Why did my cat die?
July 22, 2014 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I found my cat dead under my car and I am trying to find out why.

I had this perfect little cat, Nigel, who died on Saturday. I assumed when I found him that he was hit by a car but I have been having second thoughts as I've tried to piece everything together. This is sort of a long winded mystery story, so please bear with me.

So I have/had two little cats, one indoor and one outdoor/indoor. I thought long and hard about the decision to let the one (Nigel, yellow guy) out. He was pretty much the most athletic cat I have ever met and just seemed really driven to explore the wide world and sit in the sunshine and try to catch butterflies. So I thought about it and I finally started letting him outside for structured blocks of time several months ago (he was two and a half). So anyway, on Saturday I came home and found him dead under a car wheel and it was really really bad. I came home driving a rental car because my car got totaled last week, and he was lying under the wheel of my old car that had been wrecked. I assumed he had been hit by another car and crawled under there in his last few moments because it looked like his back was turned kind of awkwardly and given the proximity to the road it made the most sense. There wasn't any blood on his body, just that sort of strange looking positioning of his back, and there was no note from anyone or attempt to ask the neighbors from any possible party that hit him. I think he hadn't been dead very long because he was still kind of soft and warm when I found him, which was Saturday afternoon at around 4:45 pm.

What occurred to me later was that a day before I had applied this flea/tick medicine to both the cats called, Sentry Fiproguard. I'd gotten it at PetCo because it was cheaper than Frontline and seemed to be a similar product. Now I feel horrible thinking that this could have possibly hurt my cat. Yesterday I found all these consumer complaints about the product. I'd given it to them previously and they were fine and it kept away the fleas. When I applied it Friday afternoon they acted totally normal. Nigel came home in the evening and was mellow and normal and then was all jaunty the next morning and eager to be let out. So he was normal for at least 16 hours after application. Then the next time I saw him he was dead. Now I've begun to wonder if the flea medicine could have been the culprit somehow. Many of those consumer complaints said the medication caused back leg paralysis(!) in their animals. The night Nigel died the other cat seemed seemed really rangy and hyper and bolting around the house, not himself at all. It would have been about 36 hours after the application of the medicine (was fine the first night). This may be totally unrelated but on Monday I broke out in this full body serious case of hives which never happens to me because I'm not allergic to anything and don't have sensitive skin.

Finally, there was something a little odd that happened a few days before Nigel died. He usually hangs out on the front porch or in the bushes nearby the house and he always comes in at about 6pm for the night, it's like his little routine. On Thursday he didn't seem to be nearby in the late afternoon and at dinner time I called and called him and he didn't come home. I got a little worried and poked around a little outside looking for him. I ended up going to bed early, then stumbled out of bed randomly at midnight to the front door and he was sitting there waiting for me. Then on Friday night as well, he wasn't hanging around like normal around dinner time but he sauntered home at around 9:30. I half wondered if something had happened to him when he was away on Thursday, that caught up with him on Saturday, somehow. He acted normal when he got home each night though.

Anyway so… I don't know what it solves anyway because it's just so sad, whatever happened. But then the thought that that medicine might have killed him seems so needless and just makes me feel incredibly guilty that I didn't buy the damn Frontline. Is that how it goes when cats are hit by cars, can it be so bloodless like that? Or is it possible for a cat to have gotten poisoned but not have any outward symptoms of it till it dies like that?
posted by mermily to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
I'm sorry for your loss - that is so sad! I wonder if he ate something on his wanderings outside that might have been toxic to him. There are all sorts of poisons out there available for animals to eat; rat poison or hazardous chemicals, you name it.
posted by Atrahasis at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is that how it goes when cats are hit by cars, can it be so bloodless like that?

Yeah, it can. Cat skin is incredibly tough stuff.

I once found a little cat in the gutter that had obviously been recently run down - its head was all squashed in, and it too was still floppy and warm, but there was no bleeding at all. I think if the kill is really fast then the heart just stops.

I'm so sorry for your loss. RIP Nigel.
posted by flabdablet at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I cannot remember the exact quote, but I remember a piece of wisdom I read once that stuck with me: when tragedy strikes, we must find ways to blame ourselves because then the universe is less random and is more under our control. If it is something we did wrong, then it is under our control; if it is not, then we are at the mercy of Fate or someone else, and such helplessness is far harder to accept than self-imposed blame or guilt.
posted by WCityMike at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2014 [55 favorites]

So sorry for your loss, that must be incredibly tough. He could have been hit by a car, or ingested something, and either way, sometimes there are very few visible signs.

Whatever happened, you were doing your best to take care of him, and that's all any of us can do.
posted by rpfields at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am sorry for your loss. A similar thing happened to my sister in law's cat last year. She believes it was poisoned by some plant or something out there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:24 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You will never know the truth unless you get a necropsy done by a veterinarian. Without that, you can make as many guesses as you want, but you won't have a real answer. I'm very sorry for your loss. Try not to blame yourself. RIP Nigel, good boy.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your cat. I did notice myself that when I used a new brand of flea/tick topical control on my dog that she behaved very strangely for about 6-8 hours afterwards. It could possibly be the case that he was somewhat disoriented from the new medication had it been the first time you applied it, but as he had had it previously with no problems and was acting normally the whole day I think this was probably just due to bad luck.
posted by elizardbits at 12:27 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You said you found him under your wrecked car. Was that car leaking any sort of fluids? Antifreeze is a big problem with outdoor cats.
posted by Gneisskate at 12:43 PM on July 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

After reading all of the information you provided, I don't think the medicine was the culprit. Occam's razor says that he was hit by a car, and sadly, it was too dire an accident for him to survive. The accident was not your fault. You are a good and loving cat owner, and you made the best choices you could for him.

