A cat’s amputation recovery is hard. But as Luanne shows for today’s Tripawd Tuesday spotlight, even at 15 years old, bouncing back from a soft tissue tumor isn’t impossible. We are so thankful that Luanne’s people wanted to share how they coped with the decision.
Today’s Tripawd Tuesday details Luanne’s journey to life as an older amputee cat. It’s guaranteed to help anyone in the same situation. We hope you’ll find it as inspawrational as we do!
Tripawd Tuesday: for the Love of Luanne, a Soft Tissue Tumor Survivor
Our vet noticed it first. Two soft marbles on her foreleg, one on top and one behind her elbow. Once he pointed them out, it was impossible not to see them. How could anyone miss those? He tests one and it comes back with spindle cells and he says it’s a tumor, likely cancer, and we’d have to amputate the leg if it was. I couldn’t hear anything after that.
On the way home, my husband and I processed the information and agreed we’d go see a surgeon like the vet advised but there was no way were we going to do something so drastic without a second, maybe a third opinion. We weren’t going to do that to Luanne.
At this point I should clarify, I’ve had Luanne for fifteen years, almost to the day.
She’s a big tuxedo cat, most comfortable sitting nearby, just out of arm’s length, but not interacting beyond a few slow blinks and a rumbling, chirping purr. And she has been with me through my twenties and thirties – apartments, a cross country move, the assortment of boyfriends and roommates that shared our space before my husband and our other cat arrived on the scene.
When she decides it’s time to get pets she headbutts you and climbs into your arms, making biscuits, chirping until she falls asleep, snoring loud. I love this cat fiercely. It’s that solid first love. I look in her eyes and I know that she is a piece of me and I am a piece of her.
What Does a Senior Cat’s Amputation Recovery Look Like?
Over the years, she’s accumulated some heath issues and had some scares. She has a heart murmur and high blood pressure and kidney disease but she has been in relatively stable good health with medication and care her entire life.
Our surgeon works out of an animal hospital close by. The waiting room is a desperate place. There are two rows of exam rooms behind the front desk. One side has clear floor to ceiling glass. The other has small windows with blinds, some open, some drawn. A nurse calls us back into a room with clear glass.
Yes, It’s a Soft Tissue Tumor
The surgeon is abrupt, but empathetic. Yes it’s a tumor, yes it’s likely cancer, and yes the best course is to amputate the leg. There are other options, like chemo or attempting more precise excising of the tumor, but it’s twisted around the elbow joint.
The surest way to make sure it doesn’t come back and leaves her with good quality of life is amputation with clear margins. We talk to the oncologist. He agrees and suggests we act quickly, since it’s appeared so fast.
We weigh every option, we take her in for tests and appointments, I do online research and find Tripawds. I read the stories, start a forum topic. Jerry and Benny catch me and help me, as they have so many others.
I keep looking at that bump on her arm. Noticing her limp, how she’s not jumping as much as she used to. We thought she was just getting older. How did we miss it? We want to make sure she’ll be safe. Make it through anesthesia. The surgery itself scares me as much as the tumor.
Getting Ready for Her Amputation Surgery and Recovery
After making sure she’s getting the best chance we can offer, and being confident that this will be the recommend way forward no matter how many consults we get, I schedule the surgery. I drop her off at the hospital the night before, after spending the previous two days staring at her as she falls asleep on my hand, purring softly. It is not a good day.
The next day is easier. It’s out of my control.
I’m holding my breath, numb in my forehead, through my body. The surgeon calls and says all the tests came back favorably, clearing Luanne for surgery. She asks me if I want them to amputate her leg. I ask her again if it’s a good idea, she says yes and I agree. And then I know there’s truly nothing I can do but wait.
I set up her recovery suites, three little studio apartments we can shuttle her between as I go through my day. And I buy too much litter and too many beds and blankets and supplies. We get updates from the hospital, routine and on schedule. She survived the surgery, she survived the night.
We can take her home.
The guy is older, but not old, eyes rimmed red. I sit a few seats down from him and he immediately asks me how my pet is doing. His dog isn’t going to make it. In an exam room father off, behind the curtains, someone is keening. I hate this waiting room. Fourteen years old, congestive heart failure, a smiling little cocker spaniel on his phone. He’s going to take him back home and make him comfortable until he passes. We trade.
It all happened so fast, how could I have missed it? They were fine a week ago. I love them and there’s nothing I can do. My heart goes out, knowing that pure love we share. The nurse comes out with instructions and meds. I wish him the best and I bring Luanne home.
Head propped out of her carrier, she’s groggy, listless. I’m flooded with guilt as she stares at nothing with glassy eyes. She can’t get her feet under her. Keeps trying to push off the side of the carrier. I lie there for several hours.
Finally, I open a Churu, and reach it toward her. Her eyes focus and she launches toward me, all back legs, divebombs my hand, purring like a fiend as she laps it up. I burst into tears.
And I know then, absolutely, this was the right choice. For this moment, and any I get after. I’d go through the past few weeks again and again for her lucid and alive before me right now. It’s all I wanted.
That night we change her onesie and I get my first look at her scar.
Torso half gone, twisted stitching up the side. I am physically ill. Puking in the bathroom before my husband and I are able to get her back in a onesie. The guilt is overwhelming. And relief and fear and everything else is swirling together.
The next week is med to med, kneeling on the floor, pill pockets and oral syringes and crushed powder, wake up with a start in the morning, see if she died in the night. She’s doing so much better after the first day. And she’s hungry and lucid, does a lap around the first floor. Then, it all changes overnight. She’s withdrawn, glassy eyed again, not eating.
