Meet my cats.

Moochi is a grey tuxedo. At 13 years old, he is still playful. He loves to play hockey with crumpled paper and plastic milk rings. He nabs rubber bands, tosses and chases them. All of these toys end up in the water dish, where he loudly complains of their presence later when he’s thirsty. You must tell Moochi the night before if you get to sleep in the next morning. Forget to tell him, and he is yowling at the bedroom door at the usual wake up time because the coffee isn’t perking and you are still in bed. We make a game of getting out cereal bowls and milk at odd hours without making a sound. Every time, we turn to find Moochi looking for his share. He still runs through the house, over and under furniture, at top speed, with his younger “brother."

Frank Sinatra is a long haired albino cat with bright blue eyes (hence his name). Like most blue eyed albino animals, he is deaf. Yes, we taught him sign language and yes, he responds to it. IF he decides to respond. He is a cat, after all! Kitten Frankie was rescued as he strutted down the median of a six lane highway. At 8 pounds, there isn’t much cat under all that fur. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in energy. He loves to chase light. So if the morning sun creates a moving pattern through fluttering bedroom curtains, he will chase it all over the wall. No matter to him that he is jumping on your sleeping head to get at it. He took down a wall of picture frames doing this, using the frames as a ladder. Of all the many cats we’ve had, this is the only one that likes to knock things down. ANY item, from ANY surface, ANY height. We learned not to leave drinking glasses, anything breakable or valuable sitting around, day or night. We call him The Terrorist, sure he’s a member of al Catta. We thought he might grow out of it. But at 7 years, we’ve given up hope.

It was to be a fairly routine visit to the vet. We suspected Moochi’s urination outside the cat box was due to a bladder infection. Neither indoor cat had been vaccinated for a few years. They would both be groomed for the first time. That visit is a story in itself. Very stressed, both cats ended up sedated. Moochi got an antibiotic by injection, my choice over ten days of pills. Both got distemper and rabies vaccines. Both were groomed. Both were awake, though groggy, when we left the vet.

The next day they stumbled around, still working the sedative out of their systems. The third day they still weren’t steady on their feet, and I called the vet. She said it was odd, but not unheard of, to give it more time. Two days later, they weren’t walking much at all. The rare trip to the cat box, and a short visit to the food and water bowls was all they could manage. By the eighth day, they had stopped urinating, stopped eating and drinking, and slept in hiding places most of the time. Very hot to the touch through their fur, their noses were bone dry and hot. They were rushed back to the vet. Exams and blood work showed nothing unusual, except fevers of 105 (100 is normal). Mooch weighed 12 pounds, a full pound less than the week before. Frankie was 7.5, down from 8. Both were given hydration injections, good for three days. The vet’s only recommendation was to fix all their favorites, trying to entice them to eat. I baked chicken, made rice, put out tuna, a pat of butter on a saucer, milk, made tomato soup and warmed spaghetti sauce. Nothing. They weren’t interested.

I called my sister in tears, told her my cats were dying. Indeed, we were preparing ourselves for that last trip to the vet. She leaped into action, and got me going. We read dozens of cat articles online. A few of them referred to vaccine reaction, one calling it vaccinosis. We gleaned precious bits of info here and there. Finally we compiled a list of symptoms, all of which my cats exhibited: lethargy, no interest in food or water, no urination, hiding, sleeping most of the time, severe joint pain, fever, weight loss.

One article recommended a sports drink for the cats. Our vet, by now calling daily, recommended the pediatric electrolyte (pe) solution with less sugar. Our pharmacist gave us a few dosage syringes. We were very glad to see an unflavored pe with the chain’s label. A body can go a while without food. Without hydration, death can occur in three days.

Both cats seemed very glad to have fluid down their parched throats. Tapping the side of their mouths with the syringe, they opened up and drank. We did that several times an hour. The next day, fevers had broken, both cats were alert, and stayed awake hours at a time. We were elated. But we still couldn’t interest them in food. That day the vet recommended a paste available at pet supermarkets. It was high in nutrients and calories. It also came under the store label. Bits of it were placed on their noses and paws, and reflex made them lick it off. Hooray! We also put their favorite, tuna water, in the syringe, trying to jump start appetites. The main emphasis, though, was on the pe.

Next was physical therapy. Muscles break down and go useless in a very short time when not used. Fearing atrophy, we carried the cats to the center of the room, forcing them to walk back to their hiding places. This was hard to do, seeing how painful it was for them. Frankie could barely touch the floor with any paw, and frequently fell over trying to balance on two legs. We’d carry them to the cat box, but neither had the strength to climb in or dig. So we just laid a thick layer of paper where the box used to be. This also made it easy for us to see if any activity was happening.

The vet also said we could give 40 mg of aspirin to a cat every 24 hours. If you ever have to do that, do not buy coated aspirin! Low dose aspirin is usually referred to as baby aspirin. Avoid the orange flavoring. Adult aspirin is unflavored, and available in 81 mg tablets. Crushing a tab between two tea spoons, we dissolved half in the pe and gave it by syringe. When they started eating we mixed it with food.

We were running our own kitty ICU. After two weeks on the floor, checking hiding places and coaxing cats out, my knees were killing me. It finally dawned on me to close hallway doors to cut off escape routes. Duh!

The second day on aspirin, they began walking very short distances. They made trips to the cat box spot because the pe had restarted kidney function. Now we only served food in the regular kitchen spot. We carried them there once in a while to remind them it was there. If they got hungry, they’d have to walk to get it. We put pe in their water.

For a full week they walked slowly and gingerly. As their legs strengthened and they ate more, we placed them up on favorite places that weren’t too high (chair), and they climbed or jumped down. A few days later, they were attempting to jump, and days after that they succeeded.

We continued the paste. Both cats had lost a lot of weight. Thankfully, as they recovered, they started gaining it back.

We put away the syringes and paste the day Frankie knocked them off the kitchen counter. It was one month to the day from the vaccinations. One difficult, scary, heartbreaking, loooooong month!

Our hope is that none of you ever has to go through this. Our hope is that this story might save precious time for someone who does, and their babies get on the road to health sooner. Shalom.

Rev. Jaclin Meade Scott is BellaOnline's Bereavement Editor.

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