We Fostered, Then Adopted, a Kitten With Heart Failure


This piece originally ran on Sarah Donner’s website, and we are sharing it with Catster readers (with permission) so you can comment on it.


When foster kitten Melon came into our lives a few weeks ago, she was a greasy, sad bag of bones with infected eyes. Within one day she ran a fever of 105.3 and panted all night. We gave her antibiotics and subq fluids, and we patted her down with rubbing alcohol to keep her cool. I honestly didn’t think she’d last the night. Thankfully, the fever came down and her appetite went up.

I noticed, though, that her breathing was never normal. At rest, her chest heaves up and down. There is a small wheeze, and from time to time she coughs. When she plays, after a few minutes she will fall over onto the side of her belly to catch her breath.

Melon’s a bit squinty, like French Stewart in Third Rock from the Sun. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

Over the course of two weeks, Melon has had four vet visits, bloodwork, two X-rays, eye exams (basically Feline Oculus Rift), ultrasounds, abdomen tapping, and every dewormer and antibiotic we have access to. Several vets pointed to the dire and devastating FIP (feline intestinal peritonitis) diagnosis, which gave me my own gastrointestinal distress. Unusual for FIP cats is an appetite, and let me tell you, this kitten almost DOUBLED her weight in one week. When we first held her, every bone in her body sharply poked out. Now she is a ball of PUDGE. She actively searches for food and eats several cans of food a day.

Melon with her foster buddy, Noodle. (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
Melon with her foster buddy, Noodle. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

Here is everything we know now:

1. Her breathing issues are mostly in her nasal cavity. She has either a deformity or scar tissue from a past infection that severely limited her ability to breathe. There is surgery to fix this, but she will need to wait until she is about six months older.

2. Her heart is enlarged but appears to be functioning okay. Before any surgery, Melon needs a cardiologist to see if she will be able to safely undergo anesthesia.

3. Her lungs have some congestion. This might just be scarring from previous infections, but just in case, we are treating her for two weeks with the strongest of strong antibiotics.

4. Her eyelids are underdeveloped. This is agenesis, and surgery can help it. First we need to address the issues above. For now, we give her gel twice a day to lubricate her eyeball and prevent scarring from her fur.

Melon digs her wet meatz. Look at that belly! (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
Melon digs her wet meatz. Look at that belly! Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

5. Her large and rotund belly appears to be a red herring. We thought it was worms or FIP, but it’s more likely she is a Fatty McFatFat. Her underdeveloped body has a lot of catching up to do because she isn’t malnourished anymore. She went a little crazy eating her weight in wet meatz, I guess. Melon needs to grow into her belly.

6. She is older than we thought — probably 4 to 6 months. Her growth was most likely stunted due to malnourishment and infections as a little one, so she appears to be 10 to 12 weeks or so. (So THIS is how you get kittens to stay kittens forever!)

We're taking it one day at a time. (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
We’re taking it one day at a time. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

So, what’s the outlook for Melon?

Last week I brought Melon back to the vet for a third X-ray on her lungs and a visit with the cardiologist. While her lungs seemed to have improved a bit, they are causing problems with her heart. To quote the vet, “Melon’s right heart has structural changes consistent with increased pressures within her lungs and possible cardiomyopathy of the left side of her heart. The increased pressure within her lungs (primary pulmonary hypertension or congenital vascular abnormality) carries a guarded prognosis.”

In short, her diseased lungs have put pressure on the heart, which caused a callused enlargement that is now limiting blood flow.

She's a princess. (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
She’s a princess. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

Melon’s life is a limited one, maybe weeks, probably months, definitely not years.

So here’s what we are doing for her.

1. Viagra!

Viagra, aka Sildenafil, was developed initially for pulmonary hypertension. Only later did it become a sexy drug for men who lost the get up and go. Sildenafil is not a cure, but it can extend Melon’s life and comfort level if her body responds to it. We will start her on this drug so long as she is up for the fun of having it forced into her pie hole.

Yes, really. Feline Viagra. (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
Yes, really. Feline Viagra. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

2. Adoption!

We are adopting Melon ourselves. I mean, really, who else is going to step up and adopt a kitten with such limited hopes and eyelids? While she has strength and happiness, my husband and I will give her the best care we can.

She can eat whatever she wants. I’ll take her to meet all the Disney Princesses in Disneyland. Maybe that famous athlete guy will hit a home run for her in that sport thing. She’s going to be the star of Covered With Kittens for weeks to come, whether she likes it or not. That is the price you pay for congenital heart failure.

3. Find a new home for her fellow foster

Noodles is a fine partner for Melon, but it’s not fair to keep her while Melon inevitably deteriorates. Kittens fare far better than cats with big adjustments like new homes and families. If she is going to make new kitty friends and have a new forever home, this is the best time.

Noodles will return to adoption day in hopes of finding a permanent home. We will certainly continue to foster additional kittens in need once Noodles is gone. Melon will never be without a buddy. It is bottle baby season, after all.

If we close our eyes at the vet, it all goes away. (Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook)
If we close our eyes at the vet, it all goes away. Photo courtesy Sarah Donner/Facebook

4. Live for the moment

While I have been weeping all day, the worst part of Melon’s day was being passed around from adoring vet tech to adoring vet tech. She came home and pranced (okay, waddled) into the bathroom looking for wet meatz.

Melon knows today. She knows this moment. She knows where her food will appear and she knows where to poop it out. In my own heart I have to remind myself that she is perfectly content today.

Today was a good day. Today she is okay. Let’s be grateful for that, and when the bad days outweigh the good days, we will know that we gave her the best we had to offer. Our hearts are so quick to grieve a loss that hasn’t happened yet, and then I see her chase a crinkle ball or chew on Noodle’s face. Then I remember: I had a good day too.

You can follow Melon’s progress on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

About the author: Sarah Donner, the creatrix behind Catster’s Ask a Cat Lady, is a kitten wrangler by day, singer/songwriter by night. She lives in New Jersey with her husband (who is just as much a cat lady) and the six cats in their permanent collection. Together they produce the YouTube series “Covered With Kittens,” where Sarah sings cover songs to cats, much to the kittens’ disgust.

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