Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Hiatus that Became A Goodbye

Well, friends, Blogger tells me that I haven't published a new post since April 2nd, 2013. That's a long time. I know I had promised that I'd return to the blog, but I just don't think I can keep up with it anymore. I've needed to channel all my energy into my graduate work, which involves a lot of writing. Sadly, I haven't had the energy or time to keep writing here. I will keep what's already been written online, and you can still stay in touch (please!) on Facebook.

Thank you to all of you who have read and commented on the blog or on Facebook. All your support has meant so much to us.  

K&K, Zoe, Freddie, and Stella

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Hiatus, but not a Goodbye

Well, it's been nearly two months since I last wrote a post, but I thought perhaps I should state the obvious: I need a blogging break. A lot has happened over the past two months: Zoe has continued to recover from her two surgeries and started physical therapy, Stella has been treated and is recuperating after her hyperthyroidism procedure, and we've been trying to find an apartment that will accept a dog who looks like Zoe. These realities, combined with school and my job, have made blogging untenable. I do plan to return, but I can't tell you when for sure.

In the meantime, please do stay in touch via our Facebook page where we post regular updates (and adorable videos like the one below!).

Thanks so much, everyone, and happy spring!

Katharine, Zoe, Freddie, and Stella


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stella: The Radioactive Cat

Well blogger friends, I must repeat the same old tired refrain: it's been too long. Graduate school and work are really hard -- and between that and caring for Zoe -- I just haven't had the time to update the blog.

Since I've last written, not much has changed for Zoe. Our walks have gotten a little bit longer; we are now up to 10-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day! We also get to do these fun figure eights to improve Zoe's balance and strength. (Picture a dog in a giant plastic cone wearing approximately 30 layers of clothing with snow boots walking around in slow, repetitive figure eights. My neighbors think I am insane). Meanwhile, we still hauling Zoe up and down the stairs, and trying to keep her from galloping in the snow. Much like everything else, Zoe loves snow, so it's been an adventure preventing her from prancing in it.

We had a minor scare tonight when I looked at her legs and found all these stitches around her incisions and thought they had been left there somehow. But no, it turned out that Zoe's body is merely rejecting the sub-cutaneous stitches, which are now rising to the surface. Leave it to Zoe to even be allergic to her stitches. The good news is that the surgeon said her legs look wonderful, and the only thing to be done with the new stitches was to trim them, and they fell right off. The best news of the night was that the surgeon said that we get to finally remove the cone of shame on Thursday. Yay!

Womp womp.

Not one to be left out, Stella has joined in the fun with her very own medical emergency. A few weeks ago when I took her in for blood work (this happens every 4 months to monitor her chronic pancreatitis), the vet tech told me that she only weighed 14 pounds. As of last July, she was 15.8 pounds. While this may sound minuscule in human terms, I knew that was a red flag for Stella. She is not a cat who loses weight unless there is something wrong.

After doing more blood work, it turned out that my suspicions were correct: Stella has hyperthyroidism. It's an uncomfortable illness for cats, which the vet likened to feeling pumped up on speed all the time; it makes them feel crazy. We had the choice of either medicating her twice a day for the rest of her life (which would include regular blood work and vet visits) or a one-time injection of radioactive Iodine that is a cure. Yes, you read that correctly. Stella is going to become a radioactive cat.

As the Cornell University website describes,

"During treatment, radioactive iodine is administered as an injection and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. The iodine is taken up by the thyroid gland but not by other body tissues. The quantity of radiation destroys the abnormal thyroid tissue but does not damage the surrounding tissues or the parathyroid glands. The majority of cats have normal hormone levels within one to two weeks of treatment.

