My cat's sick again, looking for ideas on what he's got and how I should proceed.
February 4, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

My cat was quite ill, got over it for a week, and now is ill again. We've taken him to the vet and still no ideas what's wrong with him. Anyone ever have a similar problem?

So the week before last, on Sunday, my cat stopped eating much of anything. When he did eat something, after an hour or two, he would howl horribly, (like he's in pain) then vomit everywhere. He still showed great interest in food, but would sniff at it and not eat, or eat it and throw it up later.

This went on for 3 days, and I got really concerned. Took him into the vet, and the vet said he was dehydrated, weighed the cat and he was just 10 some lbs. instead of the 12 I was expecting. The vet gave him some nutritional goo and told us to wait a couple of days. I took kitty home, and after a bit he cried and vomited the goo all up. Even though I'd been told to wait, I was worried after he didn't keep his goo down and took kitty to the emergency room, where I had all the blood tests done again, more fluids put in him, an injection to make him less nauseous, and left... with still no idea what had been wrong with him.

His blood tests came back normal, except for high creatnine (vet said because he was dehydrated), high glucose (vet said because he was stressed), and borderline-high thyroid (vet said this is incidental, but look into irradiating him in the future ... I said I'd bring him back in about a month or so after he'd recovered to get a nice baseline blood test on him.)

This was on a Wednesday, and the next day kitty ate. And didn't vomit. He continued this for a few days, but I was suprised to never see any poop in his litterbox (I hadn't seen any since saturday). On Friday night I was SHOCKED to pull a (seriously) 6-inch long poop out of his box. Holy cow. All was well after this, kitty returned to normal.

One week passed, and he was fine. We were so relieved to have him well. And then again, Saturday or Sunday of this week, he stopped eating. If he tries to eat, he vomits it everywhere. No poop in the box whatsoever. Kitty is truly interested and excited about eating (we offer him treats and he comes running from across the house), but either does not eat them or does and vomits them up.

Today I called his vet and they basically would not help me in any way over the phone, said just to bring him in. A trip to the vet is torturous for kitty - he vomits, pees in his carrier, howls and pants in distress. I'm still feeling guilty about taking him to the vet twice week before last, which amounted to no help for him and $600 for me total... I don't want to do it to him again unless necessary.

Background info on kitty: He's a 10-year old good-sized tom. He is not, and has not ever been obese. He's indoors-only, an only cat for nearly 4 years now. No opportunity to come in contact with another cat. We haven't introduced anything new into the home. Before this started, he'd been fed Newman's Own cat-food, 1/3 can 2x daily. During the first illness I was trying to find something he'd eat and put dry food out. Vet suggested I give him dry kitten food to help him put weight on, and so for the last week, he's had a combo of Newman's Own dry cat food and Iam's dry kitten food. He's loved it and put on all his lost weight. Haven't tried going back to the canned stuff yet.

So: A few questions...

1.) How long should I wait before taking him to the vet in a case like this? He'd gotten back up to 12 lbs. in the last week, but he's not been able to hold anything down since sunday. I feel like if I'd not taken him to the vet at all the last time, he'd be just as well off, and less tortured. I'd also feel terrible if my waiting harmed him in any way. How long is it okay to let a cat eat little or nothing before I make him miserable with a visit to the vet, who might not be able to do much for him?

2.) What can this be? Kitty was sick for 4 days, well for 10, now sick again? Blood tests come back pretty much okay, except for a possible thyroid problem, which wouldn't be causing him not to be able to eat. Any clues?

We love our little guy and want to do whatever is best for him - am just really confused as to how to proceed here or what's going on. I don't want to torture him again with a visit to the vet unless he can be helped.

