Zee and His Senior Cat Wellness Veterinary Emergency

His coat, once silky and shiny had lost luster. And his eyes, once bright and clear had begun to cloud. His body, once thick and full had lost some girth. Naptime consumed most of his day and his penchant for bringing a stockpile of plush gifts into the bedroom during the night had waned. But it really wasn’t a surprise. After all, he was nearly 14 years old, a senior cat, and the effects of aging were to be expected.

But despite the obvious effects of time, Zee, our handsome and loving Maine Coon cat was still very much okay. He still had a hearty appetite. He still enjoyed treats, playing with toys, conversing with Dan and me with his extensive meow vocabulary, and lounging on our outdoor tiki deck on those deliciously precious times when we’d bring him out for a supervised visit to soak up the warm sun, listen to the cacophony of assorted birds squawking their displeasure at his pleasure, and chasing the occasional unsuspecting lizard.

Zee lives for his outdoor moments, gratefully absorbing the warmth, sights, and sounds around him.

And being very cognizant of his age and the special needs of senior cats, I made a concerted effort to engage him in playtime activities on a regular basis that involved both the physical and mental – his new favorite being one in which he was rewarded a treat by figuring out how to dispense it from a puzzle I made by cutting holes in a small corrugated box. It was a simple puzzle, crudely constructed, but it brought him hours of occupied pleasure, nonetheless. I also groomed him every day and he had a set of stairs next to our bed, making it easier for him to jump up and snuggle with Dan and me at bedtime.

This silly puzzle box not costing me a single cent to make is Zee’s favorite cognizant activity by far.

Yes, he was a senior, but he was still very much young at heart. Still very much alert, and still very much our Zee, just a quieter, less active version. Officially qualifying as a senior, myself, I could respect that. My body was beginning to creak, sag, and wrinkle and I was far less physical than in years past. I wasn’t a spring chicken, but it didn’t mean I was ready to be put out to pasture either.

But even though he appeared alright, I knew better. Cats are masters of disguise, especially if something’s wrong, so it’s especially important for senior cats to have regular wellness visits to the veterinarian and I had been trying for about a month to schedule one for him. Developing a close relationship with your veterinarian while your cat is still healthy is imperative – this allows them to get to know your cat to help them detect subtle changes that may indicate a health condition or disease.

But we’d had a nonstop slew of visitors over the summer and I also started a new day job, resulting in me having to reschedule his appointment several times as I was only able to bring him in for Saturday appointments. Saturday, August 3rd at 8:30 a.m. was when the appointment was ultimately scheduled and when Dan and I picked him up from a sleepy nap on the couch in the morning to put him in his carrier, typical to his docile nature, he barely put up a fuss.

Even the random meows he emitted on the ride were half-hearted and when we got to the vet, he was showing no outward signs of stress. I informed the front desk we were there for his appointment, and a moment later I could tell by the receptionist’s quizzical look something wasn’t right. Sure enough, because I had rescheduled his appointment so many times, I had remembered the wrong day. Rather than try to squeeze us in, something I knew would entail an endless wait, we decided to bring Zee home and bring him back the following Saturday.

When we got home and let him out of the carrier, he hopped out with his tail held high, a twinkle in his eye, and a spring to his step as if to say, “See, I’m a brave cat, it’s no big deal I was randomly scooped up from a nap, put in a carrier, driven in a car, brought to a strange smelling place, put back in the car, and brought back home as if nothing happened!”

Sunday morning, not even 24 hours later, something was wrong. Terribly wrong. I knew the look far too well. Zee was on the hamper in the bathroom, napping as he did on most other mornings. But it was that vacant look. My heart froze, paralyzed from fear and I burst into tears, gently laying my head on his. No. No. No. This can’t be happening. It wasn’t his time. Please, Zee, don’t go. But cats react to our stress. I had to keep it together. I pet his fur and told him how much I loved him.

Zee on the hamper – I didn’t want to believe it, but the end seemed near.

I must have checked on him a hundred times, petting him and telling him how much I loved him. I don’t think he even moved a millimeter throughout the day, the up and down of his breathing barely detectable. Toward evening, I went into my office and somehow, he appeared from nowhere, in the office with me. I brought a blanket into the room for him to lie on and Dan came in, too. It was a bittersweet moment – Dan also knew the look and neither of us wanted to say it out loud, but we knew we were saying goodbye. Zee was lethargic, his eyes were glazed, he was drooling, and his mouth was open, giving his jaw a lion-like appearance.

