Sunday, May 15, 2011

Plumbing Issues

(TMI warning applies to this entire post, by the way.)

The photo just below is not a picture of a cat. Rather, it is a picture of my front yard taken last Tuesday.

Normally my yard doesn't look like this. And, just in case anyone was wondering, no, it has not been invaded by giant gophers.

The large mound of dirt, the cones, and the caution tape are all there due to Major Plumbing Activity. You see, we've got this great whopping sweetgum tree in the front yard that's nearly as old as the house, which was built in 1954. The tree provides lovely shade and turns a splendid array of hues in the autumn season (yes, we do have some trees in California that actually change colours!). Its roots, however, can pose quite a bit of an issue for sewer pipes, especially old segmented clay and cast iron pipes.

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, recently Tree won a significant victory in the longstanding Tree Versus Pipes battle, and the result was, shall we say, unpalatable. Essentially we had raw sewage backing up into the yard whenever anything went down a drain anywhere in the house. Initially it was just a little backup, and the flowers by the porch certainly seemed happy about the extra water and fertilizer, but over the past few weeks it started getting to the point where you couldn't step out the front door without stepping in The Partially Disintegrated Toilet Paper Wad That Time Forgot.

Which, you know, I figured was setting up to be an environmental hazard in addition to being monumentally disgusting.

Needless to say, plumbers were called.

Thankfully they arrived promptly and by Thursday afternoon everything was fixed up and filled back in. The yard looks remarkably unscathed, and we aren't stepping out the front door into any unpleasant surprises anymore. I will be very happy to spend the next hundred years (or whatever the lifespan of the new plastic pipes is) NOT thinking about my sewer lines, let alone stepping in the effluvia thereof.

Which brings me back to cats. The photo below is of a cat.

Specifically, it is a photo of Coraline, taken last weekend. She was feeling okay at that point -- in fact, she'd just finished a vigorous session of "leaping after the feather toy" -- but apparently sometime between then and Tuesday evening something (not tree roots, though!) clogged up her plumbing, leaving her unable to poop effectively.

And as gross as the mere concept of poop is, it's pretty important to be able to produce it if one happens to be alive (and wishes to stay that way). Just as there can be no light without darkness, there can be no eating without pooping. (Which is one reason my little niece's simulated kitten-care video games, wherein you get to feed the cats but never deal with a litter box, baffle me endlessly. But that's another topic entirely.)

As far as how I came to realize Cora wasn't producing...well, when you live with multiple cats and scoop their litter boxes on a daily basis, you kind of end up getting to the point of recognizing everyone's, er, deposits. And Cora's have always been rather distinctive inasmuch as no matter what she eats...let's just say if there were a prize for "superior feline stool formation", under normal circumstances she would be a grand champion. Not so much last week, though, as pretty much all the recognizable solid matter I scooped had clearly (based on known dimensional attributes and scent signature parameters) emerged from Nikki or the boys.

Mind you, I don't think Cora ever got completely obstructed. I did find a few of what are colloquially referred to around here as "poopflakes" in the box, and I will let you use your imagination to figure out the etymology of that term. Moreover, she was able to keep food down despite an obviously diminished appetite, whereas total colonblockery tends to result in projectile pukesplosion shortly after meals.

Most alarming, though, (aside from the pooplack, of course) was how her whole demeanor was just off. Normally, Cora is extremely active (in the same sense that the sun is extremely hot), but on Tuesday evening all her movements seemed very slow and tentative. She also only made half-hearted attempts to jump and climb the way she usually does, and showed no interest whatsoever in her favorite toys.

So, I called the vet's office with my concerns. They agreed that something didn't sound right, so first thing Thursday morning Matt and I bundled her up in the carrier and took her off to the clinic. We ended up getting assigned to a different doctor than last time (again) due to scheduling constraints, but that turned out fine as this doctor was pretty awesome (at least as awesome as the one we'd previously seen and liked a lot).

Moving along, though, the bottom line (heh) is that Cora did indeed, per the vet's examination, have a traffic jam in her lower intestinal zone. Thankfully a single Super Colon Cleanse (read: enema) was able to dislodge the backup, and all this entailed was a mild sedative (as opposed to general anaesthesia, which would have been needed if they'd had to "go in manually") and monitoring at the clinic until around 5:30 PM.

