Thursday, January 12, 2017

Possum Went to Angell

Vets always ask me about changes in "activity level" when I bring them a sick cat. When it's Possum, I never know what to say. He is so lazy that I'm not sure he has an "activity level." He trots for a few seconds about once a week. Aside from that he sits or lies around, often showing off his belly, as you've seen. He is only energetic when agitating for meals, when he stands upright with his paw up on the counter for support, smacking me with the other one and urging me to make it snappy. He probably burns a calorie or less daily as he tries to steal food from the other cats' bowls. His idea of playing is to swat at a pole toy if it comes within inches of his paw. His idea of hunting is to wait for prey to accidentally land in his mouth. I'm exaggerating slightly, maybe, but not much. Lethargy is his normal energy level.

So I have to go by his facial expression and appetite to guess how he's feeling. The day after he came home from Angell he seemed a little quiet and sleepy but that was not unusual. He looked fine, happy to be home. On Tuesday morning, he ate his breakfast of boiled chicken and probiotics with gusto.

Later in the morning I called Angell for Possum's blood test results. I hate getting test results more than just about anything, but I'd had a brief surge of feeling like a mature adult and decided not to just sit by the phone and wring my hands. The Angell liaison said the vet was at morning rounds, discussing Possum with the other vets. "WHY?" I heard myself say, "IS IT THAT BAD?" So much for being an adult.

I was assured that the vets discuss ALL the cases every morning. I recovered some dignity. The vet called a little later to report that Possum's blood work was normal. Her diagnosis was that Possum is developing a food sensitivity. She said we should feed him only one brand and flavor of food for a few days. I If he did well, we could do the same with every other kind of food to see if one made him sick. I was doubtful. While we don't feed homemade raw food, about the best diet for cats, we do feed canned varieties that I've chosen because they contain mostly lamb, chicken, or duck, and are low in unnecessary ingredients.

From what I've read, food sensitivities tend to be reactions to crappy dry or canned food, often containing corn and other grains, potatoes or other veggies, artificial colors and flavors, and sketchy ingredients like meat "by-products" that come from a rendering plant and are too sickening to even think about, let alone feed to a cat.

I pointed this out, but she was unfamiliar with the brands of foods we buy and wasn't persuaded. So I agreed to keep him on boiled chicken for a while until his digestive problems resolved, and then try an elimination diet of one food at a time. (Privately, I decided I'd switch to raw food in a day or two if he didn't get better. And make that permanent if need be.)

I called our own vet, since she works on Tuesdays, and she quickly arrived at a different diagnosis that makes much more sense: "paradoxical diarrhea." She said that when cats get constipated they sometimes vomit and leak small amounts of diarrhea, and that these episodes can happen many days apart. Which is exactly what happened to poor Possy. She agreed that, given what we feed our cats, a sensitivity made no sense, but that a diet high in protein can make some cats constipated. She suggested adding psyllium to Possum's diet. I asked about slippery-elm bark instead; she was fine with that.

So, we spent $600 on treating constipation. Am I kicking myself? I am not. When a cat of mine is miserable, I have to do the best I can, and I did. This was a valuable learning experience: I know about paradoxical diarrhea now. It was cheaper than going to vet school. In fact, I should tell that vet at Angell about paradoxical diarrhea since she and her colleagues never thought of it.

So we could relax and stopped worrying. Except that Possum hasn't pooped, as far as we know, since our vet visit. He might have sneaked one in when we weren't paying attention. I hope so. The slippery elm arrives tomorrow and I might try some myself, since it's soothing for IBS.

I asked Possum to please, going forward, try to only get sick on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, when our vet is working. He had no interest in talking about it; cats hate discussing illness or other perceived weaknesses or imperfections.

All he said was, "I'm paradoxical. Mysterious, enigmatic, fascinating, unfathomable, and ready for cheese."


