Any pointers on coping with a sick cat by myself?
July 28, 2013 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I asked a question about my cat a few weeks ago - he was fine then, but then got sick very soon after. We have both been through the wringer, and I'm having a very hard time assessing how his recovery is going because I've just been so sad and upset and can't tell if I'm over- or under-reacting to every move of his. (I'll try to keep the details short inside.)

Here's the timeline of what has happened:

7/17: I came home from work and found him straining to urinate in the litter box, and then he came right in front of me and tried to pee on the floor in the living room. As I mentioned in the previous question, he had a urinary blockage 3 years ago, so I knew to take it seriously, and I rushed him to the emergency vet since mine was closed. They were able to determine that the blockage wasn't too serious and I was free to bring him to the regular vet the next day.

7/18: I brought him to my regular vet, where they admitted him over night and kept him until 7/22. They gave him a catheter and antispasmodic medication, and did an x-ray to see if he had kidney stones. They determined that he didn't have kidney stones - instead, he had crystals in his urine. They also found that he likely had an unrelated diaphragmatic hernia, likely caused by an injury years ago before I ever got him (he was a stray). (They didn't think the hernia was causing any problems, though.) Once he was able to urinate on his own, they released him to me, with more antispasmodic medicine to keep giving him, and strict orders to give him only wet food, no more dry. (I was feeding him Orijen dry food.)

7/22-7/24: He was urinating at home, but only very small amounts, and was still occasionally trying to urinate outside of the box (which he's never done until this episode). By the 24th, he wasn't eating and was sluggish, so I rushed him back to the vet - they kept him overnight for two more nights, gave him fluids because he was dehydrated, and gave him an appetite stimulant (mirtazipine).

7/26 (this Friday): He was released into my care again, since he was eating under their watch. I was sent home with a week's worth of anti-spasmodic medication, and they asked me to call back if he hadn't eaten.

7/27: I woke up to find that other than a few bites of food, he hadn't eaten at all, and was congested and sneezing. I called the vet, who asked me to come in to get some of the mirtazipine to give to him at home. He wasn't very concerned about the sneezing, because they had given him an antibiotic shot, so if he had an infection, the antibiotics would take care of it. They told me to give him the appetite stimulant in the morning, since it should be only given every other day, and if he hadn't eaten by a few hours after that, to bring him back in.

7/28 (today): He ate small amounts of food the night before without having had the mirtazipine, and has eaten some small amounts of food since I gave it to him this morning, so the vet didn't think he needed to come in, but they want me to call by the middle of the week if his appetite isn't back to normal. Also, they said that for the time being, it was more important to get him to eat than worry about what to feed him, so I've been offering him wet food, tuna, meat baby food, sardines, cat milk, and various dry food (Fancy Feast, which I used to give him as treats before he got sick, and two different kinds of urinary prescription dry food they gave me at the vet.)

He will nibble some of the dry food, and a little of the wet food, but sometimes I have to get it right up in his face to get him to eat it. And with the dry food, he'll sniff it and lick it, but sometimes doesn't get it in his mouth, and he's taking the tiniest bites. And sometimes he seems interested in the food until I actually offer it to him - he'll try to get in the bag, but once he has it in front of him, he'll sniff it and lick it but not necessarily eat.

He's also looking pretty worn out and haggard, and has been sleeping almost constantly, and is a little wobbly when trying to jump onto the couch or bed. (I haven't mentioned yet, but he's about 9-10 - since he was a stray, I've never known exactly how old he is.) The one good thing is that he's urinating well.

So that's the timeline and where he stands now. Part of me thinks that aww, poor kitty, he's been through SO much, with being rushed to the vet three times in a week, staying over night so often, being sedated and catheterized - no wonder he wants to sleep and doesn't want to eat too much and he's wobbly. But then I am terrified that that's all just wishful thinking, and maybe he is declining and getting worse, and he should have been improving by now, and maybe I'm not being realistic to think that it will take him a little while to recover.

