Owning a Cat – Some Costly Pitfalls To Avoid

Fluffy was a house cat which had been given to us by my sister-in-law. Fluffy was from a rough and tumble neighbourhood in South Western Sydney. She was a beautiful tortoiseshell kitten which made her stand out from the other four or five plain looking kittens in the litter. Her brothers and sisters were boisterous and adventurous. In contrast Fluffy was timid, probably as a result of being picked on by her brothers and sisters or perhaps by the little kids who lived in the house.

When we first took Fluffy home we kept her inside as much as possible. We soon discovered that the trouble with domesticated animals such as Fluffy, is that once you let them outside and give them a taste of freedom they were always scratching at the door wanting to get back out.

One evening after work we accidentally left the door open and Fluffy escaped. We spent the hours wandering up and down the street in search of her but she couldn’t be found. A couple of days later, while outside watering the garden, we could hear her timid cries from in a drain pipe. We knelt down on at the entrance to the drain and called, and called, and called. We shone a torch down the length of the pipe and could see a tiny pair of glowing eyes peering back at us.

After about 30 minutes of cajoling, thanks to the help of a piece of roast chicken, we managed to entice Fluffy out of the drainpipe. We noticed that Fluffy had been injured. The fur on her right rear hind leg was ruffled and oozing pus. We popped her in a cat carrier and drove her down to the vet.

The vet said that she had been attacked by a tomcat, her uterus was badly torn and infection had set in. To complicate things further, a piece of his claw was still buried deep in her hind leg. The vet took Fluffy into the operating theatre, removed the offending piece of claw and performed a hysterectomy.

Fluffy returned home on a course of antibiotics and with a plaster cast attached to her leg. As owners we returned home with a $700 vet bill. We kept Fluffy inside for as much as possible after the incident. She hobbled up and down the wooden stairs surprisingly easily, clunking the plaster cast as she stalked around the house.

Over the years we moved around and had been living at four or five different addresses, taking Fluffy with us wherever we went. We learnt a few lessons along the way including to be sure that indoor pot plants had coverings over the topsoil so that they could not be used as kitty litter on wet winter mornings when Fluffy felt too cold to be outside.

In time we decided that Fluffy was feeling lonely and needed a companion for those days when we were out and about either at work or visiting friends. I drove with a friend to a pet shop in search of another cat. There we spied the cutest litter of Ragdoll kittens anyone could imagine. We picked out the one we thought was just right for our family.

Ragdolls are a beautiful, gentle breed of cat with long white fur and a very placid temperament. They are great with kids, and love you unconditionally. When you pick Ragdolls up they fall limp into your arms, just like a rag doll. Hence that’s how they got their name.

We decided to call our Ragdoll Dolly. Probably not the most original name but it seemed to suit her. We drove her home and booked a call to the vet. Unfortunately Dolly was too young to be desexed and we returned home to wait a few weeks more. According to the vet they should be desexed from around two months of age.

We were living in a house with a solid steel fence right around the boundary line which stretched from the ground to about six feet high. The good thing about this Ragdoll was that it could not, or would not, jump. We were able to leave the back door open for her to walk in and out of the house unhindered. Food on the table was left in-situ and undisturbed. No matter how delicious it would smell to Dolly she wouldn’t jump up to sneak a bite. We were confident that Dolly was safe to roam around the back garden. One thing we didn’t consider though was the superior digging ability of the Doberman next door. We arrived home one day to find a hole against the fence which was almost big enough to fit a dog’s head through. Dolly was placidly sniffing just centimetres away from the jaws of the angry Doberman!

We just managed to pull Dolly away from the fence in time, moments before her little inquisitive head would have been chomped down on by the massive beast. The trouble with pure bred Ragdolls is that what they possess in beauty they completely lack in common sense.

We brought Dolly inside and closed the sliding door promising to ourselves that we would never again let Dolly outside without supervision. A few weeks later we found Dolly pacing around the house making a horrible meowing noise. She was trying to scratch at the door and appeared really sick. We noticed a few drops of blood around the house and thought perhaps she had been in a fight with Fluffy.

