If you're wondering how the owner of a wildlife center spends her time over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, I can fill you in. It's not shopping, singing carols, decorating or celebrating. Nor is it traveling to see relatives or getting together with friends. Since November 25, 2013, I've been doing almost nothing but-- Taking care of Pirate the mountain lion!
Here's the story...
It started with cluster seizures on November 24th. They went on for 2 days. These were short, ten second back to back events and they didn't seem like much but Pirate didn't come out of them in between. Fortunately, he was inside his den box which is a confined space padded with straw.
Pirate is 11 years old and since his issue began a few years ago he has been on the seizure medication, Phenobarbital. This has controlled the problem although once in a while-maybe a couple times a year-he still has a seizure. Although we've had good success, I've come to learn since this episode that the medication is only about 60 percent effective so we've added another medication that works in conjunction.
In general the cause of seizures is unknown although in certain individuals there can be triggers. Flashing lights is one of them. (My niece had a seizure looking at the computer.) Along with the fact that Pirate has no computer, he also has no eyes. So that eliminates any sight-related cause.
Because he's blind, his other senses are enhanced and loud repetitive noises do bother him and he often will pace and drool if there is construction going on. However, this has never brought on a seizure.
Repetitive rain on his roof a couple years back seemed to bring on a few episodes so it occurred to me that other repetitive noise could be a contributor. Our two pet rats, housed in a cage near Pirate, are exercise fanatics. They run and run on their wheel most of the day and all night long. This would be great except for the fact that the wheel rubs up against something in the cage and creates a loud banging noise. The noise was about to give me a seizure just listening to it from the house and for Pirate, who lives in close proximity and whose hearing is far better than mine, the sound may have been too much. (Just in case you're wondering, I've tried re-adjusting the wheel, moving it and securing it. However, as rats are much smarter than me, they always quickly put it back the way they want it. So I gave up and took the wheel out and the rats are now limited to an hour of supervised "wheel time" a day. Oh rats!)
Meanwhile, as we were trying to figure out what brought on this problem we had to do something about it and quickly. I phoned Pirate's veterinarians, Dr. Conrad and Dr. Latos, and we upped his medication and gave him oral Valium. The seizures stopped (and he hasn't had one since) but the extended seizure activity threw Pirate for a loop. He was out like a light and in his den box for way too long.
I called Dr Conrad, who is a big cat specialist, and she came quickly to his aid. Charlie and Lin were here to help too and the first thing we did was pull him out of the den box and situate him on a slant with his head elevated. He had already developed a pressure sore on one hip from lying in one position for too long. The good thing was that Dr. Conrad was able to take blood samples from his leg without anesthesia. This would not have been possible if he were alert.
It was very cold (20 degrees at night) so I put a blanket over him and a folded sheet under his head. I practically slept in his den box with him, administering warm subcutaneous fluids daily and on the third day, he got up, took a big drink and went back into his den box. I was overjoyed until I saw it-a dinner plate-sized circle was missing from the sheet. Remembering that Bobby the Bobcat had recently consumed a toy which was later surgically removed from his stomach, I thought -oh no, not again.
Then Pirate started to vomit. We thought optimistically that being as big as he is this relatively small piece of material would pass through him. So over the next couple weeks his attitude improved but he was unable to consistently hold down solid food. I fed him meat baby food and canned cat food but he was still vomiting. It seemed strange that he was still meowing and climbing up to his shelf, both signs of well-being. And he was always hungry even though he couldn't keep food down. Not typical behavior for a foreign body ingestion.
Fortunately, (or unfortunately) I've had my share of experience with blockages. Many animals (lots of dogs) accidentally ingest foreign objects in their environment such as toys, socks and I was reading about some very unusual things, like diamond rings and dentures! Often these are expelled by vomiting although sometimes surgery is required to remove the object from the stomach or the intestines. We've had both happen here-usually toys are the culprit. Bobby the bobcat had a toy in his stomach and Envy the mountain lion even had a wad of grass stuck in her intestine which was unexpected. Always when this happens the animals are nauseous and uninterested in food. They are usually lethargic and spend their time on the ground instead of high on their shelf. But there's always an opportunity for things to be different so I thought, could it be a partial blockage? Or something else altogether?
Pirate's behavior told me to wait and see if his condition improved on its own but after a couple weeks he was still vomiting and losing weight so we decided it was time to do the exploratory surgery.
Taking a mountain lion to the vet is never easy. A whole village is needed just to lift the crate into the van and that's assuming the mountain lion willingly goes in the crate. Pirate is a gentle and cooperative individual so it all worked out and Dr Latos did the surgery but found absolutely nothing. Now what? It seemed to me like it was something in his throat so x-rays were taken but again-nothing. I'll have to say that although we all worry so much about these surgeries Pirate really bounced back. He is a model patient. He never even licked his surgery incision. The big problem was still with us though. He just couldn't hold down solid food.
Dr Conrad suggested that we take him to a pet hospital where we could do an endoscopy and ultrasound. Once again, the village gathered and we loaded big Pirate into the van and off we went to VCA Animal Hospital in West L.A---a long ride for Pirate who, like most cats, does not like riding in the car. Dr Bruyette performed the endoscopy and an esophageal stricture was found. ( See video) If only Pirate could've said "It's in my throat, Mol." We finally had our problem and it is one that can be treated. He may have to go back for additional treatments. We'll just have to wait and see. Nothing was found on the ultrasound but the pressure sore had never healed even with the antibiotics so the wound was treated and stitched.
So that's what we're doing plus a few other things: Small chunks of food throughout the day that can pass through the dilated stricture to help it stay open. Pills 3 times a day for seizures and then new pills to be dissolved in water in a syringe and squirted down his throat after meals to act like a band aid protecting the esophagus from acid should he vomit. Then subcutaneous fluids if he needs a boost. As you can see, my plate is full-pardon the pun.
So now you know how the director of a wildlife center spend her holidays but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Pirate is one of my very favorite animals and caring for him and pulling him through was the best Christmas present ever.
Pirates's Esophageal Stricture Explained
Pirate's Photo History