How do I save my cat?
August 8, 2007 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm afraid of taking my cat to the vet because of possible accusations of animal abuse. How do I diffuse this situation?

My cat is around 12-13 years old. She's morbidly obese--24 pounds at last check--and prone to bouts of panic. Because of her age and weight, my family and I have avoided doing anything to scare her.

We haven't taken her to the vet in many, many years. To be honest, we probably haven't taken her to the vet since she was 3-4. She was a bit more svelte then, but much more prone to panic.

As she gained weight--probably due to overfeeding on our part--we grew concerned about scaring her too much. (Once, she clawed her way under a door three inches off the ground when she heard people entering the house three rooms away.) Because she was healthy beyond the weight, we decided not to traumatize her further by taking her the vet.

Because of her weight, she can't properly clean herself. (She's also too afraid for baths.) I brush her, but her fur still mats in places. Lately, probably due to excess shedding, her fur matted to the point where I couldn't brush it loose. I cut off the matted bits of her hair and tried to brush her and rid her of her dandruff. She looks awful--there's a huge bald spot on her back--but her fur is clean and she seems happier.

Then I noticed the lump. The lump must have been hidden deep in her fur. When I cut away some of the matted bit, I found a lump that had started to bleed. (I think it was bleeding because of overstimulation with a soft-bristle brush.) The lump isn't huge, but it's noticeable if you part the bit of fur that's left.

Now I'm terrified. I know my cat's old and obese and, well, in poor health. But I thought it was due to aging. She seems so content and happy. She lives in the kitchen and sees us every day. She's had fleas before--in fact, I'm trying to clean some fleas off of her now--that I had diagnosed by my retired vet aunt.

I'm terrified to take a morbidly obese cat that hasn't been doctored up in nearly a decade and that has matted belly fur, a huge bald spot, and a few fleas to the vet. I'm unbelievably worried about my cat--I love her to death--but I'm (understandably?) worried about being accused of animal abuse.

I have no idea what to do. After a bout of crying, I knew that I had to get some advice from AskMefi. I definitely want to take her to the vet. I guess my question is, how do I take my sickly cat to the vet without getting in (possibly) legal trouble? I intend to call my aunt for medical advice before proceeding. Beyond that, though, I'm at a loss.

I'm not the best pet owner. I admit it. I've made some stupid decisions. But I have nothing but love for my cat. I thought I was doing what was best for her. But...


My throwaway account is: pleasehelpmycat at gmail dot com

Thank you. I'm a wreck right now, so I may have missed something.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (30 answers total)
I would think if you just explained the situation as you have here, a doctor would, at worst, think you were neglectful, but not abusive.
posted by Mavri at 3:47 PM on August 8, 2007

Well, the easy lie would be that you just inherited the cat from an elderly person who hadn't cared for it as well as s/he might have, and from this point forward you're going to do everything the vet says.
posted by xo at 3:48 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your aunt is probably your best resource on this, and your best advocate. She knows you haven't been abusing the cat. Why not take her in with you when you go for the appointment? She can talk shop with the vet and establish a level of trust.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2007

That's a good idea, xo. Whatever it takes to get your kitty to the vet.

But honestly, I don't think pursuing legal action against a neglectful owner is high up on most jurisdictions' list of priorities. I think vets also probably see a lot of obese animals.
posted by Mavri at 3:52 PM on August 8, 2007

I would be against lying. It would save time and money to explain the full history of the cat and just face the judgement of the vet. It's a fair price to pay to help your pet.
posted by spec80 at 3:53 PM on August 8, 2007

Don't worry, vets don't work like human hospitals -- unless it is obvious you've been actively torturing your cat, you will not face legal troubles.

Neglect, for whatever reason, is something vets see every day, and a good vet is respectful of the variations in animal care philosophies.

Most likely, she'll get the bump checked out, be given a prescription for the skin condition, and you'll get some diet recommendations to bring her back down to a normal size. They may suggest you take her to be professionally groomed, too, and might give you something to calm her down for that experience.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:53 PM on August 8, 2007

yeah i mean i think just tell them the whole story, it's a really old cat and a lot of animals are terrified of the vet, to the point it is near impossible to take them. I'm guessing any vet that has been around for awhile has seen worse. And remember your concern and willingness to now spend money to take him to the vet will convey a lot I'm sure.
posted by whoaali at 3:53 PM on August 8, 2007

