Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Feeding the Cat

In my first post, I said I'd try not to bore anyone with cat stories, but that's history now. No one is reading this anyway.

Our 14-year-old tortoiseshell, a doll-face Persian named Snicky (actually Snictoria), has been losing weight, not eating, not playing, just lying around. She once weighed close to 7 lbs. and she dropped down to 5.8 lbs. two weeks ago, which is worrisome. It's the equivalent of you losing 20% of your weight. Unlike our other two cats, she never ate much or seemed interested in food; I used to joke that she absorbed moisture and nutrients from the air. As the others were galloping to their food dishes, I would issue daily instructions to her: "Snick! That's food there, in your bowl. Put your face in it and chew."

She's an odd cat. I look into her owl eyes and I have no idea what's going on in that tiny brain. I watch her walk, with her front paws elegantly turned out in a ballerina's first position, and I wonder where she learned that. I watch her carry her pipe-cleaner toys and place them across her bowl, even though they make it tough for her to reach her food, and I don't get it. I understand a lot about my other cats — and we all talk to each other all the time — except for why they eat plants and throw up.

Snicky had the basic tests to rule out various diseases, including a full-body X-ray, and she'll have an ultrasound next. First she needs to finish the antibiotics for a urinary infection she got about 10 days ago. We know she has early-stage kidney disease, as many older cats do, but it's not severe enough to be making her lose her appetite.

We think at least part of her problem is due to her being high-strung and sensitive, and our being bombarded with construction noise from the apartment below every weekday. This has been going on for more than two months and there's no end in sight — and very shortly after it began, the cat stopped eating. The noise is relentless: yelling, banging, hammering, drilling, nailing, stomping, a compressor, singing, Irish sarcasm. We're also dealing with dirt, dust, and smells filtering up here, because this condo building is still essentially a 19th-century house, porous, with no soundproofing or seals between the floors.

I sense a connection between the cat's illness and the noise, the vet suspects one, and more tests will tell us if it's something more serious. (I dread getting medical test results more than anything — even more than the test itself — whether it's for me or a person or animal I love. It gets worse as we all get older and more fragile.)

To help Snicky gain weight, we give her appetite-stimulant pills. Even though she's declawed and tiny, she transforms into a ravening, blood-thirsty banshee if you try to groom her or give her a pill. She bit straight into into my thumbnail the other day; It's still recovering. And it isn't as if we have no experience with pilling cats. We have decades of experience. She's a shrew.

But the pills work. She just ate most of a can of Fancy Feast trout. We're elated. Normally, I would find that stuff too disgusting to even put in a dish, but I've grown hardened. We've dealt with many revolting prescription cat foods lately, chopping it all into icky little puddings with extra water and flavor-enhancing powder. Yum. Yesterday's can of sardines and tuna was the winner: I'd swear it had fish eyes in it. She's finicky and we have to keep offering new things many times a day. Or she just sits by her bowl and stares at us with those alien orange eyes.

She's gained two-tenths of a pound, which the vet says is promising.

A side-effect of the appetite pills is that cats become more vocal. Snicky previously had little to say, although she had an irresistible "silent meow" if she wanted milk or a treat. She would also complain for a few minutes, every few weeks, in a long string of chirpy meows, as if she'd been storing up a lot of private comments over that time and needed to get them off her chest.

Now Snicky often sounds as if she's being fed into a wood-chipper. Her howls usually mean she's hungry or wants to drink from the faucet, but not always. They go on through the night. I didn't know she had a foreign accent. Usually it's her sibling, Snalbert, who entertains us with cat speeches in the middle of the night. Now he's competing for air time.

We are going to Paris soon, and I considered bringing Snicky along to keep an eye on her, but I know she'd hate every moment. Because she's such a demon about pills, and needs frequent feedings, we will board her at the vet while the other cats have a sitter. She will hate that, too, but they claim there Feliway pheromone spray will make her calm and relaxed. I hope so.

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