All About Amber, the unexpected cat

Well, I’ve just realised that although she is my number one co-author and she’s been mentioned a number of times on my blog, I have never really written about my dear little Amber’s story here. I guess it’s because I wrote about Sidney once, having started the blog after she died. Birding and blogging was something that helped me get through losing her. One of the first times I finally left the house after she died was to go for a birding walk and I remember how watching chickadees hop around in the trees and mallards at the lake brought me some tiny morsels of happiness again. I felt my spirit lift just a little bit.

my beautiful Amber cat

Its been two years now since Sidney died. Not long after that, Amber showed up unexpectedly. It’s a long story, but she’d been the neighbour’s cat and she had basically lived outside most of her life. She’d had free rein to go in and out and she pleased through her cat door, but spent most of her time outside.

We wound up finding her with her eye crusted shut and seeming to be in pain as a result. I took her in to the emergency vet (of course it was a Saturday!), where I’d last been with Sidney when she was diagnosed with cancer. Just being in the waiting room and going in the same exam room brought all the memories back. It was not easy, but I had to help Amber!

Amber was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. Ouch! Treatment involved wearing a cone to prevent her scratching and damaging the eye further, pain medications and eye drops three times a day. And staying confined inside for at least two weeks. Soon, after a check with her regular vet, two weeks became a month so it could fully heal. You just don’t mess around with eyes!

Amber hadn’t used a litter box since she was just a wee kitten and at this point, she was 11 years old. She’d probably never had to stay inside for a whole month before. While I was still deep in grief over Sidney’s death, I now had a completely different kind of cat to take care of. At first, it was not easy.

my beautiful Amber

The first night, we closed Amber in a room with a litter box, food and water, hoping it would help her adjust to a new life. We hardly slept that night between her constant yowling to get outside and scratching at the door and bumping her little coned head on it, trying to escape. The next couple of nights proceeded similarly and I was beginning to wonder how we were going to get through…

I filled up the litter box with dirt and leaves from outside to make it more like the outdoors she was used to. She picked it up pretty quick after that. I tried taking her outside on a leash to let her get some fresh air and grass she was used to, but she wasn’t the ideal candidate for leash training after being free-range for so long. She tried to dart away many times and I worried it stressed her out too much, so I shelved the idea.

We let her out of the small room as soon as she mastered the litter box, and she started getting comfortable with the rest of the house, and us. I think she warmed up to me a little more slowly; probably because I got upset every time she sat in Sidney’s bed or did something that reminded me of her. It wasn’t easy; I wasn’t anywhere near being ready for another cat and I’d planned to take some time before adopting another.

a cool, confident cat

But life throws us the unexpected sometimes. She still meowed at the door to be let out and tried to escape every time we came and went, but she came leaps and bounds from those first few nights. Once she was better, I hesitatingly let her back outside. I worried about her getting in trouble, hunting, getting cold, all the bad things that can happen to kitties outside.

Mostly, she proved to be a smart cat from all her years outside. I never let her out at night despite her cries. She came back to our house to eat and slowly, over time, she started spending more and more time inside with us. With her little scratchy meows and headbutts (and being a cat), of course, I fell in love with her.

The first summer she was with us, she presumably got into a fight with another cat. I got home and saw one of the neighbourhood regulars darting away through the front yard and then found Amber crouched down on the ground making a strange meow. I didn’t realise anything was immediately wrong until I brought her inside and picked her up. My partner yelped that she was bleeding and I took action, immediately going for my pet first aid kit.

Amber lazing outside again after her tummy healed

As I waited at the hospital for her to get stitched up, I cried and cried, only realising then just how much I loved her. Again, I was her nurse, giving her medications and taking her to her check-ups and soon, she became my baby, too. She’s a very different cat than Sidney; being quite adventurous going outside, totally content to hang out on her own but also enjoys being near people, too. Unlike Sidney, she is a spry 13-year old now. She has her own personality; she loves climbing up high, she loves getting head scratches and she loves pushes around boxes like a bulldozer. She is quite talkative and her favourite colour is purple.

Amber has learned of and now enjoys the many comforts of indoor life

Now, she sleeps in our bed every night. Two years ago, I would never have predicted that. She wanders a lot less than she used to and spends a lot more time inside than outside now. She’s stolen our hearts, too, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Looking after her helped me heal from Sidney’s loss, even though it wasn’t always easy, I will always be thankful for that. I am so glad she accidentally wound living with us and becoming our beloved kitty!

