Cats Know

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In the beginning, God created man, but seeing him so feeble, He gave him the cat.  Warren Eckstein

My cat is firmly ensconced under my bed, beyond my reach.

She is on to me.  We are fifteen minutes late for her appointment for a B12 injection.  Perhaps the first give-away was my sing-song attempt to cajole her to the kitchen to eat some more food before our departure.  Or the real hint came last evening, upon my placing the cat carrier in its usual spot near the front door of the living room.

Cats never miss a clue.  Their 24/7 radar makes them keenly sensitive to all the sights, sounds and smells in the environment, and the behavior of their owners.  On this particular morning, my timing was off.  I was too late in taking advantage of Fiona’s accessibility on the bedroom floor before she got the picture.

A few months ago, I brought this 13 year-old feline to the vet for a regular check-up and to express concern about her diminished appetite and perceived underweight.  My suspicions were confirmed when she weighed in at 7 1/2 pounds, much less than the standard  10 pounds for her breed.  This is a cat who, a few years ago, was described by this same vet as a “biscuit shy of 12” pounds.  He warned me about feline diabetes and counseled me off cereal-based foods and  crunchy snacks, which she loved.

Intervention began with the extraction of two rotting teeth, to avoid infection and possibly increase appetite.  A subsequent visit two weeks later revealed that Fiona’s weight had dropped another half pound.   Some thickening in the bowels was sensed during the surgery, and it was suggested that an ultrasound would be the next step in learning what was causing poor appetite.

This was getting serious.   While it was clear that this pet was very ill, I was inexperienced in more serious medical interventions for cats, and my feelings of dread mixed with guilt about the financial toll this care might take.

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I mean, really.  How cute is that?  How could you not want to do whatever you could to make sure your kitty is healthy and feeling alright?

The ultrasound and other tests, performed at an emergency animal hospital,  revealed suspected inflammatory bowel disease:  a thickening of the intestinal wall, accumulated fatty tissue in the liver, and inflammation of the pancreas.   She would require B12 injections and two medications — one to reduce the inflammation and the other to reduce stomach acid and increase appetite.

Fiona is a moderately friendly cat.  On a Feline Friendliness Scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being satanic and 10 being  doormat, I’d give her a 7.  I was in denial about this until a few years ago, wanting badly for her to be liked by other humans.

She greets most visitors, but not all, and often joins a crowd in the room — surveying the group and, no doubt, sizing up each person for individual critique.  She is a single-human lap cat.  She has hissed at and swiped at folks on occasion, to my embarrassment.

She is anything but docile during vet visits.   I am in awe of  the reflexes demonstrated by physicians and assistants alike, who yank their heads back in just enough time when she swats at them.  I bet their training requires them to take classes in this skill:  Prevention of  Face Shredding 101, or Physician Self-Help:  Keeping Your Eyes.

They regularly coat their hands with pheromone wipes before handling her.  In a report following an unexpected visit to the emergency animal hospital, prior to the ultrasound procedure, she was described as “fractious” and having an “aggressive nature.”    I soothe myself with the thought that that fear is really at the base of this behavior, and it is in an animal’s nature to defend itself when threatened.

Following the diagnosis of IBD, the emergency hospital assistant briefly demonstrated, on his own face, how to administer the medicines by mouth.  My eyes went dull as I watched him take his thumb and forefinger, mimicking prying open his own mouth.    I gazed at my hands, trying to recall if I had band-aides or gauze at home.

My regular vet would write the prescriptions for the medicine.  Three weeks of B12 injections would be necessary, and two medications would need to be administered daily.  A one-week supply of both, in pill form, were provided.  Two initial “pilling” approaches were described:  bury the medicine in a “pill pocket,” a tiny square of putty resembling raw cookie dough, and a tool to veritably “shoot” the medicine down the cat’s throat.  This small medicine pistol was a cross between a pair of safety scissors and a syringe, with a slotted rubber tip at the end.

I rejected the pill pocket option, knowing that Fiona was simply too bright for that and would probably be insulted by discovering this in a bowl of food.  I dismissed the pilling tutorials as impossible to carry out, and because I was not prepared for the prospect of plastic surgery to re-attach my nose or learn how to use a bionic hand.  So I resorted to what I knew from my childhood, when we used to administer aspirin to our German shepherd, Duke, when he developed arthritis:  I would crush up the tiny pills and bury them in her moist food.