It really sounds like you gave him a good life, with love and freedom. Even good lives can come to sadly early ends. I'm very sorry for your loss, and wish you peace in this time.
posted by samthemander at 12:59 PM on July 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

He was almost certainly hit by a car. Lack of blood is pretty normal, he probably died very quickly.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 PM on July 22, 2014

I'm so sorry for your loss. It could be anything, though a car accident seems most likely. I've found a few cats over the decades who had been hit and there was surprisingly little blood.

And I for one think it's good you were able to give him freedom to be outside and explore. It's a scary thing to do, but some cats really seem to thrive on that kind of life. We have one, who after escaping once, would pee on the dog's bed (I know, poor dog) if we wouldn't let him out. He made it very clear that he was not happy being an indoor only cat. We decided that his happiness was more important than the sheer number of years he lives. So I think it's great that you were able to increase his happiness even though it meant taking on an added burden of responsibility yourself. Hugs.
posted by pennypiper at 1:37 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, when my cat was hit by a car he looked almost perfect... A neighbour saw it happen and came and got me, so we knew for sure otherwise it would have been a total mystery. His drive to get home, or to go back out during recovery, was remarkable given that he was paralysed down one side of his body. Cats are incredibly stoic, and like to hide when they're sick or hurt. The recent late nights sound like a fluke... The aforementioned (male) cat did that a few times too, at about the same age.

I'm so sorry.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:05 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies everyone. I appreciate the kindness a lot. Yeah, I am all for keeping cats indoors generally and everything but this one just seemed particularly dissatisfied about not being allowed to sit in the sunshine in a way that dangly mouse toys, romps in the hamper and cat T.V. could not entirely fix, so I took a risk and it did not end well. I know there's statistics and everything.
posted by mermily at 2:40 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am really, really sorry. Losing a cat is heartbreaking, it is even harder when you don't know what happened. My cat, Slinky (indoor/outdoor), just disappeared one day seven years ago. There is no clue as to what happened to her, and I have wondered ever since, coyote? Attacked by a dog? Who knows. We spent weeks and weeks looking for her, literally leaving no stone unturned. If I had had her body, .

In any case, she, like your cat, lived a very happy and fulfilled life. She loved being outdoors, we tried once to keep her inside, and she went literally crazy (this was for a few months). Finally we relented and let her back outside, figuring she might live a shorter life, but she would be happy. And she was.

Ultimately, we can only go so far to protect and control the animals (and everything else) in our lives. Old age, sickness and death (as the buddhists say), happen to all of us. That is what I remind myself of when I am thinking of Slinky.

And, Slinky's sister, Zafu, who lived six more years (and was also outdoor), died two months ago of old age. And I have the same type of thoughts: did I do enough? Did I make the right decisions? Was she loved enough enough? You know, so it doesn't change.
posted by nanook at 3:48 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your little guy. I had an indoor/outdoor cat who died a year ago after she snuck under a neighbor's fence and was attacked by a dog. She had no exterior marks or visible bleeding if I recall correctly, so it's believable to me that a cat could be hit by a car and show no marks.

I knew the statistics too, but I also knew my cat. She had made her preference on being allowed to roam clear to us. She seemed so much happier when she could go outside. I also mentally went over everything I did before it happened over and over again, thinking about what I might have done differently and blaming myself. I was deeply affected by it. Honestly, I'm still not really over it and I could barely read your whole post, but I just wanted to say that you aren't alone in having made the outdoor call and having it end this way.

RIP Nigel.
posted by ewok_academy at 3:50 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss. It is heartbreaking to lose a pet with or without an explanation.

My SO and I have taken in a string of strays over the years, most of them adolescents who had survived years on the streets before we took them in. Some took to being indoor cats and loved it, stayed close to home and maybe wanted to sit on the patio from time to time. Most of them wanted that freedom that they had all their lives and I have to say, bad though it may be, I continued to let them roam while giving them a loving, comfortable home and plenty of food and vet care (chipping, spaying/neutering, shots, checkups, the whole caboodle).

Sad to say, the roamers have met their ends in various ways. Two disappeared with no trace (long before chipping pets was widely available). Two were hit and killed by cars (both times they appeared perfectly normal, as though they had just sprawled on the side of the road). One ingested anti-freeze and died before we could get care for her, though the vet said it would have done no good. She also looked completely normal after she died. Each time, it was heartbreaking and each time I had to remind myself that I did the best I could for them--just as I'm sure you did the best you could for your cat and gave him a good life.

I guess I must be an old cat lady, because it's not going to stop me from trying to work with and do the best I can for the stray cats that come into my life.

Again, I'm sorry.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 4:41 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A couple of months ago a big gray cat got hit by a car in our residential neighborhood. I passed him on my way to drop off books at the library. He must have just been hit -- it was dark, and my headlights reflected in his still-open eyes. Thinking of my own cat, and my own kids, I turned around and moved him out of the middle of the road, where he was certain to get run over and mangled further. I didn't want his family to wake up to that in the morning.

He was still warm and floppy and there was no blood. So yes, your cat could have gotten hit and died instantly. And maybe someone like me moved him out of the way. I moved this kitty to the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk, up against the base of a streetlight.

Please don't feel bad. You gave him a good life, and no doubt Nigel enjoyed roaming around. Some cats are just like that -- happier outdoors than in. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Ostara at 6:22 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I rescued a cat who had been hit in a parking lot. No blood or other external marks. Under x-ray, he had a whole bunch of broken bones. He was in awful shape.

I'm really sorry for your loss.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:45 AM on July 23, 2014

I'm very sorry for your loss.

I don't know if this will help but long ago a vet advised me to check the claws of any cat suspected of having been hit by a car. Car-hit cats often have splintered nails on their back feet.
posted by jamaro at 9:22 PM on July 23, 2014

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