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 am 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 the 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 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 as 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.

hearts

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. Jo Singer says:

    This post was so beautifully written. I was in tears- so worried about Zee and I could feel just how upset you and Dan were. I breathed such a sigh of relief and had to wipe away my tears and smile, knowing that Zee was feeling so much better.

    Your words bring the stories you write about your cats and your relationships with them to life. It’s just as if you were talking to us personally.

    Hugs,

    Jo

  2. Robin says:

    How scary! I would have been in an utter panic. I’m so glad that Zee is still with us and feeling better. Hopefully, he still has a few more years left to enjoy with you.

  3. meowmeowmans says:

    Thank you for sharing this account of what transpired, Deb. It must have been so scary. We are so glad Zee is doing better. XO

  4. wendy says:

    Get a baby scale. Weight each cat at least once a week (more often if they are having any issues or are showing rapid or unexplained changes). Graph up the weights over time, to easily see the changes. This will give you the earliest possible heads-up on a huge range of kitty health problems. Getting and using a scale and keeping track of each cat’s weight and changes over time is the single moist important and effective thing we have done for our cats’ health.

    The other most important thing is to know where your nearest 24-hour vet emergency clinic is, and how to get there, If one of my cats had been acting like Zee was, I would have seriously considered a trip to the 24-hour clinic.

  5. OMC, how scary ! We’re glad Zee is feeling better ! Purrs

  6. Brendan says:

    So great to hear the patriarch is back in good health!

    Coincidentally, almost a year ago to the day, we had a small health scare up in Boston with Zeuss. In hindsight, it was very much nothing at all, but it was the very first time Zeuss looked anything close to ill. Therefore, it scared the life out of me for a short time.

    5:30ish AM, 8/13/18. Zeuss was standing on the kitchen counter, meowing, per usual, as I opened the door, and entered with his breakfast food bowl (Blue Wilderness dry and Wellness wet, mixed). I give his face my elbow on the way in, slowly but deliberately, as I do every day, and he wiped his whisker pads all over my elbow and triceps, as he does, 3-4 times. It’s just the morning “thing” we do. (Zeuss has “things” with everyone, for every situation.)

    He didn’t, however, jump down to the floor right after the breakfast elbow game and start chowing on the same thing he had eaten daily for 9+ years. He walked to the end of the counter, and yelled after me as I left the room. I turned back, and saw him jump over 1-2 feet to the kitchen table, and jump down to a chair, then the floor. I knew right then, or at least thought I did, that Zeuss was off. Meals are automatic for Zeuss. There is no hesitation. He doesn’t walk over to the chairs for a lower step down, he hops off the 3.5 ft counter and goes for the food. I was 100% on edge immediately. Breakfast with Zeuss is militaristic in its rigid form. I might be early or late, but he’s at attention and ready, and reacts the same way every single time. Except this day.

    I came home right around 2:30 PM that day, and Zeuss didn’t meet me at the door. He was still curled up on the couch, and he meowed as soon as I called to him, but Zeuss is as much an action guy as he is a vocal guy. He meets me either at the window or the door when I get home, ALWAYS, so long as it’s under 90+ degrees, and even then he’s often attentive enough to show up right away if I whistle for him. He got up when he saw me, but I had already decided, FOR SURE, it was vet time. Plus, breakfast was still mostly there in the bowl. When he passed up the lunch call, I was already dialing the doc. We were taking him to his vet in 24 hours.

    Thankfully, the story really ends there. Zeuss picked at his dinner a bit that evening, and was a sleepier version of his usual self that night, but was ready for breakfast like normal the next day. Took him to the vet that afternoon, and he was perfect, friendly and healthy. They did blood tests, which came back “pristine.” (They recommended a dentist visit, so we’re doing that this year. Seems even more appropriate after Zee’s issues.) I guess he was just sick for a bit, ate some bad bugs or leaves, had a kitty virus, whatever. The fact he is so consistent and predictable in his behaviors makes health checks a lot easier.

    Zeuss is so thoroughly Zeuss, at all times, that he’s his own best health monitor. Any signs of sickness or illness are so far from his normal behavior that they are glaring when they show up. Thankfully, they passed in a day.