What you've described is seen very commonly by vets. Don't believe me? You can read about their escapades with actual abusive owners and other horros on their blogs. Make an appointment and take her in. They've seen much, much, worse. As doctors, their primary concern is to get her healthy. The only thing I would caution you about is to not just swing by near closing time on a Friday (although they'll still treat her, it's just politeness on your part). Be polite, show a willingness to help your cat, and you'll be fine. A vet isn't going to take a cat away from someone who loves her and is willing to help but needs some guidance. Obesity and a lack of vet updates is quite common. Relax. Take her in. You're over thinking this.
posted by hindmost at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just tell the truth, you're ashamed but you're also really worried about your cat. You wish things had been different but what is really important is right now is making sure your cat is healthy. Find out what's up and don't worry about abuse allegations.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 3:59 PM on August 8, 2007

Your vet probably won't take any legal action against you or call the cops on you, if that's what you're asking. But if you posted here just to get some cookies and absolution for your serious decade-long neglect of a living animal in your care, I think you're on the wrong website.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:00 PM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Second hindmost. You haven't been abusing your cat. Not taking the cat to the vet does not equal abuse, although some vets would like you to think so (in fact, I had an interesting discussion with my vet - the only reason my cats need shots (other than rabies, which is mandated by law) is to protect them from the nasty diseases they will pick up - at the vet!). Since my one cat is allergic to the distemper shots and goes into shock, I don't take him every year. You know what? He's fine.

Anyone with a long-haired cat deals with nasty mats from time to time. Old cats=very nasty mats. All vets have seen them. Just be careful about trying to remove them - it's very easy to remove a chunk of skin - which could have serious consequences.

Do take your cat to the vet now. Sounds as though you have loved her in the way that she needed to be loved, but now, she really needs to be seen by a professional.

I hope she's okay. Keep us posted.
posted by clarkstonian at 4:06 PM on August 8, 2007

Remember: this isn't about you, this is about your cat's health.

And people who abuse their animals usually don't take them into a vet.
posted by gsh at 4:06 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unless you've got an especially vindictive vet, it's hard to imagine them doing much more than raising an eyebrow at you.

So calm down. Slow, deep breaths. Check your bank balance. Remind yourself that you are doing the right thing now.

I think if you explain how your cat came to this state, and say something like "I want to do right by my cat, and I know I could be doing better. What should I do differently?" you'll allay the vet's misgivings, if they have any.

If you're worried about bringing the vet to the animal clinic, ask if the vet can visit your home. Some vets do make house calls—in fact, some vets operate exclusively out of mobile clinics. Less traumatic for the cat, and for multi-pet households, a lot more convenient.
posted by adamrice at 4:11 PM on August 8, 2007

Tell the vet the truth. They'll probably believe you, and if they don't right away, they'll most likely get enough of a first hand view of the cat's panic to believe you.

I don't know where you live, but in many cities you can find vets that do house calls. It costs, but they'll do it. I know of at least two in my state. Would that be easier on the cat?

On preview, it looks like I'm just echoing a bunch of people.
posted by dilettante at 4:17 PM on August 8, 2007

And people who abuse their animals usually don't take them into a vet.

This is incredibly true.

Keep in mind, many pet owners have a fairly low standard for what constitutes "good care," and I'd wager that many people NEVER take their pets to the vet.

The fact that you're taking the pet to the vet pretty much inoculates you against any allegation of animal abuse, on the facts that you have stated.
posted by jayder at 4:42 PM on August 8, 2007

ask the vet if there has been any advancements in treating panic disorder in cats. this will throw the ball back in the vet's court - he will have to answer to why the cat wasn't treated for panic disorder the last time you took her in. the root of this problem is ten years ago the vet probably didn't think to treat the cat's panic. he was probably ignorant. not you. but now is the time to advocate for your cat and make this right.

You may want to call around to see if you can find a vet that treats panic in cats. understanding panic is new in humans and pets. all vets might not know how to treat it.

while I was at the vet yesterday there was a big poster for a new topical drug for dogs that mimics the scent of their mother - the poster said it will calm an anxious dog down. So we are slowly making advances in treating animal's emotional disorders. but it's been a long time coming. not your fault.

ask if the vet thinks you should test the cat's thyroid. (thyroid problems are linked to panic attacks in humans.)

it's not too late to do right by your cat.
posted by cda at 4:56 PM on August 8, 2007

When your cat starts flipping out, the vet will see why you haven't brought her in. Also, when the vet sees your obvious concern, he'll know you're not an abuser.

