24 April 2015

I was wrong, or...foreign objects in cats

      I'm not ashamed of saying I was or am wrong. I don't have that huge ego (I was married to it at one time) that regards saying "I was wrong" to be tantamount to suicide.

     While I was wrong about WHAT she ate, I wasn't wrong that Diamond had eaten something 'foreign".

    When the vet failed to snag the offending object(s) using an endoscope and going through the mouth, she was forced to remove the stomach and open it up to find:

       What are these things? Beats the shit out of me. The one on the left looks like the open end of an empty .410 shotgun shell. The one on the right appears to be a red plastic nipple from the feather cat toy. Neither one is from the toy mouse, and, obviously, neither one is what I believed they were, shrimp tails. These...things.. stunk to high heaven. We think they've been in her stomach for a while, as they are packed with some solidified gunk. The fact that she could still digest food and pass it into her intestine past these things is amazing.

     I won't remove my erroneous post stating they were shrimp tails. While it's wrong, it's not bad science, based on what information I had at the time.

    What is bizarre is WHY. In fact, why RED? Diamond had eaten one of the red plastic nipples off a feather toy years ago and barfed it up. This time the stuff stuck in her stomach.  Of the four foreign objects she's eaten in her life, three were red. We already know cats can see color. But why in the world a cat that is fed the finest of kibble and gets human food very often feels the need to eat plastic, I have no idea. She can't still be operating under the shelter cat syndrome...but perhaps she is.

    It might be how she 'plays'. When we play with Sable, our Siamese, she plays. She knows the thing is a toy. It's not real. But to Diamond, all toys are game. They're not toys, they are things to hunt down, kill and then eat. I can't remember how many times I've taken a small toy from her because she showed every intention of devouring it. This time I either missed the toy, or grew careless and left it where she could find it. 

    She'd refused to eat at the vet's. When I got her home two days ago, I opened the kennel, she marched out into the kitchen and demanded something to eat. She exhibited no signs of pain, indeed, she was purring and ready to play. 

    It was SABLE, our rowdy Siamese, whose behaviour astonished me.  She'd acted a bit lonely without Diamond here but rapidly got used to being the Only Cat. Now Diamond was back, having been gone, what..2 days? And Sable wouldn't go near her. She acted frightened of Diamond, hissing, growling and running away from her.

 I told Diamond she'd better take advantage of that. Sable can and often does, bully her. I'm certain the fear came from the vet clinic smell clinging to Diamond's fur. She'd gotten a bath, inadvertently. The vet had flushed her abdomen with copious amounts of saline solution after emptying her intestines, and her fur obviously was drenched.  She's a clean cat, but we don't bathe them (are you kidding? She's got teeth and claws like a leopard). Her belly has been shaved. Fortunately, no Elizabethan collar is needed as the stitches in her belly are internal and absorbable. So I don't have to worry about her opening them up. (Every cat I've ever had in my life spends the first hours of its time home after surgery removing the stitches).

     Diamond must stay on a 'soft food' diet for two weeks until her stomach incision is healed. She'd never had canned cat food in her life, but she certainly has taken to it. The vet said to keep her from jumping, but also admitted that that would probably be unenforceable, which proved true.

    I felt wonderful when, about an hour after going to bed, Diamond jumped onto the bed  and curled up next to my head. This often proves a problem when I inhale a cat hair in my sleep...not a pleasant way of awaking, for sure. But this night, I didn't care. My purring cat was purring for me, and I was happy to hear it. 

   The one thing that still concerns me is her evacuation. She's not pooped yet. She was emptied out at the vets, but by now she should be pooping. If not...it's back to the vet's. I'll keep you updated. 

21 April 2015

Diamond's silver lining

      Diamond was a 'free' cat, meaning she came from the shelter. Now, in the US, 'free' doesn't mean free free. It means free but for fees. Fees for vaccinations, for the microchip, for the actual 'sale' of the animal.

     Diamond is out of surgery now and I'll go see her in a little while. I'd looked at the x-rays yesterday, with both me and the vet scratching our heads at the whozywhatzit on the image. It was...well, odd. About 2 cm long (about 3/4 inch), it had a segmented look, a tubular look. To me, it looked segmented. But that made no sense whatsoever. I could think of no toy, not even the one she'd eaten, that bore any resemblance to this 'thing' lodged in her stomach.

    I'd cut up an brand new toy mouse and found that the sharp end of the wire was protected by a black bead. I told the vet that this morning before she went in. But when she called me she said it was  "orange". Orange? And she couldn't remove it with an endoscope.
    While eating lunch, it hit me. Diamond had eaten TWO things other than cat kibble, two things, one of which was the toy mouse that she vomited up. The other thing was something she dredged out of the garbage can in the kitchen. Two words: shrimp tail.