Thanks so much!
posted by FortyT-wo to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps he's constipated. Plain canned pumpkin works wonders at moving things along and most cats gobble it up.
posted by jamaro at 5:58 PM on February 4, 2008

Try mixing the canned pumpkin with some white chicken meat - I used this when my cat went off his regular food.
posted by Liosliath at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2008

You could try bringing him to a different vet for a second opinion if your regular guy is scratching his head. I'm sure the panic of going to the vet isn't as bad as not being able to eat. I'm not at all qualified but it sounds like something is getting stuck in there. It might be something that blood tests wouldn't necessarily pick up.
posted by amethysts at 6:14 PM on February 4, 2008

Could it be an intestinal blockage? Get kitty X-rayed.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:18 PM on February 4, 2008

I'm not your fake internet doctor, but it does sound like kitty needs more fiber. Or a better doctor.
posted by gjc at 6:22 PM on February 4, 2008

I would take him to a different vet (one that specializes in cats) ASAP. It's just better to not wait until the situation is dire. I had a cat (Mr. Kitten) who had megacolon, which is fairly common in tom cats. This is when the muscles in the colon lose function and are unable to move things along properly. This can occur gradually, so he wouldn't necessarily lose all function right away. Another thing that comes to mind is a foreign body of some sort (as amethysts said). Did your vet do x-rays?
If you have any questions, feel free to Mefi mail me. I'll talk to my vet friends tomorrow.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:24 PM on February 4, 2008

I think the situation definitely demands a second opinion ASAP. I am not a vet, of course, but intestinal blockages can be life threatening.

Also, that kind of distress about going to the vet isn't something you or kitty has to put up with. Now may not be the time to try to help him with that, because I do think you need to get to a vet as soon as you can, but in the future, look into Feliway for calming him, or even some cat Valium.

Good luck, and let us know what's up, please.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:34 PM on February 4, 2008

Is poisoning a possibility? It's prob a potential concern with an outdoor cat and a neighbor that doesn't like said cat on their property, though I could imagine an indoor cat could get into something he shouldn't as well.
posted by 6550 at 6:34 PM on February 4, 2008

Response by poster: When we took him to the animal hospital, the vet there said she felt pretty sure that he didn't have a blockage because a.) she didn't feel anything after lots of palpatation of his abdomen, b.) because (according to her) it's unusual for a cat his age to suddenly start eating something causing a blockage ... generally it happens to younger cats.

It was posed to me as "well I coooould do an xray if you really wanted to (because I took him to the hospital *assuming* he was obstructed), but I feel sure that there is no blockage" and I began to think about exposing kitty to whatever radiation would be involved and decided against it. He pooped (big!) after a few days and pooped regularly for the next week, so I figured that ruled out any possible obstruction. Is it still possible?

I'm going to look in to a different cat-specialist vet tomorrow. Neither vet mentioned megacolon to us at all, thanks for the info. Also may be running out for canned pumpkin and chicken meat tomorrow as well!

As for poisoning - like I say, nothing new in the home. If something we've had all along is poisonous, and he's eating it suddenly, I don't even know how to go about finding what that is? As for the obvious chemicals and plants, no evidence whatsoever that he's eating anything odd.
posted by FortyT-wo at 6:39 PM on February 4, 2008

I was going to ask if you'd gotten any new furniture. Apparently the (mandatory) fire retardant in lots of mattresses and upholstered furniture can cause hyperthyroidism in cats especially (it's a powder and gets onto their fur; they ingest it when they groom themselves) and hyperthyroid in turn causes constipation.

Since your cat did have borderline high thyroid at the vet, that's still the direction I'd be looking.
posted by jamjam at 7:04 PM on February 4, 2008

Did they check his teeth at one of the visits? Maybe he has an infected tooth or gum that is oozing that causes distress and barfing. His desire to eat is there but something is short circuiting it beyond the desire, like maybe an extremely painful tooth. Good luck. I am sorry about your kitty.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:09 PM on February 4, 2008

Our cat had pancreatitis and acted like that. Does he hide during the bad periods? Cry when you pick him up? Both are signs of pancreatitis.
posted by words1 at 7:10 PM on February 4, 2008

OK I sometimes do the same thing when my kitties were having health problems - Wanting to do the right thing but feeling really conflicted about what's best and going back and forth. If you are both in luv with the kitty, it helps to bring someone neutral and businesslike who isn't so crazy about him (my mom, for example) to come with you to the vet to give you some perspective and talk things over with. The person obviously wants what's in kitty's best interest, but they have a different perspective than a mommy or daddy. It just helps to talk to someone neutral (just like asking metafilter!) when you have alot of different options that are like "Kitty's short term comfort vs. long term problem-solving vs. long term problem CAUSING" and the vet is saying things like "well i COULD if you WANT..."

