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Experiencing Radiotherapy With My Cat…PHEW!

My sweet Etta Jane was a scrawny, runt of the litter rescue kitten. At the time I adopted her nearly 12 years ago, I was not in a good position to adopt a kitten. But my dear niece, Dr. Stacy convinced me that Etta Jane was just what I needed. She was right and Etta Jane was indeed exactly what I needed at a low point in my life. Her cheerful little presence made me laugh and she blossomed into a gorgeous tortoiseshell calico. When she was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, of course I knew I would do whatever it took to make her well again.

The options: surgery to remove her thyroid which would entail extensive pre and post-operative planning with mixed results and of course surgery for a geriatric cat poses dangers (EJ does not think she is geriatric at 12 but…); treating but not curing the illness by pilling her two times a day-for life—ok, I love my Etta Jane but I need my hands; and radiotherapy – expensive but it has a 97% cure rate with few or no side effects. So having done my research and consulting with Dr. Stacy, I opted for the radiotherapy.

We were sent to GVS- specialists for this treatment. There is no pre-treatment, just the need for bloodwork and x-rays. The actual treatment consists of administering iodine 131 which attacks the abnormal tissue. The cat is kept at the specialist clinic for 3 days and isolated in a special room. I hated this for Etta Jane since she is a homebody and extremely shy but it is the most effective treatment and I felt that 72 hours at the clinic was manageable. So far so good right?

Here comes the fun part. Now you pet owners know that when a veterinarian begins a sentence with “you just need to” the word “just” is misused and they are secretly smirking knowing that whatever they are about to impart is not simple. It’s like telling you that “you just need to keep your border collie quiet for the next week while she recovers from being spayed” Really? Or, “you just need to get a urine sample from your cat and bring it in”. Yeah, right. I think they all go out of the exam room and chuckle over the owners reactions to the “you just need to” follow-up they have prescribed. So when Dr. Stacy and the vet at GVS told me “you just need to quarantine Etta Jane at home for 2 weeks” I looked askance. OK, so this meant keeping her away from the other 2 cats and 3 dogs in my home, only having minimal contact with her for no more than 30 minutes a day in 10 minute intervals—no sitting in my lap, no snuggling, no real contact that is part of her daily life and mine—no Etta love.

The treatment also entailed buying a boatload of special items– litter, separate box, liners, etc. and gloves needed to clean the litter box. As I said, Etta Jane is very shy and does not like change. So I also purchased a diffuser with cat pheromones to help keep her calm—unfortunately they had no effect on me in helping to keep me balanced for the 2 weeks. And then there is the actual quarantine. One of the other owners who was having his cat treated at the same time as EJ told me he was just going to replace the door on a room with a screen door so his cat would not be so isolated. This sounded nice but I don’t have an extra screen door lying around so that was not a viable option. So I opted to close up the room with child gates-I’m a grandma and have several. When I first brought Etta home I thought might not have to cover the entire door. I gently dropped her over the two gates I had set up one above the other. Her feet never landed but rather she looked like a super ball and once dropped immediately bounced up and over the two gates and looked at me as if I were crazy—like what the heck was that?. So I had 3 gates in the door up to the top. (see photo—how pitiful is this?) This kept her in but required that I crawl on hands and knees through the bottom gate for at least 3 visits a day for 2 weeks. I had to unlatch the bracket, pull the gate aside while pushing whatever was needed in or out of the room—food, water, dirty litter, etc. This had to be done quickly to keep Etta J in and the other animals out—3 times a day for two weeks…My animals are a family. The cats and dogs are very loving toward each other. Earl, my Chihuahua puppy loves Etta J and chases and plays with her. The other cats, Vivian and Vanessa groom each other and the big dogs, Sophie and Natalie, snuggle with Etta. So the animals could be found waiting outside the gates to have a visit with the prisoner. They would whine and cry outside her door. This was joined by soft pitiful mewing from Etta Jane. This would go on day and night—for 2 weeks.

On the day of her release there was great joy and jubilation in my home. Etta Jane was hesitant at first to leave her cell. Once out however, she was happy to sit in my lap and rub against all the animals. Earl immediately gave chase which she didn’t even seem to mind and life finally returned to normal. This is not a “you just need to” treatment and follow-up. However, the great news is that the treatment worked! Good gosh, we are all thankful not to have to repeat this and I am thrilled at Etta’s return to good health. Etta Jane’s initial blood work looks great and she has begun to gain back lost weight. She has one more follow-up for bloodwork in 3 months but the change in her health and behavior is remarkable. Given the choices I would do this again with a cat and recommend it to others. I would not however tell them that they “just need to quarantine their cat!”

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