The advantages of radioactive-iodine therapy are that the procedure is curative, has no serious side effects, and does not require anesthesia. It does, however, involve the handling and injection of a radioactive substance that is only permitted at facilities specially licensed to use radioisotopes. The radioactivity carries no significant risk for the cat, but precautionary protective measures are required for people who come into close contact with the cat. A treated cat has to remain hospitalized until the radiation level has fallen to within acceptable limits. Usually this means that the cat will need to be hospitalized for approximately two weeks after treatment. Because of strict treatment guidelines, most facilities will not allow visitors" (http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/hyperthyroid.html).

Crazy, right!? 

Radioactive material is no joke.

But here's the thing: Stella hates going to the vet. It works her up to the point where we've become worried it puts undue strain on her heart. We would rather submit her to a one-time treatment than subject her to frequent visits and twice daily "pillings" for the rest of her life. While the iodine treatment is more expensive upfront, in the longterm, the medication and blood work would probably cost more. After weighing all our options, we decided to do the one-time injection.

Fortunately for us, the place where we are taking Stella (in the suburbs of Chicago) will only keep her for five days. Unfortunately for Stella, when we bring her home, she will have to stay in a room without contact with humans for more than 20 minutes a day and no interaction with the other animals. She will have special litter that I will need to scoop daily wearing gloves. This will last over a two week period. It is intense.

Because there is only one location in the Chicagoland area that does this treatment, they couldn't fit us in until March 4th. I didn't think this would be a problem, but Stella has started to decline at an alarming rate. She's lost even more weight, has been vomiting, and seems to have contracted some kind of upper respiratory infection. I have no idea whether or not the infection is related to anything else, but she is not in good shape. More than anything else, I just don't like the "look" of her, if that makes sense. I know my Stella, and she is just not herself.

I called the vet today who said that we should put her on thyroid medication while we are waiting for the treatment. I am going to try to call the clinic tomorrow and beg them to fit us in sooner, but I am not sure whether or not that will work. If nothing else, Stella will go to the vet on Thursday to get checked out and to get all the necessary blood work and x-rays for the radioactive Iodine injection. If we cannot get an appointment with the specialty center sooner, we will also pick up the thyroid medication then.

Once again, it is raining -- or should I say snowing? -- animals and medical crises. (**That bad joke was for you, Dad).

Before I conclude, please allow me to make one unsolicited remark: GET PET INSURANCE. We are hemorrhaging money right now because of all the animal medical bills. When all is said and done, the amount that Stella and Zoe's medical expenses will have cost will amount to nearly a third of my annual stipend for graduate school Freddie is our only pet with insurance, and he (thank god) is our "low maintenance" one. To learn more about pet insurance, you should check out our friends, Two Pitties in the City, who wrote a bunch of great posts about the subject.

Have any of you had cats with hyperthyroidism? I'd love to hear your experiences if you have.

My two princesses.
(**Zoe is a puppy here, hence Stella looks like a beast).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Zoe Update: Two Weeks Later

It's hard to believe that it's only been a little over two weeks since Zoe had her surgeries. Before we went through all this, I knew Zoe was a tough dog -- but I had no idea. She has remained almost completely unfazed by all of this and is still very much our normal goofball.

Zoe using her cone as some kind of heat conductor and/or self-tanning device.
She's now completely off all her medication (pain killers, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories) and is walking without difficulty. If she had her way, she would be running and jumping by now. In order to prevent her "zest for life" from working against her, we have her special harness on her at all times and either keep her in her crate or on a supervised tie-down. This is the most critical period for her to heal, so we are trying to follow all the surgeon's instructions.

As I mentioned in today's post, Zoe and I went to the surgeon for her suture removal. The hardest part of that visit was keeping her calm (we had to carry her to prevent running in the waiting room!). While she's going to have some serious scars, all the swelling and bruising is gone. After removing the stitches, the vet said that Zoe's legs look perfect and she's thrilled with how well she's doing. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt to hear that!

