An injured or sick cat is the biggest nightmare of any cat parent. Recently, I had to live through this nightmare when Barry got a fluid build-up in his knee.
I knew that something was up with Barry when he spent all day hiding under my roommate’s bed. “Maybe he’s just tired,” I tried to rationalize away. “Maybe he got into human food and got a stomach ache. Maybe this will pass quickly. I’ll keep watch over him, but cats are weird, it might be nothing.”
It didn’t. My fears were confounded when Barry finally came out from under my roommate’s bed. He was walking slowly, appearing groggy. When I gave him wet food, he didn’t even finish it, and he LOVES his wet food. I started to become even more worried, but he was eating, drinking, and using the bathroom, so I clung to the idea that it was a temporary stomachache and would soon pass.
Another day went by where Barry was not getting any better. I decided I would take him to vet the next morning if he was still sick. “It’s probably a stomach bug,” I thought. “Some antibiotics and he’d be just fine.” I was worried, so worried, checking on him every spare moment, but I figured it was just a normal kitty flu or something.
But everything changed when he came out from underneath my roommate’s bed on the second night of him being sick.
Barry walked out of the bedroom and attempted to go down the stairs. He made it one step, stopped, and tried to get back up the step. He could barely make it.
He stumbled into my bedroom, and that’s when I noticed he was limping. Badly. He wasn’t putting any weight on his left hind leg. At all. And it was swollen. Something was seriously wrong with his leg.
So I did what any loving cat parent would do when realizing their baby was badly injured: I sat down on my bed and bawled my eyes out for twenty minutes (and continued to cry on and off throughout the rest of the night). My poor little baby, injured and in so much pain. What was wrong with him? Was his leg broken? Or was it something more serious, did he break his spine, or his tail? Was it just a sprain, or something worse? Was he dying? Was he going to be okay?
I knew for sure a vet visit was in Barry’s immediate future. In the meantime, I locked him in the bedroom with me to sleep. He cuddled up in bed with me all night. I was absolutely distraught over his injury, but I felt better knowing he was trying to show me that he was alright so that I wouldn’t worry (actually, cats will generally mask their pain and hide injuries, which is an instinct from being in the wild so they do not look like easy prey, but I liked to think Barry was doing it for me, anyway). I checked up on him a few times during the night, and then the next day I called the vet.
Chuckie and Barry’s vet had no available appointments and didn’t have a working x-ray machine, so the next option was Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, which is close to where I live. I loaded Barry up in his cat carrier and drove him over. I had two classes that day and an orientation for an upcoming internship, but I decided they might have to be skipped or postponed. Barry’s health was more important.
Penn Vet is a great animal hospital with lovely veterinarians, nurses, and staff. Barry got a triage nurse called right out for him and went right back in to the emergency room. I waited around, nervously scrolling through Facebook on my phone. A grown man sat in the waiting room and cried, presumably over his pet, and I could feel my heart breaking over and over. Would that be me soon?
After waiting a while to be seen by the orthopedic team (who were in surgery), Barry finally got his diagnosis: a build-up of fluid in his knee that was causing the pain and mobility issues.
The doctor didn’t know what caused the fluid build up. She said it could have been from a sprain or something more serious, like septic arthritis or an infection. She gave me two options: take Barry home, keep his mobility limited, see if it gets better, and bring him back if not; or get tests done right away to check for any kind of underlying issues besides a sprain. I chose to pay for the extra tests to be done right away – I didn’t want to wait if there was something seriously wrong.
Barry was at the hospital for nearly ten hours, and finally got released around seven at night. I don’t want to get into the price of his treatment – it was quite a pretty penny – but I’d spend all the money in the world for Barry’s happiness and health.
Since no underlying condition was confirmed, Barry’s initial treatment was pain meds and rest. The doctor prescribed buprenorphine, an opiate, to be dispensed to Barry every 8-12 hours by squirting it onto his gums. The side effects listed on the bottle were “sedation” (which was good to keep him from injuring himself further) and “increased affection” (probably the jackpot of side effects, coming from a cat mom’s perspective at least).
If you’ve read my other blog post about my cats’ primal desire to eat all things, you’ll have read that the one thing they WON’T eat is their medication. Giving any kind of oral medication to Barry is borderline impossible. However, Barry’s injury worked in my favor since he was not as able to squirm from my grasp, so I was able to administer his pain meds effectively.
I kept Barry locked in my bedroom for as long as I could manage to keep him in there. Over the next few days, the swelling in his legs decreased and he started walking easier and quicker. After about a week, he was good as new. The doctors called and said they found no underlying cause for the fluid build up, so the most likely bet is he managed to injure himself (how an indoor cat fails so hard at being a cat that he hurts himself is my question) and he just needed to take time to heal.
And where was Chuckie during all of this? I had to keep Chuck separated from Barry so that he wouldn’t coax him into playing on the bum leg, and also so I could monitor that Barry was eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping (probably a little bit of excessive paranoia on my part, but with two cats in the room I couldn’t be sure who was eating or who was using the litter box, and I wanted to be sure that Barry was, just in case).
So, Chuckie was banned from my room until Barry was all better.
He was a MESS. I honestly think he had a harder time dealing with Barry’s injury than Barry did! Chuckie is so dependent on Barry, so he would run around the house crying and crying because he wanted to see him. I’ve never seen a cat look so anxious. Thankfully, he was a good supportive brother whenever he got his supervised visits with an injured Barry, and as Barry got better, they were able to be together again.
Dealing with Barry’s injuries was a terrible few days of worry and panic. Thankfully, he turned out okay and he is back to jumping on every available surface and eating everybody’s food. I’m glad that I paid attention to my gut when I thought something was wrong and kept an eye on him. And I’m glad my little ball of joy is now happy and healthy.