On the Stoicness of Cats

Eric, doing his best Downward Facing Paperweight, a classic kitty yoga pose
Eric, doing Downward Facing Paperweight, a classic Hatha yoga pose

Eric’s still doing great, but I know how to read my Orange Menace, and he’s been in his discomfort pose more times this week than I’ve ever seen him do in his life.

Those of you who’ve had sick cats probably know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of like a breadloaf-with-legs. I associate the breadloaf position (all legs, paws and tail very neatly tucked underneath the body) with a certain sort of smugness with my cats; they seem to do it when they want to chill out without snuggling or sleeping. The breadloaf-with-legs involves a slight elevation, so their haunches are very slightly raised and their paws are visible. It usually indicates imminent horking.

Eric goes into discomfort pose at least three or four times a day now, and it breaks my heart. If I notice, I go over and pet him and give him love, and that seems to help; he gets out of the pose, and meows and purrs and head-butts, and rarely returns into the pose after the affection therapy. I have noticed that he’ll groom the area right over his kidneys right after I’m done petting him, and I wonder if his kidneys are hurting him—they’re about five times the size they should be, and completely riddled with fluid-filled cysts. According to what I’ve read, a lot of the time the polycystic kidneys don’t seem to bother the cats, but they do occasionally cause pain.

Sometimes, I think it’s nausea, and food seems to help—just a couple of mouthfuls of raw or a small spoonful of pulverized winter squash. He’s keeping his weight remarkably well, partly because he’s such a chow hound, and partly because I’m partially hand-feeding him these days, and he loooooooves being hand-fed. I’m going to keep him a healthy weight for as long as humanly possible, and he’s in fighting trim right now: 11 pounds, and all of it Orange Bastard muscle.

But tonight, something happened that has never, and I mean never happened before.

He was chilling in the cat tree and in classic breadloaf formation. I blinked at him affectionately, and he blinked right back, so I went up to him and petted him.

He unfurled, which I expected—and moved back from my hand, which I didn’t. I reached over carefully and scratched his head gently, which he allowed for a few seconds, then he just seemed overwhelmed by the sensation, and jumped up to the tallest platform on the cat tree, where he sprawled after a couple seconds of sniffing. He gave me a look. Not a mean look. An “I’m in pain and not in the mood to be touched” look.

Eric, enjoying some sunshine
Eric, enjoying some sunshine

I help up my finger for him to sniff, which he did, and I respected his wishes; I didn’t touch him. But man, was I ever sad afterwards. I’ve never known this kid to refuse affection. Ever. He’s a love sponge. (Which explains his drooling habit when he’s getting affection—he’s just squeezing out all the excess love he gets through his spit. I just wish his spit didn’t smell like 100% ass-hobo.) He’s my guy. I get to do all kinds of stuff nobody ever could get away with, like dig out his eye boogers, or pet his belly. But tonight, he was in too much discomfort¬† to even let me scritch his forehead. Given how stoic cats are, I can’t help but wonder how much pain the little dude’s in.

I wish I had the kitty equivalent of morphine. I’d give it to him in a heartbeat. With the polycystic kidneys, there’s really no reason not to, and my goal is to keep him happy and comfortable. The pain is one of the biggest obstacles, and it’s only going to get bigger and uglier.

I’ll try not to let this blog become a depressing document of Eric’s slow downhill slide, but I feel like tonight was this weird milestone moment. The initial dip in appetite was the shot across the bow. We’re now engaging the enemy in earnest, and they’re starting to throw grappling hooks. I know we’re going to have to surrender at some point, but by damn, we’re going to put up a magnificent fight, and have fun along the way.