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I Have to Force Feed My Fat Cat -- to Save His Life

What’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done for a pet? And how far do you imagine yourself going to take care of your furry companions?

 |  Jun 19th 2012  |   43 Contributions


Editor's Note: Lesley is an Associate Editor for Catster's sister SAY Media site, xojane.com. This article first ran on xoJane, but we're rerunning it (with permission!) so Catsters can weigh in. If you have advice on how Lesley can deal with Rufus’s health issues, do leave it in the comments below. Thanks, everyone! 

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of uber-positive stuff, possibly to the extent of being annoying about it. There’s a reason for that: I’ve needed some optimism this past week.

My cat, Rufus, whom strangers on the Internet are frequently telling me to put on a diet, has developed an eating disorder following an unfortunate butt-related surgery last month. No, no we shall not speak of that, for it is unspeakable.

Understandably, having had his bottom thoroughly irrigated and plunged, Rufus seems to have decided he just wasn’t going to eat food anymore. Thus: NO BOTTOM PROBLEMS. And hey, it worked out great for a while. Until he started to lose weight. Until he developed a life-threatening disease called hepatic lipidosis, and his liver began to fail.

This is a thing that happens to fat cats that go anorexic (I’m not being cute here -- that’s really what they call it) and lose weight too quickly: their livers fail. The illness as a result of not eating makes them even less interested in eating, and eventually, if left untreated, the cat will die. 

The primary treatment, ironically, is food. Loads and loads of food.

What Rufus has been seeing roughly every two hours for the past week, with breaks to allow me time to sleep.

In fatass Rufus’s case, as determined by his weight, that comes to three 5.5-ounce cans of food. Syringed into his mouth one milliliter at a time. Every day.

I’ve been doing a lot of math. A quarter can of food mixed with just enough water to get it into the syringe comes to about 40ml. I need to give Rufus 12 quarters-of-a-can of this particular prescription food per day, coming roughly to 40ml of food every hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to administer each dose. A normal cat’s stomach can hold 40 to 50 ml at a time (or else there is vomiting), and needs at least an hour -- or two or three, for a cat recovering from illness -- to evacuate to the bowel-based second act of the feline digestive process. 

Do you see where the math fails here? It is a question of time and space. I am tracking down a higher-calorie food to expedite this, but ultimately I am still forcing a huge volume of food into a fat cat to save his life. And it is -- I am not overstating things here, even though it probably sounds like I am -- ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS I HAVE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE.

He's taken to hiding under my desk to escape my syringe-based torture. It doesn't work, as I am more limber than he thinks.

The vet has suggested installing a feeding tube. I suppose this might be slightly easier, and less messy, but it is also more expensive and would require Rufus to undergo anesthesia in his already weakened state, and never let it be said that I have not taken the less-traveled and incredibly difficult path when it is offered to me.

And so I have spent the past several days -- and will likely spend weeks more -- giving food to a cat that doesn’t want it. On the scale of difficulty, this ranks somewhere between assembling a different IKEA desk once every hour or so all day long, and performing brain surgery on yourself.

After a while, your ability to reason breaks down. Your thoughts are consumed with cats, cat food, cat stomachs, milliliters, and liver disease. Some of the things continuously running through my mind include:

  • This is the most absurd thing I have ever done. 
  • WHY WON’T YOU EAT?
  • I will need to take every towel, blanket, quilt, and comforter in the house to be professionally cleaned. [Seriously, there is cat food EVERYWHERE. I will probably need to rent a carpet cleaner as well.]
  • What does THAT posture mean? Nausea? Anger? Despair? Oh, wait -- I’m looking in a mirror.
  • So this is what having a baby is like. Except without the added fun of dirty diapers. And if I had a baby I could at least try to breastfeed it.
  • I would probably breastfeed this cat if I could. At least then I could multitask instead of just listening to whatever DVD I have on [Forever Knight, The Lone Gunmen, anything ridiculous and campy] in the background.
  • I am so never having kids.
  • Every room in this house smells like cat food. I’ll have to move.
  • Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up.
  • OH GOD NOT ON THE BED.
  • Just eat, for heaven’s sake. It’s one of two things cats do really, really well. 
In better days.

My frustration has reached its apex today, and I have burst into tears three times already and it’s not even noon. (PMS probably doesn’t help.) I do not consider myself a particularly nurturing person; I am less about tender loving care and more about just fixing things. So having to dedicate many, many hours every day to the painstaking administration of nourishment to my cat is wearing on me.

As a result, I am seriously considering just getting the feeding tube installed in Rufus next week -- it would extend from his neck and down his esophagus to his irritatingly tiny kitty stomach, and if the Internet research I’ve done is any indication, it probably won’t bug him that much. At least, no more than me following him around with a dripping syringe and grabbing him by the head and forcing it into his mouth 1ml at a time.

I feel a little like a failure about it -- leave it to me to make my cat’s illness about my inability to be superhuman -- but I’m making peace with that, and trying to stay positive. 

My question for you, beloved commenters, is this: What’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done for a pet? How far do you imagine yourself going to take care of your furry companions? Am I completely off my nut for doing this much?

I will say this: The next person who questions my commitment to cat care is getting punched. I don’t care who you are. This is your only warning.

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