Saturday, May 10, 2014

Not a Good Day for Lion

Don't ask me how, but Lion managed to get hold of a Neko Flies pole-toy attachment I was keeping "safely out of reach" on a bookshelf about 5 feet high. A bookshelf that had never been touched by any of our cats in the 16 years we've lived here. No one ever got remotely close.

Holy cow: I just went to the Neko Flies site and found this warning on the front page:
Some cats become so enamored and hooked on NEKO FLIES that they have been known to try and get the toy off a shelf by themselves! This is an interactive toy for a human to play with the kitty, so keep your Neko flies tucked safely tucked away in a drawer or closet until you are ready to play with your cat again!
That could have been written for me.

We came home from visiting an open house in Brookline (meh) this afternoon, and found the remains — part of the string and a soggy, furry toy — in the bathroom.

Of course, there was no way to identify the culprit, although I thought Lion looked a little less innocent than usual. I also knew he still had lots of play left in him after our morning session with another Neko pole toy.

We raced all three cats to our vet because timing matters when a cat has swallowed string. We know this because we are Experienced. Very Experienced. We knew, for example, to bring both the remains of the toy and a complete version, so they could measure both and figure out how much was likely to be inside the cat. Luckily, the metal clip on one end was missing, and would show up on an X-ray.

Getting everyone into their carriers is always a nightmare. Poor Toffee rolled off the table onto the floor in his carrier as we were chasing Lion. Lion needed a great deal of chasing before he was ultimately cornered. He flung himself about madly in his carrier as we drove. He peed a bit and bit me through the carrier's mesh. I didn't mind a bit; I could see how scared he was.

Lion attacking a giraffe toy on a better day. He loves to play.

I wanted the vet to X-ray Lion first, but he was the last cat in line because my husband felt sure it was Toffee or Harris. An expensive bad guess. The vet emerged triumphantly with Lion snuggled in her arms, and showed us the metal clip clearly visible on his X-ray.

Then we raced off with all three to Angell Animal Medical Center so Lion could have an ultrasound ASAP, to prove the cord was still in his stomach and not in his intestines, out of reach of an endoscope.

When cats swallow a foreign object, there are three procedures available if you don't want to play the waiting game for it to pass. (Waiting can put the cat at risk for intestinal blockage, causing tremendous pain and internal damage, requiring complicated surgery.) First, they can give the cat a powerful emetic and hope it vomits, which rarely succeeds. (Cats throw up at the drop of a hat unless you want them to. Then: forget it.) Second, they can do an endoscopy if the string is still in the stomach and not in the scary territory of the intestines. That ought to bring it up safely back up the esophagus, the way it went down. Third, abdominal surgery can remove it from anywhere in the digestive tract.

We were in such a hurry to get to Angell in time for Option 1 or 2 that we forgot to take the remains of the toy, and didn't stick around to see the bill — we jotted down our credit card number and said, "Whatever!" (It was about $500. Which we'd expected, since we are Experienced.)

It turns out that Lion swallowed 60 cm (2 feet) of tough synthetic cord. Enough to be a Problem.

When we checked in at Angell, things became a little surreal. For one thing, they were having a flower and bake sale in the lobby, so there were tables full of flowering plants and cake, cookies, and cupcakes, which we managed to resist during the hours we spent a few feet away from them.* At least the place wasn't busy. No heart-breaking dramas were enacted in the waiting area, as there often are. Instead everyone was chipper from all that sugar.

That was the good surreal. The bad surreal was that we knew Lion needed an ultrasound immediately, but the vet assistant assigned to us as we sat in the waiting area kept coming around to say things like, "Well... we're really hoping our radiologist will have time to do an ultrasound on him because she needs to leave at 4 today." When 4 pm was still three hours away. After a few of these updates that were always along the lines of  "Well, maybe we might do an ultrasound..." I got fed up and began asking rather pointedly if we could be directed to a hospital that could do an ultrasound as soon as we got there. Because our cat needed an ultrasound. STAT.

I asked this again as I was signing the treatment estimate, which ranged from $2,000 to $4,000. You might find that shocking, but that indicates you are not Experienced. We didn't bat an eye. Not batting an eye while asking for directions to the other big hospital — in Waltham, Woburn, Wherever —  finally got us some action. Lion got his ultrasound, and the string was still in his stomach. They were already prepping him for endoscopy when we got the news. He had swallowed too much string to try the vomiting drug, which rarely works. (It once worked for Toffee, and they were stunned.)

They sent us home, saying they'd be in touch in a few hours, after the surgery.

We were in the car when the call came, 20 minutes later, that it was done and they'd gotten all the string. It was waiting for us in a little pill container when we picked him up this evening. He was still groggy, they said, but was so unhappy in his cage that they thought he'd do better at home than staying overnight.

His belly and both front paws have been shaved so he looks silly. And everyone but Toffee has been hissing at him all night because he smells strange, or because Possum and Harris love the melodrama of pretending not to recognize him. But he is eating and acting like himself, and seems just fine.

Needless to say, no more string toys will be stored on that high, "safe" shelf. Any future string toys (and this last one just cost us $1,800) will be stored in a box, maybe a locked box, in a drawer. But it's likely my cats will figure out how to open drawers and boxes, using keys or cracking combination codes. I will believe ANYTHING after today.

* I had a little box of Rolos and Reese's I'd gotten for free in the jewelry department at Neiman's, of all places, the day before: perfect ER sustenance. And I baked brownies tonight, at my husband's request. We've been trying hard to cut down on our sugar consumption, but liver trouble be damned. We did not have a good day, either, and chocolate is often the best medicine for that, especially with a tall, cold glass of milk.


  1. Good heavens! I'm so sorry for little Lion and you and your husband (I imagine all three of you suffered equally). I hope the other cats stop hissing at the poor thing today and that he (and you) recover quickly and fully. More chocolate seems a good idea.

    Best wishes,

  2. I really hope he isn't trying to out-do Toffee for visits to the E-vet!!
    May they all have a safe and happy Mother's day and let you just enjoy them as the healthy little fluff balls they are.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear this but I hope he is feeling better. I have to keep those toys locked in my pantry. However, my cats have learned the sound of the pantry door opening so now trying to get food out is challenging as I am also shooing cats out. I have to plan my trips to the pantry to do as much as possible so I only have to open the door and have them come running as little as possible.


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