What did Grumpy Cat die of?

Without detail, we are told that Grumpy Cat A.K.A. Tardar Sauce died of “complications from a urinary tract infection on May 14, 2019” at the age of seven. Her lifespan was similar to that of Lil Bub (8). She entertained millions and was perhaps the most celebrated of all celebrity cats in the history of domestic cats. It’s decidedly unusual, however, for a domestic cat to die of a urinary tract infection at the age of seven.

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat and Rafi Fine at the 2014 VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Wikipedia.
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One veterinarian, David Harris BVSc MRCVS, helpfully discusses the cause of death and decided that her urinary tract infection was cystitis. Is it possible to have a urinary tract infection which is not cystitis? Unfortunately, 60-70% of cases of cystitis are idiopathic which means the veterinarians don’t know what underlying condition caused it. Cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection which inflames the bladder causing the cat to deposit small amounts of, often, bloody urine in inappropriate places because they simply have to go to the toilet.

Dr. Harris says that a bacterial infection is “very rare in cats under eight years old”. And normally a bacterial infection would not be fatal to a cat but Dr. Harris speculates that the infection might have travelled to the kidneys causing pyelonephritis leading to kidney damage which could prove fatal. Kidney failure is a common cause of death in domestic cats when elderly, which often means over the age of 15.

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat. Twitter feed of Grumpy Cat

Dr. Harris also speculates that Grumpy Cat might have been resistant to antibiotic treatment. That statement sparks off a potentially big discussion about how veterinarians treat cats. I would argue that there is a tendency for veterinarians to prescribe and administer antibiotics too often because they do so as a precautionary measure. This is because sometimes they don’t know whether an infection is viral or bacterial. They play safe and in doing so it seems that in the long term they might be contributing to antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Harris also speculates that Grumpy Cat’s underlying medical condition probably assisted in the spread of the infection and allowed it to take hold. So, we don’t know really in clear terms why this celebrated cat died because domestic cats don’t normally die of urinary tract infections, certainly not at the age of seven. I sense that the cat’s owner deliberately kept the cause of death low key to avoid this kind of discussion: the ethics of dwarf celebrity cats.

I think we have to conclude, without being overly critical, that the thing that made this cat a celebrity, her dwarfism, an inherited genetic mutation which is deleterious in terms of health, also killed her. It’s more or less the same for Lil Bub.

There is therefore, a question mark over whether it is ethical to celebrate dwarfism and cats who suffer from a medical condition which makes them vulnerable to a much-shortened lifespan. It is not the sort of thing we would do for humans so why do we do it with cats?


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