In October 2006 - five months before the Pet Food Recall story broke - my beloved cat Zachariah almost died. He was in severe renal (kidney) failure. His condition came out of the blue – as he had no previous kidney problems. After a roller coaster ride that lasted several days and involved the heroic efforts of three vets, he miraculously pulled through. The food Zach was on never made the recall list. Is this just a case of coincidence, or something bigger? You be the judge.
I woke up on that October morning and like any other day, I greeted my family - my dog Cookie and two cats, Zach and Cali - but this morning was different. Zach was still in the same spot I had seen him in for at least a day. He was sleeping on a chair in the living room and even the night before I wondered if he had ever gotten up. I had been in and out the day before so I couldn’t be sure. He hadn’t eaten the night before but that’s not so unusual. The weather had turned cold and rainy. I thought maybe he was just feeling a little under the weather. But, then I coaxed him to get up and when he did I saw something alarming. He staggered when he tried to walk, and flopped down. He had a hard time standing up and then started vomiting (a greenish liquid). I panicked thinking he had gotten into antifreeze. I knew I had to get him to the vet as soon as possible. It was only 6 am. My regular vet office was not yet open. Off we went to emergency.
They took Zach in almost immediately and did a blood test. They gave him fluids but they couldn’t immediately tell what was wrong. After the fluids, he seemed better. We went home. The next day the blood results came in and the vet called me. He said “I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’ve never seen levels so high.” He was referring to Zach’s creatinine and BUN levels which were several times what they should be. In fact, they were off the chart. Creatinine and BUN (blood urea nitrogen ) are waste products which are filtered through the kidneys. Elevated levels indicate the kidneys are not functioning properly.
Zach’s blood results indicated a creatinine level of 17.4 (normal is .8–2.3) and a BUN level of 179 (normal is 15-34). Obviously, there was something immensely wrong with his kidneys -- they were failing.
The vet said “I’m sorry.” I thought what’s he sorry for? What’s he saying? Was there no hope? Was Zach going to die? My cat had never had problems with his kidneys before. In fact, throughout the seven years I’d had him, he had always been pretty healthy. He was only nine years old. (Zach was a stray who arrived in my backyard at approximately the age of two.)
The vet suggested I immediately bring him in for another round of fluids (that is subcutaneous) to flush his kidneys. Off we went. The vet recommended just bombarding him with fluids as a “last ditch” effort (not his words, but how I interpreted). He didn’t come right out and say it, but I realized later he thought Zach wouldn’t make it past a few days. They gave him 300 milliliters of fluid (this is extraordinarily high). For those of you familiar with subcutaneous fluids, you know what this looks like. To those unfamiliar, the fluids are given by needle just under the skin. The result is that the skin puffs out, creating a bulging fluid sack. With an amount this large, he looked like the Hunchback of Norte Dam but worse.
I had only given subcutaneous fluids (or sub-Qs) a few times before in my life – to my friend’s cat Stanley years ago. It wasn’t something I relished but I would do anything for my Zachariah. Whatever pain or discomfort I caused him or me was well worth the chance of keeping him alive. I went home – IV bag, setup (the tube), and needles in tow. I was also coming down with the flu. It was a hard weekend. Every time I stood up, I felt weak from my own physical condition. My wonderful friends came over and helped me give him the fluids. We made it through the weekend.
On Monday, I took Zach to my regular (holistic) vet. They gave him fluids, and reviewed the blood results from the first vet. My vet put her arm around me. What?! I understood; she was consoling me. They did another blood test. Later that day, they called me – I needed to take Zach to an emergency hospital asap – and possibly get him a blood transfusion. What?! They didn’t know for sure if this was necessary but wanted to err on the side of caution. Things did not look good. They referred me to an emergency and surgical veterinary hospital open 24 hours. They would be able to help me.
The place they were referring to is an esteemed veterinary care facility – and you can only take your cat or dog there by referral from your regular vet. Zach and I went. The vet there said that before we proceeded with a transfusion they would hydrate him and check his blood levels. Unlike the other two vets, they had the capability to get results within an hour or so. Fortunately, we did not have to do a blood transfusion. And Zach miraculously, to everyone’s surprise, was making a comeback.
Now I didn’t say full recovery because he still has slightly elevated levels of creatinine and BUN. So every three days I give him sub-Qs. He also is on a special diet, reinforced with periodic acupuncture. By the way, switching a cat’s food is not always easy, as with Zach. However, what I do is put some of his old food over the top of the new and this at least helps make it more appetizing.
Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to what caused Zach’s renal failure. At the time, I theorized (because of an sore I found on his hindquarters) that maybe he was in a cat fight. Maybe he was bruised from the fight (did the cat give him something?). I thought his staying in the house was due to the fact he didn’t want to deal with the cat or the change in weather. Zach is a lover, not a fighter. He is a very sweet, laid-back cat.
The vet at the last hospital offered a theory which, at the time, I thought made sense. Since he may have been in a fight, lying around immobilized, he would have been holding his urine. And this may have caused some type of kidney blockage or infection.
My original thought about antifreeze was nixed by all the vets. They all told me that even a small dose of antifreeze would be lethal. (PLEASE make sure you are aware of the signs of leaking antifreeze, a greenish, sometimes bluish liquid that is attractive to animals because of its sweet flavor. It is extremely dangerous, and potentially fatal to dogs, and almost always fatal to cats.)
Months later when the Pet Food Recall happened, I couldn't help but think that was the reason for Zach's renal failure. We know there were many cases of renal failure in pets preceeding the official start of the recall that went unexplained...and uncompensated.
I got Zach to the vet in the nick of time and fortunately he’s still with me. If you ever have any doubts about your pet’s health, take him or her to the vet immediately. Time is of the essence. Thankfully, as the saying goes, cats really may have nine lives. I know Zach does.
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