It was an accident. I set out two on a tray and forgot to take them. In the morning there was one. I looked around on the counter, in the crack behind the counter, on the floor. I figured one of the cats had knocked it off and batted it around. Or maybe he ate it, but so what? How bad could it be?
A couple of days later, after I’d been away all day, I returned and my little black cat walked in from the woods. Usually he runs to greet me. Inside, he threw up some clear liquid with a piece of grass in it. Awww, he’s hungry, I thought; usually he’s eaten half a can of food by that time of day. I fed him, he ate, he ate again later, but he didn’t want his treat.
In the morning I found a pile of vomited kibble. Poor baby, he’s constipated. We’ve struggled all summer with vomit and constipation with both cats, likely from all the grasshoppers they’ve been chasing and eating. But he didn’t finish his breakfast. I had to be out again all day. When I returned that afternoon, he moped into the house and lay down. His back end was moving funny. I tried to tempt him with treats, wet food; no response. An hour later, into the evening when all the vets were closed, I remembered that missing Advil. Online warnings were dire:
A single 200-milligram ibuprofen tablet can be toxic to a cat or small- to medium-sized dog; toxic effects can occur rapidly and damage the kidneys and stomach… The damaging effects of ibuprofen or naproxen in pets include inhibiting blood flow to the kidneys and interfering with the production of compounds that help protect the inner lining of the stomach. Therefore, toxic effects of ibuprofen and naproxen in dogs and cats include kidney damage that can lead to kidney failure and severe stomach irritation that can progress to stomach ulcers.
I called the Animal Doctor. She said to bring him in in the morning. He was practically comatose when I did. This is going to be the worst part, she said as she prepared to shave the fur under his neck in order to draw blood. He’s not going to like it. He didn’t care, he didn’t move. We lay him on his back in a foam form so she could do an ultrasound. He didn’t protest when she shaved his belly and rubbed it with gel, or when she moved the wand around. Until she hit something and he was in obvious pain. One kidney looked ok, she said, but the other looked off; maybe that was a hairball in his upper intestine; maybe his liver was swollen.
She warmed a bag of liquid in warm water in the sink, then hung it and stuck his neck with a huge needle to give him subcutaneous fluids. Twice more she stuck him and he moved feebly for a second then settled. She let me take him home, where he slept the day away. After a few hours I offered him some tuna water diluted with filtered water and he drank. Late afternoon when I fed the dogs he came in with a pitiful meow, and I offered him wet food mixed with water. He ate.
In the morning the doctor called with bad news from the blood test. Both his BUN and Creatinine, the tests that measure kidney function, were five times the high end of normal, revealing acute kidney failure. That afternoon we went back for more fluid injections. By then he was stronger and objected to getting in his carrier, then later hissed at the vet as she reached in to give him the needle.
In a phone consult that evening a second vet said his numbers were so bad they suggested antifreeze poisoning, which is usually fatal. That’s possible but not likely where we live; and we do know one Advil is missing. I scoured the nooks and crannies of the kitchen again and could not find it.
But his behavior keeps improving, and we’ve got our fingers crossed. There’s nothing we can do now while his life hangs in the balance except keep him hydrated and eating, and hope his strong little cat body can flush it out of his system and his kidneys recover. Day by day. They’re just kitties, said Fred.
At the same time that I feel a fierce clinging to this kitty, a need for him to survive this, I recognize an inclination to just let go, to distance myself from him and the strength of my love for him. If I love him less perhaps it won’t hurt so badly if he dies of my mistake, unknowingly leaving poison within his reach.
But I think of the words of deep ecologist Joanna Macy that I heard recently, touching on our grief for the natural world in light of toxic man-made disasters like Chernobyl and the BP Gulf Oil spill:
…the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life… It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? … say you’re taking care of your mother, and she’s dying of cancer. And you say, “I can’t go in her house or in her room because I don’t want to look at her.” But if you love her, you want to be with her. If we love our world, we’re able to see the scum of oil spreading across the Gulf. We’re able to see what it’s doing to the wetlands and the marshes, what it’s doing to the dolphins and the gulls. When you love something, your love doesn’t say, “Well, too bad my kid has leukemia, so I won’t go near her.” It’s just the opposite.
Just the opposite in microcosm. While I do what little I can to save the planet from our poisons, I’ll do everything possible to save this accidental little black cat that surprises me every time he jumps in my lap with the force of my love for him. And now we’re off to the vet to get more subcutaneous fluid to flush out that poison. Never ever let your cat eat an Advil, or any other pill meant for you.