The vet looked at me and said, “He’s alert for now, but if we don’t fix him soon, he will go into a coma and die.”
This is what happens when you haven’t noticed that your pet cat is straining to pee but nothing comes out. This is what happens when you think you know how to deal with a bladder infection because you’ve done it before, and you get antibiotics from your vet and wait for your cat to get better. Because he always does.
Thursday he was acting sick. Saturday I got off the phone with my sister and went to check on my cat Inky. He was lying on my bed. When I petted his back, he made a long, strange cry.
I called the emergency vet and they told me to bring him right in.
When I sat his carrier down a tech whisked him away. I did not see him again until he was caged and sedated, in preparation for an emergency procedure.
In a small and quiet examination room, a vet explained that his bladder was completely blocked and distended with urine. Toxins were backing up in his system, and they needed to do a blood panel to see what his chances were of surviving anesthesia.
That’s when my heart just bottomed out. My cat was dying. My strong, healthy, five-year-old cat was dying. It was my fault. He might not live the night, and he could die of organ failure even if he was catheterized safely.
My friends only heard “catheterization,” and I bet they wondered why I was so upset. When they heard “$1300 vet bill” and “two nights in the ICU,” they started to understand.
The emergency vet charges up front. They charged me $1000 for the catheterization and two nights of meds and care, and another $300 for if his heart stopped during the procedure and they had to take measures to save him.
That made me fell just like you might think it would.
But don’t get too upset. This is a story about life. This is a story of a cat that lived.
I spent the afternoon at REACH, the emergency vet.
I saw a sad family in the waiting area making sighs of acceptance, even laughing in the way people do in the wake of tragedy, with sadness and relief. A tech brought them out a large cardboard box held closed with masking tape, and they trooped out together.
A couple walked out of the room I had just been in and collapsed onto a bench together, silent, devastated. Their grief was different than the family’s, deeper and more painful somehow. They didn’t touch each other, didn’t say a word. They just sat together in silence with their grief around them like a haze.
I wondered if the family had lost an old and loved pet, and the couple, like me, had been careless. I thought maybe they lost an animal that was young and strong, and felt the extra hurt that not only did death do its thievery, but it stole away long, strong years of life and smeared a living creature’s last hours with confusion and pain.
Did they leave out the antifreeze? Forget to close the gate? Wait too long to make that expensive trip to the emergency vet?
REACH is a strange place, scary and beautiful. It’s always clean, and soft music plays. It’s part hospital, part ER, part hospice, part morgue. I went one time and saw fresh red splashes of blood in the parking lot where someone had rushed out of the passenger side of car, holding an animal bleeding its life away.
Another time I saw that the area by the door was wet, freshly hosed down. In midwinter. Blood again.
While waiting for results that would tell us more about Inky’s chances of surviving the procedure, I saw a beautiful pastry-colored brown-and-yellow Husky pup whose back legs had suddenly become paralyzed. I saw a sad, quiet family holding an old beagle wrapped in a yellow blanket. He had set her down too hard, the father said, and she had yelped, and now something was wrong with her.
Inky’s results came back–much better than expected. They would knock him out and catheterize him that afternoon.
I got a call around dinnertime from the vet. The catheterization had gone well, but Inky’s bladder was full of blood and clots. “So far, so good,” the vet said.
That wasn’t the assurance I so desperately needed, that he was out of the woods, that he was all right. That his kidneys would still work. I went to bed and tossed and turned all night.
I woke up the next day, put on my cheap red Kmart bathrobe and walked into the kitchen with my cell phone. I faced east where the sun was already brightening the horizon and called the vet.
And that’s when I heard the words I wanted to hear.
“Inky is doing great.”
He was purring and head-butting, even eating a little. When I went to visit him, he purred for a chin-rub and clawed my arms with his back legs in his strangely affectionate disemboweling move. Even with the ridiculous Elizabethan collar on and and a tiny hose up his wiener, he wanted to play.
He stayed another night in the ICU as they watched him and pumped him full of fluids.
He came home on Martin Luther King Day.
We weren’t quite out of the woods. He starting peeing blood on Tuesday. Two more vet trips and an ultrasound failed to show what was keeping his bladder irritated.
A dear friend loaned me an excellent cat book that argued logically and persuasively that cats need a wet diet of real meat, and are prone to obesity, diabetes and UTI’s when fed dry food, because it keeps them chronically dehydrated.
And here I thought I was doing right by my cats by feeding them high-quality, organic meat-based dry food. The day I switched Inky to low-carb Petguard canned food, he stopped peeing blood. So far I’m sold on the idea that cats evolved in the desert and don’t have a body trigger to drink more on a dry diet. It’s been a hassle, but I’m feeding the gang wet food from now on out.
So here I am with a recovering cat. Here I am walking out of the emergency vet feeling like a mystic, feeling like life is sacred, swearing to become a vegetarian, swearing I will be the best cat caregiver in the world from here on out.
The world without my cat still feels very close. In that world I got a cardboard box of my own, and buried my cat in the cold, cold ground in the coldest week of the year. In that world I am still consumed by guilt.
In this world I am lucky.
In this world I am telling everyone that a blocked bladder–which male cats are prone to–is a major, life-threatening emergency. Go to the vet, now. Your cat might not even need catheterization, and the regular vet is a lot less expensive than the emergency, after-hours vet, so you might not have to pay what I did.
If you can’t pay for the procedure, I’d tell the vet up front you don’t have the cash and ask what you can do to make them feel comfortable working with you. Go to another vet if you have to. My city’s SPCA chapter helps pay for costly vet bills and yours might, too. There are also payment plans and loans for costly procedures. Stay calm, logical and polite and get the help you need.
I think vets fear jackasses who desert their pets when the bill is large, not ethical, honest people who sanely seek help when faced with a bill they can’t afford.
In this world my cat has a shaved belly and two odd shaved rectangles on his sides where a vet looked at his kidneys with ultrasound (cat’s skin, where their fur has been shaved off, is wrinkly and delicate and as soft as microfiber). In this world he ate a noodle from my dinner plate last night. He later curled up in bed and rested his head on my leg, as he has done since he was a kitten found wandering a video store parking lot in a strip-mall wasteland, and someone gave him to me to find a home for.
The woman who found him said she opened her car door for him, and he jumped right in.
When a cat has a blocked bladder, it might be hard to notice as he will try to pee. Look and see if he’s actually peeing or just squatting. Other signs to look out for are a tender belly, back and sides, meowing for no reason, listlessness, not eating and vomiting. If you think your pet has a blocked bladder, get him to the vet immediately.