Just go.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:00 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know its a common theme on AskMefi for people to say "Just show her your question" or "Just say what you did here"... but seriously, you just convinced me you didn't abuse your cat. Tell the vet the whole story if they ask for it, it may even help in finding out what is causing the lump etc. Just do what is best for the cat, and you wont be considered abusive.
posted by MaHaGoN at 5:08 PM on August 8, 2007

My cat had the matted fur problem (plus obesity), but saw a vet regularly. Your vet has seen this before, and much, much worse. Just chill and take the cat in.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:17 PM on August 8, 2007

Call the vet's office. Ask for advice. You're secretly setting yourself up as a new client and not a cat abuser.
posted by filmgeek at 5:49 PM on August 8, 2007

If you get a house call vet, make sure the vet has a lot of experience with panicy cats. A lot of vets who commonly do house calls do so because they treat horses or other large livestock, and the problems they're used to are a lot different. A vet that works with feral cats would be your best case, they get very good at holding cats without causing too much trauma or getting ripped up.

You can also talk to the receptionist when you call, and in fact I would... Besides asking about the vet's experience, you can explain some of your concerns about your cat's condition. If you get a bad vibe (unlikely but possible) call a different vet.
posted by anaelith at 5:56 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

doesn't sound like the cat's in bad enough shape to make the vet suspiscious... but you could always find a brand new vet and lie- say you found the cat as a stray or inherited her from an elderly or negligent friend a year ago (say a year to justify your attachment / the cat's familiarity).
posted by twistofrhyme at 6:04 PM on August 8, 2007

It's funny, but every time someone offers medical advice on ask mefi, there are always a number of doctors who chime in and tell people not to offer medical advice. But people dole out legal advice (pretty much inoculates you against any allegation of animal abuse; Your vet probably won't take any legal action against you or call the cops on you; Just tell the truth; unless it is obvious you've been actively torturing your cat, you will not face legal troubles) with no problem.

Your stated question talks about fear of allegations of abuse. You could be at some risk, and it's helpful to consider that risk in determining how to go about helping your cat. Every jurisdiction is different, and every prosecutor is different. When I was a public defender, I had to defend someone accused of animal abuse, and it wasn't the only case I heard of. While prosecuting you criminally might be difficult, taking the cat away from you might not be, which I assume is something you'd also like to avoid. So while it might be unlikely that you'd get in trouble, you should be circumspect with what you say.

By all means, help the poor animal out, and do it as soon as possible. Your goal is to get the cat help, and so you need to let the vet know everything about the cat's health. But if you let the vet know that some of this is due to the care you provided, you could put yourself at risk, at least in terms of remaining the cat's owner.
posted by mabelstreet at 7:52 PM on August 8, 2007

I work at a vet clinic. (Disclaimer: IANAV, just a vet tech). I have a secret for you: there person who brings in their cat every year, and who has a cat that weighs appropriately, is a rare bird. We have people bring in cats all the time with ages in the double digits who never even got their kitten series of shots. We usually just run a Feline Leukemia test, bring them up to date, and forget about it. And morbidly obese cats are a dime a dozen.

The shots won't even matter, especially since it sounds like your cat is an indoor cat, and what you're describing isn't anything that is typically vaccinated against. Rather, this sounds like any number of problems common in older cats, even ones taken care of perfectly. (And your cat has made it to 12 or 13, so you're doing something right.)

You're vet is most likely going to look at the lump and decide to do a biopsy, unless they can identify what sort of lump it is just from looking. They will almost certainly draw blood to run a thyroid check, a kidney check, and a test for general levels, due to the weight problem, to check for problems there. Weight-based diabetes, for one, is very common in older cats.

Depending on the results, you're probably looking at a special "prescription" diet of food, and medication to manage whatever problems are associated with the weight. Your vet may recommend growth removal, but they may not, as lumps are very common in older animals. My old dog was covered in cysts, some as big as golf balls, all over her body--she had 20 easily--but not a one was threatening (though they did occasionally pop and ooze nastiness).

And really, the vet will not be fazed. If they are, they've not been doing it for very long. It is very common for cats, especially indoor cats, to rarely be vaccinated. Hell, this is true of my own animals, and I'm in the veterinary field! Similarly, obese cats are very, very, very common. Even one of our clinic cats is a 28 lb behemoth with diabetes. And the hair and the fleas are likewise no biggie. Just today I cut a pair of "wings" off a cat for a client--they were huge mats coming from behind the elbows. And I mean huge!

