How a cat named Stella got her groove (and her fur) back

Stella the at lying on a multi-colored blanket
What does it take to help a cat heal from severe skin allergies? Persistence, patience and a team of determined people.
By Lindsay Hutton

Stella, a green-eyed kitty with extra toes, beautiful tawny tufts of ear fur and a luscious longhaired coat, is living with college student and Best Friends foster volunteer Aya Hibben and her roommates. At seven years old, Stella is social and kind. Aya likes to think that she’s wise but with a sense of humor.

Looking at Stella now, you’d never suspect that when she came to Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City earlier this year, she had some of the most severe skin allergies that Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Megan McCarthy has ever seen.

It would take patience and persistence (plus modern medicine) to help Stella feel and look better. But time and an entire team of people were on Stella’s side.

Skin allergies leave cat rough around the edges

Megan examined Stella after the sweet cat arrived from a shelter. She immediately noticed Stella’s big paws — super cute with those extra toes. She saw that Stella had long fur, but her coat was sparse. Where fur was missing, she had patches of red and irritated skin over her face, legs, paws and belly.

Stella’s ears were inflamed as well, crowded with brown debris from ear mites. But despite her discomfort, Stella was good-natured and tolerant. She allowed Megan to conduct the exam without complaint of any kind.

The veterinary team administered topical treatment for Stella’s ear mites and any other external parasites, and they gave her antibiotics, a steroid and medicated shampoo. “Thankfully because Stella is so stinkin’ sweet, she was an angel for her bath,” Megan says. This was one of the first signs of Stella’s personality poking through her condition.

[Fashion helps cat with allergies to heal]

Two days after coming to Best Friends, Stella went to stay with Jill Phillips. A seasoned foster volunteer, Jill has helped puppies in Alaska, assisted a friend in establishing a trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) colony in Wyoming, and cared for kittens with medical issues in Utah.

Jill saw that Stella’s skin condition was serious — more serious than the other medical conditions she’d dealt with in the past. But she also knew she wouldn’t be alone in caring for Stella, no matter how rough the situation looked. The Best Friends team would be there to offer all the support she needed to help Stella heal.

Treating cat’s skin allergies takes time, trial, and error

After her initial treatments, Stella felt better. She was calm. She followed Jill around, was friendly with Jill’s dog, and lounged about. Then, within a few days, her behavior changed: She started scratching herself nonstop. Her ears got crusty again, too. Jill contacted Best Friends, and the next round of treatment began.

Stella was given steroid shots. But those only lasted for a little while before her itching roared back. Wearing a collar, she couldn’t scratch herself. Instead, she kept moving all the time. She ran from room to room at night, as if she was unable to get comfortable in her own skin.

This time, the veterinary team placed Stella on a prescription diet. Skin allergies can be caused by a food allergy or the environment, so this was a test. And that’s how it goes — by trial and error. “You have to see what’s working, one treatment at a time,” says Megan. “And it’s completely individual. Each animal responds differently.”

When Stella felt good, her personality peeked out. Jill noted that she was social and generous. It was never a battle to take her to the vet because she would ride quietly in the car, and she would peacefully accept baths, injections and exams.

After about six weeks, Jill passed the foster baton to someone new.

Cat gets her fur and her full sense of self back

Aya grew up in a family that was always taking in animals who needed help. She was ready when it came to patiently figuring out treatments and details like the right litter, the right spot for the litter box, and when it was OK to pick up Stella. But she hadn’t had a cat this affectionate before — or this social.

While Stella seemed anxious and a bit reserved when she first arrived at the house Aya shares with roommates during the summer, Stella’s personality ultimately bloomed. Medication used to treat feline dermatitis and a hypoallergenic diet ended up being the solution for Stella, and she gained weight and regrew all her fur.

Now, Stella is Aya’s alarm clock, making sure Aya is up and out of bed on time to get to work. After breakfast, she gets some quality bird-watching done from the table. Occasionally, neighborhood cats come to the window, and she stares at them until they leave.

[An itchy cat’s total transformation]

She makes her rounds in the house, sleeping on top of books, backpacks and paper bags — and sometimes even on Aya’s hard-covered diary — completely ignoring all the beds Aya bought her. Stella knows what she likes.

She plays with strawberry-shaped catnip toys and swats her favorite bird-shaped toy. She talks to whomever is home, engaging everyone as they come and go from work and class.

At dinner, while all the roommates are debriefing each other on the day, Stella supervises from the counter or someone’s lap. She never misses the opportunity to listen to what’s going on and is present for all gatherings, dinner or otherwise.

Aya says Stella is an extroverted, attention-seeking, loyal sweetheart who needs to keep tabs on all the goings-on. When one of the young women has had a hard day, she’s there giving support. If a friend comes over to visit, she doesn’t miss the chance at a free belly rub.

She gets medication each night. Then, she sleeps with Aya or whomever she feels like bunking with. That medicine is one of the few reminders of her severe skin allergies (the other two are a prescription diet and monthly visits to Megan for ear cleaning).

It is tempting to adopt Stella, says Aya. But she prefers to foster cats for now, especially since she’s in college. In the meantime, Aya says Stella has been the best cat she’s ever met, and she’s become a trusted friend of every woman in the house — someone who can help relieve anxiety and can be the wise and fun overseer of any party.

Having a cat with no issues is a great thing. But helping a cat come through trials, being someone they lean on, and giving them what they need to unlock their personality — that’s special for Aya. That’s her foster groove, and luckily for Stella, she’s in it. That is, until Stella gets adopted and finds a permanent dance partner.

Fostering saves lives

Got a little time to spare? Fostering pets like Stella makes an incredible difference in their lives and you just might fall in love.

Foster a pet near you

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