Cat Health Emergencies: Has One Hijacked Your Whole Day?


Aug. 8 was a day like any other. My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I started my morning routine — heat the coffee water and feed the cats. My feline overlords usually eat a commercially prepared raw food, but I’d mistakenly bought a flavor that has made Bella turn her nose up for weeks. Knowing this, I’d bought some grain-free, low-carb canned food in a flavor I knew she liked, but in a different brand.

I put everybody’s meals down and started making my breakfast. Once everyone had finished eating, I opened the bathroom door to let Bella out (she has to eat separately or she’ll eat everybody else’s food before they even have a chance to look at it), and I already saw signs of trouble. She wasn’t as excited as she usually is to be set free to scavenge Siouxsie’s and Thomas’ dishes for leftovers.

Three seconds later, she dashed to the kitchen and BLORT! Out came every ounce of the food she’d just eaten. And more, and more, and more stuff: long, stringy mucus, foamy bubbles, and any morsels of food that might have gotten stuck in even the smallest crevice of her poor tummy.

Puking, I can deal with. I’ve lived with cats long enough to understand it as a fact of life. But then something a lot more frightening happened: She started gagging and wheezing. Panic filled her eyes and as she kept coughing, heaving, and freaking out. She tried to run away from her trauma. I was afraid she’d aspirated some of the stuff she’d just vomited.

Watching my cat struggle to breathe is just about the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen. It was also a horrific kind of d├®j├á vu for me, because just 16 months ago, I was rushing another small black cat, my sweet Dahlia, to the emergency vet because she was in severe respiratory distress.

I knew I had to keep my cool, for Bella’s sake at least as much as for mine. She didn’t need any more fear and panic vibes coming at her. I threw on some clothes and we went to the emergency clinic.

When we got there, we were shown into an exam room. As I looked around, I realized it was the same exam room in which I’d waited for the clinic staff to examine and treat Dahlia, who I’d thought was having an asthma attack. I felt a heaviness in my heart.

A few minutes later, a tech came in to take Bella’s vitals. She reassured me that because Bella’s gums were still pink, her blood oxygenation was still good. When Bella started panting again, I asked her to get a vet in here. When the vet arrived, the first thing he did was to rub some black goo on the roof of her mouth. She promptly vomited … again.

He examined Bella, too, and said he believed that her respiratory distress was caused more by panic than by an aspiration, but he wanted to take X-rays just to be on the safe side. Off she went, into the back.

Again, I waited.

And this time I realized that not only was this the room where Dahlia had first been examined — it was the same room where, about a week and a half later, I had her released from her suffering. The "asthma attack" had turned out to be a pleural effusion (her lungs were being crushed by fluid that was building up in her rib cage), which was being caused, I later found out after an ultrasound and a biopsy, by a metastasized atypical large-cell lymphoma with a very poor prognosis.

I had to go outside.

An hour and $375 later, Bella was fine. Her X-rays were clear and the vet gave her some buprenorphine for its sedative value and an anti-nausea medicine to stop the vomiting-panic loop that was causing her such distress.

The vet recommended I observe her to make sure no symptoms recurred later in the day, so I worked at home (I’m very grateful to have a job I can do at home!) and tried to calm down.

Oh yeah, and I ate some breakfast.

Has your cat ever provided you with a whole day’s worth of drama before your first cup of coffee? Share your tale of woe in the comments!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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