     We feed our cats a lot of real food. They get beef on the few occasions that we have it, chicken, duck, salmon, and.........shrimp. Cooked, but still. I clean them and cook them and Diamond and Sable both are screaming that they want it. They both know very well what 'shrimp' means. They both have a vocabulary of about thirty words.
We'd had shrimp a few nights beforehand. Both cats got a single shrimp each, cleaned,  cooked and cut up into pieces. But somehow Diamond got the final two chitinous segments of the tail and ate it. 

  The vet called me again, saying Diamond was out of surgery.She'd tried for 45 minutes to get that 'thing' and then had to go into the stomach. Well, no. She literally took the stomach OUT, opened it, removed the offending item and sewed it back up. She then took out the intestines and cleaned them out and put everything back in nice and neat and sewed her back up.

   One more reason I'm glad I never became a veterinarian. At some time in my ongoing process of growing old, I've gained the feeling of queasiness. Just listening to the vet talking about handling innards like one handles a garden hose made me queasy. 
She described the offending item as being 'plastic'.
That settled it for me.  I said, "I know what it is. It's a shrimp tail".

   "Huh", she said. She knows nothing about shrimp as she's allergic to shellfish and thus has never cleaned a shrimp.

   But I have, and I'm a biologist. I know what happened. I may have dropped the shell. Ms Garbage Diver Diamond may have dredged it from the garbage basket while I wasn't looking. Whatever. Diamond ate it.

   Shrimp,like most seagoing arthropods, have a sharp end to the tail (actually known as 'telson'). Shrimp exoskeleton is tough stuff. It can withstand the corrosive effects of hot water and salt. It turns bright orange when cooked.  It keeps the insides of the shrimp safe from the outsides of a briny ocean. It is so tough that a shrimp must actually pull itself out of the exoskeleton, it must "moult" because the chitin does break, soften or bend. 

    I imagine the piece of tail rotated and lodged so tightly in the pyloric valve that it wasn't going to budge. Nor was it going to dissolve from stomach acids.  

  Now I don't feel so bad. In a way, once again, there is a silver lining in a disastrous situation. Had Diamond not eaten the toy, she probably wouldn't have vomited. She would have just grown more and more ill, more 'dowly', for no reason that was obvious. Apparently food was making its way past the obstruction, possibly contaminating any wound the tail may have caused.  I possibly would have taken her to the vet with a "NDR"...that invaluable instinct I seem to have one, that one that means Not Doing Right. This instinct kicked in full strength the moment I heard her vomiting. 
     They would have done blood work, manually felt her gut but would only have found constipation, and sent her home. They wouldn't have done an X-ray for what appeared to be a metabolic problem.  I would have waited for her to "get it out of her system', without realizing until much later..perhaps too late..that it would not ever make it through her system.

    So, once again, this 'free' cat has cost a knee buckling amount of money to put her right. She's not home yet, I'll bring her home in a day or two after she's stabilized and the sutures have had a chance to really set. The vet made me aware that this 'free' cat most recent trip through Surgery Land is going to cost 'about' $2500. Yes. And probably more, because that's just the amount for the actual surgery, etc, not the stuff done yesterday.

    "Jumping", as my grandfather used to swear, "bald headed Jesus Christ".  That's a bunch of money that I don't really have. But I'll find it, somehow. 

    I've learned something about myself, as well. I can be hubristic. In the past, I've counseled people like me, those who aren't as rich as we would like, to set a price on one's pet when it's being cared for by someone outside the family. "Decide how much you can afford in an emergency"...meaning, if it's beyond that, have the animal euthanized. You have to do that when you're pet sitting for a friend who may be out of touch when a pet becomes drastically ill, and the petsitter must take it to the vet. I'd even have them write it down: "I authorize up to $500 in vet bills for my pet".

   However, you must set some sort of limit. You can't expect the pet sitter to front the serious money like I'm facing. That's not fair, nor reasonable. Professional pet sitters are professional pet sitters because they can't find a job that pays them so much money they can afford to pay someone else's vet bills. 

    You also don't want the pet to suffer, waiting for the owner to come back from some distant place. You'd better find a petsitter you absolutely trust to do the right thing for your pet, because sometimes the right thing, ethically and morally for the welfare of the pet, is the most painful, 'wrongest' thing for your heart.

