My cat, Max, is intently staring out the open bay window in my dining room. He is an indoor cat and he requests this small pleasure several times a day. What I mean is, he stares at the window until I open it for him. This is part of his normal routine and I am grateful for all signs of normality in this cat. He and I have both had a pretty rough year trying to get his hyperthyroidism under control. Max is 15 now. I’m told this kind of thing is common in older cats. I’ve done some research and I’ve been handed some reading material on the subject.

I love my animal hospital and the staff. I’ve been going there for almost 20 years. I believe we share a similar philosophy and I am comfortable there. But it’s been an expensive and an emotional year.

In the last year, 7 out of the 9 visits have been about his hyperthyroidism, and cost almost $1,000. His annual checkup was almost $300 and a skin infection that he developed cost almost $170 to treat. (We had a really fun time in 2012, when I investigated having his teeth cleaned, knowing he had a heart  murmur. We were trying to determine if the general anesthetic would be too much of a risk for him. The cardiac ultrasound, done by a specialist, interpretation of results and nursing care cost more than $900 in a single day. One of the vets said I was a “good owner”. He never got his teeth cleaned, but he was put on daily medication for a mild cardiac condition. It was recommended that I do this again in six months, and the subject didn’t come up again. I had my answers for the time being.)

We started out with Tapazole (Methimazole) pills and I purchased a handy, dandy pill cutter. The Felimazole, (read “feline” in the name), which is now the preferred veterinary issue, is more than twice the price. For a while, the situation seemed under control. Max seemed happy and behaved normally, showing no more symptoms of increased thirst or urination as he did in the beginning. After a regular blood test many months in, I received a phone call telling me that the result could be better, that it would be better if it were within a “certain range”. So, the dosage was changed. After follow-up testing, I was told the results were indeed better, but Max started eating less and eventually started vomiting his food. I watched him for a while; then I brought him back in.

Max is very tolerant at the animal hospital. You can bend him this way and that for whatever reason, and he takes it in stride. But when the vomiting became too much and the visits too frequent, his stress level, after one such visit, resulted in a night when I thought I was going to lose him. He was laying next to me on the bed, inconsolable, (maybe that was ME), and just tensed up his legs, shut his eyes and went completely stiff for about a minute. Even when his body relaxed, he didn’t open his eyes for quite a while, even when I shook him. He also didn’t eat, drink or use his litterbox for the next 24 hours. I was scared, hurt and angry, but I wasn’t sure who I was angry at.

I became an expert at “pre-treating” laundry, trying to save my clothing and our bedding. I cleaned floors and scrubbed carpets and furniture. Max had lost weight and was easily stressed. He had always been given good quality food and treats, but I still wanted to try and upgrade, transitioning to food that had a shorter ingredient list and a less traditional protein base, (in this case, duck). Same price, but smaller bag. We all know how this goes. Max is a grazer. So when I started removing his food dish in the early evening to retrain his gut away from the nightly 2 to 3 am vomiting habit he had developed, he would cry for food at 5 in the morning. This was fine with me. Better to feed at the crack of dawn than to clean up in the dark. There was talk of other options, like putting transdermal gel in Max’s ear, which would require me to wear gloves. But he doesn’t mind the pills if I put them in the Pill Pockets. (Another pricey item I wouldn’t want to be without.) Removal of the thyroid gland and radioiodine therapy were never discussed. I guess Max’s heart condition could make surgery too risky and if you ever investigate radioiodine therapy, it doesn’t look like much of a good time. One night, I watched an old youtube video called “Stand Up to Your Veterinarian” by Jan Rasmusen. I felt incredibly heartened and guilty at the same time. I was even more reassured about the good quality care Max was receiving, and yet, I was steeling myself for a (low-key) standoff at our next visit. I’m not confrontational by nature. And what I was feeling was something I probably should have come to terms with ages ago. I decided that at our next appointment, I was going to pronounce that I didn’t care about chasing a number if it meant he had a poor quality of life. All I managed to do was vaguely whisper to a vet tech that I was exhausted and had “had enough”.

This time, the result was much better. I thought this was odd, since the same dosage did not produce the same good number in the past, which is what led to this most recent roller-coaster ride. I wonder if this means it can happen again. Maybe this whole experience is mostly about my own guilt. I watched as Max struggled to varying degrees, and while I know he had very good care, I have to admit I was angry about what I thought, at the time, was an unnecessary change in his treatment. A less than optimal result could have been, and may be, in future, just “one of those things” with no immediate explanation. Perhaps I was naive to think that if I just went along, Max would automatically benefit from it. I was so worried that I would appear difficult, or ignorant, and I certainly didn’t want to admit that I was at all concerned about what this was costing me, what it COULD cost me if I said yes to every recommendation. I didn’t just say, “No, thank you. He seems perfectly fine. Let’s just keep things the way they are.”

Max is doing so well, now. He is frisky and playful, eating well, sleeping well and not vomiting anymore. And I have way less laundry to do. But the reality is, I never asserted my authority as Max’s owner; so, technically, I’m still a coward. I hope I do better next time.

All the best,

Barbra and Max