And fleas are everywhere. This is the summer, which is flea season. Here in Texas, where it's the wettest summer in a century, we have a veritable epidemic. The vet will tell you how to treat those best, most likely with a pill or with drops or spray.

Also, if you have the budget for it, you can ask about medicine for anxiety. Our other clinic cat (who is also morbidly obese despite years of futile "dieting" and probably destines for diabetes and thyroid failure) is on kitty Prozac for an anxiety disorder (though hers manifests as compulsive overgrooming--she will groom herself bald. Still, similar problem, and treatment).

You will probably still end up have to shell out for vaccinations, though. Vets just like to do that. This will likely end up being a fairly expensive visit, just because you have a number of issues to treat; it would probably be in the neighborhood of $350 at my clinic if you end up doing everything (flea treatment, blood tests, vaccinations, and so forth) but we're a kinda expensive clinic, so don't let that scare you.

Okay, this is turning long and rambly, so the bottom line is this: from what you've described, your cat does need to see the vet, and sooner is better. But if you walked into the clinic I worked at, I wouldn't even blink twice. So don't sweat it, and good luck!

Oh, and a final note on preview: please don't lie about the ownership. No one is going to judge you about your infrequent veterinary care, but we do need to know the cat's entire medical history. Honesty will do more for your cat's treatment than the lie will for your reputation.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:56 PM on August 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

Please take the cat to the vet. Being a well-intentioned but neglectful owner does not make you a criminal.
posted by O9scar at 8:52 PM on August 8, 2007

My wife is a vet assistant. They see this kind of thing at the clinic all the time. They also see a lot worse.

I will have to disagree with the ones who will say that it's OK not to get the cat vaccinated if it's an inside cat. The reason for this is simple - even with a caring owner, cats can get out. If they do, and they aren't vaccinated, bad things can happen. She's seen this happen. It's even worse with dogs; I can't tell you how many rabies quarantines they've done there. Often the owners decided that an indoor dog didn't need the shots (or a license for that matter), and then one day Fluffy gets out and tangles with a coyote or eats a bat. That's a six month quarantine and over two grand in costs. One other thing: She's seen microchips reunited many owners with lost animals. Very small expense, very good insurance. You can get shots done for dirt cheap at shot clinics in your area.

Take kitty in and be straight with the doc. They've seen much worse.
posted by azpenguin at 12:56 AM on August 9, 2007

Slightly off topic, but perhaps of use to the original poster -- what new options are there to treat a panicky cat? (as some referenced above)

One of our boys was born feral, immediately rescued and now lives a life of luxury and spoiled-silliness, but he is a total PANIC ATTACK FREAKOUT cat about being picked up. Which, among other things, makes it nigh-on impossible to get him into a carrier and to the vet. (I generally start trying 1+ hrs before we need to be there, just to be sure. The one time I was only successful in running him down because he had a wheezing attack -- he's a little asthmatic).

Once there, he's so terrified he'll actually let me hold him (something he won't do at home), but I hate having to freak him out so much to pick him up and get him into the carrier when it's time to go.

Will "kitty Prozac" or something similar chill him out long enough to get him there? And is it available as a liquid? (The only way you can dose him with anything is to squirt it on him and wait for him to lick it off).
posted by at 1:04 AM on August 9, 2007

I had an obese, panicky, ornery, matted cat for 20 years (aww, I miss my kitty). I only took her to the vet when I absolutely had to, which wasn't often. The clinic that I took her to was very matter-of-fact about it, and took her in stride when she came in.

I think that the suggestion above to call ahead and get the "mood" of the clinic is a good one. At this point, I'd worry more about how they will treat your poor panicked kitty than about taking your cat from you. What you're describing about her really isn't abuse, so I would relax.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:02 AM on August 9, 2007

Kitties do take antidepressants, and other drugs made for humans - and nearly anything that isnt a liquid can be made into one at your pharmacy. The CVS where I'm working now gets veterinary prescriptions all the time. Definitely ask your vet, bitter-girl. This year was the first year that prescriptions for pets surpassed prescriptions for livestock - so it's getting really common.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:05 AM on August 9, 2007

My friend's insanely panicky cat is apparently much better due to her kitty prozac prescription. I think I recall that my friend also took her to a behavioral specialist and learned a bunch of useful stuff there too. It sounded a little silly to me at first, but she swears it has made an amazing difference in her pet's life.
posted by ml98tu at 6:22 AM on August 9, 2007

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