10 things I’ve learned from having a chronically ill cat

Guest post by Nikki
Who's the cutest epileptic Princess? You are! You are!
Who’s the cutest epileptic Princess? You are! You are!

Princess came into our home about four years ago when we began pet sitting her for two weeks. Four years later, we’ve accepted the fact that she’s not going anywhere. When we first took her in, her old owners said she had mild muscle spasms, but they were nothing to worry about. We discovered less than a week later that her muscle spasms were actually seizures, and she had her first grand mal seizure at 2am on our dining room floor that lasted close to an hour. I felt so helpless watching her six pound body twitch, seize, foam, and shake, knowing that there was nothing I could do about it. Since then her seizures have decreased in intensity thanks to medication, and now most of her seizures are under two minutes.

Over the past four years my wife and I have learned a lot from this journey with Princess. These are the top ten things we’ve learned…

1. How to cut, slice, dice, and divide medication

Our vet said to us once “you’ll feel like a drug dealer most days, I know I do.” And this statement is oh so true. Cutting pill tablets, opening pill capsules to get the white powder out, and lacing wet food have become part of our daily routines. Before Princess came along neither of us had experience doing any of these things, and now a life is depending on our knowledge. We’ve become very skilled in these things and have it down to under a minute most times (unless a certain somebody is howling at us because she wants her “special treat”).

2. Monitoring weather patterns and weather pressure

We’ve come to realize that her seizures have a lot to do with the weather — including barometric pressure. So we’ve started to monitor these things. The last time I learned about weather was in grade 10 science, but the both of us have become skilled in learning the highs and lows so we can keep a better eye on her.

3. The power of calm

Our house needs calm energy. This doesn’t always happen, but we both know it’s important, especially after a seizure. Cats are sensitive to human emotions and, if there is too much negative energy floating around, it impacts the epilepsy. During, and after, a seizure the both of us have to calm ourselves down, even if the both of us are worried about her.

4. Schedules, schedules, schedules

When you have a pet/human/creature that requires medication to be administered twice a day, you learn pretty quickly how important schedules are. When one half of the parenting duo works shifts it becomes more difficult to stick to a schedule, but you learn to make it work.

5. Never give up

My wife and I have been to so many different vets for answers over the past four years — trying to find answers and the right medication for our girl. We were told by one vet that it would be best to put Princess down. However we haven’t given up, and we won’t give up. Right now we have her stabilized and have an amazing vet that isn’t giving up either.

6. Trust your gut

There have been several times where the both of us have known something was wrong, or that something was going to go horribly wrong, and 99% of the time something did go wrong. Most of these times was when we knew that Princess was going to have a seizure. One horrifically memorable moment was when we both getting ready to leave for a day trip out of town. We both stopped outside our apartment door and went back in to find Princess stumbling around, about to head into a lengthy seizure. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t gone back in.

7. Other cats can sense a seizure coming on

We have two other furbabies and our oldest (Tuffy) has become somewhat of a seizure alert cat for Princess. If Princess is about to head into a seizure Tuffy will do whatever it takes to get us to Princess or to get Princess to us. There was one time where Tuffy would not let me leave the apartment (and I mean she would not let me leave. She kept biting, nipping, and howling at me if I tried), and it’s a good thing I didn’t because Princess went into a small seizure five minutes after I was supposed to leave. Both cats will also watch over Princess during and after a seizure to make sure she’s okay.

8. Cats are tough as nails

There are days where I can’t believe how tough Princess is. She’ll go from a seizure to a hellion in under five minutes flat. I’ve seen her jump back up from a seizure and beat up one of our other cats less than three minutes later.

9. If you find a good vet, stick with them

After taking Princess to roughly five different vets we’ve finally found one that wants to find answers and get Princess stabilized. Dr. Julia is the first vet that actually mentioned stopping the seizures for good, and will run the proper blood work. It’s been a rocky road, but we’re near the end of it.

10. Love, pure unconditional love

I’ve learned true unconditional love through all the pets I’ve had growing up, but Princess has reinforced it. Having a cat coming out of a seizure purring, and looking at you with those huge eyes, just kills me. I know that look in her eyes is love, and it pulls on my heartstrings.

Patience, medical skills, the value of therapy… What have you learned from your chronically ill pet?

Comments on 10 things I’ve learned from having a chronically ill cat

  1. I just wanted to send hugs and good mojo your way. I once had a sweet lil dude with mild Cerebral Hypoplasia- he was wobbly on his feet, but full of love. I was heartbroken when he developed FIP at just over a year old. His decline happened over a matter of days, and he was gone. The vet assured us that he’d been a happy kitten and was lucky to have been ours. Even sickly animals need love.