The vet undoubtedly dealt with the most buttfountainous aftereffects of the enema, for which I am thoroughly grateful. Nevertheless, things were still fairly...messy when we initially got Cora home. The sedative had mostly worn off by around 4 PM (when the vet called me, proclaiming that my cat had "pooped beautifully") so I can completely understand why Cora was returned to us with her entire back end, tail, and legs soggy and smelly.

Trying to give a fully-conscious Coraline anything resembling an effective bath is probably marginally more difficult than trying to perform a one-handed backwards cartwheel through a swarm of bees. And I would rather deal with a bit of yuck than have my cat sedated a second time solely for cleaning purposes.

Nevertheless, I didn't want her getting infections (or tracking Ass Flavored Smoothie all over the house) so Matt and I did the best we could to soap and rinse her lower half while she proceeded to claw her way up my chest and attempt to surgically attach herself to my face.

That went about as well as you can imagine it did.

Luckily I only ended up with a few holes in my neck, and none of them bled that much.

Really, though, my primary emotion Thursday evening was one of pure relief. Poor Cora. I can't imagine how much it must have been hurting her to be that blocked up. I was so happy when she got home, and she seemed to be as well, though I had to decline her friendly tail-swipey-leg-weaving greetings at first!

That said, ye gads, I honestly hope I never have to see anything like that coming out of a cat ever again. Granted most of the scariness was due to the fact that I'd been feeding her robust doses of hairball gel and petroleum jelly for a day and a half prior to her vet trip, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to have the contents of the litter scoop jiggle like some sort of earthquake-evaluation medium.

But anyway. Three days following her ordeal, Cora appears to be none the worse for wear (and Shadow, who has a severe Vet Phobia, has ceased hissing at her hind end). I put her in "quarantine" in the spare bedroom for only one night following her Great Rectal Waterslide Adventure. She was very quiet that evening, but by mid-morning Friday I figured she was fine to rejoin the household proper, given that she was shoving her paws under the door and trying to tear off pieces of the wood by that point.

The cause of her epic pooplog backup is thus far unknown, but the current primary suspects are (a) hairball material stuck in transit, and (b) her apparently "highly efficient" colon.

In other words, apparently Cora's tendency toward poops-so-perfect-they-almost-look-fake is actually a sign that her body is really good at extracting things (including water) from whatever is passing through. This isn't a disease, mind you, just a physiological predilection of sorts.

Cats evolved to be extremely efficient in this regard and as Cora is already like a more intense version of a regular cat to begin with, I guess it's not surprising this goes all the way down to the intestinal level. But it's something that needs to be managed, as cats Cora's age (less than two years old) only rarely get this badly blocked up. I have been instructed to (a) add 1/8 tsp twice daily of polyethylene glycol (a laxative, commonly sold under the brand "Miralax") to her food, (b) stop feeding her any dry food (aside from the occasional crunchie-treat), and (c) start brushing her every day (at least while we're in the midst of Super Shedding Season).

Adding more fiber to her diet may be something to think about as well, but the vet cautioned against going overboard here given that additional "bulk" could make things worse.

So yeah. Last week was pretty epic, and not in a cool fun way. I will certainly never again take any form of waste-pipery for granted, whether said pipery be part of my household sewer line or my cat's intestines.


  1. They didn't clean her up before returning her? That seems kinda lame. Is Cora on raw food? I have been adding about 4 teaspoons of psyllium husk powder per 10 lbs of meat to mine, because my youngest, Lilly, is already a fat ass, and I worry she is too young for me to actually restrict calories. I was kinda hoping the fiber would help stem her over-eating by making her feel more full. It is important to add at least 24 times as much water as psyllium husk powder, I have read, as it is a poor moisture to psyllium ratio that can cause blockage. I remember hearing about people trying to eat powder metamucil, then chase it down with some water, and choking to death, so I'm careful to dissolve the stuff in about 4 cups of water, way more than 24 times as much.

  2. missmoppet: My guess is that they cleaned her as much as they could. Any more and she'd have needed more sedative. She's even more strong-willed with strangers than with me, and I had a hard enough time getting her cleaned up. She cleaned herself off the rest of the way afterward anyway, though; I just had to get enough yuck off for her to be able to stand her own flavor!

