When Rupert, an orange tabby, was diagnosed with a mass in his intestinal tract at the age of 14, his family feared the worst. A longtime fixture in Debbie Richardson’s home, the senior cat’s future suddenly seemed uncertain.
Because Rupert was an older cat, and one who required sedation just to go to the vet, the family took surgery and invasive measures, including a biopsy, off the table. As a result, Rupert’s options, and time, appeared limited.
“We thought he had nothing left,” Richardson says.
However, Rupert’s vet suggested one last thing to try—a change in diet. It was a long shot, and maybe even just a stopgap, but it managed to buy Rupert more time to spend with his family.
A Turn For the Worse
In 2016, the Richardsons didn’t know if they were measuring Rupert’s life expectancy in months or even weeks or days. Rupert started vomiting regularly, had constipation and hard stools, lost weight and just wasn’t himself.
It was very concerning to see their beloved cat of so many years in distress. Rupert had been with the family ever since Richardson’s son, Jonah, “picked” him for his first birthday at an animal shelter.
As Richardson tells it, all the orange tabby cats in the shelter were pulled out for Jonah’s examination. To the 1-year-old Jonah, this consisted of fur grabs, tail pulls and eye pokes.
“This one just sat there,” Debbie says of Rupert. “He just wanted to go home with us. It was like he was saying, ‘Here I am.’ That’s how sweet he was.”
From that moment, Rupert and Jonah were inseparable.
To get to the bottom of what was causing Rupert’s health issues, the Richardsons decided to take Rupert to the veterinarian for a senior wellness check—not an easy task. The “world’s sweetest cat” transforms into a furry monster in the veterinarian’s office, making trips very stressful and infrequent.
After Rupert was sedated sufficiently for the trip, his vet found an undetermined mass in his intestinal and stomach areas as well as an irritated and inflamed bowel.
“It wasn’t a hairball,” Richardson says. “It was some kind of inflammation or growth.”
To pinpoint the underlying condition, whether it was irritable bowel disease, cancer or something else, would have required a biopsy to analyze tissue. Because of Rupert’s age and health, Richardson decided to go with the least-aggressive treatment—a change in diet.
How a Special Diet Helped Rupert
Rupert would go on Royal Canin gastrointestinal fiber response cat food to see if he would respond. This Royal Canin cat food recipe requires a prescription and is “formulated with an optimal blend of fibers to help stool pass through the GI tract,” says Catherine Lenox, DVM, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist who serves as the scientific affairs manager for Royal Canin.
Dr. Lenox adds that while many diets may be advertised as formulated for sensitive stomachs or gastrointestinal signs, “Rupert needed a very specific diet that his veterinarian recommended in order to improve.”
Rupert’s veterinarian was unavailable for comment. However, Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian and friend to the Richardsons, explains how the gastrointestinal diet might have helped: “Cats with chronic constipation will sometimes improve with changes to the fiber content of their diets.”
Additionally, diets with good blends of fiber and probiotics help promote growth of “good” gut bacteria, according to Dr. Coates.
For Rupert, this specifically prescribed Royal Canin cat food managed to help.
“Immediately, the vomiting stopped,” Richardson says. “He’s as happy as a clam.”
Extended Time with Rupert
Two years later, the Richardsons definitely realize that Rupert’s clock is winding down. Without a definitive diagnosis, it is impossible to know whether or not he has a slow-moving cancer in his gut, but there is no doubt he has reacted well to the dietary change.
“I’m realistic,” Jonah says. “He still is old and struggling, but it seems he’s been as happy as ever. He’s still a genuinely happy cat.”
And the family is extremely grateful for the added time.
“(Rupert) is a fixture in the house,” Richardson says. “It’s been very special to have the extra time.”
By: Greg Mellen