Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Toffee Troubles

It's been a little over three weeks since our last emergency trip to the vet with Toffee. We're overdue.

I heard him retching the other day. I've kept a closer eye on him since, as retching can mean he's eaten another foreign object. I found him retching again yesterday, rather spectacularly, although nothing came up. He's still young enough that retching freaks him out. I was worried, naturally. And, naturally, it was a few minutes after 5 o'clock, because our vet's office closes at 5.

Normal cat owners hear a retching cat and think "hairball." We're nervous about Toffee since he bit off and ate a length of string and a fabric toy. Toffee does things that never occurred to any of our (many) other cats. I often wonder what might be inside his little belly. I'm careful about storing objects like hair elastics, twisties, and coins where he can't get to them. I've banned rubber bands from coming in with the mail. We've tried to cat-proof this apartment but Toffee-proofing is a different game altogether.

When he swallowed the toy and string, he had a strange reaction to the drugs that induced vomiting. He was barely conscious for about 12 hours and it was puzzling and scary. It's unlikely they'd give him those drugs again. They might start with X-rays and do an endoscopy.

I called my husband, who was in meetings until 7. No answer. I texted. He called back in seconds. If it's a Toffee-related message, I get instant results. Toffee is his precious darling. (In any other crisis, I must be sure to mention Toffee if I want a fast response. As in: "Zombies are invading Back Bay; Toffee seems concerned!")

We decided I'd call Angell Memorial Animal Center and get our kitten there myself if necessary. I kept looking around the apartment while all this was going on... for what? A partially eaten toy? A scrawled note from Toffee reading, "While U were OUT i ATE something BAD"?

I did find this:


That is not a fake-fur hamster, it is a mouse missing a tail. As you can see below, the tails on such mice (I guess gerbil is a more accurate term) are substantial, about 3" long and 1/2" wide. Toffee loves them.


It was snowing; the sidewalks and street were white. I wondered how long it would take a cab to arrive if I needed one in a hurry. I dialed Angell and reached a "liaison." Toffee's file was fresh and detailed, and the liaison contacted the vet who'd treated him during his last misadventure. Her instructions were to monitor him; if he retched again. we should bring him in. A long piece of fake fur could be trouble inside a kitten. Her next shift began at 7 am.

He seemed fine. An hour later, I discovered I was mistaken about that tail after all — I was still roaming around when I found another brown rodent that still had its tail. We must have nearly a hundred cat toys, and while I do keep track of many of them, I can't remember them all. At Christmas, I'd bought more fake-fur mice, including one with feathers for a tail. Toffee had ripped off the feathers very quickly. And I'd kept them, for no good reason. On the "hamster" in question, I detected a couple of tiny, broken white threads that matched the threads wrapped around the feathers:


Toffee may have swallowed something, but it was not a fake-fur tail. 

He curled up with us at bedtime after the usual foot-biting. Shortly before 5 am, we heard him throwing up in the bathroom. I was awake anyway, thanks to a muscle I'd pulled in my back the day before as I was looking out the window. (I should avoid such strenuous activities, but a new pain turned out to be a refreshing change after months of the same old aching muscles in my back, hips, and legs.)

My husband cleaned up the mess. He said it was "a lot of food, no sign of a toy." Damn. I got up to charge my phone and then lay awake mentally packing my bag with snacks and reading matter for a day at Angell. I decided I'd call our vet first; they know the Toffee story and I trust them to know what's best.

They open at 8 and I knew they'd want all the details. I pulled the paper towel with Toffee's puke from the trash to investigate. Inside (TMI warning) I found undigested vegetables from his dinner and a hairball.  It was small, garnished with a pine needle and a bit of mylar fringe from a sparkly pompom.

I could have confronted my husband, saying, perhaps: "Since when is a hairball the same thing as 'a lot of FOOD'? Shall I make you a hairball for dinner tonight?" I refrained. Age has mellowed me, given me wisdom and maturity. I can control my tongue at least 10 percent of the time these days. My husband is besotted with Toffee; I've never seen him like this with any other cat, not even his girls Snicky or Wendy. He'd lain awake beside me worrying, too. 

So I just showed him the hairball instead.

We will probably never be mellow where Toffee is concerned. We'll gather up all the cat toys and do a safety audit. While I'd never buy toys I'd consider unsafe for most cats, I will reexamine them with more paranoia. The toy mice may all become hamsters, although that would disappoint Wendy, Harris, and Possum, who like to carry toys by their tails. Wendy's tiniest sparkle pompoms will also have to go, and anything with yarn trim. We can't keep worrying like this. 

 Toffe contemplates future excitement beyond eating mouse tails.

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