Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Cat

You guys should've voted on the poll I posted a week ago. Because of minimal participation, now you have to read a post about my cat.

We are all very disappointed. 

As most of you know, I'm studying Animal Sciences at Oregon State University with the ultimate goal of getting into the vet school there. I'm applying to vet school this summer, and I can't believe how fast time has gone by. Granted, graduating early from high school did speed me up in that regard, but still.

Another time warp I'm going through is with my cat Sweet Pea. Anyone who knows her true nature will chortle at the depth of irony in which she is titled. She is a foul little gremlin who doesn't like anyone and only seems to tolerate me because I feed her.

 When your cat is more stereotypical college-student than you...
Those are coupons in the first picture and catnip in the second.

With one of my last vet visits, I found out that she's 10 years old. It totally freaked me out realizing she was born in 2002 and I was only about nine years old when she came into my life. Which helps explains why her name doesn't really fit her. Sweet Pea. Get it?

She talks back. 

I assign a lot of the reason she's such a little wretch to the first couple years.

I got her when I was very young and don't feel like I can be held accountable now for what happened to her. I got her from a pet store in town, before I knew how pet stores usually get their animals and where they come from. More on this later.

When she was young she crawled into our Subaru when the back was open and accidentally got shut in. She was in there overnight and ate an entire pack of tobacco and was never really the same after that.

Then if that wasn't enough, during the same year, she got pregnant and aborted. I'm still not entirely sure what happened, but it was a pretty traumatic experience for all involved.

She lived her whole life outside. 10 years. And she didn't die by car, predator, weather, or disease. I feel like that's pretty impressive.

It has been only recently, this term, that I brought her to Corvallis with me. Her only experience in cars is that we're going to the vet. Which she hates. This time I actually used a proper carrier since the drive is two and a half hours. Usually when we went to the vet we just dumped her into a laundry basket and put a big Rubbermaid lid over it. Yes, we lived very close to our vet.

The whole ride down she meowed at me and put her little paws through the wires.
She would meow even louder if I was singing to the radio. I think it was a hint.

"Ooh, who sings that song? Yeah, maybe you should let them do it." 

Then she began the transition to being a mostly indoor kitty. I can tell you, it hasn't been easy. After years sleeping on the cold ground, she just can't get comfortable inside.

But for reals though, she has adapted very well. The first couple days she seemed to think I was having a lapse in judgement and acted like she was in trouble the whole time she was inside. She hardly acts like she ever lived outside now. When I open the door, she just looks up at me and doesn't budge.

Nice try, personal heater, I'll stay right here. 

I can't begin to describe the looks I got from my roommates when I ordered her custom food. I found this brand online that I really like that has almost no vegetable or grain ingredients. This is good because cats are obligate carnivores, they don't eat fruits or vegetables in their natural diet, sans whatever goodies they find in the viscera of their prey. (And don't get me started on soy and corn. I don't believe in corn. For anyone. It's creepy. I know all the varieties of plants we eat are man-bred and you can't find a perfect Roma tomato in the wild, but corn is completely created by man. Just look at what it came from. It's creepy.)

Of course after being totally amazed that she hadn't been sick in ten years, I jinxed everything. The Pea has developed some issues. Starting back in mid-December she started getting itchy ears. I immediately thought: mites. As the external part of her ears got thick and crusty, I changed my mind to something more serious: notoedric mange.  After googling pictures of this condition I immediately felt itchy. I felt pretty confident about my diagnosis and made a vet appointment for confirmation.

But oh no, things are never that simple. She started losing the hair on her ears with large flakes of skin. This was very disturbing, no one likes finding pieces of their friends around the house, and these symptoms were not at all really like what happens with mange.

After more googling (did you know there is a pet version of WebMD?), I began realizing  I'm a hypochondriac for my cat.

I thought it could be pemphigus, a rare genetic condition in which the body attacks the junctions of skin cells, leaving bald patches in their wake.

