Cat Quest: The Rise and Fall of the Jabbanese Empire

I begin this post with a picture of me and my cat. It’s one of my favourite pictures (actually, two of them. I couldn’t decide). I’ve just had my hair and make-up done for my wedding, and the wedding photographer came by to take all the “wedding prep” photos of myself and my bridesmaids, and she was completely charmed by my cat. I, of course, was not surprised. Jabba is a very sweet cat, and a very pretty cat, and he is extremely photogenic, as you can see. He catches the light well. This is in contrast to our other cat, Lestat, who – being black – pretty much sucks all light into himself, to the point where Husband has dubbed him “the Nega-Cat: not a cat, but the space where a cat should be.”

Jabba was about seven years old then, just descending into middle age. In spite of a heart murmur and a tendency to panic and occasionally pee on things, related to a well-managed case of FLUTD, he was pretty healthy.

A few years on, and now he’s thirteen, and life is a bit more difficult for him. He’s always been a sweet cat, a very affectionate animal just bursting with purrs that must escape as soon as possible, and probably are best experienced while he is putting his face in your face, sometimes with surprising force. This hasn’t changed. He’s still relatively active; he can jump around, although perhaps not quite as high as he once could, and this is a good thing, too. If he had succumbed to arthritis the way Lestat has, I wouldn’t be able to wrangle him as much as I do – and Jabba requires wrangling. Need to get him into the carrier to go to the vet? Wrangle. Need to get him out from under the bed because you were too slow and he saw carrier (aka “vet box”)? Wrangle. Need to clip his claws? Wrangle.

If I had to wrangle Lestat like that, it would be quite painful. For both of us.

I’ve had to wrangle Jabba a lot, lately. He’s had a really rough year. Between the strange cough that wouldn’t go away (thyroid?), the thyroid blood test that came back borderline normal (spoiler: that was a furphy), the attack by Abby (a horrible mess for everyone) and subsequent dislocated and fractured sternum (no wrangling at that point), the Horner’s Syndrome in his right eye (has calmed down, but is still there), the formal diagnosis of hyperthyroidism (aha!) and an attempt to medicate his anxiety (the process of the wrangling required to administer the medication made him anxious. We eventually gave up after talking to the vet about it), and, most recently, the intermittent river of bloody mucous escaping from his nasal passages… I mean, that’s a hell of a lot for a 12-13 y.o. cat to put up with.

It’s gotten messy.

Jabba turned out to have a nasty reaction to the thyroid medication; it made his throat itchy. I started finding bleeding scabs all over his throat and chin. That’s listed on the side effects as “facial excoriation.” With a sinking sensation, I took him back to the vet.

The first thing we did was make sure it was the medication. Took him off it for two weeks. Scratching stopped. Scabs healed. Put him back on it. Scabs reappear within a couple of days.

We tried a different (but very similar) medication, to see if that was any different.

Nope. Again, the scabs came back quickly.

The next option was radio-iodine therapy. This is really the gold standard of treatment for feline hyperthyroidism, and after eyeballing our budget carefully and reading that it is a permanent cure in 96% of cats, we decided to get cracking.

The problem was that, just as we were organising it and preparing to get him his pre-admission blood test, he started bleeding from the noise.

Back to the vet. The first vet concluded that it might be cat flu, but the second vet thought it might be blood pressure. On leaving Jabba at the vet, we discovered that his blood pressure was so high that their machine couldn’t measure it. Over 300. Not good.

Right, so now we were treating the blood pressure. Remember that at this stage he wasn’t on any medication for his thyroid condition.

Over a couple of weeks, the medication started to bring his blood pressure down. His nose was still bleeding, but the vet wasn’t concerned.

Until I got a phone call at the gym to be told that his blood pressure was way up again, and still bleeding, and the vet told me in no uncertain terms that she would be much more comfortable if we called a specialist.

So I did. I took Jabba, bleeding from the nose, to the specialist.

The specialist took me through the many possibilities and options, with diagrams and arrows, and it felt like the full House treatment. Then she took his blood pressure again – but instead of taking him away, measuring him, and bringing him back, she had me sit my little grey cat in my lap, put the band around his paw, and measured it right there.

Apparently, Jabba calms right the hell down when he is on my lap, because his BP didn’t get over 130.

We concluded that the blood pressure medication was controlling that pretty well, but that very day, the blood from his nose started becoming mixed with snot. There were then antibiotics.

This is a long story. Let me fast forward it even more (this is already much more abrupt than my usual style).

Since that appointment, back in November, Jabba has gotten better (after he finished the antibiotics), stayed clear for a week, succumbed to snot again, for a week or two, then gotten better, then succumbed – and this cycle has repeated four times. When he’s snotty, he reeks. He eats less. He loses weight. I spent half my time combing dried mucous out of his fur (because he keeps trying to clean himself in the usual feline style). When he’s clear, he’s bouncy and happy, he eats normally, and his coat recovers nicely. And, bonus, he doesn’t stink.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with him. The specialist pointed out that the only way to really resolve the issue is to do an MRI and a rhinoscopy (poke about in his nose), which would involve an anaesthetic. He’s had a heart murmur ever since he was a little cat, which makes that a bit more of a concern.

We had booked a holiday, and he was still sick, so before I left him with our very patient cat-sitting friend, we put him back on the thyroid medications, only this time added steroids (prednisone) to control the itching. This has worked.

In that time, we’ve done a test for fungal infections and a full upper respiratory panel (both negative), in the hopes that his problem is something that doesn’t require a general anaesthetic.

Two days ago his left eye started weeping, and his eyelid started looking pink and inflamed. I’m now putting antibiotic ointment in his eye twice a day.

We’ve run out of options. The only choices left to us at this point are to keep medicating him and continue letting him live with the cycle of sickness, health, sickness, health, which is horrible for him (and for us); or to do the full diagnostic workup (yes, there’s a third option, and no, we’re not doing that. His quality of life is still pretty good).

He’s booked in for the MRI and rhinoscopy next Tuesday. I’m now terrified that we’re going to find something that could have been fixed if we’d found it months ago and I hadn’t spent all this time desperately trying to avoid anaesthetic (and, yes, to be blunt, about $2500. The anaesthetic was my major concern).

So Jabba and I have something in common. We’re both playing diagnosis roulette, and trying to work out what the hell is wrong with us that is making our lives so very difficult. The difference is that he doesn’t understand – can’t understand – what’s happening to him, and all I can do is cuddle him, or sit at my desk with the purring little (often stinky) fluffball in my lap, and hope for the best.


Helping me play Mass Effect. He was between snot attacks when this was taken.