Dead Cat Walking

Despite all my best intentions, I haven’t updated this thing since mid-March. And the longer I go between updates, the easier it is to not update at all. So on today’s to-do list? Update the goddamned blog, already.


In late March, I noticed that Nate, one of my cats, had suddenly lost a lot of weight. I noticed this on a Wednesday, and decided it was time to get him in for a long-overdue vet appointment. But he seemed fine otherwise, so I didn’t consider it urgent. In fact, I procrastinated about it, and the next thing I knew it was Saturday afternoon and the vet was closed and I still hadn’t made an appointment.

By Saturday afternoon, I noticed Nate was drinking an awful lot of water. He seemed to spend much of his time at the water bowl, as if he was obsessed with it.

Okay, I thought, we’re definitely going in on Monday.

But by Saturday evening, it was obvious (even to my thick-headed self) that something was seriously wrong. Nate had no interest in food; he kept vomiting small amounts of a brownish froth; and while he sat hunched over the water bowl, he no longer seemed to have an interest in drinking. He also had a very hard time climbing the stairs. I kept a close eye on him, by then certain that we were going to have to make a trip to the emergency vet.

And then he sat by the back door, as if he wanted to go out, and started howling–long, drawn-out, desperate yowls. When I approached him he was fixated on the door, as if he wanted out, but when I tried to get his attention I realized that he was disoriented. He just was not himself at all.

Less than 15 minutes later, we were at the emergency vets’; it would be a full week before Nate left. He spent that entire week on IV fluids, and it wasn’t until late on Day 4 that anyone started making cautiously optimistic noises about my taking him home. Had I waited much longer to take him in, he probably would not have made it; that he did, given his condition, still amazes me.

Nate, as it turned out, was in full-blown kidney failure. Slowly, bit by bit, he had lost kidney function, and by late March, when he finally “crashed,” he had less than 15-20% function left. Right now, he has even less than that; I just assume that he has no kidney function left at all. So my job, these days, is to be his kidneys for him.

Every single day, I give him 200ml of subcutaneous fluids. I’ve had to get over my horror of needles, and learn how to stick them into my cat without freaking out–and I’ve succeeded at that. It’s strange to think back to how terrified I was at first, and how much anxiety I felt when Nate didn’t want to cooperate. It really was difficult at first; I had to learn how to dose him, and he had to get used to my doing so. I can’t tell you how many nights I spent working up the nerve to administer his fluids, only to have him get annoyed and refuse to hold still. I was supposed to get 150-180 ml into him per day, but on a good day I was getting maybe 80 in. On a bad day, I got nothing into him at all. And we had far more bad days than good ones.

It’s not coincidental that, in late April, I suddenly decided that I wanted to try my hand at having houseplants. The desire seemed to come out of the blue; after killing a few plants with neglect back in my art school days I decided I had a black thumb and never bothered with plants again. But in April and May of this year I went on a prolonged houseplant-buying spree, and it wasn’t until early June that it finally hit me–here were life forms that depended on me for the regular application of life-sustaining fluids, were they to survive. And, unlike the feline life form who depended upon me for the regular application of life-sustaining fluids, houseplants would hold still and let me take care of them.

It wasn’t until late July that Nate and I finally worked out a system for giving him his full dose of fluids every day. Until we did, Nate had his ups and downs, feeling good on some days (when I had managed to get fluids into him) and lousy on others (when I hadn’t). Every day, I struggled with knowing that I was doing my best, but it wasn’t anywhere near good enough. That Nate has other medical conditions both complicating his CRF, and in addition to it, didn’t help. He has kidney stones (the wicked, tiny kind that are inoperable–and thus fatal–when they cause a blockage). He has hip dysplasia, and resulting severe arthritis (his hips, on X-ray, were the most godawful-raggedy things I’ve ever seen). He’s always had rumbly guts and chronic diarrhea, with no identifiable cause.  And he has a mass in his liver, that, based on lab results (because I’m not putting him through a biopsy), my vet believes is malignant.

Oh, and to add insult to injury? He endured a nasty little visit to the e-vet’s due to impacted anal glands (trust me, you don’t want the details).

The poor guy! I sometimes think I ought to change his name to Murphy, because it seems that whatever can go wrong with a cat will go wrong with him. He’s only 9 years old, but he’s such a wreck; one of my new nicknames for him is Dead Cat Walking.

Despite all of this, however, Nate is doing very well. You wouldn’t know he was a sick cat, just to look at him. He’s gained some weight back, and while he’s not as energetic as he used to be he’s active, and seems very happy. He eats well, his eyes are bright and his coat is healthy, he’s his usual chatty self. He seeks me out for attention and laptime, and occasionally still wrestles with his best buddy, Mr. Steve. I give him Buprenorphine for his arthritis pain, and that seems to help him a lot (though I still cringe whenever he decides to jump the back fence).  He had an ultrasound while at the emergency vets’, and for the longest time the shaved area on his belly stayed naked pink. But now that he’s getting fluids every day his body has decided it finally has the resources to devote to growing hair back. He’s not throwing up, or showing signs of the usual acid stomach that CRF cats are prone to; I haven’t had to give him Pepcid since late July. He hasn’t been back to the vet since July 19th, and while he’s about due for labwork just to see if anything has changed, he’s had no other reason to go.

So I’m doing a pretty good job at being Nate’s kidneys, if I do say so myself. I don’t know which of his panoply of afflictions is finally going to get him in the end, but right now I don’t feel the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and impending failure that I felt between the end of March and the end of July.  Dead Cat Walking is coming up on seven months since he crashed, and that’s seven extra months I never expected to get with him, back when I was paying Nate nightly visits at the emergency vet’s. And while it’s been a huge adjustment (especially for someone like me, who is notoriously poor at dealing with others’ neediness and dependency), the whole experience has taught me surprising things about myself, and what I am capable of doing. But that’s another whole blog post, right there–for now I’ll content myself with getting this one posted.



Filed under cats

3 responses to “Dead Cat Walking

  1. Melissa, a heart-warming story of a feline’s near fatality. But what of the house-plant buying spree? How did the plants affect you during the Dead Cat Walking ordeal? Did some Mabee Positive Energy transfer from the cat world to the plant world?

    My record for the least amount of time required to kill a plant was back at Washington College. My mother sent me back to school with a snake plant which she assured me would thrive if I ignored it. In my haste running up the stairs to my dorm room — I was to see my girlfriend Danielle soon after my arrival — I dropped the plant, which smashed into a pile of dirt, broken pottery and shredded plant parts. Yes, dear reader, I had killed the plant before I had even gotten it into my dorm room.

  2. Ah, that is rough. I’m glad it’s working. I now have to give Jimmy oral meds every day, twice a day, but he gives me no trouble at all, and if anything spills he actually licks it up! If and when the time comes for my other cat, Maggie, to need meds, it’s going to be the opposite scenario; she has a real attitude and won’t do anything she’s told.

  3. Pingback: Fear less. « Magical Realist

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