My little girl Meg nearly died the other night. Her problem is one that shocked me, so I want to share with other cat lovers out there. You should know about this problem, and know to prevent it in your cat.
It turns out that if your cat stops eating for as little as a few days, it can throw him or her into liver problems that result in death if not treated. I had no idea. Here's my story of how my Meg nearly died, and where she's at right now.
Meg and Me Today
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone's generosity, I've got the cash to get Meg through it. Folks have continued donating after we reached the goal. It will defray the several hundred dollars of my share of the cost and I appreciate it. However, I want folks to know that we've reached the goal and you do not have to give anymore. If the donations exceed the actual vet bills, I will refund the most recent donations. I do not want to receive a penny over what this actually costs. Thanks so much. You have saved Meg's life.
I'm the proud Mama of three cats. All rescues. When I took them in, I had plenty of money from a job that gave me a migraine every single day (but paid well). In 2009, I decided that whatever I do for a living, I'm not willing to have a migraine 24/7. I became a freelance writer. Long story short, it's not working financially. So, I figured, I'd go to grad school. Because they pay you to go to school!
I looked around, found some great programs, and applied. I got into a few (none in my home of San Diego or even California), and I picked UW-Madison. That meant moving. Cats HATE moving.
Meg's best pal Raiden, seen below cuddled up with her, would do fine. She likes to explore my car and then sit near me for some pets and cuddles during the ride.
My third cat Molly doesn't like the car, and she deals with stress by beating up on Meg, so I put her in a carrier and kept her well away from Meg. She dealt with the ride just fine.
I had no idea that the move would nearly kill Meg. Literally.
Eight years ago, we moved from WI to CA. I didn't have Molly yet. Meg and Raiden refused to eat or use the litterbox during the car ride, but we stopped a few times along the way to visit friends and they ate when we stopped. It wasn't fun but it was OK. I figured that's what would happen again. Meg's biggest problem is peeing from the stress of moving. I was all prepared to have Meg pee everywhere. I got cheap scraps of fleece from the fabric store months in advance and let my cats lay on them to get their smell on them. I put the fleece in the carriers and sprayed everything down with happy cat pheromones.
We did the move over 6 days. Three days of driving, with three days stopped. During those 3 days (one in Utah, two in Colorado) my cats hung out in the Motel 6 while I went hiking in national parks. I thought the days in between the car rides would give them enough time to de-stress a bit and eat and drink and pee and poop and do all the other cat things that need to be done but can't be done in a car.
In retrospect, I don't think Meg ate. Meg's a large lady. She was well over 15 lbs. She's anxiety prone, and doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She has two great loves in life, food and ME. She's 9 years old, which means she's got about half of her life ahead of her if she stays healthy. I've tried to help her lose weight in the past but I just can't seem to get her to do it without stressing her out, so I finally decided to just let her be fat if she wants to be fat. She doesn't know that it's bad for her health.
It turns out that middle aged overweight cats are most at risk for hepatic hyperlipidosis - medical speak for too much fat in the liver. Here's how it happens. First, the cat stops eating. It can be as little as for a few days, or perhaps the cat eats but doesn't eat enough and does so for a few weeks. Either way, cat + not enough calories = catastrophe. Cats aren't set up for metabolizing fat.
So when Meg didn't eat during the drive to Wisconsin, her body started metabolizing her fat. Only cats suck at that. It ends up doing something super bad in the liver, which results in jaundice (the cat looked yellow) and who knows what else. Then the cat feels sick and doesn't feel like eating, so she continues not eating. And the one cure for the problem is: EATING.
Sometimes, there's an underlying cause that makes the cat lose her appetite. Some other health problem that makes her feel sick. But it can just be stress, and in Meg's case, I think it is. We're on a budget so we haven't gone crazy doing diagnostics.
We've only been in Wisconsin now a few weeks. We left CA July 29. On Friday, Aug 15, I took Meg to the vet. That's when they diagnosed hepatic lipidosis. I'm new here so I just took her to the closest vet to where we live. In retrospect, the vet was not good and I'm never going back to her. She recommended a few days of hospitalization, IV fluids, bloodwork, an ultrasound, and a few other things. In retrospect, Meg totally needed most of that - if not all of it. But when I asked about the price, the vet said "$1000-$2000" and never broke it down and went through it with me to decide what was needed and what wasn't.