In the meantime, we just need to keep doing what we're doing: short walks 2-3 times a day, no running, jumping, range of motion exercises, etc. I regret to say that the cone of shame must stay on for one more week to prevent Zoe from licking her incision sites. I talked to the surgeon about taking the cone off during walks or using the padded cone instead of the plastic one, but she said that she's seen too many dogs break out of them and that "it only takes a few licks." Infection could be a very serious complication, and as sad as the Zoe-in-cone photos look, it's just not worth the risk. And truth be told, she's actually pretty happy. She's just reallyyyy good at looking pathetic in photos.

As you might imagine, we've been getting a lot of attention on our walks. In general, it's been a mixture of concern and bemusement. What has been most challenging are the people in my neighborhood who let their dogs run around off-leash. On multiple occasions, I've had to pick Zoe up and cross the street to prevent an interaction with an off leash dog. In one case, I ended up running away from an off-leash (but very determined!) Yorkie! The owner didn't seem to understand the seriousness of the situation, even though I'd previously talked to him about Zoe's surgery. We're lucky that it's winter and there are fewer people out with their dogs.

We found our Sirius Republic snood worked quite well to shield Zoe from the frigid Chicago weather.

While off-leash dogs aren't easy, the biggest challenge has been the stairs. Anytime Zoe needs to go outside, we have to carry her up and down two curvy flights of stairs, put her down to open the door,, drop that door open, pick her up again and then carry her down another set of stairs to get to the sidewalk (and do the same thing going back up!). We do have the special harness to help, but Zoe squirms so much when I carry her with it that it seems safer to just firmly hold her in my arms. Only six more weeks of this . . .

Well, that's all that's happening with Zoe, but we have had some other developments with our other high-maintenance creature (Hint: it's not this guy). Stay tuned for a new post soon! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Today Zoe has her appointment to get her sutures removed (and hopefully the cone of shame along with it!). I think she's had enough!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day 4 at Home: A Zoe Update and A Thank You

Every single day Zoe is getting a little bit better. Since my last post, we've been able to get her to start eating again! Her appetite has returned, thanks in part to the addition of some hypoallergenic wet food (mmm...). Granted, she only is willing to eat her gelatinous canned meat directly from my hands (a vegetarian's dream), I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help her rebuild her strength.

Today has been Zoe's best day yet; she really seems more like herself. We switched from icing her incisions to hot packing them, a change she seemed to welcome. Her cankles have subsided (can you imagine, the leggy Zoe with cankles?!) and while she's still quite sore, she's not as painful-seeming. Now that some of the swelling has subsided and thanks to her fancy haircut, it's really clear how much leg muscle she's lost. For who knows how long, she's been relying on her upper-body strength. The good news is that today marks the beginning of 12 weeks of physical therapy where we can work to rebuild her muscle mass. Every two weeks, the program changes, so here's what the first two weeks involve: 

First, there are the "passive range of motion exercises." Over the next two weeks, we have to do a series of exercises that involve slowly flexing her knees forward and backward (5-10 times). Because she was signaling to me that this was uncomfortable for her (a lot of nervous lip-licking/turning back and looking at me), I didn't push it. Hopefully we'll have better luck tomorrow. The second component of her rehab is the "weight shifting exercise." That involves standing her squarely on firm footing, and slowly distributing her weight evenly between both her legs, hough never putting all her weight on either injured leg. This is a tough exercise for a dog who's had surgery on both  hind legs, but her surgeon said that we should still try a modified version of it. I'm terrified of hurting her, so I also took it easy on her today. 

After getting through the parts she didn't like, I got to reward her with the third element of physical therapy: walking! Starting today, we are required(!!!) to do slow, short leash walks 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times daily. In addition to mixing up the rehab exercises, we get to increase the length of the walks every two weeks. 

It won't surprise anyone that Zoe was delighted to be outside. Her tail was wagging and she was even doing a modified version of her prance. Believe it or not, she was even trying to pull me. Fortunately, all that time we spent working on "watch me" really paid off because I was able to use it as a means of slowing her down. The best part was that she was just so happy. As I've said before, walking is such an integral part of Zoe and my life together, so the feeling was mutual. 