It was a public holiday and late in the evening. All the vets were closed. We drove her halfway across the city to a 24-hour veterinary hospital. They couldn’t work out what was wrong with Dolly and spent a night there, amassing a bill of about $300 in the process. We took her home the following day and down to our local vet. Their diagnosis was that Dolly was on heat! Another hundred dollars later and we had ourselves at a desexed and microchipped Ragdoll.

Both Dolly and Fluffy were loving animals. Dolly being content to stay inside always never far from human company. Fluffy would come in for food but disappear again before the door was closed in the evening. Whenever we went away we usually took them to the cattery where they were looked after by other cat minded folks. One year we had to head overseas for a couple of weeks and the vaccinations weren’t up to date. Most catteries rise insist on up to date vaccination certificates before they will accept an animal. To avoid this problem my brother offered to look after Dolly and Fluffy. Three quarters of the way through the holiday we sent him a text, asking how the cats were doing. After a long pause he replied saying that Fluffy and Dolly had both disappeared. We decided not to cut our holiday short and yet the rest of it was spent worrying about the cats.

When we returned home we printed out flyers and popped them into the letterbox of all our neighbours in the surrounding streets. We offered a reward of $100 each for the return of the animals. Late that evening we received a phone call from a neighbour two houses down stating that there was a white cat in her back garden which had been in there for days. We think that she somehow wandered in there while a gate was open and had been unable to get out. We gratefully handed over the reward money in exchange for our Dolly. If you rely on friends or relatives to look after your animals you do run the risk of them going missing. Fluffy never ever came back and to this day we wonder what happened. Hopefully she found herself a new owner however we’re more inclined to think she was probably skittled by passing car and crawled off to die. Cats can be very particular creatures and they don’t always like change. Sometimes something as small as a change of face can scare them off. If you can afford to keep a cat you should be able to afford to keep them in a cattery when going away. Peace of mind is well worth the money spent.

One afternoon a year later, we were sitting down watching TV when Dolly started crying. It was a very unusual type of cry. We raced upstairs and noticed Dolly on the floor and couldn’t stand on her hind legs. One of her legs was cold and she kept flicking it as if she had stepped on something sharp. I had this horrible feeling that something was really wrong. I bundled her into the cat carrier and raced her to the specialist animal referral hospital.

I waited for hours while the specialists looked her over and administered various tests. We discovered that Dolly had a thrombosis. I was told that thrombosis is the feline equivalent of a stroke. A blood clot had formed in her heart and had broken off, travelling down an artery to the point where it branched off to the hind legs. The clot had become wedged at that point and was blocking blood supply to one of the legs. Without immediate treatment most animals need to have their hind limbs amputated or be euthanised on the spot. Most animals don’t make it to the Animal Referral Hospital in time.

Fortunately for Dolly the specialist was able to administer a special drug which dilated her arteries and allowed blood to flow to the extremities of the limb. Tissue damage was minimal, reversible and the prognosis good. They diagnosed a heart condition called HCM, a genetic disorder which affects the Ragdoll breed. There are genetic tests that can be performed on the parents to eliminate the disease from the breed however unscrupulous breeders sell their stock to pet shops without care. Their aim, and that of some pet shops, is simply to make money. We took Dolly home again a few days later along with a supply of prescription medication that we had been instructed to give her every day for the rest of her life. We also took home a $3000 invoice and a maxed out credit card. Every day around dinner time we had to feed Dolly her pill by opening her mouth and popping it at the back of her tongue with a special pill dispenser. It took some practice to get right but in the end we got there.

Life seemed to be tracking well for Dolly until one day six months later we couldn’t find her. We looked high and low and eventually found her hiding in a cupboard. We bundled her in the cat cage again and once again went on the journey to the vet. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her although stated that she appeared to be severely dehydrated. We decided to keep her on a drip overnight for observation.

We took Dolly home the very next day, with a $250 vet bill for services rendered. Dolly appeared to be in quite good spirits and had perked up overnight. She was purring and rubbing up against us. Obviously very happy to be home again.

A couple of days later she was in the same condition we had previously found her in – curled up in a corner seemingly waiting to die. We took Dolly down to the vet again. The senior vet recommended referral to the specialist animal Hospital. After paying a $80 consultation fee I bundled her in the car and drove across the city to the animal referral hospital.

