Help me help my sick cat.
February 18, 2012 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Our cat isn't eating or drinking. He's been to vet, but doesn't seem to be getting better. Please help.

Starting Tuesday, our cat started vomiting lots of clear/yellow/foamy liquid and hasn't, as far as we know, eaten since then. I think the vomiting stopped on Friday morning; I haven't seen any new spots since then. We took him to the vet Friday afternoon, and they did blood work and took x-rays. The blood work was all normal and showed nothing linking it to liver or kidney function, and the x-ray showed a lot of gas in his colon but no obstructions. The vet did a rectal exam and found what she thinks is "some hard feces just out beyond reach." She gave him fluids under his skin, a 24-hour anti-nauseant, and a 3-day appetite stimulant.

It's now about 16 hours later and he's still showing little interest in eating and drinking despite the appetite stimulant. He had a little food last night, but won't touch anything this morning. He looks a lot better, likely due to the fluids, and he's purring and wanting lots of attention, sitting right next to us wherever we are. We're going to go get some new foods and maybe some chicken to cook for him, to maybe entice him to eat, but beyond that, we're stumped. He definitely hasn't vomited again since receiving the anti-nauseant, so that's the lone bright spot.

What really terrifies me is that we've exhausted any money we have available to get him treatment and if this doesn't abate, if he doesn't start eating and drinking, I have no idea what to do. We really can't afford to take him back to the vet, let alone to the 24-hour vet hospital (now that it's the weekend), and really really can't afford surgery to find out if there's a blockage or something.

Does anyone have ideas or advice on where to go from here? Have you been in this situation? A comforting word at least?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Lactulose, a laxative, for the possible constipation? It works wonderfully for our cat, who tends to constipation as a result of kidney problems.

You do need a prescription for it, but I would think your vet would not have a problem giving you that. You can fill the prescription in any pharmacy. It is not very expensive.
posted by merejane at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2012

Could your local Humane Society (or even the Animal Shelter) help? Perhaps they can point you towards free/low-cost vet care.
posted by easily confused at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is an emergency. Your cat needs to see someone right away. Going for long periods without food can wreak havoc on your cat's other systems such as liver function, and he needs to receive the nutrients he's missing ASAP. If it's indeed a blockage they need to remove the impacted feces like yesterday.

A cat of mine died this fall because her system collapsed following sudden weight loss after she was treated for a blockage. They got the blockage out, but within a week she was too sick to live.

Keep an eye on the skin of his inner ears to make sure it's not turning yellow -- that's a big danger sign. In the meantime, as vile as it is that there's a company situated to profit off of other people's desperation, your local animal hospital may be able to help you apply for a Care Credit account, which is basically a credit card to apply toward your pet's medical treatment.

I was not a candidate for Care Credit. I would up going to a vet in my neighborhood who had a reputation for being flexible with payment. Even then, as it was, I could barely afford to have her euthanized. It was a very hard choice to make, and I felt a lot of shame for not being able to afford to do better by her, but the doctor helped me feel better about the decision by pointing out that it's possible to throw $10,000 at tests and stuff and still lose your pet anyway, and also sick pets sometimes die as a RESULT of the more invasive tests. It was a very hard decision to make, made harder by the fact that it was partially motivated by financial necessity. Trust me though, the doctors have seen it ALL.

FWIW, I also think it's irresponsible for people to risk the financial stability of their entire household in order to provide this kind of care for an animal. It's a tough call to make, but it your little one does not pull through, feel blessed and honored that you were able to offer love and comfort up until the very end.

I really don't mean to scare you with all this talk about death, just relating my own experience. Bottom line, your cat needs care, like NOW. My local Humane Society clinic was the cheapest option for us, call them immediately and see if they have anyone on duty today. Maybe you can just show up and they'll squeeze you in?
posted by hermitosis at 7:38 AM on February 18, 2012 [10 favorites]

The cat needs to go to an emergency vet. Some obstructions cannot be visualized with x-rays. Can you apply for care credit?
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:38 AM on February 18, 2012

Good that you've ruled out big things with the vet.

