R.I.P Fritz, 28 December, 2013
It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of my fantastic cat, Fritz. He was just shy of being 19 years old. I unfortunately had to make the decision to have him put to sleep after he contracted cancer of the jaw. Saying he will be greatly missed is a huge understatement.
Writing this post has been bittersweet and tough and I needed to give myself some time after Fritz's death before I could finger to keyboard.
I got Kira in 1994 (my first cat) and when she was about a year old, I thought she might be getting lonely rattling around in the house all day on her own. So I decided to get her a companion who could keep her warm and from being bored.
I rang around a few local vet clinics to see if they had any kittens they wanted to rehome. One vet had just taken delivery of three kittens so I popped down to look. All were about the same age - 8-9 weeks old. One was all black and quiet, another was a mix of black and white and very timid and the third was a tabby who was into exploring his environment. I knew immediately he was the cat for me.
When I arrived home with this new cat, Kira wasn't impressed. She took an instant dislike to him. Maybe she saw him as encroaching on her territory. Maybe it was just plain jealousy. My plan to have Fritz (not yet then named) as a companion for Kira just went down in flames. Over the years, she made sure he knew his place in the hierarchy of things. As they passed each other, she would sometimes give him a right hook to the jaw just to remind him of who was boss. They were never friends. But an uneasy detente did ensue over time (a lot of time) and in latter years, they would even occasionally sleep on the bed together.
An uneasy detente between Kira and Fritz
I found it hard to name both my cats. I thought picking names that suited their personalities would be a good idea, so both were nameless for a few weeks after I got them. Kira was a no-nonsense cat, knew what she wanted and had a strong personality. At the time, Star Trek Deep Space 9 was airing, and the Kira Nerys character on that show was not too dissimilar personality wise, so my first cat was named Kira.
Fritz when he was 1-2 years old
The cat who was eventually to be named Fritz was a much tougher one to name. He was inquisitive, curious and a little mischievous. He was also independent yet subservient to Kira. He had the softest fur of any cat I've known and liked human company. Weeks went by without an appropriate name coming to mind. And it was Amanda who finally came up with the name "Fritz" as it seemed to capture his somewhat mischievous nature.
Cat Is The Hat
One night in the cold winter of 1995, I woke up sweltering in bed. I couldn't figure out why perspiration was pouring out of me. It felt more like a hot, humid night in Summer. My head felt strangely warm as well and as I reached up to wipe the sweat from my brow, there was a muted meow. Patting at the top of my head in the dark, I felt the small kitten draped around it.
Moral of the story: if you want to keep warm an cozy in bed on the coldest of Winter nights, wear a cat on your head!
Fritz's Big Adventure
Early in 1996, Fritz had become an indoor and outdoor cat. He much preferred to do his ablutions outdoors rather than use the litter tray. He also just enjoyed patrolling the back garden, surveying his territory. He was outdoors much more than Kira. However, if he was out after 8pm, I'd call him in (yes, he would come when called, as did Kira) and the catflap would be closed till morning.
This particular night, he did not come when called. I assumed he was just out of hearing range and that he'd come home in due course. The weather was bad - very windy and a fair bit of rain. Fritz was neutered at this stage so any tomcat shenanigans on his part weren't the reason here. By the time I was heading to bed, there was still no sign of him. I tried calling him again. Still he didn't reappear. I had no choice but to leave the catflap open overnight and hope that he'd be there in the morning.
Unfortunately, he wasn't. I tried calling again. No response. By now I was worried something might have happened to him. I checked out on the road (it's a quiet residential area) in case he'd been hit by a car. That didn't appear to bed the case. And a search of the front and back gardens didn't reveal anything either, so he wasn't injured, lying somewhere as a result.
There was nothing more I could do as I had to head off to work. When I got home that evening, he still hadn't arrived home. I grabbed a picture of him and knocked on neighbor's doors asking if they'd seen him. No one had. Some of them, I think, thought I was a bit nuts.
Next, I put a "Lost Cat" notice, with his picture, up in the local shops. It was a last-ditch effort to find him. But it was one that paid off. 7 days after he disappeared, I got a phone call from a lady who thought the cat she was sheltering might be Fritz.