The feline specialist performed an ultrasound and discovered three or four abnormal masses surrounding her liver and lymph nodes. They recommended a course of chemotherapy yet stated that there were no guarantees. They advised us to take Dolly home for a few days to consider what to do as chemotherapy was expensive – $7000 as a minimum. With chemo, the specialist seemed to think she would have between 6 months to a couple of years left. At that stage she was seven and, except for the past year, had enjoyed a pretty good life for a cat. She was already on Plavix, administered orally, for the rest of her life in order to thin the blood to avoid another blood clot. We took her home, along with a $1000 invoice for the ultrasound, blood test, specialist consult and palliative pain medications.

A life without Dolly seemed unbearable. The amount of joy she had given the family over the years was not something you could measure. She had been a comfort during the good times and though some pretty sad times too. Ever present, ever affectionate and always purring contentedly. We wrestled over what to do.

In this day and age, as with humans, you can keep your animals alive providing you have the money to do so. Money can be your greatest asset yet simultaneously the worst enemy of an animal in pain. Many owners would do anything to keep their pets alive that little bit longer but at what cost?

Dolly was relatively pain free, essentially because we were administering of morphine like painkillers and appetite enhancers. The number of pills we had to give her was making her angry and resentful. Two pills in the morning and three in the evening. Dolly was not the same cat on the medication. We noticed her eyes darted from left to right across the room, obviously imagining birds other tiny creatures flying past. The vet said that this was an unavoidable side effect of the medication.

With the cancer attacking her internal organs things were not going to get better. We made the decision to have Dolly euthanised before things got worse. We took a couple of days off work to spend some time with Dolly before driving to the vet one final time. When we placed her in the cat carrier she could sense something was up. Dolly cried all the way to the vet that afternoon. Everything felt surreal,we had made a huge decision to end Dolly’s suffering whilst knowing we could easily prolong her life should we choose to do so. We felt terrible about having this ultimate power of life and death over our dear friend.

We stayed with Dolly right until her little heart stopped beating. We had her cremated through Pets at Peace in Camden and for a couple of hundred bucks Dolly was returned to us in a beautiful wooden box. We are still not sure what to do with her ashes and so for now she sits in a quiet corner of our living room.

Owning an animal gives you an immense sense of comfort. Cats love their owners unconditionally. All they need in return is food a couple of times a day, a brush, companionship and a place to sleep. Being a pet owner is a huge responsibility, particularly when decisions need to be made about going away on holidays or when deciding on health care. A few suggestions for prospective owners:

Avoid getting animals from pet shops. Look instead to refuges where you can save a life. Unscrupulous breeders breed their animals in factory like conditions without regard to the damage they are doing by cross breeding mothers with sons, brothers with sisters. This can cause genetic disorders.

If wanting a pure bred look to ethical breeders who have the best interests of the breed at heart. Don’t be afraid to ask the breeder hard questions. Ethical breeders will be asking the same questions of you as they want to know their animals are going to loving homes.

Consider pet insurance because unexpected bills do pop up from time to time. These unexpected expenses can be enormous strain on the pocket.

Always keep your pets vaccinations up so that when you need to travel you can drop them off to a cattery in a family emergency.

Think long and hard about the ethics of keeping an animal alive simply because modern technology allows us to do so. The very thing that keeps your pet alive could end up destroying the bond that you have built up with them over time and ultimately prolong their suffering.
We now have two more Ragdolls – a boy named Hemi (Maori for James) and a girl named Lulu. Both are strictly indoor cats. Like kids, they still play up from time to time and it’s really important to keep household poisons and other dangerous items safely locked out of harms way. These two Ragdolls have never experienced the harsh outdoor life yet don’t seem to miss what they don’t know. A clear advantage to keeping cats indoors is that there seems to be no need to spend money on flea treatments. Instead we save that money and put it towards high quality cat food and the occasional new toy. Hemi and Lulu receive a 6 monthly check up at the vet, are vaccinated annually and are covered by pet insurance. For these two animals life is sweet.