A ‘senior’ shelter cat’s secret

Otto the orange tabby cat lying on an orange blanket in a kennel
Otto the cat was so ragged and unhealthy looking that the staff judged him to be an old man until they took a closer look.
By Karen Asp

Whether you’re a human or a cat, a hard life can age you. That proved especially true for a cat named Otto, a buff tabby who was brought to Best Friends in Salt Lake City from South Utah Valley Animal Shelter.

Because of Otto’s ragged appearance, the staff estimated him to be around 15 years old. What Otto proved, though, is that you can’t judge a book by its cover or in this case, a cat by his physical condition.

Otto was nothing short of a mess when he first arrived at Best Friends. His nose and eyes were runny, and he was underweight and raggedy. “His coat was dirty and missing patches of hair, and he had small scabs on various parts of his body,” says Emily Noelker, veterinary technician with Best Friends.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Otto was also missing all of his teeth on the left side of his mouth, and he walked with an abnormal gait. Emily says, “He wasn’t in immediate danger but needed some TLC.”

As is the case with many animals in shelters, Otto’s past was unknown. Once the team got to work, tests revealed more issues. Bloodwork showed that he was slightly anemic. Soon after arriving, he also developed a fever, and more tests picked up mycoplasma infection, a bacterial infection that acts as a parasite in the blood, hence the anemia. Fortunately, caregivers were able to easily treat that problem with a common antibiotic.

And Otto’s abnormal gait? Emily says, “After an exam and X-rays, vet staff discovered that his left elbow joint had a previous fracture that was healed but fixed with no ability for range of motion.” Yet because Otto wasn’t in pain, he didn’t need treatment.

Younger than he appears

Otto couldn’t seem to catch a break. He also tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a common infectious disease in cats. While there’s currently no cure for FIV, cats who have it can live long, healthy lives for many years, as long as they receive regular vet care.

[FIV in Cats FAQs: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus]

Yet despite all of the bad news, there was one surprisingly positive discovery: Otto wasn’t nearly as old as everybody thought. Although 15 years was the initial guess, his examination led vets to conclude that he was likely much younger ― about four years old.

The condition of Otto’s mouth and body had led the staff to assume he was older. Yet when they took a closer look, they realized that his issues weren’t caused by the normal aging process but rather a hard, traumatic life. His life was going to be much better, though, which gave them hope. “We were all excited to know that this sweet baby has many more years to live out a much easier and hopefully calmer life,” Emily says.

An amazing recovery and a new home

It only took a few weeks at Best Friends for Otto to transform from a ragged, aged-looking feline to a handsome hunk with gleaming green eyes. Caregivers resolved his issues with fever, upper respiratory infection and mycoplasma infection, and he gained some much-needed weight. And the staff confirmed that although his leg will never have a full range of motion, it’s unlikely he’ll have any long-term issues with it. In short, says Emily, “He looked like a brand-new boy, definitely a glow up.”

One thing that didn’t change, though, was his snuggly sweet disposition. “Every person who met Otto fell in love with him almost immediately,” Noelker says. “He would head-butt into you as appreciation for snuggles and make biscuits all day long.”

[Adopter looks beyond cat’s FIV status and gives him a home]

No doubt Otto is still making those biscuits ― just not at Best Friends. In September, he was adopted by a family with another cat named Kiki. What’s more, a generous donor paid his adoption fee.

Only Otto knows what his past was like. But one thing is certain: The future for this youngster certainly looks bright.

Photo by Sarah Ause Kichas

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