Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saving Shiva

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

THE LAST two and a half weeks have been an emotional roller coaster at our house. As some of you know, we have four cat-children: Shye, Shiva, Boy Boy and Anaya, ages 9, 9, 7 and 5 respectively. They're all unique; they're all adored.

Shiva became suddenly lethargic, limp and dull-eyed about 18 days ago. Because she's prone to hairballs, that's what we thought it probably was, especially since she seemed to be coughing a bit — that trying-to-cough-up-a-hairball cough. We gave her some hairball medicine and watched her for a day and a half.

The hairball medicine produced no results, and she seemed to be worsening, so we took her to the vet Monday morning. X-rays taken showed nothing stuck in her stomach or intestines. The techs also ran a full-spectrum blood panel, and every value was normal — except that she was running a slight fever. That and the little cough led to a best-guess by the vet that Shiva had a a virus for which the only remedy would be time and support.

I'm not sure how she could have had better support than she got. Paul slept on the floor with her night after night, but unfortunately, not only was she not getting better, she was continuing to decline.

By now, I've lost track of how many times between that Monday and the next that we had her at the vet. On our second trip in two days, she was given an antibiotic shot to address as yet undetected infection that might be hiding in her body — and as a preventative: Cats apparently are prone to developing secondary infections when other things are going wrong.

Our biggest concern at this point had become that she'd absolutely stopped eating and drinking. She was prescribed an anti-nausea drug in case she'd ingested something bad and was suffering from prolonged nausea, and we were giving her a prescription appetite stimulant, all to no avail.

As the only means we knew of to keep her alive, Paul started syringe-feeding her with special high-calorie food, and we took to the vet for subcutaneous fluids.

By the second Monday, we decided to hospitalize her because although Paul was syringe-feedling her every four hours or so — or as often as she would let us — we didn't think we were getting enough food and fluid in her. We hoped the vet could do a better job.

They reran blood tests, did a fecal analysis and performed an ultrasound — all of which revealed nothing irregular or deviating from normal. She was put on IV fluids and given steroids, anti-nausea medication and an appetite stimulant to try to get her to eat, but they were still having to syringe-feed her, and she still continued to lose weight.

The vet had begun to suspect pancreatitis. We decided that the next step needed to be taking her to Iowa State University Veterinary Hospital where they offer more specialized tests for pancreatic markers. While she was at ISU, they also performed another ultrasound which again found nothing abnormal.

While this had all been transpiring, Paul had anxiously — both dreading, but wanting to get past — a tooth extraction, which BTW, is no small thing for a professional horn player, and it was scheduled, and had been so for a month, for the day we needed to get Shiva to ISU. We were back and forth from the oral surgeon to the local vet, to ISU, to our GP dentist, to ISU from 7:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night.

With all tests normal, and influenced by how obviously excited and happy Shiva was to see me when I came back at the end of the day, Shiva's veterinary team thought home was the best place for her. The big news, however, was that while she was there, a fourth-year student managed to get her to lick a little food off a tongue depressor — the first food she'd eaten on her own for a week.

That was the first tiny glimmer of hope. 

The goal, of course, has been to see if we could get her to eat on her own, and to that end, ISU prescribed a lower dose of appetite stimulant so that it could be administered daily instead of every three days.

As soon as I got her in the house, I put out a little warmed, wet food for her and miracle of miracles, she ate some of it!!!! Paul and I were so relieved that we cried!

Paul and I are continuing to offer her food every two to three hours, and she has been coming back little by little ever since. 

We were actually able to leave the house today for three hours, and when we returned, she greeted us at the door just like a normal Shiva would. She begged to go outside so Paul took her out for a walk-around. Instead she ran around . . . down the driveway and back up, and a pass across the backyard. Tonight she picked up her favorite little ball, brought it in to us and dropped it for us to toss it for her.

I'd say that we're out of the trees, but not out of the woods. 

Over the course of her illness, we have consulted either in person or, having emailed all her test results and records, over the phone with at least eight different veterinarians at four different clinics. But we still don't have an exact diagnosis of what has been going on in that little body of hers. The consensus of surmise is that it's pancreatitis. We hope to have the results of her pancreas tests — that had to be analyzed in Texas — back tomorrow.

Another cause we're considering is an internally abscessed back tooth. Our local vet and the ones at ISU examined her mouth and saw nothing, but an x-ray of her head would reveal more. The plan is to get that in three days. For the time being, all vets would like her to continue eat and rest and, fingers crossed, put a little more weight back on before she has to have another clinic visit.

We continue to try to piece together clues. She kept having that little cough every now and then and seemed particularly prone to it after eating. When she'd been home for a day and had started eating again, Shiva had a protracted coughing spell — it might have lasted a minute in elapsed time, but when she was done, it almost seemed at though she had relieved herself of something that might have been in there. She walked over to her food and started started chowing down with no coughing, and we haven't seen it since. Had there been something lodged in her nose all this time?

We'll know more when we get the pancreas test results and when she gets her dental x-rays. In the meantime, we continue to set the alarm for every three hours or so to ensure that she eats, and we celebrate every sign of a returning Shiva.


  1. I got a chance to read it. Oh my! What an ordeal for all of you. The other kitties are probably stressed too from all the upheaval. I'm assuming that Paul didn't have any negative side effects from the tooth extraction? May Shiva continue to heal and be well. It would actually be better if it is the tooth abscess because that's fixable! Best wishes to you all.

    1. So true, Liz, about hoping it's a tooth abscess because it's fixable! Because he's a professional horn player, the loss of the tooth is making it difficult for him to play. How was your birthday?!?!?

  2. Thanks so much for sharing the whole story, I missed the beginning on Facebook. I'm so glad Shiva is on the mend, and sincerely hope it's something relatively fixable like an abcess. If it IS pancreatitis, there are ways of helping Shiva's digestive system manage her food better. I hope you on't mind, I've attached a link here:

    1. Aren't you kind! Thanks for the link and thanks for caring.

    2. Great article, HH !!!! Thank you SO much for sending it to me!

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