Then I had to take a step back. What are the chances that she had one of these relatively rare conditions? The simplest answer was probably the right one. It must be a food allergy...

However after having done complete blood work in November, everything was normal, so this was pretty unlikely.

Now The Pea has never been a good cat at the vet. She hisses and growls, but nothing has ever come of it. Her lifetime vet knew this and never had a problem. I went to the same vet and was greeted by a staff of completely unfamiliar faces. The new vet had to put Sweet Pea in a restraint bag with a muzzle to get scrapings from her ears to rule out mange. This was an awful experience, and it'll take me a while to get over letting them do that to her. They didn't watch her after she got the scrapings and she almost rolled off the counter. She was screaming the whole time. She had a drastic limp when we got home too. It was terrible.

After telling me that I didn't really have the blood work done (rude) and trying to make me do it again, the vet said (and I quote) that she had "liver disease". She didn't explain why she thought it was this, ask me any questions regarding her behavior at home, or listen to any of my ideas.

It was a learning experience to say the least; I learned that I never want to be that kind of vet.

Needless to say, with such a poor experience, I sought a second opinion from a trusted vet. This vet didn't have to restrain Sweet Pea at all. She only hissed twice (which is ahead of the curve for her with anyone). He got out Q-tips and pulled out a lot of blackish material from in her ears. I felt totally stupid for not having checked in her ears before. They were very yeasty, and the crusting on the outer ears was probably a secondary bacterial infection. He gave her antibiotics and some ear medication. He also gave merit to most of my researched ideas and made a great case for why he thought she had what she did.

The ear meds helped immensely. Over two weeks, she stopped itching and her hair started growing back. Everyone was happy.

Then her nose and temples started getting crusty.
And I thought, "well, shit."
I had to head back to school, so I made an appointment with the vet there.

After a full examination, this vet could honestly say she had never seen anything like it before. She took pictures of Sweet Pea to send to a dermatologist (a word that the first terrible vet defined for me... yeah, thanks, I told you I'm Pre-Vet, I know what dermatology is). Together we looked through a dermatology book and went over ideas.

Ultimately she said that pemphigus was at the top of her list. Maybe a food or environmental allergy. Maybe even carcinoma. But overall the condition was very odd.

The next day the dermatologist replied saying that we should take skin scrapings for a biopsy. This cost was significantly less than my prior estimates of nearly $500-600 for a skin tissue biopsy, and the procedure was a lot less painful and traumatic for The Pea.
I decided to go for it.

After about a week of waiting, and watching the disease spread to her eyes, chin, and lady parts, I finally got results back today. Everything the the histopathologist could see was "highly characteristic" of pemphigus foliaceus (if you're a nerd and want to see pictures (all you Pre-Vets out there) make sure you type in "cat" as well, humans can also be affected by this disease).

This diagnosis was good news in that I finally knew what was happening to my cat and that the prognosis for this disease is very good with corticosteroid therapy. This treatment suppresses the immune system to stop it from attacking the skin.

I am not at all surprised that she has a rare genetic condition. I figured it was just time until something like this cropped up. This is just one of thousands of reasons NEVER to buy animals from a pet store unless you know they come from a reputable breeder. Maybe she will develop resistance to the medication in the long run, but for now, she's 10 years young, just starting to reach the golden years of her little feline life.

Whether she's lurking behind the couch or coming into rooms when we talk about how creepy she is and meowing directly at us, I think she'll be around a while yet.

"Aaayyy, sexy lady..."

(And yes, just because I have an ungodly amount of pictures of her, I will include far too many of them... And I have even more, so you better vote on story topics this time!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello 2013!

As 2013 begins, I've been thinking of things I want to improve or do in the new year. I'm not one to condone only making changes to your life on the 1st of the year. I think for real improvement you need to change during the year and stick with it, all the way through the holidays. I consider these "resolutions" more as plans for the new year.