   Last week, had you asked me what price I've set on Diamond's life, I would have said "a thousand dollars". Well, now I know better. It's going to be much more than that. But, I'm a silly old fool with that cat, as with all the cats I've owned and loved. She's not 'just' a cat. She's a sweet soul, one that loves me without reservation, one that can be counted on to be at my side when I'm laid low with a bug or surgery. She's the one purring on my chest. She's the one who comes to me in the middle of the night when, somehow, somehow, she knows I've had a nightmare. She's the cat who wants to be cuddled. Not Sable, my cockatoo/monkey/panther cat, the purebred whose royal Siamese pedigree is five pages long, going back 7 known generations. No, it's Diamond, the plain brown tabby cat of a lowbred, common Domestic Shorthair pedigree, out of a tortoiseshell feral mother and by some wandering lothario feral sire, who is the one closest to my heart.

Don't tell Sable.

20 April 2015

Needing some reassurance

     I'm throwing this electronic bottle onto the waves of the internet ocean, mostly because I need the possible hug I might get back.

     This is Diamond, one of my two cats. A shelter cat, we got her when she was just barely 8 weeks old. Her mother had been dropped off at the shelter and the next day, gave birth to I don't know how many kittens. The shelter doesn't have room to raise a bunch of kittens so they farm them out to people who foster them until they reach an age when they can be put up for adoption.

    The person who fostered Diamond's mother and siblings didn't do a very good job. When we chose Diamond and brought her home, she was unable to walk. She pushed herself along the floor like a brand new kitten. She also had not been properly weaned. I'd had her for less than 48 hours when I realized that she wasn't pooping. She was litter trained, but...no poops. An 8 week old kitten poops a lot. So I took her to my vet, who realized that the kitten had been eating kitty litter and her anus was 'cemented shut'. An xray of her bowels showed they were so full of feces that they were pressing up against her pyloric valve!

    She spent the next week in the vets, them trying desperately to get her to poop, and her bowels completely untrained to do so. It took a heavy drug of the sort that is not usually approved for kittens to get things moving. 

    She came home, traumatized by a week at the vets, and still unable to walk. We attributed that to the possibility that the fosterer had never, ever let the kittens out of a small kennel.
   She quickly learned to walk and now has no problems with walking or running, but she is clumsy and doesn't jump with the assurance that most cats do. This is a lesson for everyone out there planning on raising cats, dogs and horses for sale. Babies need plenty of room to run, jump, and just learn how to move. All those mental connections are made as babies, and if they aren't allowed to form, they NEVER do as adults.  Keeping a foal in a small pen may keep it safe, but it will never, ever learn how to move as well as one that is allowed plenty of room to run. 

    In Diamond's case, it was obvious the fosterer just wanted to get rid of the cats as soon as possible. She did not pay attention to the kittens-were they eating? Were they excreting? She didn't take the time to check if ALL the kittens were doing so.  She just raised them to the mandatory 8 weeks of age and returned the family to the shelter.)

   Most kittens that are weaned too early for ever after have mental issues. My sister had a cat that had been weaned too young and would suck on anything soft. Socks, blankets, towels...her cat was constantly sucking and ingesting fibers that played havoc with it's intestines. It was also extremely neurotic.

    Diamond, while timid, isn't neurotic, but she will also eat things that aren't edible. Twice before I'd made the mistake of leaving a toy out and once she finished 'killing' it, she ate it. One time she'd swallowed a small woolen ball, the other time it was  a red plastic nipple. 
 She vomited them both up and I learned to keep things out of her reach when we couldn't keep an eye on her. 

   This morning she started vomiting at 2 AM. She seldom if ever vomits unless it's to get rid of a foreign object. But this time, I just knew something was badly wrong. I managed to get her to the vet right after breakfast and they x rayed her. Sure enough, she has 'something' lodged in her pyloric valve. They're keeping her tonight, and the vet called and said she is 'stressing'. Well, yeah.......poor cat. She is afraid of the vet, as are most animals, and she's always been a cuddler...with me. Sleeping in a cage probably reminds her of her days at the shelter.

    When I got home from taking her to the vet's, I found the rag I'd used to clean up the vomit (at 2 AM in the dark). I found HALF of the toy she'd eaten. A 'mouse' made of stiff bristle fibers, you'd think a cat would find it inedible. Not Diamond. Worse, the toy had a metal wire sticking out one end. (this style is a new one, the one Diamond ate had a metal wire fishing loop inside to connect it to a string). But otherwise, it's identical.

    Now I don't know if she suffered a puncture while eating it or vomiting it. I called the vet asap with this information. They have to do surgery to remove the piece that's stuck in her system.

   Poor Diamond. I am so worried. She could possibly die of this, despite the best efforts of the vet. She occupies a very very large part of my heart.