You don't say what your kitty did eat but try Smelly Food:
Baby food chicken with no onion or garlic
Canned tuna in water
Deli lunch meat

Ideally you want to see steady improvement.
posted by mightshould at 7:39 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you tried calling the vet to let them know what they have done isn't quite working? Maybe if you just call, they can give you further advice over the phone versus having to take the kitty in. Let them know the progress (purring, being social) - which itself could be a good sign. If a cat is really, really sick, they might tend to want to not be bothered by people. So the fact that your cat is wanting to be around you, to me, is a good sign. When you call the vet, maybe you can explain the situation (I'm sure they are not a stranger to the affordability issue), and, like I said, they might be able to give you advice on how to care for kitty without having to bring him/her in this time. At the same time, maybe they will give you "ok, no visit necessary, but if kitty starts to do X and/ or Y, you NEED to bring her in.." Depends on the vet, of course.

I know how scary it is. I have a 16 year old cat with diabetes and she scared me once that brought me to blubbering tears, but she turned out ok. So I totally understand the fear of when our little buddies aren't themselves.

But, I don't know what the issue with your cat could be. Did it get into a houseplant perhaps? Also, on re-read, it sounds like the meds might need some time to take hold. Keep a steady eye on kitty, don't leave her alone and keep giving her lots of loving and a relaxing environment. Hang in there!
posted by foxhat10 at 7:39 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

All the advice above is good, because it paints a picture of the diversity of this kind of situation.

Okay so the vet is suggesting, basically, a minor partial bowel obstruction. That matches up with the vomiting, the good kidneys and liver, etc. (The x-ray, I dunno.)

You're still only 16 hours out. You easily may see improvement today.

It's absolutely okay to call the vet today to ask about what progress you think you should see.

I'm mildly surprised the vet didn't also suggest a stool softener. I think that means she's suspecting that this will pass. (It could also mean other things, like, she's not very good, which is always a possibility with vets.) It also could not be a small blockage.

Definitely, definitely try a very wet canned food, like Weruva. (A bit of nice organic chicken wouldn't hurt either probably.) Feed small, appetizing, room temperature, deliciously stinky, tiny meals. Even a little bit of food is good.

Avoid all foods with pumpkin right now.

Just from what you've said, what I *think* is that: the cat has constipation or slight blockage. That's why food was accumulating, and he was barfing. That's why he doesn't want to eat, and why he got dehydrated. With cats that aren't eating, keep an eye out for extreme lethargy (like, catatonia), which can indicate hypokalemia. (That's fixable, when it's still fixable, for pennies, don't worry: those pills are cheap—but they can't be administered if the cat is incredibly dehydrated, so try not to let that happen.)

posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:42 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's things I did for my old man cat when he felt ill and didn't want to eat:

- bought strongest and smelliest catnip I could find and got him high

- got stinkiest cat food, Fancy Fish : Fish & Shrimp Feast, heated slightly in microwave

- got canned white chicken, shredded it further, heated a bit

All of these worked at various times. Like others said above, cats not eating is a really serious situation, but you can try these methods for a short period of time (hours, not days) and see what happens.

Wishing you and your kitty the best.
posted by HopperFan at 7:43 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

My kitty had a big blockage and was throwing up and wasn't eating for a couple of days. I forced water in her with an eye dropper 3-4 times a day to try to loosen it up. Laxative didn't help a lot--it went around the blockage and came out but didn't help move it. She needed some bulk, too. We tried smelly food, and I forced a bit in by putting it on my finger or her paw to lick off. In the end, it took a shot of valium to get her to eat. It was crazy--they gave her the shot at the vet, opened a can of food, and she just started eating.

The vet I went to didn't charge for each visit--he charged one visit charge good for 7 days. I had to pay extra for the treatments (the shot, the food, X-ray), but the office visit charge was waived, so you might try to ask about that. Also, the initial x-ray didn't show the blockage, but we ended up doing a series of x-rays with little tracer beads she swallowed so we could see where it was. That was not particularly cheap (maybe $150-200), but it helped us know what to do next.

good luck!
posted by BlooPen at 8:00 AM on February 18, 2012

To hydrate your cat, you can use a plastic syringe (available at pharmacy, not the kind with a needle) to give him water. Make sure it's room temperature and just give a few drops at a time, gently. It works best through the side of their mouth.. just gently place your thumb and forefinger on the corners of their mouth and it will open. Might need two people. I've done this when my cat was sick and not drinking water.
posted by cejl at 8:03 AM on February 18, 2012

Are you forcing food on your cat? You need to force food in. I fostered a cat who was sick and wouldn't eat -- so I forced food on her for weeks, and then when suddenly she was clearly healthy, she still wouldn't eat. She got out of the habit, or something. I continued to force food on her, and a few days later she did start to eat again (and is now healthy and a perfectly fine weight). Not eating is a major problem, but sometimes just feeding the cat until it eats on its own works.