The vet also did not make clear - or maybe she did not understand - how bad Meg was actually doing. Instead, she told me that the cheapest way to go would be to do the bloodwork ($90), get Meg set up with subcutaneous fluids that I give her at home ($20), give her some liver supplements ($30), and count her calories. She sold me some very tasty (to a cat) prescription cat food and told me to make sure Meg eats about a can and a half of it a day. But Meg only wanted to eat maybe half that per day. The vet said to force feed her the rest.
Well, I did that. Meg puked up a lot of the food I gave her, and puked up the pills. She tolerated the fluids OK. 30 hours later, Meg was staggering around like a drunk. It was 1am Saturday night so I called the cat ER.
Here's a pic of Meg around then, after I gave her a bath (she's still wet) because I got more food ON her than I got IN her:
In retrospect, that first vet probably should have anesthetized Meg and put in a feeding tube. It would have cost a few hundred bucks, but it would've saved my cat's life. But she didn't. When I got Meg to the ER at 1am on Saturday night (technically Sunday morning) she was deteriorating fast. The vet there (who was wonderful) told me that Meg's weakness and neurological issues could mean that her liver was shutting down. If that was the case, Meg was a goner.
We agreed that she'd check Meg's electrolytes and glucose to see what was going on. If Meg's liver was shutting down, I'd let her go. If not, we'd try to save her. The vet warned me it would cost about $700-$900 if she did everything she thought necessary. I'd already spent about $250 at the first vet. I was freaking out. I just spent a fortune to move across the country, and I don't start getting paid from my TA position til October 1. But making decisions based on finances almost landed me with a dead cat. The vet thought about it and came up with a plan that would cost $550. BUT, she warned me, if we got my cat stabilized with a tube up her nose, she'd probably still need a tube inserted into her esophagus for the long term. At that point, Meg was so weak that the anesthesia might kill her, so we had to go with the tube up the nose for the time being - but that wasn't a long term fix.
An hour went by with no phone call, so that meant the tests came back OK. In the morning, the vet called me to tell me that her potassium was low and that's why she was so weak. But it didn't mean her liver was shutting down. We gave her IV fluids with potassium and continued the tube feeding. That was Sunday morning.
Sunday night, I got a call around 6pm from the vet. A different vet from the overnight vet. He said she had no change but she was more jaundiced than before. He was talking about putting her down. We discussed it and decided to try pain meds and an appetite stimulant. She was tolerating the tube feeding without throwing up, at least. We'd see how the next 12-18 hours went and then decide on what to do from there.
Sunday night around 11pm, I went to visit her. She was weaker than ever. She couldn't walk and seemed catatonic. They laid her on my chest and we cuddled for an hour. As I said before, Meg LOVES me and gets stressed when she's away from me. After several minutes she began purring. Then she tried kneading me but wasn't really able to. After an hour she perked up enough that she got wiggly and active. I wasn't sure what she wanted, so I gave her back to the vet tech.
Today I just visited her. She's doing better. She still can't walk but she's trying to. She meowed a lot and was restless. She purred as I held her and sang to her for an entire hour. I feel bad for the vet and the clinic staff because the walls are not exactly soundproof and they were subjected to my bad singing that whole time.
Meg's potassium was still a bit low this morning, and her temperature is low. The vet's keeping her overnight again because they have an incubator to keep her warm, and they are trying to boost her potassium so help with her weakness. Tomorrow she's coming home with the tube in her nose, and I will feed her through it. Within the week, she'll probably need the other type of tube, the one that requires anesthesia. I've found a better vet to go to, one that comes highly recommended and is supposed to be reasonably priced, since the place she's at is an emergency care facility and they told me I can probably get better prices elsewhere.
When RenaRF set up the fundraiser and asked me how much was needed, I said $1200, assuming that it would either pay for what I've spent already + what we were trying and then it would either cover putting her down, or giving her what was needed to save her.
Thankfully, putting the cat down is now OFF THE TABLE. Meg's not out of the woods. She's going to make it - IF we keep up the aggressive care. I cannot thank Rena and everyone who has donated enough. For the past day it's been such a relief to make decisions based on what Meg needs and not based on money. Because when I was trying to help her without breaking the bank, I nearly killed her instead.
If your cat stops eating for a few days, take action. Quickly. It's a lot cheaper and less painful to deal with it quickly than to let it go until it's serious. I'm really surprised that I had never heard of something this common that happens to cats. If I knew how dangerous it was for a cat to stop eating for a few days, Meg would've never suffered the way she has, and I wouldn't have nearly lost her.
Thanks again to those who have donated. We still need a few hundred more bucks. If we can get that, then I can cover the rest, which I imagine will be several hundred more. But if we do that, she'll make it. If we stop now, I don't know that she will.