  2. This sounds like such a tough situation. Princess is lucky to have you two for owners. (And I’m sure you two feel lucky to have her too).

    I’m curious what you do when she’s actively seizing. You say you first felt helpless because there’s nothing you can do, but later mention being thankful that you hadn’t left for your trip because you were there when she went into a seizure. So is there anything you can do? Is it just a matter of making sure she doesn’t hurt herself further and providing comfort afterwards? Or is there something you’re able to do to make the seizures less severe as they’re happening?

    • if they’re mild seizures I can cuddle her and rub her shoulders. If my wife is home she will sing “soft kitty” to her. If we can’t cuddle her we watch over her, monitor her breathing, and talk to her. After a seizure is over we keep her calm and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself

  3. My cat Chachi had chronic kidney disease on top of intestinal small cell lymphoma, and I learned what an amazingly good cat he was. So many pills, injections, subcutaneous fluid therapy that I had to administer every single day and he just took it like a champ with little to no complaints. I thought to myself “Wow, I’m good at this, I should be a vet tech!”

    However, I realize that Chachi deserves more credit for being good than I do for being skilled. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to go through that medication regime with my current cat, who is a lot more difficult to handle.

  4. As a fellow seizure pet caretaker, I am sending you internet hugs. One of my Australian Shepherds (there are two in charge of me!) has had idiopathic epilepsy since he was a puppy. He is 7 now and happily hikes, camps, and roadtrips with us still. His seizures are mostly controlled with two medications given several times a day and we have been very fortunate to find wonderful vets in all of our travels. It isn’t easy to manage; we have gone through so many tests and medications but it has been worth it because he has many more years of happy adventuring with us.

    All of the vets we’ve seen have suggested we talk to him and gently pet him (not near his face) during seizures and it seems to help him come out of them more calmly. We’re also fortunate that he feels them coming on and finds us so we’ve learned his way to tell us it is about to happen. Our female Aussie tries to lick his face or lie down next to him when it happens; it is both sweet and heartbreaking.

    I think the worst one was a seizure that started as soon as I had let a new plumber in the house. My seizing dog was so focused on the stranger that he started growling at the plumber who I had to ask to wait out of sight on our staircase for almost a half hour. The plumber turned out to be a really nice guy and always asks to give both dogs treats when he comes over for work now.

  5. My cat was diagnosed with asthma 6 years ago and boy has that been a wild ride. Turns out I know more about feline asthma than most vets in my city, and I live in a very metropolitan area. We’ve been through pills, shots, and are finally on an inhaler regimen that prevents attacks 90% of the time. He still has them, but they’re not nearly as bad and the rescue inhaler works wonders. It’s taught me patience, above all else. And that I’ll do anything for my fur kiddos. 🙂

  6. In July 2014 our 6 month old kitten Daedalus was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. We were told that he had 2 weeks left to live. 8 months later and he’s still wrecking havoc in our house! This reads like a diary entry. I send out so much love and positive energy to you and Princess. The only other thing I’ve learned is to be patient with other people. Some people have made comments questioning why we would spend so much time/energy/money on a pet’s medication and vet visits (yes my cat has a cardiologist). I usually just smile and show them pictures of my furry baby because his love is all that matters. You will have to explain more times than you can count that no you CAN’T just drop everything for a trip because your furry companion needs medication on a schedule and it’s inconsiderate to call the 1 person whom you trust and who knows your animals to come and watch them with less than 24 hour notice. When people give you a hard time and say ‘Oh come on, its a cat! Just leave some food out, missing one day can’t be THAT bad’ You just have to smile, nod and politely decline. Not everyone is going to understand why, but being able to wake up to the unconditional love and purrs of happiness make it all worth it!

    • 🙁 Our kitty had a heart murmur, probably caused by an enlarged heart (although we didn’t realize the reason at the time). He was a wonderful kitty and never showed any symptoms but his heart stopped randomly one evening when he was three. It was so sudden and we hadn’t even realized that we should really be worried for his health, so it was pretty heartbreaking. But he’d had a wonderful life and even that night had gotten a big dinner and lots of attention, so he was happy. Just thought I would share, I guess. 🙂 Your kitten (cool name, btw!) reminded me of our Samwell.

