Monday morning Charlie, my brown tiger tabby, ran past trying to get to the stairs before me. As he turned to go down his back feet tangled and he almost fell. It struck me as strange but he recovered immediately and raced down to the first floor. When he mewed to be let out there didn’t seem to be a problem so off he went. He was gone all day and it was after 9 pm when he finally reappeared. He was a mess. He could barely walk. His legs didn’t work properly. He looked like a furry four-legged drunk. That might sound cute in theory but in real life it was scary as hell. My first concern was that he’d been hit by a car. The second was that he might have been shot. I live in a rural area and though rare that kind of thing does happen. He didn’t seem to have any marks or tender areas. His symptoms started getting worse. There was something wrong with his eyes. It was after business hours so I decided to take him to the emergency clinic in London (about a 45 minute drive from home). He usually puts up a fuss about the cat carrier but he was quiet on the way in.
The vet technician did Charlie’s intake. We waited for the doctor to come in. It was a long wait. It was a busy night at the clinic. Charlie sat up on the examination table. He wasn’t even trying to move any more. He looked, to be indelicate, as high as fuck. His eyes were wide open but non-reactive. His head was slightly tilted back and to the side. His gaze seemed to be fixed on the ceiling lights but I didn’t get the impression that he saw them. Whenever there was a loud sound in the clinic he would flinch but otherwise he didn’t move. When the vet came in to examine him the first thing she did was put her face right up to his. He didn’t see her. She flicked her fingers in front of each eye almost tapping the surface. There was no flinch, no change in pupil dilation…nothing. She listed off possible causes (some with really long names). Then she asked me if there was a possibility that he had gotten into some marijuana. I guess she thought he looked high as fuck too. I assured her there was nothing like that in my house (there isn’t). She asked again suggesting that perhaps “teenagers might have dropped some on the side-walk”. I informed her that I live in a rural area at the edge of a small hamlet. People don’t walk in front of my house. I have farm fields behind my house but one is lying fallow and the other has soy beans in it (no place for pot plants to hide). My nearest neighbours, on my side of the highway, are ½ an acre away to the west and east but if they were smoking pot outside I would have known (no secrets in a small place). I’d had my roof re-shingled the week before but I’m pretty sure roofers, a roof with an extreme pitch, and pot, don’t mix on the job site. If my cat had gotten into something toxic it wasn’t “weed”. She explained some possibilities for tests and treatment and then went off to put an estimate together for services.
As I waited for the veterinarian to return I could hear what was going on across the hallway in another room. What sounded like a senior couple had brought their dog in. The dog had been vomiting blood as well as bleeding from the back-end. The vet was telling them, in the kindest way possible (there’s no use sugar-coating it) that she didn’t know what was wrong with their dog Mickey, that it was going to take a lot of tests and a lot of money to figure that out, and that they would need to make a decision because it wasn’t going to be a cheap or easy journey. I would see them later in the lobby settling their bill. They were taking the dog home and the wife was crying.
When the vet came back with the estimate it was $1100 to $1500. I signed the paper and put the deposit on my credit card. She mentioned marijuana again and I realized she thought I might be lying. I can’t be mad about that I guess as I’m sure they do have people lie to them. Still the fact that I had just agreed to pay up to $1500 for my cat’s medical treatment should be a pretty good indication that I wouldn’t be holding back any info that would help it. I do have to say none the less that I was very impressed with the staff at the clinic. They obviously care deeply about the animals in their care. While being completely professional they went out of their way to be kind and comforting during what was a very difficult/emotional situation.
After a battery of blood tests (all negative though that didn’t stop the day shift veterinarian from mentioning pot again the following day), and a night on IV, they were still no closer to a diagnosis. They had ruled out toxic exposure as after 24 hours something toxic would have been flushed out of Charlie’s system by the IV (resulting in a cessation of symptoms) or the toxin would have killed him. Charlie didn’t seem to have any injuries and there’d been a great deal of improvement but he still couldn’t walk properly. The vet hypothesized that it could be something called Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. It usually goes away on its own but occasionally some long-term symptoms remain. He might have Feline Infectious Peritonitis (dry). There’s no definitive test or set treatment for that. You just do your best to make your cat comfortable until they pass (death occurs in a relatively short period of time). It might be a brain tumor (unlikely though for how quickly his symptoms developed) or some other kind of neurological disorder. There was nothing to do but wait it out so I agreed to take him home. To add to the stress of the situation, while I was waiting for them to get Charlie ready, a pet owner who’d brought her dog in had a (possible) heart attack in the waiting room. She kept apologizing to me, the vet, and the receptionist, whilst panting in pain waiting for the ambulance to arrive. After she’d gone I went to finish up the finances and realized I’d lost my credit card sometime between paying the night before and picking up Charlie to take him home.
It’s been a couple of days. I can see improvements though he still has the head tilt. I thought he was a little further along and allowed him access to the main floor of the house. He had a spill down the basement stairs. He’s very tired. He tries to do the things he could do before but his body says no. He doesn’t understand why he can’t go outside. His entire life has changed and I don’t know yet if it will be a permanent change. Despite his illness he is still his unfailingly sweet and affectionate self. He tries to rub up against legs and hands to get his loving though he often falls over as he leans in.
His medical condition has turned the house upside down. The dogs are confused by the attention Charlie is getting and are upset that they are being admonished to be careful around him. My other cat, Lola Mae, seems to think I’ve brought an unfamiliar cat into her territory. I’m not sure if he smells different or if it’s the way he’s acting that’s set her off. She’s never been the friendliest of cats but she and Charlie had an “agreement”. It was along the lines that she would do her best to not give him a moment’s peace and he would try to stay away from her. She’s called “Princess” Lola Mae for good reason. When Charlie first came home I confined him to a small room with all his necessities. Lola Mae spent some time hissing and growling at the door. She also took up hissing and growling at the dogs and everyone else no matter how nicely she was being treated. Since I’ve let him out, she’s attacked Charlie at least once and continues to show aggressive behaviour. If it turns out that Charlie’s condition is a chronic neurological disorder I may have to think about re-homing her.
It’s never been a secret that she’s the kind of cat that would do better in a household with no small children or other pets. She’s a young beautiful looking cat and when she gets her own way she can be nice. She makes lovely little chirruping noises and will come for a treat if she’s awake when you call her name. But if Lola Mae isn’t happy, no one gets to be happy. I may have a place lined up for her already with an older woman who lives with her senior mother but I’m still going to wait and see how everything turns out. Honestly I’ve never been the kind of person who takes in a pet thinking it will be anything but a lifelong commitment so the thought of possibly “giving up” on Lola leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But if Charlie’s mobility is permanently affected and he can’t protect himself from her I might have to. Time will tell.
Music for this post- Danny O’Keefe’s ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues‘