tired. He isn’t hungry. He throws up clear liquid and white foam. I hand feed him half a bag of treats. Blast the torpedoes; I can chase his glucose with insulin, at least to a point. There’s no way to chase starvation except with something he’ll eat.

When Coolidge was eight, he nearly martyred himself when we had to convert him from high-carb kibbles to wet food. That’s how he got hepatic lipidosis, and its resolution was a feeding tube. Six belly snacks a day, ground in a food processor and hand syringed into the tube. Coolidge yanked his tube out so many times, and my husband, a former farmer/rancher, stitched it back in each time so we could quit going to the veterinary ER.

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Now he wants his kibbles back, and he’s right to. He’s been losing three to four ounces a week. The dry, higher-carb food that once conspired to join forces with probably genetic factors and precipitate his diabetes, should now help him regain some safety-margin weight. And the tasty food should also help our pessimistic vet reverse her countdown mentality, and recall that our cat is a fighter. Her life-expectancy algorithm can jolly apply elsewhere.

I’m really not given over to magical thinking. I know the hairs, scales, skin cells, or whatever covers the heads of the creatures of God’s wondrous creation, are numbered, as are our days. But I don’t know how much knowing this reduces the other inevitability of life: grief.

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More hitches

My poor cat: he’s been so patient with all these annoying things: poking his ears to take a blood drop to test his glucose level all these years, and now, syringing irritating thyroid medicine in his precious ears. . .this morning he articulated that it was just too much. I agreed.

I called my vet through her amazing competent and compassionate answering service, and by kindly providence, at 7:30 Sunday morning she was still on call for another 20 minutes. I told her messenger I needed something to heal Coolidge’s ears before he began to hate me for compounding his misery. The messenger understood everything perfectly. My vet called me right back. I heard her unbelievably cute two-year old in the background; the baby must have been asleep.

She asked whether Coolidge’s ears were “just red” (they could stop a train in the fog) or actually ulcerated. I hadn’t thought to make this obvious distinction. “They’re ulcerated, I see little sores.” Good God, how much they must hurt, and I just dosed him and added to his agony. . .I was fighting tears, but strong women have to kick into reserve around stronger women. I knew the vet wasn’t going to cry, so I couldn’t either.

She instructed me to apply some hydrocortisone cream to his ears. Tomorrow she would research the problem—she hadn’t seen it before, probably because hardly anyone presses on this far–and call me. In the meantime, we’re excused from methimazole duty.

I know my vet will follow through; I also know that she will not walk into her office on Monday morning with the luxury of time to do research. Her all-women office will be insane with emergencies, calls from cat finders seeking cat owners, calls from cat owners seeking cat finders, and the whole gamut of complications of human-animal relationships we’ve been trying to fix since the Fall.

In a quick search, my husband found that methimazole is available in injectable form. I hope that means injectable as in, with a needle, into his skin, the way I have administered his insulin for seven years. I hope it doesn’t mean poured into his ear with a syringe; in other words, I hope it means intradermal, as opposed to transdermal. That would be simple; it would resolve the thyroid issue and its nebula of cause-and-effect explosions.

As I soothed the mean little medicine sores in his ears with hydrocortisone cream, Coolidge gave me to know that he liked me again. And he’s still eating consistently, which gives me to know that he remains under God’s gracious protection.

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Coolidge’s new diagnosis

Our Covenant Cat Coolidge had a few dust specks on his bill of health today. His senior exam last week revealed a slight heart murmur, and given that and his being diabetic, I took his vet’s emphatic counsel to have his teeth cleaned. Bacteria from decaying teeth can spread germs to the heart and kidneys and result in disruptions like endocarditis and kidney failure, things clearly not to be countenanced. I had concerns about anesthesia, but our vet allayed those with her plan to use gas and no injectable anesthetic. Her assurance that the gas was far safer than the current state of his teeth was persuasive, but my anxiety was as stalwart as my reason. I managed to get past my anxiety and schedule his teeth cleaning for today.

I was truly afraid I’d have a meltdown leaving him at the office. But my vet’s exceptionally empathetic receptionist stilled the waters of dread. God’s goodness and mercy prevailed, and the event seemed routine and simple. This is the first time our 15-year old cat has ever had his teeth cleaned. I figure we won’t need to put him (not to mention me) through this again until he’s 30.

Our vet also detected a slight heart murmur at Coolidge’s senior exam, so she gave him prophylactic antibiotics before cleaning his teeth. It was actually my suggestion, having gone through this myself in the past. But she wanted also to check his thyroid level. I authorized the test; again, my own suspicious internist checks mine every year, too. By the time you have Addison’s disease, you become a universal suspect.

My cat has been diabetic for seven years. All these years I have tested his blood glucose level and administered his insulin shot twice a day, every day. Nothing has been more important than coming through for my companion cat and maintaining his medication schedule. And now we’ve added a new medication to his repertoire. Coolidge has hyperthyroidism, apparently in its early stage.

Another day, another pill. How good it is that there are such pills.

I can’t deny that these specks beget specters. But my resilient cat is here, with me. Today.

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