None of it made any sense. There was no warning and my only mission was to keep him comfortable for however long we had. I went to get him some water in case he was thirsty, but it was also dinner time and I had six other cats to feed and they were in no mood to wait. I opened the pantry to get the food and there he was, Zee! Like magic, he had perked up and was circling my legs like the others to be fed! But after he ate, he became agitated, rubbing his jaw with his paw. It was clear something was up and after doing some research, his symptoms suggested they were probably the result of severe pain from a tooth infection or abscess.

Tentatively relieved we had a label to his ailment and could help him, whether a tooth extraction or something else, we did the best we could to keep him settled for the rest of the night. After much pacing and indecision of where to go, or what to do, he finally curled into a ball and slept most of the night on a blanket we keep in the living room. His sweet and fiercely devoted daughter Mia snuggled into his belly as if projecting her love and healing powers to protect him through the night.

While this picture is from 2014, the love and devotion Mia has for her Papa Zee has never lessened.

Monday morning, he ate, but barely, and he was still drooling with a swollen jaw. I called the vet as soon as they opened to schedule an emergency appointment for that day. They scheduled an appointment for 3:30 p.m. and though I had a new job and didn’t have any personal days, I asked to leave early. Zee was my only priority and I would figure out how to make up the time. Dan was waiting for me and together we took Zee, who, for a cat in pain, was in surprisingly good spirits.

We arrived at the vet’s office and it was clear we were going to be there a while – a result of several unexpected emergencies that day, causing them to run behind. But Zee was a trooper. He sat in his carrier and we unzipped it to let him watch the world around him – dogs, cats, kids, and more. He didn’t meow, he didn’t fuss, and he didn’t cower in fear.

An hour and a half later, we were finally ushered to the examination room, and Zee was just happy to be out of the carrier. He was attentive with Dan and me, he explored the room, and once the vet tech came in, he was equally happy to be attentive with her as she weighed him, took his vitals, and jotted notes about his condition.

Zee with his lion-like jaw in the examining room. He seemed to know we were at the vet’s office to make him feel better.

When the vet came it was a relief for all of us – we just wanted to know what was wrong with Zee and what we could do to help. Number one – his weight was down, so we needed to bulk him up. He had probably lost weight due to tooth pain, but the vet was not overly concerned. His tooth – yes, an infection. He would also need periodontal work in the future. But for now, his heart rate and blood press were good. And blood, urine, and stool samples were taken for further diagnosis. It was part of his wellness examination, but it would also determine if anything was connected to his jaw pain.

Wanting to wait for the test results, rather than jumping to x-rays and dental work, the vet prescribed a seven-day treatment of Clavamox to treat the infection and reduce the jaw swelling. I gave Zee his first dosage mixed with his food when we got home (he was ravenous) and he slept with us that night! On Tuesday, Dan sent me pictures at work, causing me to wonder if we had dreamt of the entire ordeal. One picture was him on the dining room table (one of his favorite spots) and the other, him atop a large panther sculpture we have. Both pictures seemed to blatantly imply he was showing off as if he were a teenage cat again! And since his vet visit, he’s back to eating, back to his puzzle box, and I’ve seen a few plush victims on our bedroom floor. But best of all, the vet called with great news – Zee’s blood and urine/stool samples came back, passing with flying colors.

My feeding ritual with Zee includes me diligently watching to make sure he has eaten his pill, along with me guarding him so the other cats don’t steal any of his food (the “even though you have the same food like me, your food is better than mine” syndrome).

Zee on the dining room table.

Zee atop the panther sculpture. Emergency? What emergency?

We are blessed to have our beautiful boy back and are cautiously taking it one day at a time. But it really stresses the importance of wellness checkups for our feline companions. Perhaps had I been able to take Zee in a month earlier, his infection would have been discovered, not rendering it an emergency visit. So many of the subtle signs our cats are giving us can easily be missed and it’s so important to pay attention to even the slightest change of habit, as it might be an indication something is amiss.

I am just grateful right now and I’m trying not to dwell on the inevitably that our shared time is but borrowed and brief. I’m cherishing every moment we have. Every time I scoop his litter, feed him a meal, brush his fur, hold him in my lap, or feel his warm body on top of my head when I go to bed at night is a gift.


Preventative wellness care is so important with senior cats – for more information on how you can help your senior cat live a long and healthy life, please read my award-winning article, Stairs, Safety, and Senior Cats – 10 Tips to Help Ease Your Cat Into His Golden Years, winner of the 2018 Cat Writers’ Association Senior Cat Well-Being Award. 

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  1. Wow, Deb, how scary!! I’m so glad that this situation has turned around. You had me near tears.

    You’re right – wellness checks are so important. Carmine goes every six months for one now that he’s 14. Being in tune with your kitties, the way I know you are, is also important. Sometimes people tell me I’m just being overprotective when I take my cats to the vet over something “small,” but I know when something’s not right, and I’d rather address it sooner rather than later.

