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Close-up portrait of a grumpy Himalayan cat relaxing on the arm of a living room sofa
Picture of Dr. Geri Katz

Dr. Geri Katz

The Mystery of Grumpy Cat

It was devastating to learn of the death of Grumpy Cat, or Tardar Sauce, as she was named by her owners. Grumpy Cat became an internet sensation as a result of her owner’s frequent social media posts. Her permanent scowl brought smiles to millions around the world and made her a feline celebrity. Many people were surprised to learn that Grumpy, or “Tard” was actually a female cat.

As a veterinarian, I searched for answers for what could have caused her death at the young age of 7. The only thing I could find was the repeated explanation which said she died from complications of a urinary tract infection. Now, I knew this had to be an oversimplification because a urinary tract infection by itself does not lead to death.  I am sure that many of you have encountered urinary tract infections in your pets that were successfully treated with antibiotics.

There has to be more to her story, but because she was not my own patient or medical mystery, I can only speculate on what could have accounted for Tard’s death. Here are three possible scenarios.

  1. Typically, urinary tract infections start with bacteria coming from outside the body which work their way in and first infect the bladder.  When bacteria invade the bladder, they can cause pain and inflammation. It is possible that if this infection goes untreated for a period of time, the bacteria can then travel to the kidneys and infect them as well. A bacterial kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.  A cat will generally not be systemically sick from a bladder infection, but can from a kidney infection. If a cat with a kidney infection becomes sick, he or she may refuse food and water. This can lead to dehydration, which can further harm the kidneys. The cat can actually go into kidney failure assuming the infection is severe enough.  Kidney failure will ultimately lead to a cat’s demise.
  2. Another scenario is that Grumpy was born with kidneys that were underdeveloped.  This could go along with her “dwarfism” which led to her million dollar appearance.  If her kidneys were not healthy from the start, then slowly over time, they could have progressed further and further until they actually failed. Unfortunately, genetics are not always kind, and she may have been born into an unfortunate situation.  If the kidneys were not 100% functional from the beginning, then a severe infection could wipe out the remaining functional cells and cause kidney failure.
  3. The last scenario that I have thought of is a condition called polycystic kidney disease.  In this condition, a majority of the kidney’s functional units become cysts. The kidneys don’t resemble kidneys but actually, look like a collection of bubble-like forms.  The greater the number of cysts, the less room there is for hard working kidney cells. If an infection were to hit these kidneys, it would be very hard to fight off. This is another situation in which the cat could go into kidney failure.

Unfortunately, we will probably never know for certain what killed Grumpy Cat.  I only hope she didn’t suffer and went as peacefully as possible. Given what we can deduce about her owners, I’m sure they did all they could to fight for her survival.  Sometimes, however, even with all the money in the world and the best medicine, the body cannot fight off severe disease.

RIP Grumpy Cat aka Tardar Sauce

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