Cat Cat meets the tooth fairy

IMG_0059PHOTOS BY ASHLEY SCHWELLENBACH (ME)

It started with a tooth.

We came home Thursday night to find it sitting on the bed, even though we didn’t yet know that was what it was.

“What’s this?” I picked up the curved yellowish fang. You don’t have to be a dentist’s daughter to recognize a tooth—even one from another species. But in all my years of cat ownership, I’ve never come home to find a tooth on the bed. A little pile of cat vomit or trail of brown smudges would have been pretty normal, but I’ve never had a (relatively) young cat lose a tooth.

I pried open the nearest cat’s—Cat Cat—mouth and discovered that there was indeed a small hole where her upper left fang used to be. Colin immediately went into full-on guilty dad mode. He bemoaned the fact that we don’t get their teeth cleaned and lamented the fact that she’ll never get that tooth back.

Truth be told, I was kind of freaking out about the same thing. I mean, she has a long life ahead of her and now she has to go through it with one less tooth. What if she needs that tooth? What if she loses another one? And were we to blame for this? We’ve received fliers from our vet advertising teeth cleaning services but our cats are already so expensive with their hypoallergenic cat food and daily medication that we just didn’t bother. The thing is, I can’t even afford to go to the dentist every year, or even every other year. But I’m responsible for them and I’ve always prided myself on doing what I have to do to get them the medical treatment they need—however expensive and exhausting that might be.

Cat Cat seemed fine—greeting us with sad sounding mews demanding affection and food. When her 7 p.m. meal dropped she rushed to the feeder with her typical enthusiasm.

Still, we’re the worrying type of cat parents so we immediately called the vet to make an appointment for her the next day. We also did way too much research about periodontal disease in felines (my dentist parents would be so proud!) and ultimately realized we needed to stop Googling tooth loss in cats and just sit back and wait to hear what the vet had to say.

Colin took her to the vet the following day, dropped the usual $300 or so, and returned with the bad news IMG_0061that she’d have to go in again on Monday for additional extractions performed under general anesthesia. The vet said he’d have to pull at least one, and possibly two more of her teeth from the top of her mouth. And he said it looked like the tooth didn’t pull off cleanly so some of the root might need to be pulled out. The anticipated cost is $800-$1,000. We were disappointed but not really all that surprised to be spending two week’s pay over a lost tooth.

Sunday night, on the vet’s orders, we had to hide their food after 10 p.m. Even though we rely on an automatic feeder to limit their access, Cat Cat has learned how to shove her paw into the dispenser and pull out a few spare kibbles whenever she’s feeling peckish. We knew the reaction to the fact that we were hiding their food would not be pretty.

We knew the reaction to crating her in the morning and driving her to the vet wouldn’t be pretty either, especially with her recent memories of being probed and stuck. It was my unhappy responsibility to bring her to the vet that morning with the idea that Colin would pick her up and bring her home. We knew that she’d be drugged out of her little kitty mind and she can be a little difficult to deal with in that state.

She was at the vets all day—from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It’s never good when your pet spends the entire day at the vet—not good for your wallet, not good for your mental health, and not good for your pet’s mood.

Before heading to the gym last night I called Colin for the full report. Which wasn’t pretty. The vet had wound up pulling not one, not two, but seven teeth. He’d also found and extracted a lingering bit of root from the first tooth she lost. She was fine, and would be requiring pain medication every 12 hours for the next five days or so and, more difficult to manage, we are somehow supposed to prevent her from scratching at the sutures in her mouth. And her blood work came back normal, which is always a plus.

But the damage was a whopping $1,100 on top of the $300 Colin already paid on Friday. Not the worst our cats have managed in just a couple of days, but that’s a lot of money on a journalist’s salary. The vet apparently told Colin that a lot of people find out how much it’s going to cost and they just decide to leave the rotting tooth in the cat’s mouth. It doesn’t matter that the pet is in pain. The vet didn’t seem particularly thrilled with these people. And while I understand from firsthand experience that it’s not easy to drop a grand on a tooth extraction at a moment’s notice, what choice do we really have?

So on to the big question, the really big question that I will continue to fret over even though I already know the answer: Were we somehow to blame for this? Did we neglect Cat Cat’s oral hygiene?

It turns out the answer is no. (Not that this will prevent me from feeling guilty over this for a very long time.) Cat Cat apparently has feline oral resorptive lesions. Despite the fact that it’s a condition I’ve never heard of, it apparently impacts something like 60 percent of cats over the age of six. Of course, we don’t know exactly how old Cat Cat is but suspect she is somewhere in the ballpark of six years old.

The lesions are apparently incredibly painful, especially as they progress and because there is no cure the most common answer is to extract the effected tooth. Meaning it is very likely that eventually Cat Cat will lose all her teeth, especially since she just lost eight at such a young age.

I know it’s for the best if the alternative is that she’s in pain, but it’s weird to think of her having experienced something so permanent and debilitating. We’re already discussing how to transition her to wet food, or whether to soak her dry food in warm water or broth (I need to research whether broth is safe for cats). We have timers to remind us to give her the pain medication every 12 hours and she and Jack have to be fed separately since she’s eating wet food and he’s on a dry food diet.

I feel like crying. It always feels like that at first, a little overwhelmed while we try to sort out the new normal.

Whether it’s feeding Jack with a syringe through a tube in his throat (and yes, I did almost black out the first time the vet showed me how to do this) or suddenly adjusting our schedules to medicate him three times per day or Colin learning how to give him injections of necessary vitamins every couple of weeks, well, it ain’t pretty but we always figure it out.

I just have to remember that this will start to feel normal in no time.

And I just have to hope that the tooth fairy has enough cash to cover Cat Cat’s eight lost teeth and any others that might need to be pulled in the years to come.

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Comments

  1. Oh no. I can relate as my family has a parrot that just recently lost a leg due to an accident with a string parrot toy, the string wrapped around her leg and cut off circulation. Apparently it is common and these toys should never be allowed near any bird despite being sold in every pet shop. It was expensive and traumatic and it took us a long while to get used to seeing our little one legged parrot try to adjust to life, but now it does seem the new normal. These pets become part of our family, don’t they? I hope Cat Cat recovers quickly, and that you and Colin do too!

  2. Blimey!! Sincerely feel for you. You feel so helpless but want to do as much as you can and then it never feels enough.
    Know how you feel. I’ve had two cats that needed above and beyond normal help. One got paralysed somehow – never found out how – the vet was willing to put her down there and then but after seeing how lively she was explained the extraordinary amount of care needed to keep her alive. Well, I was going to do that. No questions asked!! She kept going for a year before giving up but in that year she got special cuddles and care that let us all say goodbye peacefully. Then there was Jack – The siamese with the mystery heart condition that had us buying specialist food and medication. This cat was a super patient, loved the vets, loved the attention!! He was awesome at pills! A cat taking pills willingly!! Pulmonary edema x 8 that would have killed a person and he survived all of them. Kidney malfunction however was too much for him and after 8 fabulous years he’s now at rest. He shouldn’t have survived being a kitten and we got 8 years!!
    You’re a fabulous fur mommy and I’m sure the cuddles are worth it 🙂

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