From Homeless Shelter Cat to Happy Vet Clinic Cat: Whisper’s Story
We’re excited to share to a guest post by Dr.Brenda Eisenhauer DVM, a veterinarian based in Colorado. Her cat Whisper, is a working cat who survived a rough start and today advocates for feline dental health. It’s not because of her good teeth. In fact, she doesn’t have any. All of her teeth needed to be extracted, and she’s lucky to be free of a painless condition many cats silently suffer from, feline resorption lesions.
There is more to Whisper’s story. Meet Dr. Brenda and Whisper.
Dr. Brenda reveals the dilemma all vets face: what happens when a special animal captures their heart. They can’t adopt them all. In this case, it’s a second chance and unexpected life purpose.
I get the opportunity to meet a lot of cats! As both a private practice and shelter veterinarian I meet and treat hundreds and hundreds of cats a year. Through the years, I’ve been able to see the wide range of feline personalities and the quirks that make each cat unique.
I’ve also learned that when there is one cat, out of the thousands, that really stands out to me there is little chance that I can resist taking them home. Sometimes, I tell myself it’s just to foster them for a bit and get them out of the shelter. At least, that was the case with Whisper.
Let me introduce you Whisper at work. She takes her job seriously and those big green eyes don’t miss a thing.
While I first met Whisper at the shelter, she is now a clinic cat at my animal hospital, Parkside Animal Health Center in Aurora, Colorado, where she handles a wide range of jobs. Not the least of which is acting as the official greeter to new clients and their pets. Whisper is 100% certain that every creature that walks through our doors is her friend. Whether that’s a 145lb mastiff, a litter of new kittens or a tortoise, Whisper knows that they can’t wait to meet her! And most of the time she is also 100% correct.
I like to think Whisper is living the good life at our clinic. She has her own room complete with shelves to climb, comfortable beds and a variety of toys that she cycles through. Her soccer skills are getting really good! Whisper is very popular with our clients and I think some clients may be coming in just to see her!
Whisper also handles the important animal to animal consultations while wearing a very stylish bandana:
I like to believe that when a pet visits our clinic and sees Whisper living the good life it sets them a little at ease. The veterinary clinic can’t be so bad if there’s a cat with a bandana running the place, right?
But Whisper didn’t always live the high life.
When I first met Whisper at a shelter in Denver she was in rough shape. She came in with several other cats and had likely never received any veterinary care before. She had ear infections in both ears, corneal scarring (likely a result of past trauma), she was underweight and worst of all she had severe dental disease in her remaining teeth.
Whisper’s dental disease diagnosis is common. In fact, according to a report from Banfield, the diagnosis of dental disease beat out the diagnosis of “healthy pet”. That means there are more cats and dogs with dental disease than there are pets without, according to Banfield’s data!
Whisper’s dental disease had plenty of time to progress over the years. Just like in humans, dental disease starts with plaque then progresses to calculus. Calculus is a form of hardened plaque that is much harder to remove. Calculus also provides a rougher and tougher surface that is also ideal for further plaque and bacteria growth.
However, the real trouble starts when bacteria gets below the gumline. Bacteria can infect and damage soft tissues and bone in the mouth which eventually leads to teeth falling out. In some severe cases, the bone erodes and the actual shape of jaw can change as a result. As you can imagine, the whole process is quite painful. Even that is really only scraping the surface of how dental disease affects a cat- an infected mouth can impact a cat’s behavior and organ function as well.
Unfortunately, Whisper went through this complete cycle of dental disease and feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) several times over as she slowly lost tooth after tooth. But the problem doesn’t actually end there! Even after teeth have fallen out, they can leave behind partial roots. Roots are just what they sound like- they’re the part of the tooth that keeps everything rooted in the jawbone. These roots, if left behind, can cause a whole host of problems including more infections and a lot more pain.
Dental radiographs revealed that Whisper had retained roots in all four quadrants of her mouth. Not only did she have to have her remaining teeth extracted, Whisper had to have these roots removed from each part of her mouth! Ouch!
But even after Whisper’s dental extractions were complete, her troubles were not over! Whisper, like many cats, stopped eating after her dental surgery. Obviously not eating doesn’t help the healing process and if left unchecked can quickly become life-threatening.
I took Whisper home as a foster after completing her dental hoping that a less stressful environment would get her eating. The traditional approach is to offer cats every kind of stinky wet food there is. Nothing was too rich since the most important part was to get Whisper eating again. We offered Whisper all of the good stuff- what felt like every wet food on the market along with big portions of tuna and other feline delicacies. But Whisper would have none of it! At a loss, we decided to offer Whisper a bowl of dry food. With her usual style, Whisper casually walked over to the bowl and began eating as if to say “Teeth or no teeth I’ll eat what I want.
Whisper is healthy now and doesn’t have to deal with dental pain anymore. While this story has a happy ending and Whisper is now our Chief Dog Bed Tester she didn’t need to go through all those years of pain and discomfort.
The most important thing to keep in mind with dental disease: while it is the most common veterinary concern in cats and dogs it is also very manageable with regular exams. While dental cleanings can keep teeth healthy and decrease the risk of extraction, 20-60% of cats will still develop feline oral resorptive lesions (abbreviated FORLs) which will require removal. The exact cause of resorptive lesions is unknown, but the process causes the structure of a previously healthy tooth to erode over time. Resorptive lesions are painful and almost always require extraction. While frustrating to veterinarians and owners alike, resorptive lesions only increase the need for regular dental examinations.
Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness.
It is important to remember that our cats can be suffering from severe dental pain but show very few outward signs until the damage is catastrophic. Whisper is no different. Even while suffering from what had to be immense pain, she was still friendly, outgoing and was still eating dry kibble at the shelter. Most owners mistakenly interpret these things as indicators that their cat is happy and healthy. However, it requires regular dental examinations and radiographs to diagnose and treat painful conditions that are hiding below the gumline.
If Whisper had been outside the care of the amazing shelter, her veterinary bill would have been extensive. There’s no doubt about that. Had her previous owner provided a few smaller dental procedures spread out over Whisper’s 10 years, it would have likely cost less than one major “everything must go” procedure. Waiting too long is costly in more ways than one’s wallet.
Whisper is now our greatest advocate for feline dental care and if her story helps just one cat avoid the years of dental pain that she went through then we’re positive that she would consider that a job well done.
Brenda Eisenhauer, DVM is a small animal veterinarian with 20 years of experience in shelter and private practice veterinary medicine as both a veterinary technician and a veterinarian. Brenda currently practices in Aurora, Colorado where she is the owner and veterinarian at Parkside Animal Health Center. Additionally, Brenda works with Denver shelter, The Dumb Friends League, where she has helped care for tens of thousands of homeless pets over the years. Follow on social
Editor’s note: The holiday season is a busy time of celebrations with hopefully no veterinary emergencies. January is an excellent time to schedule a vet wellness visit before February National Pet Dental Month