Recognizing hyperthyroidism in cats and critical signs your cat needs emergency care

I recently shared my story of my beloved cat Sidney, who had hyperthyroidism and later suffered from terminal cancer. I thought I would share what I learned about her over-active thyroid with you in hopes of encouraging people to consider adopting special needs cats and being aware of the signs of hyperthyroidism in your cat.

My little Sidney in one of her favourite spots. Sidney led a normal life for years with hyperthyroidism.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats includes: excessive urination, excessive or increased vocalization, increased thirst/increased water consumption, weight loss despite increased appetite, poor coat or fur quality, restlessness and increased activity, diarrhea, vomiting, increased heart rate (normal heart rate for a cat is between 140 and 220 bpm) and heat intolerance (seeking out cool places). (Bold symptoms are most common)

What happens if my cat has an over-active thyroid?
This disease commonly affects senior cats. If your cat exhibits any symptoms of hyperthyroidism, you should discuss your concerns with your vet. If hyperthyroidism is left untreated, it can cause kidney and heart failure, both of which may ultimately be fatal after your cat suffers with the illness for long enough. There are a number of treatments available, including regular medication, surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.

How do I know if my cat has hyperthyroidism or another chronic disease?
The best way to keep your cat healthy is by preventative care and regular vet check-ups, the same as humans. Visiting the vet for an annual check-up is vital to finding any early warning signs of disease. Once your cat reaches senior age (10+), they should visit the vet every six months for senior check-ups. Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Other common illnesses striking senior cats include chronic kidney disease and diabetes.

What else should I look out for in my cat?
As an aside, please take your cat to the vet if they exhibit any unusual changes. While not an exhaustive list, key signs to watch out for, in general, are:

  • increased or decreased appetite
  • increased or decreased water consumption
  • litterbox problems (painful urination exhibited by meowing while urinating, urinating or defecating outside the box, straining to defecate or urinate)
  • black, tarry stool and/or bloody diarrhea
  • frequent vomiting

Cats naturally hide it when something is wrong and they may only show signs of illness when a disease has already significantly progressed. If a cat is not eating, it is very likely something is wrong. If a cat does not eat for more than 48 hours, they are at a very high risk of  contracting a liver disease called hepatic lipadosis and must see a vet right away.

Critical signs your cat requires IMMEDIATE care
If your cat exhibits any of the following signs, you must seek immediate veterinary care. Always know what vet hospitals are open 24/7 or are available on-call 24/7 in your area in case of an emergency. Always have copies of your cat’s medical records in the event you need to see an emergency vet. If you are out of town, be sure to leave this information with your cat sitter.

  • open-mouth breathing or panting, which often occurs when the cat is hunched forward as if gasping for breath
  • seizure
  • bleeding (from an open wound or abscess and/or unidentified bleeding)
  • trauma, such as broken bone or suspected broken bone (being hit by a car, falling from a height)
  • ingestion of toxin or foreign body (Cornell University list of common cat toxins)
  • sudden paralysis or inability to move hind legs
  • blue or white-ish gums
  • bite or sting from a poisonous animal (snake, scorpian, etc.)

NEVER give your pet any kind of human medication unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Many medications for humans are extremely toxic to animals.

I would encourage you to take a Pet First Aid course. It could save your pet’s life. You will learn how to take basic vital signs (heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature), basic preventative care, how to recognise common diseases and treatment as well as wound care and the common vital signs of an emergency.

My year with Sidney: a special connection with a senior cat

My beloved Sidney

Sidney, until recently, was my beautiful and beloved senior cat with whom I was lucky to share one very special year. Its taken me some time to be able to write about this because I wish it had been more than a year, because its emotional, close to my heart and a little more personal than I’d like to get on this blog. It devastated me when she passed away in December. Even now, it is difficult to write.

My beautiful Sidney came into my life unexpectedly. I have been a great animal lover my whole life, but there is something so special I love about cats. I always wanted one. But between moving every couple of years and being a student, I was never able to adopt a cat of my own because I believe in forever homes and being financially capable of supporting a pet.

One of her favourite past-times was snuggling in bed, especially with mom.

Sidney was 12 when I met her, or about 65 in “human years” and had hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. We adopted her from a neighbour and I was utterly happy. Even though I know how much I love cats, I never expected this little tuxedo cat to steal my heart the way she did.