    You are a most excellent cat mom, and all your babies are so, so lucky to have you! <3

  2. Deb I have to admit that early on in this post I found myself with tears – for you, for Zee but also for me as I remember the last month or so with my Sammy. Fortunately for you and Zee, there is much time ahead for you – getting his infection taken care of was a turning point most likely as our senior kitties can’t fight things off as easily as the youngsters can! It was more the description of how precious you felt the moments with Zee were as you began to have thoughts (although unfounded at the time!) of having to say the goodbyes to a beloved pet. Your words of wisdom will go to the hearts of everyone who grapples with keeping their cats in a priority spot in their lives and hearts. Healthcare from a good vet is more important than ever as our kitties age. Sending you hugs – long live your Zee boy……………..

    Love, Pam

  3. I was reading this with my heart sinking further and further and tears in my eyes. I really thought it was going to be sad news, but I am very relieved for all of you that he is on the road to recovery. Sending Zee lots of good thoughts.

  4. Ingrid King says:

    I’m so glad Zee is doing better. It’s so hard to watch our cats get older, and when something like that happens, it really reminds us to treasure every moment we have with them. Thank goodness you’re so in tune with him that you immediately knew something was wrong.

  5. Brian Frum says:

    We’re so happy that Zee is doing okay and yes, we know that feeling all too well and it’s very scary. Keep doing good Zee!

  6. We’re glad Zee is doing better now. You’re so right…regular vet visits especially for senior cats are so important.

  7. You KNOW I hold a special place in my heart for dear Zee, Deb, so my heart was breaking as I read your story as I feared for the worst, but I am THANKFUL that it had a happy ending!

    Maine Coons are known for bad teeth – we spent a fortune on Tsunami several years back for a similar problem – but he has been doing good ever since!

    Loved seeing Mia snuggle with Zee and praying that he (and Tsunami, who is just behind Zee in years) continue to live long, healthy, and happy lives!


  8. Oh my gosh, I would have been a basket case! You’ve got a dental appointment scheduled for Zee, right?
    Congrats on the new job!

  9. jmuhj says:

    Sweet, sweet Zee. *PRAYERS* for his wellbeing and for every day to be cherished.

  10. Sandee says:

    I’m glad you got through this issue and that Zee is doing much better. I’m a firm believer that our babies need to be checked out once a year when they are young and twice a year when they are older. It’s a good thing.

    Have a fabulous day and week. Scritches to Zee. ♥

  11. Linda S. Greenfield says:

    Me and my kitties (all rescues)…Samantha,Olivia,Henry and
    Jack…are sending your precious,beloved Zee tons of special
    healing prayers,positive energy and love filled comfort hugs!


  12. What a scare! I’m so glad everything ended well. What a beautiful boy Zee is.

  13. Thank goodness Zee is going to be ok!!! Dakota has been on Clavamox for an abscess too, he has been on it for a little over a week. His cheek was all swollen and it has gone down thank COD. He has to have a dental soon but we haven’t set the date yet because he has to have a chest x-ray first…….all of his blood pressure visits and the Vet bill from the Vet Internist that we saw last week have depleted our Care Credit supply…..ugh……such is life with senior pets!!! But………..we are BIG proponents for visiting the vet regularly. Both of my boys can attest to that! Kisses to Zee and (((hugs))) to all of you……….I know how nerve wracking this all is!

  14. Mary McNeil says:

    So glad your strong old man is sill with you !

  15. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    dood….we iz mega sorree, yet at de same time we iz buzzed happee it waz
    dis covered WHAT waz wrong N now ya can get fixed rite up…..we ask st francis
    ta send blessings N chillax bye yur side; himz all wayz willin ta lend a hand

    984 paws up all yur test ree sultz came bak sew good !~ ♥♥

  16. That was a gripping story with a happy ending! I have older cats and they do need to be seen more often for checkups, hopefully, to find if something is wrong before it gets worse!

  17. Ellen Pilch says:

    I am glad your sweet boy is feeling better. XO

  18. My goodness, my heart was pounding as I read this. I’m so happy he’s feeling better and purrs that you still have many years together.

  19. Andrea Dorn says:

    After reading your first book I feel as though I know Zee so I nearly fainted when I saw that photo of him on the laundry basket. I’m so glad things have turned around for him. Can’t wait ’til he has his dental work so I can stop being so nervous for him.

  20. I could sense your panic while I was reading this. I remember when I had to rush Brulee to the emergency animal hospital last summer, which resulted in a 4 day stay, how fearful I was that I was losing her. I’m happy to hear Zee is okay for now. I know you treasure each moment you have with your cats. Sending hugs and good thoughts.