Most cat owners hope they will never have to deal with an emergency or serious illness with their pet, but sometimes it happens. Here are some tips for dealing with it when it happens.
First, if you can, get your pet insurance. Mine costs $17 for a single year-old cat. I still have to pay for the vet bills upfront, but it helps to know I’m getting some of that money back.
Next, pay close attention to the situation and observe as much as possible to tell the vet about what happened. When my cat woke from an afternoon nap with a pronounced limp, we believed she must have moved wrong or gotten herself caught in something and hurt her leg.
It was Saturday afternoon, so the vet was already closed for the day, but we watched her like a hawk for the next few days, making note of her symptoms. The limp seemed worse when she first woke up and our normally playful cat was spending 22 or 23 hours a day curled up in her bed. She was also not eating right.
Then, check an animal first aid book. We got ours for about $15 on amazon.com. It has a triage section to help you determine what needs an emergency visit to the vet and what can wait a day or two. Limping falls into the category of it can wait, for a little bit.
Still we called our vet on Sunday to check to see if there was anything else the vet recommended we do. If your vet provides an emergency number, make sure you have it posted along with other emergency numbers near the phone or in a place where you can find it easily.
The vet suggested that since my cat is indoor only, it probably wasn’t an injury from another animal (makes sense, right?). But I do have a basement and this is brown recluse season, so she suggested checking the cat thoroughly for bites or swelling that might indicate she’d been bitten by a spider. And, just in case, to give her a quarter capsule of Benadryl.
Spider bites, especially the brown recluse, are not as devastating to cats as to people, my vet said, but could be causing pain and swelling. Her recommendation: Benadryl and bring the cat in tomorrow to avoid a huge emergency room fee. There’s a reason I love my vet.
A word of caution here. Most cat lovers think their precious cat would never hurt them. Guess what! Yes, your cat adores you but if she’s in pain, she will likely let you know with either claws or teeth. Scruff your cat when checking for injuries or be ready for the consequences. My cat was willing to let us gently check her for bites, but every time we got near her leg, she would bite. She never broke the skin, but she was letting us know that she hurt.
Monday morning, we called the vet and were told the soonest they could get her in was Wednesday. Learn from my mistake here. If your pet is in pain, be insistent. My cat limped around in pain for two more days, barely eating.
On Wednesday when she got in to see the vet, she had lost 7 ounces. That doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize she only weighed 11 pounds to begin with. This was a crash diet that was no acceptable.
The next thing you can learn from me is to see your normal vet. Our vet hospital has several great vets and based on the fact that my cat was limping, they sent me to their orthopedist instead of my regular vet. He did a great job and checked her well for a bone injury, but he never considered other causes for her limp. He sent us away with a reassurance that it was probably just a sprain/strain type injury and to give it a few days to heal.
He did offer to take xrays, but was fairly certain it was not a bone injury. She was putting more weight back on the foot, so we accepted his diagnosis.
Two days later, I wished I hadn’t. Her limp was worse against and the only way we could get her to eat was to bring the food to her. The vet couldn’t get her back in until the following Tuesday, so we were stuck in wait mode. Again, I should have been more insistent.
On Saturday, my cat was shivering uncontrollably and we took her to the office where the vet tech confirmed she had a low grade fever and had lost another 2 ounces. She recommended a heating pad on low to keep my cat as comfortable as possible and seeing the vet as soon as possible.
That weekend, I took notes-literally. I watched her eating habits and litter box habits. I watched her water consumption and checked her for dehydration and on Tuesday when she got to see her regular vet, I came armed with all the information.
In a little more than a week, my cat had lost more than half a pound. When she would eat, she appeared to be in pain just bending her head to the water bowl or food fish. In the course of three days, she had eaten less than one normal day’s food. She left her bed only to go to the litter box or when physically removed by my husband or I. I was pretty sure by this point that it wasn’t a strain or sprain and I told the vet so.
“I think the limp was a symptom of pain somewhere else,” I told my vet and she listened. When getting your cat treated, make sure you tell your vet everything. After all, you know this particular animal better than they do and can tell them when something is abnormal behavior.
After a few scary discussions about what it could be, the vet and I agreed we would test her first for an underlying infection or diabetes. Then, if necessary, we would move on to the x-rays.
Remember that advice early about scruff an injured cat? The vet technician forgot that advice and my normally docile and friendly cat left an eight-inch deep scratch on her forearm and several minor cuts on the vet tech’s hand. Except as an accidental clawing while playing, my cat had never injured anyone before.
Her blood tests showed that she didn’t have an infection, her kidneys and liver were working well and her blood sugar was just about perfect, but her total protein levels were high. Thankfully, the vet translated that. She might have pancreatitis.
This is another key lesson. Make the vet explain your cat’s injury or illness. The vet told me pancreatitis can be brought on by illness, be genetics in some cats or by stress. Uh,oh. I might be responsible for my cat’s illness. I had been trying to acclimatize her to the outdoors and a leash and harness. The one time we tried it, she smashed herself flat against the porch and belly crawled back toward the door. I have a ‘fraidy cat.
So three prescriptions alter, we were ready to leave the vet’s office. After her attack early, they let me get her back in her cat carrier to head home. And offered me a pill popper to help her take her medicine. Not necessary I said. I can get her to take them. Oops, dumb idea again. If the experts tell you how to give your cat medicine, listen.
We mashed those pills in her favorite foods, hid them in tuna and smothered them in pudding, by cat would not take her medicine until we scruffed her and popped the pill to the back of her throat. I didn’t know a cat could spit until I got covered in antibiotic pudding.
But once we figured out the trick, getting her to take the medication got easier, for a day or two until she started feeling better. Then it was a game of trap the cat and medicate her and then be prepared for her to pout for a few hours. Silly cat. She knew she felt better, but couldn’t equate the pills with the lack of pain.
The lessons I learned in diagnosing a sick cat are very valuable and I’ll do better if it happens again, but here’s how you can learn from my mistakes:
1) Watch closely and write down anything abnormal about the cat’s behavior during the illness.
2) Be insistent with the vet’s office staff about when your pet needs to be seen.
3) Have a reference first aid book so you know how serious the symptoms are. No one wants to pay an emergency vet bill for a cat’s cold.
4) Question your vet. If you have a different idea about what’s wrong, say so.
5. Follow the vet’s instructions. If he recommends using a pill popper, use a pill popper.
6) Make sure you understand what is wrong with your cat, how it happened and what you can do to help keep it from happening again.
7) Remember that you car can’t speak English and doesn’t necessarily know you are trying to help her. Scruff the cat.
8) Cat’s hate pills and can spit.
9) Pet insurance can help take the trauma out of the $200 vet bill.
10) Your cat can’t tell you where it hurts, so you have to be a detective and figure it out.