My kitty, Al, is turning ten years old in May. I picked Al out as a kitten in 2002 from a “rescue” listed on craigslist, which really turned out to be a weird lady way out in Gresham, OR who had one of the foulest smelling houses I’d ever been in. “Smudge,” as he was known then, was so playful and adorable, I couldn’t resist. I was looking for a cat companion for my two year old tabby, Montana. Smudge came with a heart-wrenching story as well: he was the only kitten in his litter to survive after his feral mother was hit by a car. It took several days for the humans that had been feeding her to discover the hiding spot she kept her tiny babies. By then, most had died. The few that hadn’t were bottle raised. Ultimately, Al was the only survivor.

At the time, I didn’t realize that Al’s sorrowful beginnings would have such a huge influence on his life.

I brought my new kitten home and immediately learned that he was infested with fleas. The next day he had his first visit to the vet. He had his kitten shots and a flea dip (he was too young for conventional flea medications). Everything seemed to be going smoothly, with the exception that Montana hated his new friend. Mo stayed on top of the refrigerator for two days, refusing to come down or eat, hissing and spitting if I tried to gently dislodge him from his perch. The next week, Al began loosing his fur. In clumps. Back to the vet. He had a dermatological condition caused by mites, not unlike mange. I now had to bathe him in a medicated bath twice a day. Then he developed food allergies and I had to buy an expensive kitten prescription diet. I won’t go into detail, but know I lined all our furniture and our bed with old towels. Next came the constant sneezing and snot. This is where the money pit widened and deepened but at this point, I loved this little grey furball that would suckle the buttons of my cardigan if I held him in my arms, and who would not let me out of his sight from the moment I returned home to the moment I left. After several rounds of antibiotics over several months, with no diagnosis for the ever present respiratory infections, I took him to a cat specialist and learned that he had kitty herpes, a virus that affects the immune system, and that he would likely face these issues all his life.

Al has been sneezing and coughing his way into the hearts of everyone he meets since 2003.

On Friday, I took Al to the vet concerned over his recent behavior of pooping outside the litter box. He had been doing this on and off for two weeks, and I had purchased a brand new litter box and upped my already diligent scooping regime. It made no difference. I went and bought probiotics to put in his food. For the past year, he has been on an all wet food diet because of his terrible gingivitis; crunchies hurt his mouth. (Last year, I had taken him to the vet suspicious over weight loss, only to discover he had painful gum disease. He had his teeth cleaned as well as two extractions and he seemed to be okay on his new wet food diet.) Anyway, at this point, I determined that the poop had to be a sign he wasn’t feeling good. I was right. The vet did an extensive blood work-up only to discover that kitty Al now has hyperthyroidism.

I’m terrified.

For the next month, he’ll be on a twice daily pilling regimen to try and regulate his thyroid hormones. Then, we’ll do more blood work to make sure that this ailment is not masking something more life threatening like kidney disease. If his kidneys are fine, there’s an expensive treatment that will be able to cure him of his hyperthyroidism… but it involves an intense radiation therapy treatment. He’ll be quarantined for 2 weeks, as he will literally be radioactive; special precautions even need to be taken for the collection of his waste for up to three months afterward. This radioiodine treatment is the same treatment that is used on people with this medical problem. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism will eventually cause heart disease and will contribute to kidney failure. In the short term, weight loss, muscle loss, lethargy, and increased nervousness will drastically alter a beloved pet’s personality.

I can’t watch my furball waste away in front of me. He’s my little money pit.

Stay tuned for future episodes of “Living with Geriatric Cats.”