And I've also been having a horrible time dealing with this whole incident in general. My partner is usually home during the days, but he's been living and working four hours away since June, and won't be back until the end of August. He also has the car, and the trip to the vet that is usually a 20 minute car ride is now a 60-90 minute subway and bus ride one way, so I've been having to get rides from friends or pay for a cab, and I feel like I've worn out the favors I can ask from my friends by now. I haven't been sleeping or eating well and have been crying, often uncontrollably, every day since he first got sick. It also doesn't help that money has been tight and this has cost us $2500 already.

I feel like maybe I should work from home tomorrow so I can keep an eye on his eating, but I also feel like I'm wearing out their patience as well - I only started the job in January, and they've been very understanding, but I get the feeling that having to take a personal day for an emergency vet visit is one thing, but working from home to hover over him is pushing it.

In addition, I'm supposed to visit my partner and his daughter at their summer camp this weekend, and may be able to get a catsitter, but even if I do, I don't know if I should - will he get worse if I leave him with someone else? But it's also been very emotionally hard to only get to see them once every three weeks. I will absolutely stay with him all weekend if he needs it, but looking forward to this visit has been one of the only things keeping me during this ordeal. If I can't go, I won't be able to see them until the end of August, and that's so depressing too.

So anyway, keeping this short didn't work and I'm still trying to distill this into real questions. I guess, has anyone gone through this before? Do you think I'm doing enough for him? Should I be trying other ways to make him eat? Is it okay that he's not eating great as long as he's eating, or should I be in panic mode? Isn't not eating really dangerous for cats and am I making things worse? I've just been so upset and anxious that I don't trust my judgment at all, which is making me more upset and anxious, and I'm just so afraid for him. Every move he makes has me either elated that maybe he's okay, or terrified that he's getting worse, and I'm up and down a million times a day. So I guess any insight or perspective at all would be really helpful, because I just don't have any at all right now.

Thanks for reading all this!
posted by Neely O'Hara to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I found that sometimes to kickstart a cat's hunger (fostering sick cats, vet suggestions), I had to force feed them food -- take wet food, mix it with water until it's pretty liquidy, then put it in a syringe and squirt it down their throat. This can get just as messy as you imagine it will, but it does ensure they are eating some, and you can do it before and after work and leave out wet food during the day and measure if it has been eaten.
posted by jeather at 2:53 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

To stimulate my cat's appetite I was advised to use jars of baby food, lamb in particular. It did work. Sorry about your kitties illness; hope it resolves soon.
posted by lois1950 at 3:10 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing you don't mention - are you frequently providing fresh water? And I mean "fresh" as in still full of bubbles from the tap? Or, if kitty is a faucet drinker, running fresh water to drink?

If he's doing okay in the peeing department, then he's getting enough water, but he may enjoy some super fresh water and take more if it.

If tou can easily washrag a paw, then you might want to try snearing a little canned food onto his paw. Most cats are so fastidious that even if not hungry they will clean their paws. (If he won't you and warm washrag will have to so don't go for this unless a clean-up will be trauma free.)

Don't worry about going to work. Cats (and sick me) like to be left alone to rest.

Good luck to kitty!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:11 PM on July 28, 2013

i would vote for staying home with kitty over visiting partner. because, well, you never know.

otherwise, i don't really know what to say. i'm sorry you're having to deal with this. i really hope your cat gets better. it sounds like you really love him and you're doing everything you can.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:42 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

We've just gone through something similar with our newly adopted (rescue) cat. The one thing you can't mess with is urinary blockage - if he's peeing OK now, you probably can relax a little.

It took our guy a week or two to get his appetite back.

One thing - our vet, and the emergency vet, and the info I've been pulling of the net - all agree that getting him on a wet food diet is probably the best thing for his long-term urinary health.

Good luck, I hope he's doing better soon.
posted by mr vino at 4:05 PM on July 28, 2013

You didn't mention whether the vet gave him subcutaneous fluids, or whether you've done so. If not, call the vet and ask about this.

If he's not drinking and thus becoming dehydrated, it could make him quite sluggish, and is also not good for his urinary symptoms. Fluids addresses this pretty directly.