Thing is, she lived about a mile away from me. It seemed quite some distance for a not-quite-1-year-old cat to have traveled. Plus he'd had to cross a busy, main road, unscathed. She explained that 7 days earlier, she'd heard a scratching at her front door on that wild and windy night and as soon as she opened it, something had shot in the door, up the stairs and under the nearest bed. Her two dogs seemed a bit freaked out by it as well. Coaxing this thing out from under the bed she realized it was a bedraggled, sodden young cat. So she took care of him and 6 days later saw his picture on a "Lost Cat" notice in a local shop.
I arranged to go down to her house and check that the cat was indeed Fritz. There was a small scar on the right side of his nose that made identifying him easy, yet when I called his name and sounded his call, there was no sign of recognition. He was curled up in front of a nice open fire at the time though, so creature comfort might have been his first concern.
Still, showing the woman more pictures of Fritz, she was convinced that he was indeed my cat and so I took him home.
He never got lost again.
Fritz when he was a couple of years old
Fritz always seemed to have a sensitive stomach, and barfing was an all too common habit of his. He always threw up on a carpet. Even if he was in a room with wood flooring, he'd dart out to a carpeted area and then upchuck. I guess he liked the absorbent properties of carpeting.
One evening when I came home from work, I switched on my new 32" widescreen TV (a CRT - before the arrival of today's flatscreen TVs) to catch the news. There was a bang and a thin wisp of smoke curled its way out of the back of the set. I opened up the back of the TV to see if I could spot the problem. And there it was. A big pile of cat puke that had caused a short circuit when I'd switched the set on. I replaced the back on the TV, called the repairman and sent it off for repair.
Fritz in middle age
When it came back in working condition, I asked what the problem had been. All the repairman said was that he'd had to replace a bad board. He said nothing about the pile of cat vomit he'd have found. And I didn't inquire any further.
And then there was the time that Fritz projectile vomited on the wallpaper. A faint stain still lies there to this day and now I feel disinclined to remove it completely as it's now a reminder of that great cat.
After Fritz's disappearance and return, he led a pretty normal cat life that involved being outside during the day and inside at night. He got into a few scrapes with neighborhood cats and in his first couple of years came home with more than the odd bleeding paw. At least he didn't end up with shredded ears as some cats do.
Christmas cat - Fritz at 11 years of age
Fritz was a petite cat, so smaller than average, and I often wondered if he was seen as something of an easy target for better built cats. He could hold his own in a fight though.
Around 2003, a new cat appeared on the scene. I eventually named him Bandit after he'd managed to figure out how to break through the magnetically powered catflap and steal the food I left out for my cats in the kitchen. Bandit was a cool customer. I think he might have been abandoned as he was used to but wary of people. I built up a measure of trust with him by interacting and playing with him in the garden. He would later tolerate me stroking him. On cold nights, I'd find him sleeping on a cushion in one of the upstairs bedrooms after he'd jemmied the catflap again.
With stern warnings not to harass my cats and not to spray or otherwise make himself unwelcome, he was allowed these occasional sleepovers. Both Kira and Fritz gave him a wide berth when they came across him in the house but, to his credit, Bandit never acted in any threatening way towards either Kira or Fritz. What happened out in the garden might have been different though. Bandit became very ill in 2007 and I found him in a very poorly state in his usual place of sleep. Unfortunately, the vet had to euthanize him due to his condition.
Using Up One of His 9 Lives
In September 2009, I was eating dinner in front of the TV around 6:45 PM when Fritz arrived in. I noticed he had difficulty walking and it took a great effort for him to jump up on the sofa across the room - one of his favorite sleeping spots. I went over to check on him and he was obviously in great discomfort. That's when I saw the blood on the cushion. Quite a bit of it. A lot for a cat.
Inspecting his legs I found that both his back legs were a bloody mess. I grabbed the cat carrier, put Fritz into it as gently as I could and raced up to the vet. Given this was a Friday evening and the vet closed at 7PM, I got there just as they were about to shut for the night. It was obvious that Fritz was an emergency case, so they dealt with him immediately.
The first order of business was to clean the wounds, inspect for broken bones, dress them carefully and give him some pain killers. He was put on an intravenous drip overnight and the next morning was sedated and X-Rayed for injuries.
