A DARA cat update: Tracking a mystery illness

Whew, we just got back from the vet with Whisper and are wincing at the $511 bill but worrying much more that she is not going to pull through this latest round of a mystery illness that is afflicting at least 7 of the cats here at the sanctuary.  For the past 5 years now (!!) we have been trying to find out what this severe upper respiratory illness is that comes and goes, seeming to go entirely for months and months, and then comes again.  Our vets have tested the various kitties for everything known to mankind.  We've gone to specialists and they've run tests and more tests and so far we are all still in the dark.

Whisper has had it for the past 4 years.  Two years ago she had a serious bought and spent a week in the E.R. of a clinic that specializes in fungal diseases, needing to be in an oxygen chamber (and we simply can't do another $3000 week for her or any of the cats!).  While the tests on Whisper and Nipper (who also has it) have consistently come back negative for Histoplasmosis, we had her tested for it again today.  Here's why:

We've got 5 cats currently with this severe congestive ailment and we lost Emily and Maddy to it..  This includes a new arrival (Liberty) who, when he was dumped (literally in our front yard along with his brother Lucky) on us was perfectly healthy but now has the severe coughing, laboured breathing, and lethargy that is a hallmark of this illness.

We've also had two cats who did not exhibit any signs of a respiratory infection but who both, within weeks of one another, came down with paralyses that seemed to be caused by something affecting the central nervous system.  Flora had one eye paralyzed in the open position, her head stuck in a canted position and she had extreme vertigo.  Gingi went through several weeks where he could not lower his head to eat or drink and so we had to feed him on a platform we built that exactly reached  mouth level when he was in a standing position.  Both, thankfully, recovered fully after a number of weeks but the vets could find no explanation.

Then we've got Batya, who herself will be going back to the vet on Friday.  Batya also had no respiratory symptoms but something affecting the bone marrow/joint in her left front leg.  When we took her in, thinking at first that she had hurt it by jumping off of something --she was limping a little bit and it got progressively worse over the next few days rather than better.  We thought she must have really sprained her leg.  It was a real shock when the vet came back with the X-rays and bloodwork and said they were nearly 100% sure she had an aggressive form of cancer.  We took her home, thinking we would have just the weekend to do a bucket list for her and then would need to put her to sleep.  That night, however, I got online and did some research:  Several fungal infections (Histoplasmosis among them) and bacterial infections can mimic this aggressive form of bone cancer but it is pretty rare.  I was like, you know, we've got these other cats who keep having this respiratory illness so ....We went back to the vet the next morning and they said, sure let's treat her for both a fungal infection and bacterial infection and see if there is any improvement.  There was the caveat, of course, that if she worsened then we would know it was cancer and it would be time to say goodbye.  For two weeks there was no change --she got neither better nor worse and was in really bad pain that had to be kept at bay with morphine twice daily-- but then we began to see steady improvement.  It has been 3 months since the initial diagnosis of cancer and she is running and playing now like there was never anything wrong.  On Friday, we'll find out when we should stop the anti-fungal and antiobiotic medicines.  We know it had to have been either fungal or bacterial:It certainly wasn't cancer.

If anyone else has had experience with their cat having symptoms like the recurring respiratory infections or the symptoms that Flora, Gingi, and Batya have had, please share! 


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