Today, I would like to start the week with a story about my friend Cotton, a kitty who beat the odds of FeLV.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I am writing this already two weeks after Cotton has gone from this world because it was too difficult to do so before. So how could it be that he beat the odds? Let me explain.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with FeLV, it is a feline retrovirus that a cat can contract at any time during his/her life, which destroys the cat’s immune system over time. It can also lead to certain cancers, blood disorders, and a lack of red blood cells. Unlike FIV, cats with FeLV generally should not live amongst non-infected cats because FeLV CAN be spread from common contact. It is passed from cat to cat through bite wounds, mother’s milk, mutual grooming, and though rarely, through litter box use and food bowls. It is present in the saliva and nasal secretions as well as urine, feces, and blood. Some cats can kick the disease in its earliest stage if their immune system is strong enough. If they don’t, odds are that 70% of cats don’t survive beyond three years of contracting the disease, so told us Cotton’s veterinarian.
It’s a bleak prognosis, to be sure, but occasionally, there is the small percentage of cats who do make it beyond that. In Cotton’s case, he survived twelve years beyond diagnosis.
How did he do it? Honestly, I don’t know. You see, Cotton was a Trap-Neuter-Return kitty, but instead of being returned to the street, he was returned to a friend of MomFOD. This caring fellow, despite not really wanting a cat, took Cotton in and slowly made friends with him. It took a few years of patience, but Cotton and this fellow (we’ll call him C) became the best of friends. C had Cotton tested for FeLV and FIV, but they both came back negative, so no extra care was provided to Cotton beyond the usual love and companionship.
Then, around 2007, Cotton began to have frequent eye infections. They’d appear once a month and Cotton would hide under the bed for days at a time. MomFOD happened to be around often then and thought Cotton perhaps had feline herpes. She knew something was going on with Cotton’s immune system, so she took him into the vet and they retested for FeLV. This time, it came back positive.
Cotton’s vet at the time came out and said “He tested positive for FeLV. Take him home and make him comfortable.” And that was it.
Now, MomFOD, never the quitter when it comes to cats (or adopting them, apparently) refused to believe that this was the end. She believed in a raw diet but knew that for a kitty with a compromised immune system, raw wasn’t a good option. She removed Cotton from his grain-heavy diet and switched him to something with no by-products or grain and a lot of protein. Within a few weeks, Cotton’s symptoms disappeared.
And then, Cotton lived another eight years with no outward signs of his disease until the last few months. Another vet told C that Cotton’s prognosis wasn’t good, and so he once again called on MomFOD for help. This time, though, MomFOD could also tell that Cotton wasn’t well. No longer the plump kitty she remembered, Cotton had lost most of his weight and was clearly dehydrated. He was refusing to eat. MomFOD taught C to administer fluids (with a prescription from his vet) and C valiantly did it all by himself every other day. He mixed special diets and stayed home from work, giving up all his vacation time to make sure that he was with Cotton as much as possible. MomFOD checked on him frequently. They tried other vets, different diets, a blood transfusion, and lots of love. Yet, in the end, Cotton finally succumbed to the awful disease. His red blood cell count was too low. His body was failing.
MomFOD accompanied C during Cotton’s last moments, and it was a difficult experience for her, though certainly nowhere close to what it was for C. He had lost his best friend. Yet, when he said to MomFOD that Cotton was a “poor kitty,” MomFOD said “No, he was a lucky kitty.”
How could she think he was lucky? You see, it is a rare caretaker who will take a cat into his life that he didn’t initially want and provide lifelong care, despite an illness like FeLV. A man who will give up all of his vacation time and his free time, who will learn to use needles and fluids and syringe feed, who would do anything to save his little friend.
Not only did Cotton beat the odds of his disease, he beat the odds and found himself the perfect home and the perfect friend, who never left his side, never gave up, and loved him until the very, very end.
I hope more cats can find a life like Cotton had. It gives all special needs kitties the hope to know that those people really are out there to love them no matter what, for their whole entire lives, no matter how long or short they may be.
We miss you, Cotton.
Source and for more information on FeLV: http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_felv.cfm