The vet reckoned that Fritz had been clipped by a car on one buttock, and spun by the force of the impact. This had broken and shredded the nails on his front paws and skinned his hind legs.
Even with those injuries, he'd managed to scale a 5 ft wall, jump down from it, make his way to the catflap and crawl into the house. Given the design of catflaps, the door on mine would have hit his back legs as he climbed through it. Despite his obvious pain, he never cried though he did whimper as I'd lifted him into the cat carrier.
The X-Rays the next morning revealed that he'd been very lucky. There were no broken bones, no fractures, no dislocated hip and there was no sign of internal injury. He'd gotten off with skin and nail damage. That's not to say that the injuries to his back legs were not serious. There was always danger of infection setting in and, because there's so little skin over bone on a cat's back leg, it looked likely that he'd need at least one skin graft to repair the damage.
He stayed in the vet's over the weekend with his wounds being repeatedly washed and re-dressed and put on a course of strong antibiotics. Painkillers made him comfortable and an intravenous drip kept him hydrated and nourished.
Fritz fitted with a neck collar so he couldn't pull at the bandages on his hind legs
He was allowed home on the Monday, though both hind legs were encased in thick bandages. The vet wanted to wait 5 days to see how Fritz progressed before deciding if skin grafts would be necessary. I settled Fritz in the airing cupboard where it was always warm and made him as comfortable as possible. I put his litter tray nearby, which he could get to by walking down a makeshift stairs I created out of boxes and such. Food and treats were in ready supply and I regularly checked on his condition.
He was understandably quiet for the first couple of days as sedation still had some effect. On day 3, he started moving about and walking. Cats with any leg bandaged find it hard to move around, but the fact that he was up and about so quickly boded well for his recovery.
This cat was resilient, a quality that would reveal itself again and again in the ensuing years.
On Friday, we returned to the vet for a checkup and dressing change. His legs were healing so well that it was determined no skin graft would be necessary. Later the following week, the bandages were removed entirely. He still had some difficulty walking as the skin had tightened from the healing process but it wasn't long before he was back to his old self. Because of the injuries, he was left with some permanent bald spots on his legs and spots where the hair was more sparse than normal.
Early in 2011, I noticed that Fritz was having the odd coughing fit. These were wheezy in nature and reminded me somewhat of my own asthma symptoms (turns out I was allergic to my own cats!). I took him to the vet to get him checked out and asthma was indeed diagnosed. I never knew cats could get asthma. He was put on some medication to control the symptoms. By May it became clear that he was either allergic to the medication or it simply upset his stomach because he'd frequently barf after getting a tablet.
Fritz in his Cat Igloo
So he was prescribed inhalers, exactly the same ones that humans use. And so as I could use the inhalers on him, I had to get a Babyhaler. At one end was a cup to go over a babies face (for babies with asthma); at the other end, the inhaler would slot in. In between was a chamber that contained the aerosolized medication and one-way valves that allowed the gas to be inhaled from the chamber and exhaled into open air.
The Babyhaler is actually a good fit for cats and less expensive than a cat-specific inhaler apparatus. So I would kneel on the floor, put Fritz between my legs, wrap one arm around him and use my free hand to place the Babyhaler over his nose and mouth. I can't say he enjoyed it, but it was comparatively easy to get him to breath through the inhaler this way. He was also put on steroids - I had to give him half a tablet every second day. This continued up until his death.
Fritz's asthma would come and go and sometimes a few weeks would go by without me having to use the Babyhaler.
Old Age Starts Creeping In
In August of 2012, I saw that Fritz was limping; he couldn't put any weight on his left front leg. I couldn't see any obvious injury and it looked like it might just be a sprain. I had him checked out just in case anyway and the vet diagnosed age-related arthritis.
He was put on a daily course of Metacam. This is one of those wonder drugs. Unfortunately, it doesn't work on humans. It restores mobility to arthritic joints, reducing inflammation and providing pain relief. I would inject his daily dose into his mouth. Initially, I positioned him in the same way as for the Babyhaler and then squirted the medication through the side of his mouth. But he quite quickly made the connection between getting this medication and feeling better and mobile again. So all I had to do was present the syringe to him and he would start lapping up the medicine. There were times where I'd be distracted and forget to give him his Metacam, and he would literally come crying looking for it!