There are a number of YouTube videos about giving cats fluids - worth a look. It's easy.
posted by amtho at 4:17 PM on July 28, 2013

nthing syringe and/or baby food if you're worried about appetite. Perhaps buy a couple of cans of a/d from the vet along with a feeding syringe: I'm not an advocate of prescription food for long-term use, but that particular variety of wet food seems to be good for stimulating appetite, is high in calories, and dilutes well.
posted by holgate at 4:20 PM on July 28, 2013

Best answer: I am so sorry you're going through this. I don't have many organized thoughts to offer you other than empathy for having gone through the same thing myself: over the span of about six months last year I had ongoing serious medical issues with two of my cats, coinciding with a short out-of-town vacation that I really didn't want to go on (due to the cats) but ended up doing anyway because extricating myself from it would have been messy.

I got into the exact same mindset of worry and agitation over the smallest behaviors that you seem to be in. I called the vets--both emergency and regular--many, many times. I'm sure they think I'm a nut. I also cried a lot, didn't sleep well, had a lot of the same problems. It really, really sucks.

However, in both of my cats' cases, they recovered 100 percent and are now doing fine. I'm not saying that all my worry was for naught, because in both cases the illnesses were very serious--but I really should have spared myself the panicking over every slight little thing the cats did.

The fact that your kitty has some interest in food, however minor, is a really good sign. And the fact that you are carefully watching his urinary issues and he has received veterinary treatment are also hugely in his favor.

Really, you are doing all that you can do. As a person who has more responsibilities in life than being a cat owner, going to work tomorrow might be a good thing. You're right--he's probably exhausted from all that he's been through. And maybe getting away from him for a while will allow you to take a break from constantly monitoring things. Would it be possible to stop at home on your lunch break to check on him?

Oh, and I agree that a wet food, grain-free diet and making water appealing are great things to try to help keep his urinary tract healthy (in addition to whatever your vet has recommended, of course).

Good luck--I've been where you're at and it's not fun. I'm pulling for you and your kitty!
posted by whistle pig at 4:24 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone - it's helpful to get your suggestions and stories and support.

Sorry I didn't mention it - they did give him subcutaneous fluids the second time he was at the vet, so as of Friday he was well hydrated, and has been urinating well since then (a

I am getting a little more worried because I gave him the appetite stimulant this morning and he did eat then, but he hasn't eaten since around 12:30. He's been interested in the food while I'm opening it up and he'll sniff it and check it out, but then just looks back up at me.

I figure I will call the vet first thing in the morning and see what they think - I really hope I won't have to bring him in again, but I will if I have to.

I do figure that unless something really radically changes, I'm going to have to cancel my trip this weekend - I don't know that I would even feel okay leaving him with someone else just yet. I'm totally bummed about it, but something happening to him while I was gone would be worse.

Thanks again!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 5:37 PM on July 28, 2013

Something that helped me a lot with my kitty in this situation was to buy some calf's liver or chicken livers and cook it up (very lightly) and put some chopped on her food. Or just give her some small pieces. I've yet to meet a cat that didn't like liver -- I mean, I know there must be, but even my pickiest eater has loved it. There are also some freeze-dried liver treats (Etta Says, and others) that you might crumble and add to the food.

But if he's eating a little, that's definitely progress. I wish you the best. I understand what this is like and how much of an effect it can have on your life.
posted by emcat8 at 6:12 PM on July 28, 2013

Cats are so good at hiding weakness from us. So if he's getting an appetite stimulant and sniffing but not eating, he might be nauseous. And mirtazipine doesn't help nausea (vet might think so, but not true in the real world). If he isn't eating enough, that can cause Hepatic Lipidosis. Very bad. Not eating can kill a cat quickly. The pain and nausea can be indicative of pancreatitis. If they didn't do a blood test for it, they should. Either way, it sounds like whatever your vet is doing isn't working, and they're only treating a symptom with the mirtazipine and not looking hard enough for what is wrong.