      • Our kittenboy has mitral valve dysplasia, and I’m so glad the vet who heard his heart murmur on his first post-shelter checkup sent us to the cardiologist. Somehow, as hard as those cardiologist visits are, and as anxious as I get, it helps to know that we’re doing our best. He’s doing great for now- most days it looks like he’s training for the kitty Olympics, and the cardiologists said we could wait two years in between heart sonagrams this time. Thankfully, Sage has a sense of humor. Once, when the vet tech at the cardiologist’s office asked whether he had any issues with exercise intolerance he jumped onto her computer keyboard. I hate knowing that what we can do is limited, and someday I’ll probably come home to find him lying dead somewhere. But he’s got a great life and a great family and that’s what matters.

        • It’s great that you’re doing all you can for him. And I’m glad he doesn’t seem to mind! If it’s any consolation, if you ever do just find him gone one day, I’ll relate how exactly our Sam died, because it was darn quick and peaceful. We had just come home from a walk, and he walked up and rubbed against my leg, then flopped over for tummy pets like he usually does, and then that was it. My husband started petting him but he wasn’t responding, it was weird, so we tried to make him react and he wouldn’t. He had literally died right there, that quickly. We of course raced him to the vet hospital 3 minutes away, but they confirmed that he’d already been gone. And if he had to go, that’s how I’d want it to be. Anyway, hope your Sage lives a good long life!

    • Our cat Sam has an enlarged heart and he is now the ripe old age of 13. It was discovered when he was two years old when they were x-raying him for a broken hip. Enlarged means no surgery but he recovered, slowly from the broken hip and with medication for his heart, he has lived a long and healthy life and is continuing to do so.
      His original diagnosis was that the upper age range for a cat with his condition is 7-9 years, he beat those odds a few years ago.
      We have been very lucky

  7. Ironically reading this while trying to get a urine sample from my baby (urine sample from a cat who we took to the vets because he’ll stand in his litter tray and spray out of it. Currently have 2 litter trays next to each other, one in the splash zone, non absorbing litter down and a perspex sheet to protect my walls)

  8. Interesting that the weather has an impact on seizures. My cat has occasionally had seizures in his life, and for a short stretch was having them every couple of weeks and now they seem to have subsided for the last year or so.
    We don’t why he has them and some times I can tell when one is coming on, tests were not conclusive about what was causing his seizures. We just keep an eye on him if he has one, and make sure that he will not hurt himself on anything and then let him rest quietly after.
    He is also on heart medication and thankfully he takes pills like a trooper, I don’t have to disguise the pills just open up his mouth and pop it in at the back and he will swallow it. In fact he will usually track me down twice a day to get his pill followed by a couple of treats afterwords for both cats.
    Cats are amazing and resilient creatures.

  9. What a lucky kitty to have such great parents! This all could have been written by me, just exchange the kitty for a doggy and seizures for shar pei fever (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shar_Pei_fever). It’s the worst feeling in the world to be helpless and just have to watch them suffer through it, hoping that they’ll be ok.

    I actually have one of those weekly pill organizers to make sure that she gets all her pills at every meal. It’s a life saver, especially when the other partner that doesn’t normally administer pills has to do it. I’ve become a bit paranoid about leaving her alone because if we don’t get medication in her quickly it is very dangerous, so we have an ip camera that I use to check on her from my phone while I’m at work. I know, it’s a little crazy. But it also came in very handy when we went on vacation for 2 weeks, I felt much better that I could check on the empty house.

    • We use a pill organizer for our dog’s seizure meds, too! It makes it so much easier to verify that he has had the right meds already especially when husband and I have very different schedules. It also makes it easier to ask the few family members and friends we trust to give him meds if we stay out for a late dinner or event. This way, whomever is handling it knows exactly what to give him. Our boarding place loves that we use it and hand it off to them because they can see his next dosing and I know where we are in the dosing day when I pick them up. I’ve also created a label on the back of it that has a picture, name, and schedule for the meds inside along with contact info for both of us and their vet.

    • My shar pei/pit mix has shar pei fever, too! Unfortunately she seems to have inherited all of the bad genes from whatever her parents were. It never occurred to me to install a camera to check up on her while I am at work. She has only had a three fevers (that I am aware of) but she has so many other related oddities that I worry. Right now we are trying to figure out why she has refused to use her right hind leg for the past month despite it being structurally sound.

      She keeps me busy, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world! My husband has often complained, only half-joking, that if there was an emergency I’m more likely to save the dog than him. He’s probably right – but at least he has a better chance of escaping emergency with his thumbs, advanced critical thinking skills, and fully functional limbs.

  10. We’ve been cat-sitting for a friend of ours for about 10 months now. We have a 6 year old cat of our own as well (who doesn’t have any difficulties apart from being f’in mental, and refusing to go outside when there are other cats around).