This was minimally successful.  Fiona continued rejecting much of the food offered.  I tried crushing the pills with the back of a spoon, and then chopping them to dust with a small paring knife.  I later began folding the pills inside a paper towel and smashing them with a hammer.

Given the limited success of that effort, I researched demonstrations on YouTube.  I watched one in which a vet pilled a cat while his assistant held it gently on a counter.  This meek feline allowed its head to be tipped back as he pushed his forefinger into the front of its mouth, depositing the pill into the back of its gullet, then massaging its throat gently with his fingertips, and blowing lightly on its nose.   The cynic in me couldn’t decide if this guy was a cat whisperer or if the poor animal had been slipped a mickey before the filming.

Still, I had to try the pilling procedure.   Friends who own cats that have been ill told me they they’d simply had to learn to do it themselves.

If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

My vet had explained that I should “burrito” Fiona in a towel or blanket, place her against my chest, and insert the pill pistol into the side of her jaw.  Not fully following her directions, I made my first attempt as she lay contentedly in her cat bed.   Naturally, she pulled her head back with a start and jumped up, the pill flying past her jaw and ricocheting off a wooden file cabinet.

In my second attempt, I followed the procedure more closely.  I crept up behind her as she sat on the floor in the living room.  Clutching a blanket in both hands, the pill pistol reloaded and engaged, I swept her up and squatted on the floor for leverage.

It was over in approximately 6 seconds..  She stiffened and yowled, sprang from my chest and sailed through the air, landing by the front door, swallowing several times.   The pill pistol, still loaded, lay on the carpet beside me.

Given my score of  0 for 2, I gave up, concluding I would never be a member of the esteemed cat pilling community.  Between the increased visits to the vet, the foreign tastes in her food, and my trying to shove strange objects down her throat, this cat was only being made more wary about her circumstances, and more vigilant about my behavior.

Here’s how I know this.  Shortly after this incident, she began closely monitoring my whereabouts, peering at me from around a corner or behind a curtain, only to dart back when we made eye contact.  She

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developed new hiding locations, also, exploiting my laundry routine and  taking inspiration from the classic film, E.T.

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One time she actually tiptoed along the living room wall in a pair of shades and a London Fog  — but the joke was on her, because she is the only cat I have.

Upon my reported pilling failure at the next visit to the vet, she announced it was time to go with the method of last-resort:  creating the medications in flavored, liquid form.  A pharmacy the hospital worked with specialized in this approach.  Flavoring in chicken, tuna or salmon versions could be added to the medications, which could then be administered with a syringe or squirted directly into the food.   I was ready.  It had to be done.   Medications were ordered in salmon flavor.

Fast forward to today, and the beginning of this essay.   I called the vet to explain my cat-under-bed predicament, and the receptionist assured me I could come any time before noon.  Ten minutes later, Fiona emerged from her hiding spot.

This time I was ready.  Before she could comprehend what was happening, I scooped her up and walked her to her open carrier, pushing her in, all the while trying to assure her what a good kitty she is and that this visit was going to make her better.

Still, she whipped around in an attempted to escape the carrier, which by now had become a symbol of doom and discomfort.  I managed to push her back in while she launched into the familiar heart-ripping feline cry.

This visit for the third and final B12 injection was blessedly brief.  And the good news:  she was up to 7.97 pounds, so the pulverized powder form of the medicine was perhaps doing its work.  This was a good sign about a return to health.  And I looked forward to the arrival of the liquid medicine, figuring this would be much easier to administer and would allow me to return my hammer to the tool box.

I have learned a trio of important things during this journey in pet care.

One belief has been reinforced:  cats know.  They just do.  Stop trying to think you’re ahead of them.  They are leaving you in their dust … or their litter.  Or the dust from their litter.

The English language remains creative and dynamic:  we humans like to create new words, or alter their original grammatical structure by changing nouns to verbs, i.e., “pill” and “burrito.”

There is value in having simple, attainable goals.  Some things you can do your self, and some things you can learn to do  — but it is important to pick and choose those things.   Some people remodel their own kitchens,  repair their own major appliances, change the oil in their own cars.  Some pill their cats.

I admire such abilities.  In my world, assembling a small book shelf or shoe caddy is an accomplishment.    So what if I can’t pill my cat?  I’ll help her get better by squirting salmon-flavored medication into her food.   I love her, even in her 7 Feline Friendliness.  And I’m optimistic about her recovery.

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So optimistic, in fact, that I’m off to Home Depot to purchase a new toilet seat.