The Story of Mr. Bear
I grew up in the country with lots of cats and dogs. We had Mr. Bear’s mother and father and many siblings (none of whom are alive now). He was born in my bathroom and was my first experience with a litter of kittens.
He bonded very closely with me and quickly became my favorite cat. Since we lived in the country all of our animals were indoor/outdoor. Mr. Bear got into many cat fights in his youth and contracted Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), similar to HIV in humans. When Mr. Bear was 10 years old, he had a medical crisis (excessive vomiting and diarrhea and weight loss) and had dropped down to 6 pounds from his healthy 13 pounds. The country vet we took him to thought that it was the FIV that was causing his problems and that there wasn’t anything we could do.
I was living in DC at the time, having just graduated from college. I brought him up here to live out his last days with me. I took him to another vet just to try to get something to stop his vomiting and diarrhea, so he would be more comfortable. The vet asked if he could “work him up”, and I didn’t even know what that meant. But the vet did lab work and radiographs and said that he didn’t think it was the FIV causing Mr. Bear’s problems. He thought it was Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) instead. He suggested switching his food to Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d (intestinal disease diet). The simple act of switching his food stopped all of his vomiting and diarrhea, and he gained all of his weight back. He was literally on the verge of dying and a simple change of diet saved his life.
He continued to live another happy 9 years with me. As he grew older my understanding of IBD and its treatments helped prolong his life. He did end up on budesonide (a steroid) for 3 years and Vitamin B12 injections for the last year. This understanding has continued to help me diagnose and treat other cats with the same problem.
Mr. Bear also taught me a great deal about the importance of dental care in cats. Because of the FIV, Mr. Bear had horrendous dental problems. He needed 3 dentals during his life. The last dental was done when he was 17 (by Dr. Brown and Nova Cat Clinic, as I couldn’t work on him objectively). When Mr. Bear was 17 he was starting to show his age (losing weight, sleeping more). I am trained to look for pain in animals, but I didn’t know that he was in pain until his dental problems were fixed. Dr. Brown did a major dental procedure where he extracted all but one tooth. Once Mr. Bear recovered from the procedure and healed, he gained a pound and was downstairs interacting more and sleeping less. He is my reason for educating clients about the importance of dental care in cats because I’ve seen the difference it can make.
Towards the end of his life, I made sure that Mr. Bear got the best medical treatment possible. He was seen by a board certified radiologist for an abdominal ultrasound (looking for cancer, but never found it). He was also receiving acupuncture and laser therapy treatments to help with his pain and ataxia. I never did get a definitive diagnosis on what brought him to the end of his life at age 19. I came home from working a very busy day and found him unable to walk. I suspect that he had a stroke, but it was clearly his time. So, I went back into the clinic and euthanized him.
I think that there are one or two (at least I am hoping there are two) very special animals in our lives, and Mr. Bear was my special one. There is a hole in my heart, now that he is gone, that I’m not sure will ever heal. But from birth to death, I learned from him and credit him with my desire to pursue veterinary medicine as a career.
Elizabeth Arguelles, DVM