Fritz Enjoying The Garden In His Twilight Years
In February 2013, Fritz started to lose his appetite. Nothing I did would entice him to eat. He was 18 years old now and with kidney disease being common in elderly cats I thought that might have been the root cause. So back to the vet for a checkup. The vet advised getting blood tests done to identify if there was some underlying condition that was causing the loss of appetite. Fritz was kept in for a couple of days while the tests were run and he was put on an IV drip.
Despite his asthma, his lungs were fine. So was his heart. And, surprisingly, so were his kidneys. His eocynophil levels were through the roof though. These are a type of white blood cell so are involved in the immune system. Whatever was going on was depressing his appetite. Only doing biopsies of organs would have identified what was increasing the eocynophil level and I didn't want to put Fritz through that given his age. The vet was also disinclined to go this route as the treatment would be the same whether we knew the roor cause or not - steroids. So Fritz's steroid medication was doubled to half a tablet per day. I was also given some tablets to give to him as I thought necessary to boost his appetite.
This did get him eating again though he was starting to lose weight at this stage. Fritz's normal weight was about 3.9 Kg (1.77 lbs) and he was how down to about 3.6 Kg (1.64 lbs). I started heating his food for him so that the aroma would be stronger and therefore more appetizing and raised hos food dish off the floor so he wouldn't have to stoop or crouch to eat.
70% of Cats Have Dental Problems
That's a surprising statistic. You'd think with the various kinds of food and teeth cleaning treats we can give our cats that bad teeth or gum disease wouldn't be much of a problem. What I learned is that you have to keep a close eye on your cat's behaviour to see if eating habits change or you see any other signs of mandibular discomfort.
By mid April 2013, Fritz had stopped eating again and his breath stank. Back to the vet and this time an abscess under one of his back teeth was identified. So the tooth was extracted and the abscess cleared up with antibiotics.
Summer came and went without incident or sickness. Fritz was 18 and a half now and less inclined to go outside as often as he used to. Old age was staring to catch up with him. As Summer turned to Autumn, he would seek the comfort and heat of my lap when I watched TV at night. He had a heated cat igloo as well but preferred being with me.
Fritz having a good old yawn on his cushion beside my monitor
When I went to bed, he would frequently follow me up and sleep on the bed. As Autumn turned towards Winter, I'd often wake up to find him snuggled down in the bed, under the covers.
October 2013 saw Fritz lose his appetite again and his weight dropped once more. He now weighed 3.2 Kg (1.45 lbs). He had no difficulty moving around and could still run up the stairs faster than I could. His quality of life was good and he interacted with family, friends and visitors. He still enjoyed going into the front garden, though with me watching.
With the loss of appetite again, I wasted no time in taking him up to the vet for another checkup. This time the vet wanted to do more blood tests and keep him in over the weekend to pump him full of fluids to rehydrate him. On the Saturday I was allowed to visit and he was full of beans. he was also enthusiastically eating the food the vet gave him. Sunday, he seemed to crash; no interest in food. The blood tests revealed that he had liver disease. This was making him nauseous and killing any interest in food. A catheter was put into his leg to facilitate the injection that would put him to sleep. The vet allowed Fritz to come home with me on the Monday to see if the home environment would be beneficial.
Fritz looking his most frail when he came home from the vet in October 2013
And it turns out it was. As soon as he got home, he went straight to the food bowl and began eating. He was also very active, walking all around the house, even though the bandaged leg made it problematic. The protruding catheter meant Fritz couldn't really get comfortable. He sat on my lap that night and later on in my bed. The next morning, the vet agreed to remove the catheter.
I realized at this point that we were now in Bonus Time and every day from now on that I was with Fritz was to be cherished.
Fritz 2 weeks after the catheter was removed
Because of his condition, Fritz had to get fluids injected each month thereafter. It took a few hours, so he was a day patient rather than an overnighter being needed. I took to feeding him small amounts, several times per day and this worked well in keeping him nourished. He'd mooch about the house or snuggle somewhere warm and a ritual developed each night where I'd give him his Metacam and steroid tablet, followed by some hot food and treats. Some nights he spent in his heated cat igloo. Other nights he'd spend with me in the bed.