I waited almost too long with my cat. His IBD progressed into the beginnings of pancreatitis, which I only found out about when he started hiding and refusing even the little bit of food he'd been eating. Luckily, it showed on an ultrasound and the vet gave him a shot of depo medrol (steroids) to bring down the inflammation quickly. This was 10 days ago. He's eating 12 oz of wet food a day now, and only hides when he thinks I might be taking him to the vet. He starts prednisolone tonight.

Check out the Feline Assisted Feeding Yahoo group. Lots of info there about getting cats to eat. If he doesn't start eating soon, you may need to syringe feed him. At least offer him small meals frequently, and it might help to raise them up a few inches on a thick book. Or try feeding him meat baby food (Gerber Stage 2 meats have no onion) or low fat greek yogurt (goat, if you can find it) from a spoon. My cat likes strawberry yogurt (I mix a container of plain with one of strawberry so it isn't too sugary).

Finally, if he's not eating enough by himself (~1 oz. per pound of wet food or at least 180 calories per day for a 10 pound cat), it is probably a very bad idea to leave him with someone else. He's in a very bad way, and the stress could be too much.
posted by monopas at 6:16 PM on July 28, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, I can't believe with all of that backstory, I didn't mention that he's already had an ultrasound - that was Thursday. All it found was debris in his urine and that his bladder wall was thickened. But I'm still going to call first thing in the morning - I'd like to run it by them before trying syringe feeding (you don't have to worry about them aspirating the food?)
posted by Neely O'Hara at 6:29 PM on July 28, 2013

Response by poster: monopas, I tried raising the dishes and now he's eaten for the first time in 8 hours! I think it might be because he's so stuffed up - which of course still has me concerned, but I'd rather have him eating something rather than nothing.

I have tried giving him baby food, which he turned his nose up, but I've got other flavors. I'll keep trying everything - thanks again!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 6:52 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am guessing they have done a full blood work up and it was all normal? Also, I would agree with getting him fluids if he is not eating.

If you suspect the nausea is playing into him not eating, you can give a quarter tab of pepcid (original strength, 10mgs) but I'd call your vet to check and see if that is ok. I gave it to my cat with kidney failure for years, worked great to keep him eating and is fine for them.
posted by engling at 6:56 PM on July 28, 2013

I've tempted fussy cats with chicken or turkey flavored baby food (be sure to get one without onion or garlic). Bonus is that it's easy to digest. And seconding yogurt - my kitties love plain low-fat Greek yogurt. Get the kind with live/active cultures, which will help the stomach issues. I feed my cats live culture yogurt every once in a while just to keep their intestinal flora working.

Also, my vet - a feline specialist - told me that Fancy Feast is a perfectly good brand of wet cat food, and the bonus is that cats really like it. I give mine the sliced turkey flavor and they've never turned it down. I know it sounded like sacrilege to me - I thought that my kitties HAD to have the most expensive organic wet food - but once they had Fancy Feast that's all they wanted to eat, and the vet said that's perfectly fine, and that Fancy Feast turkey cat food is often very tempting to finicky kitties.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:19 PM on July 28, 2013

As baby food goes, my cats prefer pureed chicken. (Just chicken, no onion.) If you can mix it with kitten milk mix, it's even better. Yogurt can also work. The syringe option is not a bad one, honestly -- it's easy, ends the stress of "are they eating at all", and doesn't annoy the cat all that much.
posted by jeather at 7:51 PM on July 28, 2013

Think he might want to drink baby kitty formula from a bottle? It's liquid, which will help with hydration and it might be tempting enough and nourishing enough. Like Ensure, but for kitties.

I hope your kitty gets better soon.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on July 29, 2013

Response by poster: I thought I'd provide an update since you were all so kind to give me advice. After eating Sunday, he went all day Monday without eating anything and getting more lethargic, so I took him back to the cat hospital, where he's been since yesterday morning. He ate last night, but now he is running a fever and they are giving him a second antibiotic to try to bring it down. I'm heartbroken he is still sick and so scared that he might not recover, but I'm trying to take it a day at a time. Thanks for all the good thoughts for him.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 3:44 PM on July 31, 2013

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