The Ninth Life

They say that cats have nine lives.  If ever that saying was true, it applies to our Timmy Tom who started his ninth today.  Thomas will be eighteen years old in September, and a week ago I thought he was a goner. In truth, when I look back, his eighth life started about a year and a half ago, when he began to make peculiar noises, particularly at night.  My daughter was housesitting with her boyfriend while we were in Africa, and she emailed me to say, “What’s with Timmy Tom?  He walks around yowling all night.  I think he is possessed.  My boyfriend calls him Devil Cat.  Should we call an exorcist?”  Indeed, his cries at night were enough to wake the dead.  But he was eating and drinking well, and producing copious amounts of excrement as befitting a 20 pound yellow tabby, deposited in the proper place—his litter box.  After careful inspection and palpation of various body parts finding no particular tender areas, we gave it no more thought.

In August of last year we were visited by two friends who happen to be veterinarians, here in San Diego for the big veterinary society meetings.  They too were treated to the loud vocalizations emanating from our cat, at which point Margaret said, “He must be hyperthyroid.  It’s one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in elderly cats—they make a lot of noise.”  She examined him and listened to his heart and pronounced it normal, without the loud galloping rhythm associated with an overactive thyroid. He was sleek and fit (and maybe just a little bit fat!)  We got used to the noise—after all, in a house full of animals a few extra vocalizations at night were nothing to lose sleep over.  It wasn’t until this spring that the cat began to lose weight—just a little at first, nothing too alarming.  But the weight loss combined with an obsession with the dogs’ enormous water bowl (not to mention my toilet) led me to conclude that perhaps he was diabetic.  I took him to the vet, who drew blood and pronounced that he was not diabetic, however his thyroid level was sky high.  Never mind—there’s medication for that, as long as you can catch your cat to administer it.  Cats are smarter than dogs—there’s no such thing as concealing a pill in a chunk of cheddar cheese.  Thank goodness for methamizole cream, administered on a gloved finger inside the ear.

Ten days ago I thought the jig was up.  Each morning I was presented with a gift—I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my bathmat will never be the same.  The emergency vet last Saturday concluded that the intra-aural administration of medication was unreliable and that Tom’s thyroid needed better regulation.  He got fluids and we switched to the pills.  He did not get better.  On Wednesday, I took him to his regular vet, who examined him and found an abscessed tooth.  She drew blood work too, but it was too late in the day to send it off for analysis, and I had to wait until after the July 4 holiday to get the results.  The covering vet called me yesterday to say that his white count was 20,000.  Twenty thousand?  Yikes!  My own white count wasn’t that high when I was hospitalized with MRSA.  My husband and I swung into action.  We gave the cat antibiotics.  Which antibiotics?  The ones leftover from the little dog who passed in December.  We are nothing if not economical.  Antibiotics in this household are never wasted.

Timmy Tom woke up today a new cat.  He sauntered into the kitchen and demanded his chicken breast for breakfast.  He got that and more—some grilled ahi tuna left over from our holiday barbecue.  He drank deeply from the dogs’ giant water bowl and from the toilet.  And my bleached and laundered bath mat remained unbesmirched.  Cue a distant chorus of “Memory” from the musical CATS—“Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise, I must think of a new life. And I musn’t give in. When the dawn comes–Tonight will be a memory too.  And a new day will begin.”  For Timmy Tom, the ninth life has started.


  1. Hyperthyroidism is SO common in elderly cats. The absolute best way to deal with it, if you have unlimited funds or kitty insurance, is radioactive iodine. That pretty much cures it.

    I did that for my 14 year old cat and bought her another 4 years. Of course, it’s a hard decision to make when a cat is already 18.

    I remember diagnosing my parents’ cat as hyperthyroid over the phone when she was 14. They chose to just give methimazole, declining surgery or radioactive iodine. So there I was, 7 years later, with my father dead and my mother in a dementia unit, giving that 21 year old cat her twice daily pills.

    Here’s a hint: If your cat will take cream cheese or liverwurst directly off your fingers, then try wrapping the pill in that sticky stuff and offering it to him. Sometimes a little bit of deception can go a long way.

    It’s amazing how strong a cat is when it doesn’t want to take a pill!

    1. Margaret, I asked about radioactive iodine since this is what we do for humans, and I was told that you have to start with methimazole, otherwise RAI is too dangerous. Also, that once he bottoms out his thyroid levels, you then have to give thyroid replacement. Does this happen quickly? Maybe I better rethink the iodine. I would gladly pay NOT to have to administer pills twice daily. M

  2. Did you talk with the vet who actually DOES the radioactive iodine treatment? (They have to have a special lead-lined room for those cats, so only a few do it.) Or just your regular vet? Not every vet knows everything.

    No, you usually do NOT have to supplement with thyroid afterwards. My cat lived another 4 years and never needed a thing. It is quite often completely curative. Better even than surgery, since it can get even the traces of the thyroid glad that are elsewhere. However I should note that before we were going radioactive iodine we DID do surgery on these ancient cats and they did surprisingly well.

    Now before doing RI they will usually do chest films to see if there are any mets (found only once in al the cats I’ve known). And it is true that if the hyperthyroid state has been gong on for a long time (as I’m sure it has in your cat) then the kidneys have been working overtime and he’s not the best candidate in the world. But I seriously suggest that you go ahead and do it anyway.

    I did RI on my beloved and most favorite cat ever – Serena – because our combined quality of life would have plummeted had Ieven considered trying to pill her. (And remember, I work with cats for a living so you’d think I’d be able to pill her, but it was NOT an option!!!)

    And not to be hard-hearted here, but what’s the worst that might happen if you go ahead and do RI? He might get worse and die? Well, he’s 18 and he’s gonna die anyway, in a month or a year or 3 years. But if he lives you’ll both be a lot happier!

    It’s your money (or the insurance company’s). Spend it. Quality of life is important – for you as well as your cat.

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