Beyond learning how resilient Zoe is, this experience has also made me realize how many caring people K. and I have in our life. From phone calls, get-well cards, gifts, messages, hugs, prayers, emails, and even dog-sitting, many, many people have been there for us. I truly feel like people understand that to love us is to love Zoe. We are so grateful for the support.  

Zoe's SociaBulls buddy, Willie, even lent her his Comfy Cone

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zoe Update, Day 2: Home and Resting Up

Zoe is home!!!!!!!!!!

K. and I are so happy to have her back. It was too quiet here without her! (Though the cats loved it!).

Today is definitely a better day than yesterday. I was at the vet's office yesterday for over an hour going over very specific instructions for Zoe's recovery. First, there were all the medications to go over, though that that was the easy part. Here's the real challenge: for the next eight weeks, she must remain in a "controlled confinement." Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? Well, it isn't. But it's also crucial for Zoe's recovery. A controlled confinement means that Zoe either has to be crated or supervised VERY closely in a small room without furniture she can jump on. We have to carry her up and down the stairs of our three story walk up, and absolutely cannot let her run or jump on anyone. God help us! The reason this is so important is because the first eight weeks are the critical period where the TTA device fuses. If she doesn't injure herself during that time, the success rate for this surgery is very high and the chance of re-injury is extremely low. We are going to have to be super vigilant about all of this -- especially once she starts feeling better! Right now, it's not such a problem.

Zoe on the car ride home.
 I angered many a Chicago driver because I refused to drive over 25 miles an hour! 

After the initial excitement wore off yesterday, Zoe started to seem like she was in a lot of pain and grew really groggy. Her legs are very bruised and swollen, and the incisions are gigantic. (K., who had ACL surgery 6 years ago, says that he and Zoe will now be twins). It was awful to see her hurting and not be able to do much beyond give her pain medication and ice her legs. Even though she was super uncomfortable, she was still Zoe. No matter how terrible she felt, she would raise her head a little and wag her tail when we pet her or came in the room.

Sad Zoe face. 

The main issue we encountered yesterday was her refusal to eat. This isn't unusual because she's on pain killers, an anti-inflammatory, and antibiotics -- all of which could upset her stomach. So when I would try to feed her, she'd dramatically turn her head away in disgust. After a few hours at home, I did manage to get her to eat some dog treats and a few pieces of kibble out of my hands, but that was it. She's markedly thinner now and needs to start eating again. 

Zoe's skinny little shaved butt. So pathetic! (That's a pain killer patch on her hip).

After much prompting, I was able to convince her to drink a tiny bit out of her SociaBulls water bottle. (Whatever works!). I was just relieved she was drinking a little. Before we went to sleep, we were able to take her outside and get her to pee (again, the small victories...). If any of our neighbors saw or heard us, they must've thought we were crazy! (Picture us gathered around a scrawny, squatting dog in a giant cone of shame, clapping and exclaiming praise in high-pitched voices). We didn't care. 

Because Zoe usually sleeps with us at night, I knew she would cry if we left her in her crate in the living room alone. While it's nice that she has a big crate, it's so big that we can't fit it in our bedroom easily. So, I slept on the couch next to her crate -- that is until Zoe woke me up at three in the morning. She was whining and I thought perhaps she wanted to go outside, but instead when I took her out of her create, she went to her water bowl and drank a ton. I've never been so happy to be woken up in the middle of the night!

By the morning, she seemed better. She's still quite stiff, but she is a little more alert and has drank water without any prompting. She's also willing to take treats from me, but is still rejecting her regular kibble. After talking to the vet, we decided that I should go pick up some special canned food for her because it has a higher water content and might be a special treat that'll entice her to eat. Hopefully that will work! 

My study buddy.
We don't start physical therapy with her until Saturday, but I'm looking forward to getting her moving again. In the meantime, I'm glad to see her resting. 

That's the Zoe update for now. Thank you again for all your love! We appreciate it!