Sunday, May 15, 2011
(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.