“Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
– Mark Twain
Living with a pet is like watching life in its finest, most pure form- eat, poop, play, love, die. It’s all great until the final chapter, which if you’re lucky is the only time that your furry loved one is faced with a serious trip to the vet. I’m not that lucky.
I got Burger when he was brought into my animal hospital to be neutered. A nice couple had noticed him as a stray, and had been feeding him for several years. He was named Burger because he always seemed to appear when they were out using the grill! They had tried inviting him to live inside several times, but he was wild at heart and would always escape. After noticing several other cats appearing in the neighborhood, they wanted to be sure to get him neutered to prevent the cat population in their area from spiraling out of control.
Burger’s neuter went well. However, after the neuter we ran a combo test – to check for FeLV and FIV. It’s a routine bloodtest for strays and recently adopted cats. Most of the time, those tests come back negative, and the cats are given clean bills of health. Burger wasn’t so lucky.
Burger tested positive for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). The easiest way to explain FIV is to think of it like kitty AIDS. FIV is not a mandatory death sentence. Most FIV+ cats can live a reasonably normal life span. However, FIV is easily spread in the wild – cats love to fight, and FIV is most commonly spread from saliva to blood contact (ex: deep bite wounds). With there being other cats in the neighborhood, and Burger refusing to stay inside their house, his first human protectors made the devestating decision to humanely euthanize Burger.
However…clearly…that wasn’t the end of the story for Burger. As our veterinarian was having this conversation with the clients, I had Burger snuggled up in my hoodie. He was waking up from anesthesia and unlike a lot of cats recovering from the meds, he was full of purrs and snuggles and headbutts. He had completely stolen my heart. When the vet returned to the treatment room with the decision of our clients, I couldn’t let them go through with it. I asked the owners if they would be willing to sign him over to me instead. Thrilled that his life could be spared, they were more than happy to sign the consent forms.
Initially, my plan wasn’t to keep Burger. I had 3 other cats at the time, and didn’t know how he would get along with them, or with my dog. We kept him in a big cage in our treatment room, and I tried to find someone interested in taking him home. Two days later, that home turned out to be mine (I was apparently the only one surprised by this shocking turn of events).
Everything was great for the first 2 years. Burger bonded immediately with Oreo, which was exactly what Oreo needed – he was still mourning the loss of his first kitty friend, who had passed away around a year earlier. Burger may be the sweetest kitty that I have ever encountered, and I’ve encountered a lot.
In February 2014 I was at a friends house pet sitting, when my dad called me concerned. He said that Burger was acting strange, hiding in the bathroom and seemed to be in pain. I stopped at home to see him, and it was visable that something wasn’t right – he hissed at me for the first time in the 2 years that I’d had him. He seemed painful in one leg – which looking back, should have been a warning sign for me. However, the day before he had just gotten blood drawn, and was very wiggly for it. His vein blew and he bruised pretty bad. It was the same leg that seemed painful to him that day, so I wrote it off to him still being sore from the blood draw. The weekend passed, and he was acting a little bit better, but my dad reported that he was still limping (I had spent the weekend at the house of the dog I was watching, so I hadn’t seen him in a day and a half). I had him bring Burger into work that day for one of the vets to take a look at. I assumed he just needed some pain meds and he’d be good to go…but after taking one look at the vets face, I knew I was wrong.
Burger was tentatively diagnosed with a saddle thrombus – a very serious condition involving a blood clot affecting the blood flow to the hind legs of the cat. I was crushed. I didn’t know much about blood clots. Since I’d started at the vet, every time that a cat was diagnosed with them, the owners always elected to put them down. Always. I was extremely lucky that my vet mentioned the possibility of taking him to Cornell University for a cardiologist to look at him. I jumped on the opportunity and took him the 2 hour car ride to Cornell as soon as I could.
The results weren’t promising. Every vet we met with was sure to tell me that Burger was more than likely not going to recover, and essentially could drop dead at any minute. Every vet we met with encouraged euthanasia as kindly as they could. But I couldn’t do it. By this point, Burger was happy – he wasn’t urinating or defecating on his own and he had no sensation in his tail anymore, but his personality was right back to where it was previously. I just didn’t feel like it was his time, and against the general medical advice, I chose to take him home and start medications.
That was just the beginning of our problems. Burger eventually regained the ability to urinate (we had been expressing his bladder for him, which was becoming increasingly difficult to do), although he could not control when and where he would pee. He became incontinent, and eventually needed to start wearing diapers. He still was unable to defecate on his own, though. He required around a dozen deobstipation procedures (to put it nicely, it’s a procedure where the cat is sedated, and the vet manually removes the stool from the cat. It’s not for the weak of heart…or those who are sensitive to smells!). Each deobstipation became more and more risky – with his heart condition, anesthesia was NOT good for him. But we didn’t have any other choice. Either he could die on the table trying to deobstipate him, or he WOULD die from not being able to get stool to pass. It looked like either way, I was going to lose him.
Burger is a fighter, and he wasn’t ready to go anywhere. The last deobstipation he had performed was likely the last the he would be able to survive. His vitals were too unsteady, and he took a very long time to wake up from the anesthesia. It was June 1, 2015. He still hasn’t needed another procedure! He goes through very irregular defecation habits – he’ll go 2 or 3 weeks without being able to produce stool without my help; and then he’ll have no problem going for the next 2 weeks. Then the cycle will restart. I’ve been trying my hardest not to worry when he’s gone a very long time without having a bowel movement – unless he starts acting sick, I’ve been trying to have faith that he’ll be able to do it on his own. And so far, he hasn’t let me down.
This kitty has survived so much. We knew he had FIV, and then we knew he threw a blood clot. Since that initial blood clot diagnosis, it was also discovered that at some point he had been shot – there is a bullet (likely from a BB gun) lodged between two of his ribs! Also, from the appearance of xrays, one of the specialists at Cornell said that it appeared that at some point he had been hit by a car. It looked like his pelvic bone had been broken and didn’t heal properly, causing the passage to be more narrow than usual (which likely contributed to his inability to pass stool after his blood clot. Go figure). Throughout everything, he has maintained the best attitude. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. He loves going for walks around the yard on his harness and leash, and laying outside in the sun with his doggy best friend. He loves playing with the laser pointer, chowing down on baby shrimp, and going crazy on catnip. He loves snuggling with me every single night.
Some people have said that I’m crazy for putting so much time, effort, and money into a cat. Maybe I am. But I don’t regret a second of it. He’s worth it <3
Oh! Burget also has his very own Instagram page! Check it out and leave him some love!