    Dharma is 14-years-old and diabetic. She likes to drink out the tap (just like our other girl), but can’t jump up there so needs to be lifted. She needs to be injected with insulin twice a day. Her vision isn’t great. And she’s extremely attention-seeking!

    Things I’ve learned over 10 months:
    1. Cats are amazingly adaptive. If we don’t give her her insulin, she comes and finds us and meows at us until we do it. She knows what she needs! She deals with her injections just fine, stands still while you do it… incredible!
    2. Cats are the sweetest things on earth. Dharma was pretty scared when she first was dropped off with us when her owners headed overseas. She wouldn’t come out of her igloo, swiped at us if we came near… she slowly came out of our shell. I remember the day when she shocked us both – she’d obviously decided that she was just going to get over it and get on board. We were watching a movie when she came out to the lounge, jumped up on the fold-out couch, and curled up across both our chests. AWWW! Now she sleeps on the bed with us and purrs her little heart out.
    3. Cats use people insulin! And when I pick up her prescription from the pharmacy, everyone looks at me and probably assumes my parents were hippies when they call out “prescription for Dharma!”.
    4. It’s okay if cats don’t get along. Both of the cats in our house are anxious, and probably don’t realise they’re cats – because they don’t like any other cats. They adapted and just took over opposite ends of the house. They still hiss at each other if they accidentally come within a metre of each other, but at the end of the day, they’re fine in their separate spaces and manage it.

    Dharma is leaving us in a couple of weeks as her parents come back to NZ, and we’re going to miss her terribly. As annoying and terrifying as those early weeks were, she’s absolutely become a part of our family 🙂

  11. This post and entire thread of comments makes me happier than I can describe. To see so many folks taking such good care of their pets is just wonderful. I used to be a veterinarian, and got so used to less-than-ideal owners that I ended up changing careers entirely. Seriously – you guys warm my heart.

  12. My grandad used to say “If you have an injured cat, put all the parts in a box and they’ll put themselves together again.” For all the reputation of being delicate and finicky they are tough creatures.

  13. Not a chronically ill cat but our Sir Dudley had a urinary blockage back when I was suffering through working a night shift. I so very agree with the need for a good vet because many probably would have pushed surgery or euthanization but our vet cleared the blockage and encouraged us to get dudley eating all wet food all the time and stress reduction. As mentioned above cats are receptive to emotions and my stress was stressing him out. I demanded a day shift to return to a more normal routine and our lovely boy has been much happier and healthy ever since with just wet food with water added in.

  14. About six months ago my husband and I found out our almost two year old female, Flash, had been born with chronic renal dysplasia. Basically her kidneys never properly developed and she has no way of filtering toxins out of her system. We were referred to an amazing vet in Bowie, MD who kept her over the weekend and the original prognosis was that she had about 2 months left to live. She went over all out options, including putting her down. Outwardly she is a happy little kitty and we did not feel it was time to end her journey with us.

    We took her home and have been following a medication routine that has a miracle for our family (we also have a 6 year old male cat, Roscoe). She takes prescription renal food twice daily along with Azodyl (oral pill) and Epikitin (powdered food additive). We are well past the original prognosis date and she is such a trooper! I hate to think what may have happened if we had not brought her to see Dr. Simmerson at Dogs and Cats Veterinary Referral.

    My husband and I have definitely grown as a couple during this time and are learning how to cope with the eventual loss of our little girl.

  15. As a vet tech, you are my favorite kind of owner. The ones who love their animals so much that they will do anything for them. I see far more crappy owners than good ones so people like you keep me going.

    Princess is very lucky to have found you. I just want to reach through my computer and hug you right now.

  16. This hit me especially in the feels today.

    About 7 years ago, I adopted a wonderful orange tabby who, I found out after, was diabetic. The prognosis was not good and I didn’t know what was going on. After struggling between vets we finally were able to find him a good one who understood we knew what we were doing. Most diabetic cats, to my understanding, last only a couple years at most.

    With our care team and our love, we were able to get him seven years before his health totally failed. After trying some interventions, our vet told us that he had other issues as his diabetes was coming back under control (he had a serious blood sugar spike). He was declining and we decided it was best to put him down — that was literally Saturday morning.

    But, damn if we ever got a good run. And damn if I totally get the deeper understanding of what it means to love a pet and sacrifice for your furbabies.

    Thank you for this. It made me feel a little more solace while I’m, admittedly, still aching.

  17. My own little princess was diagnosed with Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia back in 2005. A blood transfusion, several “crashes” and lots and lots of tests and drugs later, she’s still around at the ripe old age of 14. Consistency and timing of her meds are important, not to mention she’s tougher than she looks. I cherish every day I have her.

