I adopted Jericho from the Minnesota Valley Humane society on April 17, 2002. He was about 9 years old at the time and the name on the surrender form called him Pepper. I’d never had a cat before. In fact, I didn’t really like cats. I always fancied myself a dog person and what’s more, I lived with dogs, birds and fish. How would a cat fit into this animal family?

Fast-forward to today, January 2, 2009. I just dropped off Jericho at the vet for a dental exam and cleaning. He’s almost 17-years-old, and I’m just a little nervous about the whole procedure. He had a full blood panel done a few weeks ago, he’s healthy enough for his age and a good candidate for the cleaning and extractions that he needs to have done. His surgeon is a capable and caring veterinarian and I know he’s in good hands.

Jericho has taught me a lot about cats in general, about himself in particular, and I’m still learning from him. Since he is the only cat to ever share my life there are things that I thought were normal cat things, that upon further research or mention to my veterinarian I find are not normal at all.

Most recently, the "not normal" thing was what a messy eater he has become!

I feed him twice a day; 2 ounces of canned food mixed with about a ½ cup of warm water. He’s a good eater. He eats everything I put in front of him and some things that I don’t… like dog treats, whatever he can lick off my food plate and melted ice cream from the bottom of the bowl. For the last few months his eating manners have gotten progressively worse. He still eats everything he can get his mouth on, but after meals I’d have to wash the walls in the room where he is fed. Food is splattered everywhere! What a mess. I don’t usually watch him eat, but I have seen him shake his head and send food bits flying into his water fountain, onto the wall, all over the light switch… it’s amazing how far a 12 pound cat can fling his food!

Also, his coat under his chin looked oily and damp all the time. At first I thought it was his whole coat that needed attention, but then I noticed it was mostly under his chin and on his chest that looked a little off. He didn’t look bad, he just looked like someone had used styling mousse on his chest; the hair was a little curlier and had a damp-look to it. Was he drooling? Did he need a bib? Do they make bibs for cats?

Jericho OutsideI took him to see his vet, Dr. Cathy Lund at Southfork Animal Hospital. She was the one who suggested that he might be drooling. And when she looked in his mouth she recommended a dental. She explained that it looked like he had a bad premolar (the enamel was already wearing away) and his upper canine looked fractured. It would be like having a raw nerve exposed. Poor kitty.

Unlike people teeth, cat cavities start on the inside of the tooth and move to the outside, so they are impossible to detect from just looking into the mouth. By the time they can be seen with the naked eye, they are already causing pain to the cat. Jericho will be having his entire mouth X-rayed to see if there are any other teeth that need extraction. No point in leaving him with a bad tooth undetected.

Normally cats with the kind of teeth problems Jericho has would be less interactive and possible eat less. The changes would be subtle though, and because they were occurring over time, the cat owner might not even realize the behavior changes. If Jericho were not such a messy eater and hadn’t drooled on his fur, I wouldn’t have thought to take him into the vet.

Actually, I wouldn’t have taken him to the vet for the messy eating, because to me that seemed behavioral. If his coat hadn’t seemed odd, he probably wouldn’t have gone to the vet at all. Truth is... if Dr. Lund hadn’t pointed it out, I’d have never even considered that he could be drooling. I just suspected changes to his coat were the cause of some systemic issue that might attention or diet changes.

I think sometimes we animal owners, don’t always look at the whole cat. That idea that "it takes a village" comes to mind. We need veterinarians, behavior specialists, chiropractors, trainers, groomers, and others in the cat community to help us see the bigger picture.

I don’t always pay attention to my cat the way I should. Just like people don’t give their full attention to their spouses, or their kids or their co-workers. We get all wrapped up in our own stuff and forget to ask, "How are you today?" and really listen for the true answer. If I had asked or listened to Jericho, he might have had to endure less pain these last few weeks. And I would have spent less time cleaning the walls.

January 3, 2009

Follow up on Jericho’s dental appointment.

Jericho came home yesterday afternoon. He was really groggy after having two teeth extracted: one premolar and his right upper canine. What a way to start out the New Year! My sister pointed out that many people start out their New Year groggy, and I’m sure the more rambunctious revelers may even wake up with missing teeth, but it seems wrong that the cat can’t walk a straight line.

I was told to confine him to a small area and keep him from too much activity, so he spent the night in the bathroom with a baby gate blocking him from access to the toilet. A jump onto the toilet seat is one swift leap to the countertop… A dizzy cat on the counter is just one slip away from the emergency vet.

He was starving when he got home and despite the fact that he could barely hold his head up he was looking for food. By 9PM I felt so bad for him, I gave him a bowl of warm water baited with five ounces of canned food. Jericho’s mouth must’ve still been numb because his entire face was wet and he had long strands of drool hanging from the corners of his mouth. He was a totally pathetic sight and I wiped his face with a towel under the steady glare of his angry green eyes. Normally he’s a friendly, spirited cat, but he was not finding much humor in his altered state. I wasn’t scared by "the look," after all his one foot was bandaged from the IV and he was missing teeth in a mouth that didn’t work anyway. If ever there was a time that I might have bested a cat, last night was it.

This morning Jericho is doing well, looking more dignified and moving elegantly like a high fashion model on a catwalk. The true test came with his breakfast. Would the walls need cleaning?…

Happily no. No head shaking and hopefully there will be no drooling. I think I’ll let him settle in this morning, before I torture him with a bath later today.