You can use a plastic syringe, as suggested above, and fill it with wet cat food mixed with water, or even plain chicken puree with water. Burrito the cat if need be, squirt in a small bit at a time (I usually did 1cc at a shot, for a total of 10 cc each time, many times a day, but this was what worked for the one cat; her sister would accept much more).

Is the cat using the litter box?
posted by jeather at 8:29 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a not a veterinarian or a licensed veterinary technician but I work closely with both.

I would not recommend force feeding or watering. The chance for aspiration pneumonia is too great, especially if you are not expierenced administering liquids to a cat orally.

You need to find out if your cat is dehydrated. You can do this in two or three ways. The first is skin turgor. Also check check your cats gums - if they are sticky or tacky your cat may be dehydrated. If you suspect your cat cat is dehydrated I would advise you to get her to the vet ASAP. Be honest about your financial situation but let the staff know that your cat's comofort is really important to you. If dehydration is an issue and you are willing to they can show you how to adminster sub-q fluids. Again, I would STRONGLY caution you against force feeding or watering. The consequences of doing this wrong can be deadly.

Do not worry about annoying your vet (if they happen to be open on Satudays) with phone calls and questions. If you are concerned about your cat, then the staff needs to be concerned about their patient.

Anorexia in cats is as equally serious as dehydration. Hepatic lipidosis is a serious consequence of your cat not eating. The advice to monitor yor cat for jaundice upthread is a very good one.

Some people choose to use CareCredit to finance their pet's medical care.

Also there is no shame in saying to your vet, "Look - we're tapped out but we love this cat. What can we do to make him as comfortable as possible given our financial constraints?"

Do not try to deal with a veterinary medical emergency on your own if at all possible, the consequences can be extreme suffering for both you and your pet.

Lastly, I am so sorry to hear that your cat is ill. Your sound very concerned and responsible. I wish you guys the best.
posted by OsoMeaty at 9:37 AM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

The link above about hepatic lipidosis is actually really dense. This wikiepedia article on feline hepatic lipidosis might be easier for you to skim.
posted by OsoMeaty at 9:41 AM on February 18, 2012

Oh god. I've been in similar situations. In both cases, the underlying cause turned out to be cancer. We spent maybe a couple thousand dollars, plus much time & energy, on tests and surgery and syringe feeding. Everyone involved did the best they could with the knowledge they had, and we could afford the best care; but in these particular cases, if I were sent back in time, I would just keep the cats comfortable, and put them to sleep earlier than we did, with no heroic measures.

My point being: it's possible your particular cat, in his particular situation, is better off with you than with someone who would throw infinite amounts of money and technology at him.

If the blockage can't be removed, I don't think feeding the cat will help. If the blockage is cancer, removing it without killing the cat may not be possible. Even if it's theoretically possible, the cat might not be able to stabilize after surgery, as ours wasn't.

Purring is sometimes a way cats try to compensate for discomfort. A lot of gas in the colon is very abnormal for cats (unlike humans and dogs). Both our cats had this. I would guess that you either need to concentrate on removing the blockage, or on your cat's comfort.

If you decide it would be best, the SPCA will put your cat to sleep & let you be there with him.

So so very sorry.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:36 PM on February 18, 2012

How old is your kitty? I've had several cats over the years who had problems similar to this when they were old and nearing the end of life - they had multiple problems that simply wore them down to the point where they couldn't eat an adequate amount of food anymore - and one had cancer which advanced quickly from a lump on her tail to an inability to eat and then to a quiet and peaceful end. But I've also had cats who ate something they shouldn't have (birds, rodents, kleenex) and lost their appetite until their body worked through it in a few days - these were almost always younger cats. I think it's most important that he stays hydrated for now and would definitely stay in close touch with your vet - call every time you wonder if this or that is okay, etc. It's okay if you make a pest of yourself - the vet and his assistants will forgive you - I promise.

I'll say a little prayer for you and your little one.

Oh - and if he's not moving any stool, don't feed him any rice products - go instead for a high-fiber moist food or sprinkle a little Benefiber on whatever you can get him to eat.
posted by aryma at 12:47 AM on February 19, 2012

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