By making these resolutions public, maybe I'll have a better chance of doing them. So here they are, as odd as they may be, this is what's up:
1. In the upcoming year, I really want to go steelhead fishing. I received an amazing set of chest waders for Christmas and I absolutely can't wait to use them. I've been scouting rivers and steams in the Willamette area and there really are so many options. I fly fish, which I love, and for the first few years I only had a steelhead rod (longer and less flexible) for fishing trout. I was setting the hook and flinging the trout out of the lake into the trees. (Okay that was a hyperbole.) I do have a sweet trout rod now (magenta!), but I would love to break out the steelhead rod again and actually catch the fish that it's made for. 

Sepia-toned lovin' with three rainbows caught last spring.

2. This term Organic Chemistry pretty much kicked my butt. No love. Although I passed the class, I did not do so with flying colors by any means. I wasn't able to make it on the Dean's List this term, so my goal for the upcoming year is to identify why I didn't succeed to my full potential and address those issues. I would love to get back on the Dean's List. Hell, I would love to get a 4.0 for a term. I'm actually registered for 19 credits this winter, so it's going to be a ton of work to get my grades. But I have everything planned out, getting at least 25 hours of studying done per week. I'm going to stick to it. My schedule is even color-coded, so you know this is for serious.

3. As far as my income goes, well, there is none. Except for what my loving grandparents afford me, I am really pinching pennies here. I have a ball park idea of how much I spend on food every month, but have never really budgeted it all out to see where the money goes. I am going to keep track of at least a month's worth of food expenses. I'm predicting my biggest non-nutritional money-suck treats are these citrus gummies they sell in bulk at our local Co-op. Delicious, but about $8/lb. (They have Vitamin C though!) My diet at school consists mostly of vegetables, and I love finding deals at our local farmers' market during the growing seasons. It's all grown locally and it's way better than any grocery store comparatives. Here's what we got for $20 one day over summer:

Butternut squash, tomatoes, carrots, celeriac, rutabagas, lettuce, spinach, Italian plums, and eggs!

4. My poor chickens have been living in a mud pit since the rains have come. I really would like to upgrade their living quarters this year. Preferably sooner rather than later. Plans include: raising the coop floor and providing a ramp entrance to keep the coop floor drier and cleaner, upgrading the run door so that it's easier to let them in and out of the yard, and providing the chickens some interesting "furniture" like a straw bale to climb on and maybe some more perches. I want to get a trough waterer that I can channel rain from the coop roof into. No more chickens perching on the top of their water bucket and pooing in the town well! (Not the brightest little creatures...) I really enjoy the idea of this trough, it can be connected to a larger water source (rain barrel!) and they can't dooty it up. 

Furthermore, I want to get a good gate on my garden so they don't dig in the beds again. It was very upsetting when they pulled out all of my baby kale plants. I may or may not have put them into a three-week timeout for their heinous crime... 

So fierce, so beautiful...

5. Finally, I want to do even better with my garden this year. I think things went beautifully for me, a novice, this last year. I grew almost everything from seed and the great majority of my plants were of heirloom varieties. I know now that brassicas are not worth planting unless I want to go Rambo on aphids. While I did enjoy many tomatoes, it wasn't worth the space lost to plant eight plants of one variety, maybe just four for next year. The best crops were definitely the loose leaf lettuce greens, radishes, beets, snow peas, and carrots. I never planted spinach at quite the right season to get it to produce. I should plant kale earlier this year; I did a fall crop really late and got lovely baby greens from it, but I should do twice as much earlier in the season. This year I want to try growing bell peppers, ground cherries, and Asian-style eggplant for some variety. (The company I linked to here is based in Oregon and have the best quality seeds I've ever used, I won't get them anywhere else anymore!) I don't think there's much that's more rewarding than eating a meal that's almost 100% from your garden.

All in all, these are just a few of the big resolutions for 2013. This new year seems to already be shining with promise, and I'm excited to dive in. 

I wish you a wonderful new year and good luck in your future endeavors!