For example, if I was your friend and I was with you, I would have suggested to get the X-ray done. Because I don't think 1 or 2 will do him any harm, and it might give you something to go on, or it might tell you what's NOT wrong.
posted by amethysts at 7:12 PM on February 4, 2008

I went through a serious kitty illness last fall, and while I don't have any idea why your kitty might be sick, I can say that not eating can make him sicker. If cats stop eating, they can develop "fatty liver" (hepatic lipidosis), which then makes them feel sicker and even less able to eat. With my cat, I thought he'd get hungry enough and eat eventually, but instead he almost died and ended up having to have an esophagostomy tube and be tube-fed for about a month. This is not to say that this will happen to your cat -- just a caution that whatever's wrong with him, not eating could make it much, much worse (and be much more expensive!).

Bottom line: don't wait more than a few days if your cat is not eating.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:36 PM on February 4, 2008

There are vets who make house calls. If taking him to the vet is that stressful, it might be worth the extra cost.
posted by acorncup at 7:58 PM on February 4, 2008

acridrabbit has it, your cat really should not go without food for more than a couple of days. Hepatic lipidosis can cause long term permanent damage, as well as be dangerous in the short term, so if your kitty isn't getting anything into him after two days you need to take him to the vet. This should outweigh any guilt you have about the trip, it really is very necessary besides whatever is actually wrong with him.

If he is eating and keeping it down then you may have a bit more time to play with. But really, this kind of continual vomiting isn't normal and is a sign that your cat is definitely sick. Better to get it sorted out.
posted by shelleycat at 8:39 PM on February 4, 2008

I definitely think a second opinion from a cat specialist (or at least a vet who is "into" cats) is in order. And likely some imaging (at least x-rays). There are a LOT of different things which can cause this, and IMNSFHO, a vet should be discussing with you what diagnostic options fit within your cat-care budget, not "if you really want x-rays..." and not much beyond that.

While housecall vets are great, IMO this cat may well need diagnostics beyond the capabilities of most housecall vets (who mainly exist to do at-home euthanasias and basic wellness exams/vaccinations, not more involved diagnosis and treatment).

Write down as detailed an account of these issues as you can. Include any changes in your household. Then find a cat specialist. I know exactly the yowl you mean. Do not wait, cats can go from okay to critical in a scary-short time, and cats should absolutely not be allowed to go for more than a day or two without food. Good luck.
posted by biscotti at 8:40 PM on February 4, 2008

Thinking about chemicals.... Does your cat wear a flea collar? Was it changed recently? Did cat have a bath or flea treatment recently? (Possibility of poisoning from pesticides.)

Another possibility is hyperthyroidism, since your vet mentioned borderline-high thyroid. I would suggest another thyroid test at the new vet. Apparently hyperthyroidism is rather common in older cats, and (as one website puts it) "hyperthyroidism must be considered in any cat over eight years of age that is acting ill or losing weight."

The x-ray. Do get one. Just so you'll know if there's any blockage.

And... I hope the new vet turns out to be a good one. If not, consider taking kitty to a university which has a veterinary school.... They'll have a veterinary hospital associated with it and are used to dealing with very sick animals and diagnosing what's really going on. They really know what they're doing. (From your profile, it looks like you live in Missouri. There's the U of Mo. College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia.)

