How Much Money Have You Spent on Your “Free” Cat?


I just got back from taking our cat Smudge to the vet. Again.

Smudge has been part of our family for less than two years and I’ve lost count of the number of visits we’ve made. And I don’t even want to count the amount of money we’ve spent.

The funny thing? At the time of his adoption, I felt so lucky to be getting such a healthy cat. And for free! See, Smudge was a blood donor kitty at an animal blood bank. While they have volunteer dog donors, most cat guardians have no interest in loading their pets into a carrier and dragging them down to donate blood every six weeks. So instead, the blood bank saves cats from the humane society who are on death row. The cats live at the clinic and donate blood every six weeks, and after 15 months, they’re “retired” and put up for adoption. When a suitable home is found, they don’t charge an adoption fee. It’s just their way of giving back to their donor kitties.

As you can imagine, blood donor kitties have to be very healthy. Their blood is tested for even the most rare abnormalities, since it’s important disease isn’t passed along to a sick cat. Upon adoption, we were given Smudge’s work-up and medical history and left feeling that we had the world’s healthiest cat, with the papers to prove it!

That lasted all of about four weeks, and then I took Smudge to our vet for a wellness exam. It was really just to get him into their system, but that’s when it started. So innocuously. Because at that visit, Smudge was diagnosed with …

Feline acne

I’d noticed Smudge had little black spots on his chin but didn’t think much about it. Our vet pointed it out and told me it was feline acne. He also said Smudge’s chin was somewhat swollen and that it was probably a bit infected. So he sent us home with an antibacterial shampoo and some antibiotics. Each day, we medicated Smudge and washed his chin. We also replaced all food and water bowls with glass and stainless steel. Any other cat, that would’ve been enough. But not Smudge. For some reason, instead of getting better, his chin got much, MUCH worse — to the point that his lymph nodes were even swollen.

After weeks of battling this, our vet referred us to a local veterinary dermatologist. She was as surprised and stumped as our regular vet. Antibiotics. Topical ointments. Steroids. Money. Finally, through trial and error, we got control of his chin, but it took almost a year.

Whew! All clear. Now we could relax. Um, nope. Because not only did he have acne, he had …

Skin allergies

The dermatologist long suspected that allergies might be complicating Smudge’s chin issue. I wasn’t convinced until that fall when he can became noticeably itchy. He groomed constantly, and when petted, his skin twitched. During the winter, it seemed to subside. But then spring rolled around again and the itching flared up with a vengeance. The dermatologist recommended an antihistamine, which helped some but not entirely. So we discussed testing Smudge for allergies and then starting him on immunotherapy (allergy shots).

However, something else had cropped up, and I mentioned it in passing. Concerned, she advised that we have Smudge X-rayed before we proceeded (since he would have to be sedated). It was at that time that we learned that he had …

Feline asthma

Smudge’s X-ray showed the tell-tale donut shapes in his lungs, which indicate asthma. (It also showed a kidney stone that, according to our vet, would probably never cause any problems. But this is Smudge so I’m not holding my breath.)

This wasn’t a surprise, really. From the time we adopted him, Smudge had short bouts of coughing. The episodes looked much like a cat coughing up a hairball, but Smudge never produced one. I always felt something wasn’t quite right, but with all of his other issues, it had been put on the back burner. But now, it was front and center.

After exhaustive research and on the advice of our vet, we started Smudge on twice-daily inhaled steroid medication, the same kind that human asthmatics get. Of course, those meds aren’t cheap, but we didn’t have a choice. As with human asthmatics, these cats can go into respiratory crisis and die. So we happily pay for that prescription every month, and it’s working; he’s only had a few small episodes over the last year.

Once we got that squared away, we tested Smudge for allergies. Turns out, he’s allergic to a LOT. (Of course.) But the allergy shots we give him every other week have definitely helped with his itchiness. And because feline asthma is caused by environmental allergens, the shots are probably helping with that as well.

So, everything was well and good for almost a whole year! Chin acne gone. Itchiness and asthma under control. Then last week, I noticed some red spots on Smudge’s face. Knowing better than take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to our “special” cat, off we went to the veterinary dermatologist. And guess what? Turns out Smudge now has …

Demodex mange

This disease is caused by mites that naturally live in small numbers on both dogs and cats, but the animal’s immune system usually keeps them in check. However, if the immune system is suppressed or weakened, the mites can multiply and cause inflammation of the skin. Because it’s only in the area of the face where we place Smudge’s inhaler mask, our vet thinks the steroids in the medication might be causing localized suppression. So once again, we were sent home with several medications and yet another bill to add to the pile.

At this point, I just shrug and laugh. What else can you do? Some people are surprised I’m not angry at the blood bank for giving us a “defective” cat (their words, not mine). I don’t blame the blood bank at all. These issues would never have shown up in their tests. But what if they had? To be honest, I might not have adopted Smudge, and that’s a thought I can’t bear. Because even though I would’ve had more money in the bank, my life would have been oh-so-much poorer without him in it.

Your turn: Have you ever had a “free” cat who cost you a lot? Tell us in the comments.

Read stories of rescue on Catster:

About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She is a freelance copywriter and blogger for hire and also acts as the typist and interpreter for her dog’s musings at Mayzie’s Dog Blog. Amber encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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