Sidney was a true people cat. She loved the company of people and soon enough, she followed me around the house and was always in the same room as me. One of her favourite past-times was sitting on laps. She would sit on mine for hours if I let her and sometimes we just sat together, her and I. She would purr happily as soon as she was in my arms and, unlike most cats, loved being picked up and cuddled. She was so different from every other cat I’ve known and I don’t expect to meet any like her again.

Her beautiful and wise green eyes held a deep understanding.

Her eyes held this wisdom in them, like she completely understood me and sometimes I would just talk to her and she would patiently listen. When I was sick, she laid on my bed with me all day. When I was sad, she would snuggle up to me. During some tough times and periods of unemployment and the anxiety that comes with it , she was a constant in my life and she gave me a much-needed sense of purpose. We developed quite a bond, and our neighbours told us she was a calmer, happier cat around me. It seems we both needed each other.

Her hyperthyroidism would qualify her as a “special needs” cat to most, but to me, she was just special. Its a common ailment in older cats and we managed it by giving her anti-thyroid pills (Felimazole) twice a day. If it sounds challenging to give a pill to a cat, I can honestly tell you it really wasn’t, but she was pretty agreeable. We gave it to her in a tiny bit of yogurt or rolled up in a bit of wet food, or the easiest of all, in a Greenie’s Pill Pocket.

Exploring outside, she was like a kitten again following mom around the yard and playing in the sun.

However, in November last year, she had lost noticeable weight and was eating much less. Food was one of Sidney’s great loves in life, so I knew something was wrong. The vet found her thyroid was still too high, so we increased her medication. But they had also found a lump in her abdomen and we scheduled a followup in another week.

I could never have prepared for what happened. During that week, we rushed her to the hospital when she started open-mouth panting (a critical sign to go to the vet NOW for any cat), we found out she had cancer that had spread to her lungs. It broke my heart, both knowing it was terminal and fearing she was in pain.

DSC01360 - Copy
Sidney often curled up and slept here at the foot of the bed with mom and dad. Here she is modelling for me in one of our many photoshoots.

Sidney stayed in the hospital overnight so she could be stabilized and have fluid drained from her chest cavity, which had caused her difficulty breathing. The next morning, we picked her up and spoiled her extra, and started prednisolone treatment for palliative care. It was suspected lymphoma, and this treatment often slows the cancer and gives them more time.

Unfortunately, Sidney did not have much more time. A week later, she was having breathing difficulty again, and I knew what it meant. I’d pre-planned a list of possible vets who perform at-home euthanasia and reluctantly called. We had a vet come to the house and Sidney passed away at home, in my lap, a very favourite spot on December 21. It was, quite literally, the darkest day of the year. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get over her loss. She was one extraordinary cat.

My dear cuddlemuffin and best friend, Sidney, I hope you are running free in the sun now. You will be forever in my heart.

Sidney was my best friend, my little shadow who followed me around and my cuddlemuffin. Words don’t express how much I loved her. She brought us so much joy, happiness and love and we were so very lucky to share a special year of our lives with her. Senior cats are very special and need loving homes, too. I realise it is kitten season, but please, please consider giving a loving home to a  senior cat who desperately needs comfort, happiness and love in their last years of life. If they have special needs, find out what needs to be done. It could be as easy as a pill pocket once a day. You, too, may end up with a beloved friend like Sidney.

Important Resources for Pet Loss Grief:
Washington State University Veterinary Medicine Grief Phoneline: 1-866-266-8635, talk to a veterinary medicine student who is trained in grief counselling for free.
The Pet Loss Support Page: if you prefer to write rather than talk about your experience and feelings to seek support from others who have lost a pet, too. There are many websites out there dedicated to pet loss, do a google search to find the right one for you.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-784-2433, if you are unable to cope and having thoughts of suicide, please call this number or go to to find a local number to call in the U.S. or internationally.
Other ways to cope may include writing a blog post, making a scrapbook, creating a video of your pet or holding a memorial service. If you know of other good resources, please leave a comment with a link.

Remember it is perfectly okay to grieve for your pet. Don’t let those who don’t understand bother you. It can be extremely difficult to lose a pet because, unlike a person, they love us unconditionally no matter what, they do not judge and they are big part of our daily routines. Its a special kind of love not found in other relationships.