For a minute, David stopped somersaulting in his kennel on my lap. His bum was pushed against the door with poop oozing out, his sad eyes looking directly into mine. That moment, after hours in a Winnipeg emergency animal hospital, I really started panicking about what was going on with him.
He’d experienced some issues with the litter box so I brought him to the facility a week earlier, expecting it was just another urinary tract infection and he’d be back to normal after antibiotics. It turned out not to be a UTI, and the vets didn’t know what was wrong. They kept him for three days on an IV, draining his bladder and monitoring his improvement.
But there wasn’t any improvement, and they still couldn’t find anything wrong. They sent him home, saying the problem had probably cleared up and he wasn’t peeing on his own because he was just stressed from being there.
Well, I got him home and nothing improved much. Wherever he lay, he would leave a pee spot behind. While he was pooping in the litter box now, he’d still drop some pieces behind him as he walked. I bought him diapers and cut tail holes in them but would find them abandoned throughout the apartment, despite the ribbon I used as a belt. I bought baby onesies and put them over the diaper, but he’d find ways to free himself of them as well.
The worst part? He was absolutely miserable. Coming home from the vet, the other two cats, Suki and Stella, wouldn’t go near him. With his pals unavailable for cuddles and playtime, he lay by himself, barely moving throughout the day. At night, he’d lay in my arms and pee on me, so I had to start separating us with padding.
So we headed back to the vet hospital, at 11 p.m. on a Friday. After a half hour in the waiting room, I asked a staff member whether I could clean up David somewhere. He was wildly rolling in his kennel while he pooped and peed. I knew how unhappy he must be in there, and I was terrified. This was definitely no UTI.
I don’t remember many specifics from the rest of the night, until the moment a vet said, “The only real option you have is to put him down.”
David was a five-year-old orange Domestic Shorthair who spent every night sleeping in my arms. He waited at the door for me to come home at night and followed me around the apartment all day. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
As it turns out, David had a tail pull injury. My best guess how it happened? A gust of wind slammed a door shut in my apartment as David was running through it, catching his tail and giving it a hard yank. This causes cats to lose feeling and movement of their tail, and it can cause urinary and fecal incontinence. Cats can regain some function, but most healing usually occurs within the first month or so.
The vet that night said David would never be able to pee by himself again. There would be a constant mess, and he would be miserable. She told me it wasn’t fair to keep him alive.
I couldn’t accept that, and I took him home with me. I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out ways to make this work. Maybe a carpet-free area of the apartment for him? I could look into cat diapers. I went to bed with no real resolution, except knowing that I wouldn’t say goodbye to David unless he was really, truly unhappy for the long term.
I spent the next morning diapering a cat who was determined to be naked and searching for dropped, soiled diapers in his usual hiding spots. Until I got the phone call. It was the vet who’d seen David during his first visit to the animal hospital. The after-hours vet had left David’s file on the counter, and when the first vet saw it, she was curious to see why David had been back in. I could pretty much hear her eyes roll when I told her what happened the night before. Her dog had the same tail pull injury and had for years. There was no reason to put David down.
David and I rushed to the office, where the vet showed me how to drain his bladder. Basically, you dig into a cat’s sides to locate the bladder and then gently press until it’s empty. It’s uncomfortable for him, but it’s better than putting him down.
I canceled upcoming trips and structured my days so I was never away for more than eight hours. The three times a day I put David in the litter box, he’d try to wriggle away. It never got easier, and sometimes I’d recruit a friend to hold him for me. Toward the end, he got more squeamish, and I had a lot of difficulty expressing his bladder even when I got my fingers on it. His bladder was also quite small, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Then, one day a couple of months after the last vet visit, he stepped into his litter box on his own, looked me in the eyes and squatted. I forgot to breathe as I walked over after he’d finished to check the box. There was pee. David peed. On his own. The reason he had struggled so much in the end was because he could do it himself.
First, a vet told me to put him down. Then, I was told that if I kept him alive I’d have to be there to empty his bladder several times for the rest of his life. And now, here he was peeing.
It has been two years, and David loves life. When he is stressed, his injury flares up and he has a bit of trouble pooping on his own. But peeing is no challenge for my little man, and he has regained some feeling and movement in his tail.
If I had listened to the overnight vet’s advice on what to do about the tail pull injury, David wouldn’t be sleeping next to me on my desk right now.