  1. To attempt to help Chucky out with his constipation, we went to a novel protein, meaning one that he hadn't eaten before, since we didn't know what was causing his problem: turkey, chicken, salmon? For years, Venison and Green Pea was our staple, and the holistic vet was happy with our choice. Now, he's on Salmon and Green Pea, just because the Venison supply has dwindled. We did the slipper elm stuff too, and my cupboard is filled with bottles of this and that, trying holistic remedies. Here's hoping you find what you need to keep Possum happy! (Well, his intestines at least!)

  2. Some vets are so quick to jump on foods they can't control. it's really quite maddening.

    Cats can develop a sensitivity to foods later on in life, even good quality foods. It is rare, but it happens... but acutely like that? I don't buy it.

    I had a kitten who developed constipation and the stool ended up leaking around it. She was a little 'squeeze toy of diarrhea' for a day until I could get her into the vet and figure out what was going on. that was the kitten I learned how to give an enema to.. fun times.

  3. I spent most of 2016 and a good chunk of change trying to figure out why my 2 yr old was vomiting undigested food. She has always been on a high quality food (weruva and tiki). We tried eliminating proteins with no luck. Tried different proteins with no luck. All my vet ( who I do like and respect) and the internal medicine specialist could figure out was that she can't break down protein. So after much reluctance and moaning I gave in to the dreaded prescription diet. It's working but I hate every minute of it. Just hate it.

  4. and therein lies the brilliance of the regular vet, the one who gets to know the cats properly and understands them. But cats are rotters, and they do like to be poorly on inconvenient days.

    It also pays to stick to your guns when you know you are right when it comes to feeding your cat. Dudley has TD's, for his teeth. I'm pretty proud that at his age he still has all his own, and they aren't too bad at all. He has had them cleaned in the past, but I wouldn't put him through that again, not at his age. So the TD's were recommended as they help clean as he chews. A year or so later, at the same vets (though not the actual person who normally sees Dud) it was suggested he stop with the TD's and chew TK's - at least I think that's what they were called. I happened to mention this to a fellow cat lover friend, who told me that her cat had had the same nuggets but they had not agreed with him at all. Caused all sorts of upset and caper. Dudley seemed fine at first, so while I stored this info, didn't think it was relevant.
    Then it all kicked off. Dud was not well at all, lots of throwing up, constantly going to the toilet but not doing anything. In the end, to help me understand, he walked into a shower and pee'd onto the white floor there. Little bit of wee, and a little bit of blood. It struck me as cystitis, or the feline equivalent. So on a Sunday, with those lovely extortionate Sunday Prices, Dudley was seen and it was decided that it was the TK's upsetting his body, and he did indeed have a form of cystitis, probably thanks to the wretched TK's. Poor little chap. I'm so glad my friend had pre warned me, because thanks to her I knew it had to be down to the change in biscuits. I waffle on about this for two reasons, to say that I agree, diet is really important for cats, and as their friends, we tend to know best. They let us know in their own way what they like or need. And secondly, you are right. The money spent is worth it, to get them feeling well and happy again.

    By the way, Dudley and Possom could have been separated at birth with their activity levels. Sometimes I chase Dudley around the house, just to MAKE him move a bit or he'd do nothing but loll around and expect me to bring his food to him!

    I'm glad you have answers and a solution. Here's to a full recovery to the beautiful Possum.

  5. Our aging cat hast this issue (constpation). It's important to take care of it, because constipation in cats can lead to megacolon/permanent damage. Our vet told us to mix 1/8 teaspoon of Miralax into her wet food once a day. It's done the trick.

    If you try this, it's the unflavored, powder form of Miralax

    1. I occasionally give one of my cats Miralax, too. I use just 1/8 teaspoon. You can go up to 1/4 teaspoon but check with the vet first. The most important thing to know is to give the Miralax properly: dissolve the dose in some water first, then mix it into canned food.

      Miralax is the most popular brand but any generic equivalent will work and will cost less. The only ingredient is Polyethylene glycol 3350. I use Walgreen's generic brand.

      Canned pumpkin puree also works but some cats don't like the taste.


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