At the end of November 2013, when Fritz was in for his fluids, the vet thought it advisable that he go on a biweekly regimen of fluids rather than a monthly one. It became obvious that time was starting to run out. Fritz had stopped chewing food and instead was lapping it up, so I'd resorted to mashing his food up for him. I asked the vet to check his mouth for any issues - gingivitis, bad teeth, etc. He couldn't find anything wrong.
Fritz had now dropped to 3kg in weight (1.36 lbs) and he was starting to look very frail. While he was a bit wobbly on the back end, he was still walking on all toes, and could still move fast when he wanted to. But he either wasn't eating enough or drinking enough. And his liver problem was probably getting worse which would have accounted for a further loss of appetite.
I asked the vet if he thought I was being selfish in trying to keep Fritz going and he said we weren't at that stage yet. Besides, Fritz still seemed to be enjoying life.
When I collected him from his mid-December fluids appointment (2 weeks later) the vet advised me that he's seen blood at the back of Fritz's throat when he was trying to give him a tablet. Examination showed that there was a swelling in his jaw roughly where his previous abscess had been. He was put on a strong antibiotic but the vet was concerned that the swelling might be due to something more sinister - cancer. At his next appointment on December 27th, we'd know if the cause was an abscess or cancer.
I took him down to Amanda's house over Christmas and he was really interested in the turkey. He ran over to a piece that was offered to him and sat and slept on the sofa with us during the day. He was happy, purring softly between us.
On December 27th, when I was taking him up for his next round of fluids, I had a sense of foreboding. The vet confirmed my worst fears; the swelling had not subsided and had in fact grown. It was time to let Fritz go. I was told he should be put to sleep sooner rather than later as what was happening in his jaw was beginning to bother him and there was no course of action that would fix the problem. Excision of a jaw-based tumour is a big undertaking with any cat, even one in the prime of health. It would have been too much for Fritz given his advanced age and frail condition.
I took him home while I faced up to the decision I had to make. As much as I loved this wonderful furball, I didn't want him to suffer needlessly. I also didn't want to be selfish and keep him around as long as possible for my own benefit. So later that day, I made one of the hardest decisions in my life and made an appointment to have him put to sleep for 1pm the next day. It was the last appointment in the clinic that day which meant no one else would be around when I had to say goodbye.
Fritz didn't eat or drink much in those final 20 or so hours. He spent the night by my side in bed and the next morning was like a horrible countdown to when I'd have to say goodbye. 4 hours left, 3 hours left...
I gave him as much attention as I could but it was obvious that he'd gone downhill just overnight. He was still very alert but not moving around much.
Fritz on his final day
At the appointed hour, I gently picked him up, placed him on his favourite sheepskin cushion, put him into in the cat carrier and I and Amanda drove up to the clinic with him. The staff there had grown to know Fritz over the years and were very fond of him. They took him into an inner room and attached the catheter to his leg and then brought him out to us where we had a chance to say our last goodbye to him.
Surrounded by those who cared most about him, stroking him, talking to him, the injection was administered and he quietly relaxed into the eternal sleep of death.
The loss of a loved one is never easy be it animal or human.
I took him home and buried him in the garden next to Kira.
Fritz was a great animal companion, a real character and a gentle soul.
Looking back, I was extremely fortunate that both my cats lived such long, happy lives. Kira had just turned 16 when she died of natural causes and Fritz was 2 months shy of his 19th birthday. Cats of friends typically haven't lived as long. Some were killed on the road, some died of cancer, some from other diseases.
16 and 19 years is a long time. When each died, that cat had been with me for over a third of my life; longer than many human relationships I've had. That's not something you get over easily.
Two days after I buried Fritz, I was standing by his grave, making sure nothing (like local foxes) had disturbed it. It was a windy day and a buddlia tree nearby was flailing in the wind. I'm an atheist, so I don't believe there's anything after you die but I found myself talking to Fritz, telling him what a wonderful cat and companion he'd been. As I talked to him and the wind blew, a hand-shaped branch from the buddlia came to rest on my right shoulder for a few seconds before quietly sliding off.
Atheist or believer, make of that what you will.
Goodbye my little friend
I'd like to thank Tom Mullany, William Hayden and all the staff at the Nutgrove Veterinary Hospital for the great care and help they provided Fritz over the years. Without them, Fritz wouldn't have made it as far has he did.