My cats are my greatest “why” for everything I do. They are the reason I bought my house, as I needed a yard to build a catio so they could enjoy nature safely. They are the reason for my job, as I have worked in the veterinary field for 11 years. They are my biggest source of creativity while brainstorming ways I can build more joy and enrichment into their worlds. I was born a cat lover, but it is through my job that I realized that cats need a lot of help.
Early in my career, I learned that cats have way lower statistics around yearly preventative healthcare than their canine counterparts. I remember sitting in my chair dumbfounded and disheartened, not only for the cats who weren’t being seen regularly, but for the fate of cat health in general. Without that demand being provided by pet owners, there is less of a “need” to make advancements for cats. At the time, I decided that I could help this problem by normalizing cat vet visits with my own cats and posting about every single trip on my Instagram and Facebook platforms.
In 2015, I adopted my sweet Harry – a big, fluffy, polydactyl kitty – from the shelter. He developed a cough a few months after adoption, and I took him to my vet. He tested positive for FIV that night and I was shocked and heartbroken because I initially thought that was a terminal diagnosis. I was fortunate to have many incredibly supportive veterinarians who helped me understand that FIV is not a death sentence and that we could manage this. The professional narrative immediately following an FIV diagnosis is so critically important, and with proper education, lives can be saved. We started antibiotics and Harry recovered.
Fast forward to 2019 – Harry was coughing again, and it was discovered that he had a large mass in his lungs. After several diagnostics and procedures, including labs, x-rays, a fine needle aspirate, a CT scan, a thoracotomy, a tissue biopsy, and an aerobic culture, it was determined that he had bacterial pneumonia and NOT CANCER! His FIV status may have contributed to him contracting this infection, but it was quite possibly the wild card we desperately needed, where something that looked and acted like cancer, was NOT cancer. My little FIV+ fighter got better with amoxicillin, and most importantly, a chance. He just needed that chance.
The following year, my now 9-year-old Baby Doug, had a huge scare of his own. Doug has had a multitude of health issues his whole life. He struggled with severe stomatitis in his early years and had all his teeth extracted by age 4; he has feline asthma that is managed with an Aerokat fluticasone inhaler; his anal glands have been problematic with the right one rupturing on 3 separate occasions. But one morning in 2020, he was suddenly very lethargic and feverish. After hospitalization, fluids, antibiotics, and many diagnostics, he recovered like nothing happened and we still didn’t have a direct cause for his illness. 10 days later at his recheck, his neutrophils were practically nonexistent, and he was diagnosed with severe neutropenia raising a lot of red flags for serious diseases.
We visited an internal medicine specialist who performed bone marrow and splenic biopsies, and this ruled out Feline Leukemia and a few other diseases. Since this happened during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we did not have access to the Anti-Neutrophil Antibody test which would have been the gold standard blood test to run. By exclusion of other diseases, we treated for primary immune-mediated neutropenia for around 9 months, first using steroids, then switching to cyclosporine, with several CBCs to monitor progress. Doug’s neutrophils never fully regulated with medication, and just as we were getting ready to wean off the immunosuppressants, he contracted cryptococcosis. This was another infection that was foreign to me, but I was fortunate to have such a wonderful veterinary team helping Doug (and me) through. Doug is managing well these days and though his health record is huge, so is his zest for life.
Baby Doug’s journey with neutropenia is where I really felt a lack of available research for cats. I was scouring the internet looking for examples of cats facing neutropenia and what it meant for them, and there just wasn’t much out there. I’m very grateful for my veterinarian and all the specialists we’ve met along the way because their expertise helped us through. That said, it felt isolating and scary as a mom to not find representation on my own. Once again, I decided that since I couldn’t find any examples for myself, I would become the example for the next cat parent. I posted about our journey frequently using hashtags, and in sharing our experiences, I’ve connected with cat parents across the US and world facing diagnoses of FIV, neutropenia, feline asthma, and even cryptococcosis. It matters to me to give my boys the best chance at life that I can, and if sharing our experiences helps even one cat and human, then it’s absolutely worth it.
When Harry was sick, I started a fundraiser because I was overwhelmed with the costs of getting him the care he deserved. Afterwards, I felt compelled to give back all the kindness we received. I discovered EveryCat Health Foundation when looking for an organization that is solely dedicated to cats. I was so happy to find them! Every February, I celebrate National Cat Health Month along with my birthday and it’s the purrfect opportunity to raise both awareness for cat issues AND funds for an organization near and dear to my heart. To date, we’ve raised almost $2900, and it makes my heart so happy to be contributing to the ways that EveryCat Health makes a difference for cats every day.
We all hope our cats will be healthy throughout their lives, but there are some scary ailments out there that do strike. We need research to take place NOW so that it’s there and available for cats (and the humans who love them) when the need arises. It is difficult to face scary diagnoses and I’m grateful all the time that my little clowder has pushed through some storms. I consider our personal experiences to be somewhat miraculous in nature, as we worked through the recommended diagnostics with bleak prognoses, but that’s the art of veterinary medicine and the beauty of giving chances. Diseases like FIP, HCM, Amyloidosis, and more, lead to so much heartbreak, and the focused attention on these issues is so important. Cats deserve it. The humans who love these cats deserve it. ~Kristyn Allen
Kristyn lives in Upstate NY with her five cats: Baby Doug, Henry, Albert, Hennessy, and Harry (FIV+). She has been a cat lover since she was very young, and she makes it her mission to raise awareness for a variety of cat-related topics, including preventative health and feline enrichment. Her true calling is advocating for FIV+ cats by speaking on all the ways FIV+ cats can live long, healthy, happy lives. She loves starting the day with good coffee and looking for ways to lower the amount of harsh chemicals used in and around the home. Learn more at her blog: www.caffeinatedlowtoxcatmom.com.