Boots, a 16-year-old cat, has cheated death twice. Nine lives? Maybe. But perhaps this cat’s resiliency has more to do with a strong family bond and the depth of love from his owners.
About six years ago, that commitment was proven when Michelle McMahon-Downer came home from the hospital after delivering her second child and found Boots vomiting and acting disoriented. The family brought him to Tufts VETS in Walpole and his case was transferred to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton.
Dr. Mary Anna Labato, a veterinary internist at Foster, led his care and diagnosed him with a kidney infection and acute kidney injury, a serious form of renal failure. Only one of Boots’ kidneys was functioning. Dr. Labato performed hemodialysis, a process by which blood is purified by removing the kidney’s waste products.
“Acute kidney injury is a common but very serious condition in cats and some pets don’t respond to the treatment,” said Dr. Labato. “But Boots made a dramatic recovery.”
Once he was discharged, Boots continued treatment with a peritoneal dialysis catheter, which can be used on an outpatient basis but requires the watchful eye of a caring pet owner. Despite taking care of a newborn and a sick pet, McMahon-Downer shrugged off the stress at that time.
“Being sleep deprived didn’t really faze me,” said McMahon-Downer with a laugh. As an emergency room physician, she is used to pressure-filled situations and working hundred-hour weeks. What mattered to her was getting Boots, the cat who had protectively watched over her older son and had been a part of their family for years, the care he needed.
Eventually, Boots recovered but over the next few years developed heart disease and some other ailments, said McMahon-Downer. The family realized he had become blind when they moved to a new house last year. While Boots had memorized the layout of the former house, the change in scenery had thrown off his routine and it quickly became apparent to the family that he couldn’t see where he was going.
Recently, they went on a week-long vacation, leaving Boots and the other family cat, Yaddie, in the care of a sitter. When they returned, McMahon-Downer found Boots hiding under the armoire in her bedroom, a favored spot of comfort. He was in rough shape and couldn’t move his right front paw so they quickly brought him back to Tufts so he could be examined by Dr. Labato.
Tufts veterinarians found that Boots suffered the equivalent of a human stroke. Dr. Labato prescribed medication to help with the stroke and underlying heart disease, and waited to see if he responded to the interventions. Once again, Boots made an amazing comeback.
“I can’t believe he survived but he bounced back remarkably,” said McMahon-Downer. “We are so thankful for his quality of life.” While Boots takes daily doses of medication to manage his condition, walks with a limp and has slowed down considerably in his golden years, he loves snuggling with Yaddie and McMahon-Downer’s children at every opportunity. These relationships sustain him.
“Every day we see owners performing incredible acts of love for their pets,” said Dr. Labato. “These relationships matter to them and they matter to us. We hope that patients never have to return to the hospital but, if they do, understanding their specific needs, their relationship with their pet and their pet’s personality is something we consider in our approach to care.”