    Re. raw food, yes, she and her brothers both eat mostly-raw, but with her specifically I'd actually been slacking a bit on that prior to this incident. She won't eat larger bones and I can't always afford quail (her favorite, and it has small bones) so she'd been eating a larger proportion of canned and dry food the week or so before the backup. I actually feel really bad about that because the vet said someone with Cora's colon shouldn't eat ANY dry food, because, well, it's dry, and she needs more liquid in her diet than average. So it's definitely going to be more raw and if she's in a picky/lazy-eating mood, more canned.

  3. Oh, and re. psyllium husk powder, I've at times considered incorporating that into my cats' raw stuff but thus far have just been letting them eat grass (either from the yard or their kittygrass planter in which I periodically sow and germinate oatgrass seeds). The vet said that was fine but for Cora I can try also giving her a teeny amount of canned pumpkin or metamucil (1/4 tsp daily of either). I kind of doubt she'd eat pumpkin, though...maybe if I mixed it with tuna, but she's the second pickiest next to Nikki here. If psyllium isn't strongly flavored it might be something to consider if it starts looking like more fiber would be helpful.

  4. I've heard good things about pumpkin. I've been doing the ground with bones in type of recipe. Kind of scares me how jagged and sharp the bones can be. I'm going to start raising quail soon, so that should be nice. No more grinding giant chickens up. Also will be able to have the bird blood for the kitties, and more of the organs.
    You know, mine have been on raw for a few months, and when I give them some dry food between meals to tide them over sometimes, someone almost always eats too much and throws up. The pieces swell like bread dough, and I think since they are now used to raw, which is already good and soppy when consumed, they forget the dry will puff up and make them barf if they over-eat it. Could dry food puff up in the intestines and cause such blockage, I wonder? Or stick to the membranes of a dry colon, greedily sucked on for the moisture?

  5. missmoppet: Whoah, raising quail! That is pretty hardcore! You have some lucky cats! And apparently I like exclamation points!

    Ahem. Anyway...yeah the moisture-absorbing nature of dry food is precisely why I've been told it's not good for Cora to eat. A few pieces here and there as treats is okay, but she shouldn't get dry stuff as a major meal component. Which so far she's been fine about, thank goodness.

    Also re. bones,..I know they can look scary but small bones like quail are actually much softer than they look. I was really surprised to find that out. They're quite bendy so long as they're not cooked. I can see a cat maybe choking on a huge bone (turkey leg, perhaps) but I have actually never in my life heard of a cat getting injured by a raw bone in a prey-sized animal. I mean I could probably find an account of it if I googled enough but it seems to be vanishingly rare.

    I don't think I would personally be inclined to bother with grinding unless my cats were elderly and toothless or just flat-out refusing unground bone, but that's me...I know everyone's situation (and every cat) is different.

  6. Oh and another thing, sometimes I am amazed at how dealing with cats (and raw feeding) has decreased my squeamishness. Like now I actually get annoyed that I can't seem to find quail that have their heads still attached...something tells me my kitties would quite enjoy crunching up bird skulls. And since I don't have an affordable local source for whole prey of any kind I've been leery about giving up commercial (canned) cat food altogether, because I keep wondering if maybe there are important nutrients in the brains and eyeballs and other bits the meat I get doesn't have anymore!

  7. I'm sure smaller bones are safer, which is why I want to raise quail. I am a little concerned that perhaps I should remove the birdy poop tracts to reduce likelihood of kitties getting worms, but then, it is unlikely the same worm can live in both species, maybe just fasting the quail before processing would be enough. I was planning to skin them to remove both the fatty skin and dirty feathers. Probably unnecessary. It is "baby steps" for the kitties and me. It took a month for them to eat the raw ground food well, the chunked was not happening, just dragging it around on the floor, so I made it easier for the lazy buggers with the grinding. Maybe we can get to the chunked meat point someday. I really would like to be able to just snap the quail's neck and toss it to them like they are little tigers! I suppose they would make a terrible mess with the feathers. Yes, it does make one used to the sight of gore, if one isn't already.
    Re. Brains: Do you know if birds can have prion disease? I know some people who make their own food add glandular complex to make up for some of the things that are "cleaned" from the birds. I'd like to give them something non-avian, too, but couldn't stand to hurt rats or bunnies. I may be able to stand to hurt bullfrogs, but not sure if the cats would eat them. Since most cats lack the ability to fly, I'm sure in a state of nature they wouldn't be getting birds every day. Probably lots of grasshoppers, snakes, lizards and things along with the traditional rodents. So I do worry about the long term affects of the mono-species diet.

  8. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  9. My in-laws' cat loves canned pumpkin.


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