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Summary: Our cat had a stressful vet visit, and for days she acted worryingly sick and lethargic. She lost her appetite for kibble, and that made things worse. Offering her a little bit of soft, aromatic food, like mashed-up tunafish, re-stimulated her appetite. She ate it up and recovered swiftly from there.
Our dear kitty companion, Ada, had a very bad day last week. She spent a long time at the vet, and while not subjected to any procedures more invasive than a blood-pressure cuff squeezing her hind leg, from her perspective she apparently suffered such a traumatic experience that she seemed five years older after I brought her back home. She acted utterly lethargic, her appetite had vanished, and her breathing looked and sounded worryingly strange.
For a couple of days after her visit, these changes in her demeanor seemed so profound — and so in-line with that of a cat suddenly much older than her ten years — that I worried that actions I had taken had stolen a large slice of her short life away, and I felt terribly guilty. I started fearing she had suffered permanent physiological damage, somehow. Happily, she gradually returned to her old self as the week wore on, bringing me an equal measure of great relief. Since I did turn to the internet seeking stories from people whose cats had gone through similar ordeals, I would like to add my own.
We knew prior to this visit that Ada has a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It involves a significant thickening of the heart’s outer walls, permanently reducing its capacity and therefore efficiency. This condition has no cure, but does have treatment in the form of a daily pill regimen that can help regulate blood pressure despite the harder-working heart. (Fortunately for both Ada and her human friends, she enjoys Pill Pocket treats enough to make administering her meds relatively painless for all parties.)
Her initial diagnosis came after a checkup in February, so her vet called her back in for a blood-pressure check a month later to confirm that the medicine worked as expected. This would involve checking her into the local animal hospital’s inpatient facility, in order to let her chill out for a while and produce results as near to resting-rate as possible; they know from experience that a higher-order pet’s heart rate after arriving at the vet usually doesn’t reflect its normal numbers. I couldn’t object to this logic, and so Ada stayed in the hospital that day from 8 AM until after 4 PM.
Of the changes in behavior she started showing that evening, I felt most alarmed by her breathing. Instead of her normal, slow, easy respiration, she would inhale completely, exhale sharply, then pause, over and over. I shot of video of this, two mornings in, to share with the vet. The camera didn’t pick up the sounds she made while breathing like this, an audible huff or a wet click on exhaling. As you might imagine, witnessing this and knowing about her heart condition made Amy and I both feel very worried for the cat’s inner workings. The loss of appetite and energy, while worrying in their own ways, seemed like lesser symptoms against this one.
Twenty-four hours after her return form that visit, I called the vet to report our concerns. Her very first question back to me: “Are her gums blue?” I reported with a sinking heart that they seemed mottled blue-black and pink — but this was a good sign, actually, since the doctor (who, in the course of only two visits, had stared into the cat’s mouth far longer than I ever had) knew that the former color is apparently just Ada’s natural marble-mouthed pigment. A cat experiencing heart failure will have grayish-blue gums from the lack of oxygen, so the presence of any pink at all meant that her heart continued to do its job. The vet also had us time and report her respiratory rate — which, while high, didn’t raise any life-threatening flags.
We all agreed that taking her back for X-rays or something sounded like a terrible idea, given the likelihood that her situation was a reaction to her visit the day before. The doctor promised she’d call back the next morning to check in. The next day, right before she did, I saw Ada very briefly breathing normally again, perhaps while sleeping. While she resumed working her worrisome bellows after awakening, this still gave us hope that she could gradually find her own way out of the shock she’d experienced.
After the call, I felt my second regret from this misadventure: Amy and I had become so wrapped up in worry for the cat’s immediate condition that we didn’t even think to give her any tuna, for years our standard reward/apology after we subject her to some unpleasantness for her own good. So I delivered a little dish of it to the bed she’d barely left in days, and to my surprise she wolfed it down. I let her eat a little more, and I do believe that finally started to turn things around. Fortified with fish-energy, she later in the day ate some of her usual kibble with coaxing, and by the next day her breathing had returned to normal.
I write this ten days after the visit, and most of her energy’s returned, even if her appetite still hasn’t come back to pre-vet levels; she no longer gobbles up her robot-assisted thrice-daily kibble ration in five minutes and then cries for more. (All things considered, I don’t find myself feeling bad about that change.) Today, for the first time since that oh-so-terrible blood-pressure check, she jumped on my desk to interrupt my work by flopping on my keyboard. I take this as the most definite sign that our old cat has come back.
Before last week, I would never have imagined that a relatively short-duration stay in a vet’s office, where basically nothing happened to her worse than the company of random animals and unfamiliar humans for a few hours, could have such a long-lasting effect on a housecat’s body and spirit. The next time she needs a simple procedure that we might ourselves perform at home, I’ll take that route — and either way I won’t again skimp on the tunafish afterwards.
Adding a clarification to the vet-lethargy articleAfter an unexpected email exchange, I updated an earlier Fogknife post to better phrase some advice I offer to worried cat companions.
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