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black cats, cats, crazy cat lady, Patron Saint of Cats, St Gertrude

St Gertrude – Patron Saint of Cats

Tongeren_Liebfrauenbasilika_Fenster_Andreas_736.jpeg
Stained glass window in the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Belgium

Every now and then, and on International Cat Day, the Internet will mention that St Gertrude of Nivelles is the Patron Saint of Cats.  The image above shows St Gertrude with mice at her feet.  Now, while St Gertrude was never formally canonised by the Roman Catholic Church, she was considered extremely devout and worthy of veneration and is considered the Patron Saint of Travellers, Cats, the recently deceased, gardeners, the mentally ill (#crazycatlady) and those who were frightened of rats and mice.

St Gertrude was a 7th Century Abbess who, along with her mother Itta, founded the Abbey of Nivelles which is located in present day Belgium.

Gertrude’s father, Pippin the Elder, tried to force then 10 year old Gertrude to marry a lesser royal to further his own political and economic ambitions.  Very sensibly, Gertrude refused.  Her Mother, Itta, to prevent the vile father from taking Gertrude away from the family home by force, arranged to have Gertrude’s hair shaved into a tonsure which essentially forced Gertrude to get herself to a nunnery.

Shortly after this, the local Bishop Amand visited their home and convinced the mother Itta to start a monastery along with Gertrude.  Gertrude’s Mum, Itta, then founded Nivelles which was a double monastery for men and women, cloistered obviously.  Because of their decision to enter religious life, both Itta and Gertrudge were shunned by the local nobility.

Gertrude spent her young and short life running the monastery, praying endlessly, taking Communion, being chaste, wearing hairshirts and welcoming travellers and cats.  She devoted herself to the sick, elderly and poor and she also built churches, took care of orphans, widows, captives and pilgrims.  She received numerous travelling religious envoys and became known as a lesser Saint and Patron Saint of travellers.

She also took in a lot of cats to reduce the rodent population most likely to minimise the spread of disease particularly those nasty, virulent, Ebola-like Black Plagues which were so popular at that time. There was local folklore suggesting that St Gertrude had some sort of magical power over rats and could repel them with her cooking being the culinary equivalent of Big Pharma’s rat poison.

purple liquid poison on brown wooden surface
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There are now websites dedicated to St Gertrude and her love of cats.

Her Feast Day is St Patrick’s Day – March 17.  She died young, aged 33 after a life of hardship, fasting, austerity and prayer.

She is depicted in art as an Abbess with mice, rats or cats who are seen running up her pastoral staff or cloak. Her prayers and devotion towards the Souls in Purgatory has been represented artistically or symbolically by the placement of hopeful little mice poised at her feet.

Because of her willingness to take in travellers, sailors would pray to her to be delivered to their destinations safely.  And they often were.  The power of prayer – “Praise the Lord”.

photo of three cats
Photo by Mircea Iancu on Pexels.com

The 1981 Catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the first English language publication to depict St Gertrude as the Patron Saint of Cats.

I can only say that I am very glad that cats have their very own Patron Saint – Gertrude of Nivelles to watch over them, and us.

black yellow and white dome
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cats, hyperthyroidism in cats, indoor cats, keeping pets safe, thyroid disease

Your Cat’s Thyroid

My dear departed cat Salem, along with his failing kidneys in his later years, also developed hyperthyroidism when he was about 7 years old.  This is another common ailment of our furry friends when they get to middle age.

Before this illness developed he was a very overweight cat weighing more than 12 kilograms and I had him on weight loss food.  He was an indoor/outdoor cat and we lived in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital.

I knew that something was wrong when he all of a sudden lost almost half his body weight.  I took him to the vet and they diagnosed hyperthyroidism.

What is hyperthyroidism?

The thyroid gland in cats, like humans, is a butterfly-shaped organ residing in the neck that produces the thyroid hormone.  This in turn regulates metabolism.  When a cat becomes hyperthyroid – the gland is working too hard and starts to produce excessive amounts of the thyroid hormone (T4) in the bloodstream which creates a whole bunch of health issues in both cats (and humans).  In most cats a small benign tumour will form on one or both sides of the thyroid gland sending the gland into panic mode where it starts to over-produce T4.

Symptoms

The most common signs are dramatic weight loss accompanied by an increased appetite as well excessive thirst, increased urination, hyperactivity, vocalisation (sad meowing) over-grooming and unkempt appearance, panting, diarrhoea and sometimes shedding and vomiting.

Immediate Treatment

Initially my vet put my cat Salem on a dose of Methimazole for a year or so. Over time, this would have been an expensive solution as my cat was then only 7 and he would have required that medication for the remainder of his life.  We were also advised that this medication had the potential for side effects including loss of appetite, lethargy and possible blood cell abnormalities.  Although while he was on this medication, we did not notice any adverse effects with our cat Salem.

The medication will suppress production of the thyroid hormone but it will not slow the growth of the tumour and over time the dosage will likely need to be increased to manage the condition.

white oval medication pill beside blister pack
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More permanent treatment options

Because of his age and general health we decided to proceed with the more costly, but supposedly permanent solution, which was radioactive iodine therapy. Radioactive iodine becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland, where it irradiates and destroys the overactive thyroid tissue and no anaesthetic is required. This seemed like a good choice despite the AUD$1500 price tag initially as it still was cheaper than giving him the medication every day for the rest of his life.

In Australia at the time (2010) the treatment was via special radioactive capsules.  Salem was then put in isolation in a special licensed animal hospital for a week or so until we were able to collect him.  With this treatment you cannot take your pet home until the radioactivity from the isotope they are administered has destroyed the failing organ and the radiation has decayed to safe levels. They check this by testing the animal’s faeces and urine.

I believe now that there is a treatment where the cat is anaesthetised and given an injection of radioactive iodine and that this treatment is becoming more affordable for the average pet owner.

This treatment worked, or so we thought, for several years.  Then, the thyroid problems resurfaced and we had to give him capsules for the remainder of his life.  The vet advised me that the radioactive iodine treatment was 99% effective.  Unfortunately we were the 1 percent and my cat’s tumour grew back and we had to continue with the medication treatment option as we couldn’t justify another $1500 for a repeat of the radioactive iodine therapy.

Left untreated, your hyperthyroid cat will likely die of heart failure as the over production of the thyroid hormone continues to put stress on their hearts and all their other organs.  Untreated cats will sometimes have blood in their stools and some will stop eating altogether.

My cat Salem lived to the ripe old age of 17 years.  He eventually passed after developing kidney disease which became untreatable (see my other blog post).

Strangely, I too have thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s) and I take thyroid hormone tablets because my thyroid no longer produces the hormone (hypothyroid) the opposite problem.  I was such a kindred spirit to that cat and I believed I developed my auto-immune thyroid disease in sympathy with him.

adorable animal blur cat
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