Dog people might not believe it, but my senior cat, Nemo, greets me enthusiastically every time I come home. So when my longhaired orange kitty didn’t come running to the door one day when I got home from work, I knew something was wrong.
I found my handsome cat sitting on his cat tree house quietly in the bedroom. I called to him, but he kept staring into space as if he was in another world. I tried to pet him, and gently nudged him when he didn’t respond at all. He was stiff like a statue, as if he had experienced a cat seizure, and I realized something was really wrong. I picked him up and put him on the bed next to me, and he lost control of his bladder, which had never happened before. That’s when we rushed our sick cat to our vet, VCA Alton Road Animal Hospital in Miami Beach, FL, which is luckily open at night during the week.
Dr. Juliana Benedini found that Nemo was full of gall bladder stones—more than she had ever seen in a cat in her entire career. Of all the possible cat illnesses and cat diseases, a gall bladder problem didn’t even cross my mind. She told us to take my senior cat to LeadER Animal Specialty Hospital in Cooper City, FL, for emergency surgery. I could tell by the look on her face that it was a matter of life or death, and she confessed to me later during a checkup that she wasn’t sure he would make it.
LeadER was set up like a full-fledged hospital, with a typical emergency waiting room and a staff of nurses plus over a dozen doctors of veterinary medicine, including surgeons. They were ready to handle any sort of pet health emergency, including cat illnesses like gall bladder stones. We were sent to a room, and when they checked Nemo out, the doctor returned to say that he would need surgery. The plan was to monitor him throughout the night. The doctor decided that Nemo would go into surgery the next day, so he remained at the animal hospital while we went home to get some rest.
I don’t think it registered that the senior cat that I’ve cared for since kittenhood might not make it. This was his first surgery and major cat health issue. I nervously waited for Nemo’s surgery while LeadER staff sent me picture updates of him. I was told that I could visit after he came out of the operating room, and rushed to the hospital after work. When I saw him the day he had his surgery, of course, he was really out of it. I hoped that even in his drugged state, he knew I was there. After an hour or so, I had to go home, but I promised him I’d be back the next day.
On Day 2, Nemo was his old feisty self, as much as he could be. He insisted on trying to jump onto the counters and then down to the seat in the hospital room. It was quite a task to keep him from doing this as he stumbled around with his bandaged leg that held his IV tube. His belly was stapled from his chest all the way down, and I was terrified he’d stretch something and hurt himself. He finally settled down on the seat next to me, looking upset, but eventually, he rested there beside me.
Overall, Nemo spent a full week in the emergency hospital, with me visiting for an hour or two each day. When he finally came home, he was definitely happy to be back. The surgeon, Dr. Jason Horgan, checked in to say how well the surgery went and to explain the procedure. Nemo recovered well, and after his staples came out, his belly healed to where you can’t tell he ever had surgery. We couldn’t have lived without a few things during his time in recovery:
- Outward Hound PoochPouch. This cat carrier made going to and from vet visits a whole lot easier.
- Alfie Pet Noah Lion Recovery Collar. Besides being super adorable, this collar was perfect for Nemo’s recovery. It prevented him from bothering his surgical area.
- PetSafe Come With Me Kitty Harness & Bungee Cat Leash. We had this cat leash on Nemo even when he was in the carrier, just in case he tried to be mischievous.
- Toys. We made sure to have an abundance of cat toys at Nemo’s disposal during his recovery. A few of his favorites were (and still are!) the Fat Cat Classic Tail Chaser and the PetSafe Cheese Cat Toy.
Dr. Horgan told me that when he was performing the surgery, he noticed that Nemo showed the beginning signs of kidney disease, which is common for senior cats. He now receives Calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D that helps the absorption of calcium and phosphate and regulates these levels in the blood.
Nemo had been lucky that the only cat illnesses he had suffered before were things like chronic flea allergies. Leading up to the day I took him to the vet, he didn’t show any signs of distress or changes in behavior. The only thing we did notice was that one of the animals had pooped near the litter box, and another time near the door, during the week before. It was impossible to tell which pet had done the deed. I finally caught Nemo in the act in the shower, and was searching for a behavioral reason because there were no other signs of cat health issues.
Looking back, it reinforced the fact that you should always check with the vet when your cat goes outside the litter box, even if they seem perfectly healthy. Of course, by the time we discovered the offender, it was right before we rushed him to the vet. Even senior cats like Nemo are highly skilled at hiding cat illnesses and cat diseases and any symptoms that might tell you there’s a problem.
These days, Nemo happily greets me at the door, and you can find him sprawled out on the bed, scarfing up his wet food, meowing for attention, or jumping up walls in pursuit of elusive red dots. He’s a tough 13-year-old kitty who has plenty of heart and a lot of love left to give.
Nikki Naser, BeChewy Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their BeChewy blog.