I posted this tweet yesterday:
Having to make an important, emotionally-difficult decision right before Christmas is the worst thing ever, if you were wondering. 😦
— Michelle Barrett (@mittenbird) December 18, 2013
My cat, Dylan, is a former stray who came to us in June and began sticking around for good in September. He has an autoimmune disease called stomatitis, which affects his mouth. Basically, even normal amounts of bacteria in his mouth cause his immune system to panic, meaning his teeth constantly hurt, his gums are always swollen, he has terrible breath, and sometimes he’s extremely irritable due to the amount of pain he’s in, which makes him express aggression towards the other cats, the dogs, or the humans (especially me). He’s either tested negative for or shown no symptoms of the four major viral infections that testing frequently finds coexisting with a case of stomatitis. A cat can have stomatitis without ever having one of those viruses; it’s really kind of a mystery why some cats get it and others don’t.
Over these last few days, I’ve had to think a lot about all the potential treatment options for Dylan’s illness. Sometime after the first of the year, he’s going to have to get all of his teeth removed. It sounds awful, and it is–there are very few safe pain medications for use in cats, and total dental extraction is a really serious surgery. It kills me to know that my little baby, whose life has already been so rough, will have to deal with this too. But once he’s fully recovered, that’s his best chance of living a relatively pain-free life as far as the stomatitis is concerned–having all the teeth and roots removed sends stomatitis into total or near-total remission in an estimated 70-80% of affected cats. He’ll have a long and probably fairly difficult recovery, both due to the mouth pain and him having to relearn how to eat, groom, and protect himself from other cats. He’ll also need to eat canned food for the rest of his life, but that’s what we’ve already been giving him. The scared, skeletal, sad-eyed cat with patchy fur who arrived at our house this summer has been replaced by a relatively cheerful pudgy little furball who loves being picked up and cuddled and comes flying when he hears the lid being peeled back on a can of Fancy Feast. I’ve seriously never met a cat who wants to be held and carried around the way he does, and I have met a lot of cats.
We’re not sure how old he is or how long his mouth has been like this, and the longer it goes, the less likely it is that the surgery will have its intended effect. If his mouth doesn’t get significantly better after his teeth go, I really don’t want to think about what our next option would be. So here’s hoping Dylan will fall in with the majority of cats and his surgery will be successful.