  18. Both of my boys have issues to manage, but thankfully they aren’t seizures. I am not sure I could handle seizures. My Milo had a UTI that nearly killed him (5 days at the vet with a catheter – funnnn) and it left him with kidney damage. So he’s on a prescription food for the urinary issues and we have to monitor his box usage, but thankfully that’s it. My Monroe is our newest. We’ve only had him 2 months and he’s got a slightly deformed ear that is prone to infection and MASSIVE wax buildup. So I have to give him ear drops once a week.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned from both of them is to not feel guilty at being the bad guy when I have to administer medicine. I have to practically sit on Monroe to clean out his ear. He haaaates it, but I know that if I don’t do it he’ll be worse off. It took some getting used to. I hate that he hides afterward, but I know its in his best interest.

    • Our Buster had major urinary tract issues that resulted in frequent blockages, and eventually he had to have the Perineal urethrostomy surgery to widen his urethra (I know, it makes me cringe too – but it was that or put him to sleep, so we did it!). He was still having some issues after the surgery, and our vet recommended that we put him on what’s basically a human antidepressant. I have to say, it has worked wonders. He has not had an issue since he’s been on the pills. Just wanted to throw that out there in case you have further issues with Milo – it has basically saved Buster’s life!

      • That is good to know! I will keep it in mind if he ever relapses. Thankfully with the change in food we’ve been 2.5 years blockage free with no signs of relapse. I’m glad you were able to save Buster! 😀

  19. As a person with epilepsy, I can say that most of these points apply to more than just kitties! Very nice post.
    One of our cats senses when I’m having small seizures. Whether she decides to help or not depends on her mood :).

  20. Our three cats are on more prescription medications than my husband and me combined. (We once had a total of five kitties, but lost two to cancer between July 2015 and January 2016.) One of our little girls has kidney disease, thyroid disease and high blood pressure. She gets a thyroid pill and 1/4 of a BP pill in the morning; half a thyroid pill and half a Pepcid in the evening, and subcutaneous fluids every 4 days or so. But the good news is that her kidney disease has held stable for more than a year, which is NOT what our vet was expecting. Our other little girl has had seizures since she was a kitten, but they have never been frequent enough to warrant medication – and fortunately her last one was something like three years ago! We’re hoping perhaps she outgrew them. We also noticed that our other cats were able to tell us when she was about to have a seizure, which was extremely helpful – but man, the agony of watching that teeny little girl, and feeling so helpless…I’d be happy to live my life without repeating that experience. And our poor little boy – he’s had various urinary tract issues and blockages over the years, finally culminating in a Perineal Urethostomy about three years ago. Even after that, he almost blocked once, and the vet told us that if he went into a full blockage again, we’d probably have to put him down. We put him on Elavil (yep, the human antidepressant) which has been found to help male cats with UT issues – and haven’t had any issues since!

    I also wanted to recommend the Care Credit card for anyone who wonders how on earth they’re going to pay for emergency pet issues. They almost always have 0% interest promotional periods, and they have – quite literally – saved our cats’ lives on more than one occasion. One year we had something like $8000 in emergency cat expenses and we certainly didn’t have that kind of cash flow readily available.

    • Clevelandkat, I am also a fan of Care Credit. Just paid off a $2100 bill for my own emergency dentist visit. Interest free. It’s a comfort knowing we have the option of using it if we have an expensive kitty emergency. I’m sorry for the 2 kitties that you lost over the last year, and I hope your 3 continue to do as well as possible with their illnesses.

      • Hi Jane! Thanks so much for your kind words, and especially for the reminder that Care Credit can be used for People medical stuff too! I am not a proponent of credit cards in general, but that peace of mind (usually interest-free) has helped my family out on more than one occasion!

  21. One more thing I want to add: If your cat won’t take meds in pill pockets or in food, putting meds into gelatin capsules can make pilling easier – especially if you are dealing with multiple tiny fractions of pills (check with your vet to make sure the meds are compatible). You can find empty gelatin capsules in various sizes at health food stores.
    I lost my own Princess (the kitty with IMHA mentioned earlier) at the age of 17 – 11 more years than I expected to get. I miss her so much, but I’m thankful for every year I had.

  22. So happy to find your page as my 6 year old Simi (feline) has suffered with seizures correlated with flea meds, essential oils (my fault!) and more recently changed in barometric pressure. I thought I was crazy about the pressure changes. As spring approaches, she has gone from 0 seizures all winter to 1/week for the past 5 weeks. Started her back on meds. May I ask the medication and dosage as well as weight of Princess?

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