And good luck to you and to kitty.
--A fellow cat person
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:09 PM on February 4, 2008

A second opinion seems to be in order, but rather than a cat hospital, I would take your cat to a board-certified Internal Medicine specialist. It may end up being more expensive, as they will likely suggest things like ultrasounds and specialized blood tests, but that is the best way to deal with tricky diagnoses. If money is an issue, you may want to consider applying for the Care Credit credit card.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:33 AM on February 5, 2008

Please let us know the outcome. I'm worried about your kitty!
posted by agregoli at 6:59 AM on February 5, 2008

It doesn't sound like quite the right symptoms but maybe your cat is diabetic now? Sounds a little like it could be a twisted bowel too.
posted by whoda at 7:28 AM on February 5, 2008

Our 8-yr-old japanese bobtail had a similar episode a few weeks ago. She's never been a barfer except for the occasional hairball, but all of a sudden she was hurling after every meal. The vet suggested hairball remedy; he said that sometimes one will build up too far down to be barfed, but it'll act like a trampoline. Sure enough, she quit barfing as soon as we added that to her diet.

He also mentioned that this could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, but felt like the hairball remedy was a first step in eliminating possible causes. Her pooping was never off, though.

Good luck! We'll all be crossing our fingers/paws for your furrkid.
posted by tigerjade at 9:07 AM on February 5, 2008

If your vet hasn't done an x-ray yet, go to one that will. I just went through something similar with my cat. She was losing weight and progressed to throwing up after eating anything. It started with solid food and then she couldn't keep down soft foods. I recently moved and figured it was stress. She was excited about eating but couldn't keep it down and it turned into just staring at the food. My new vet wrote it off as stress after the blood work came back negative with slight hyperthyroid signs. She gave me some stimulant pills and she ate for a couple of weeks. Then it all started again. I called my vet and got the same bit of nothing. Called my old, more aggressive vet and she wanted me there right away. First 30 minutes there the x-ray showed fluid around the heart. After a seriously expensive trip to a vet hospital for sonograms of her chest and abdomin, she was diagnosed with bowel disease. Unfortunately it was very advanced and we could hope for a rally. Which she did, and ate the house dry. She was an indoor cat too.

Needless to say I drive 2 hours now to see my vet. She's aggressive enough to make me happy. All of the vets in my current town are either insane or too nice to do anything except send me to an expensive specialist. I've since learned that only specialists in my town can even take my cats blood pressure, unlike my old vet. I'm still looking for one closer to my house and the blood pressure check is the first test for consideration for me.
posted by EasilyOdd at 12:37 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all for the replies - I made an appointment for kitty to go to a clinic tomorrow who specialises in cats. They also do xrays in-house, so we're definitely going to push for that. Am hoping that we learn something more definite on this visit.
posted by FortyT-wo at 5:23 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: Just wanted to add an update on Kitty. Our visit with the cat specialist resulted in normal xrays, and still no answer as to what his problem might be. We were given instructions to force-feed him turkey and chicken baby foods for a week in increasing amounts. Then we were to slowly reintroduce i47;d dry cat food and reduce our baby food forcing as he began to eat more dry food. After about a week and a half, he was entirely on the dry food again, and done vomiting.

Kitty's regained his weight and seems to be back to normal. I don't feel 100% good about his recovery because he'd had a period of recovery before, but at least with the baby food force-feeding we have a way to help him along if this happens again. Still wish we knew what his issue was.

I will say, for anyone who might read this looking for info on force-feeding their cat, ours was extremely combative during the feeding process, and our first attempt at feeding him took 45 minutes and resulted in more baby food on us than in him. Our vet sold us a cat sack and it helped tremendously. I will say that kitty behaved much better for me than Mr. t-wo, but eventually we were feeding him a fair amount of food in a short time. Once I got the cat sack around his neck, he literally laid down inside and waited for me to zip him up, and then was very submissive through the whole process for me. I think our nervousness before we got the sack was making him freak out a bit.

Thanks again to everyone for the help.
posted by FortyT-wo at 3:21 PM on February 24, 2008

I'm so glad to hear this - my cat went through a similar event of being off his food, btw, and has not only gained the weight back, but hasn't had another episode. (knock on wood) Best to you and your kitty!
posted by Liosliath at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2008

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