At first we try new things, an e-collar not a onesie, different food.
The second day she’s worse, panting in her recovery suite next to the litter box. we call the hospital and they tell us to give it 24 hours if she’s stable. She calms down, so we do. The next morning, I see she didn’t eat overnight, didn’t move and I insist we take her to the emergency room, even though they say to give it another day. Eat the exam cost for nothing if we have to. It’s worth it just to be sure.
We’re led to the clear glass exam room, but they say she might not have survived another day if we hadn’t brought her in.
She’s severely anemic. Losing red blood cells, doesn’t seem to be making more. Her cancer may have metastaticized, and we were too late, we took her leg for nothing. They’ll know more soon. She’s getting a blood transfusion, at least one. Wait and see. We leave and I don’t know if I’ll see her again.
We go home and put all of her stuff away, pack up her little recovery suites. She might not be coming home. Just in case. I don’t want to see them if she’s not coming home. My husband is holding me as I sob, editing her out of my future. Try to remind myself that we’re lucky we had her this long. Every day since the surgery is a gift we weren’t expecting. That night is shaky and exhausting.
The next day, the doctor calls and asks if my husband is on the line. It’s the digital equivalent of the room with the blinds. Luanne tested positive for feline leukemia, even though she’s tested negative before. It can stay dormant for years, is likely complicating things. we should keep her isolated from our other cat for the rest of their lives, get him tested in case he has it already. None of it makes sense.
I Google the test, it has a 30% false positive.
I call back, they ran the test twice in house and got a positive both times. Are waiting on an outside lab. No, they didn’t run a PCR, which is more accurate. At this point with the cancer and the leukemia and the other health conditions Luanne has, people consider putting their pets down, she says. No, she’s not in pain. We get both cats a PCR.
Oncologist calls, it’s not the cancer coming back but she is losing blood and with the leukemia she may not be able to recover. The infusion worked, though, she’s stable and alert, eating, slightly more red blood cells. We take her home with new meds and a packet about caring for a cat with leukemia.
For the next few days it’s back to kneeling on the floor, a strictly timed regimen of pills and powders.
We’re giving her slurry and gastro meds and she’s perking up a bit but still mostly the same. I become hyper aware of everything that goes in and comes out of her body. I’m keeping a timeline and sending it to the hospital.
A few days later she’s not eating and I pull back her lips to see mottled gums and we go to the hospital again. She’s retaining fluid and they don’t know why.
I drop her off and disassemble her recovery suites again. If she’s not coming home…
The doctors call. Her red blood cells have doubled. An ulcer likely caused the intestinal bleed, completely unrelated to the surgery, would have happened anyway. She’s retaining fluid because we’ve been filling her with fluids. The PCRs for both of our cats are negative, so she didn’t have feline leukemia after all. They took out her stitches and she’s doing great, we can take her home.
Immediately, she is better. Her eyes are bright. She’s snoring again when she sleeps, and she purrs, that satisfying vibration against my fingers as she leans into my hand.
A week later she’s so alert it’s hard to give her meds.
She’s hopping up into chairs. We catproof the upstairs with a baby gate so she can practice walking around. It’s all a gift.
I feel like anytime I celebrate I’m risking cursing it all. I take pictures. I call the doctor. She was dry heaving this morning so we called the vet. I walked them through her symptoms. She’s stable, seems OK. Are her gums pink enough? When will I know she’s in trouble again? Even after a month I’m not sure.
She crawled up in my lap for pets the other night and I just wept silently. I never thought I’d get that again. I miss having her close to me. In the morning, she laps up meds and breakfast and jumps up into bed. Her head resting next to mine, back scooted against my shoulder, warm and calm and content.
I know she’s not going to go back to being a young cat again, I know this is all a new normal, isn’t forever, and nothing is promised. I’m still discovering all the ways it has changed both of us. I just love her so much. It was worth it. All of the pain was worth these quiet moments.
I start making excursions out of the house. A few hours, more every time. I have to learn to leave her alone, let her be a cat and find her way, and not rush in every time she stumbles. Whenever we come back she’s fine, sleeping in a sunbeam or slow blinking on the couch. I start moving her food further away, she starts walking more to get it. Right now, six weeks in, she’s still getting her footing, rolling a bit when she walks, we’re still carrying her up and down the stairs, she still sleeps in her recovery suite, but there’s only one now, we’ve taken the other two down.
Sometimes I see her leg gone and I feel a flash of screaming guilt, sorrow.
How could I have done this to her? Why can’t she be whole? It’s unfair and shocking and vulgar. And it catches in my throat, sharp, and recedes but has yet to leave.
But she’s here. She’s happy. Her fur is growing back in and her scar is just part of her. I can trace it with a finger and it doesn’t hurt either of us anymore. She chirps when she sees me and that rumbling purr rises and falls with her breath. Without her foreleg she can rest her head on the tip of her tail. When my husband lets her out before I wake up, she’s right there in front of my face when I open my eyes. I wished for this, didn’t think I’d get it ever again.
Yesterday she went down the stairs unaided. Right now she’s curled up in a sunbeam in her favorite bed. We’re leaving the baby gate open and that last recovery suite will be coming down soon.
(This Cat’s Amputation Recovery Story Ends on a Pawsitive Note!)
After everything, Luanne had a benign soft tissue tumor wrapped around her elbow joint and an unrelated intestinal ulcer. We are exceedingly lucky. In the moment, in each diagnosis and trip to the ER there was no way for us to know that. No guarantee that we’d get her back when we dropped her off. You never know, in the end, which exam room the vet will lead you to. All you can do is your best, and that’s enough.
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