How To Care For a Chronically Ill Pet
In August of 2020, our cat, Jammy swallowed a giant beetle and it got stuck in his intestine. Little did we know that would be the beginning of a very long journey.
We nearly lost Jammy several times. Even though we got him to a vet the minute I knew something was wrong, the damage was done. That beetle had ulcerated his esophagus and intestines. Surgery repaired the immediate problem, but Jammy was a long way from well.
He should've recovered within three days of surgery. He only got worse. He should've started eating on his own. Instead, he was wasting away while in the hospital. I was asked to bring him home...to die.
I've been in no-win scenarios before. Ask Greg. I don't give up and I don't give in.
That doesn't mean I always win. I've lost some of my babies despite my best efforts. But I won't quit until I've exhausted all my options.
I did my research as best I could with what information we had. I called my vet often to give her updates and run some of my ideas with her.
I put myself (and Jammy) on a strict schedule. Every hour or so I'd give him a few cc's of watery gruel. Three times a day I'd insert a needle and administer fluids. And then there were the drugs. Some had to be given before others. Others couldn't be combined. Most had to be dissolved in a slurry. One was so disgustingly bitter, I would sweeten it with milk so he wouldn't throw it up.
This went on for months.
Slowly. Very slowly, I weaned him off his meds one by one. He's on solid food now, as long as it's a very smooth puree. Anything chunky or hard will make him vomit. There is so much scar tissue lining his esophagus.
So here we are in Month Four. I'm happy to report that other than his new precise diet, Jammy is the picture of health. He plays, he purrs, and every night he sleeps in the crook of my arm.
He may never again eat hard kibble (his favorite) but at least he's alive and happy.
I learned a lot from this ordeal and I want to share my tips with you. If you have a pet with a chronic illness, be it infection, ulcers, old age, or other long term issues, I promise these steps will keep you sane.
You might not always be able to save your pet, but you can keep him comfortable and help him better able to handle his illness or disability.
- First. Identify the problem. You can't solve the problem until you know what it is.
- Do your research. Don't rely on your vet alone. You might find an odd pearl of information that could help your pet.
- Sharpen your observational skills. No one knows your pet better than you do. I was able to give my vet precise observations that helped us narrow down where the problem actually lay.
- Keep to a schedule. Jammy was on so many drugs, it was dizzying. I sat down and mapped out when I could give each drug so that his medication never left his body until the next dose was due.
- Feed on a schedule. Jammy was so thin and malnourished. Part of the problem is that he couldn't keep his food down. This required tiny amounts of gruel fed through a syringe many, many times a day.
- Reconsider his diet. When pets are ill they need a diet that is healthier than the average stuff. In my case, Jammy wasn't getting enough calories. I double-downed and broke down each potential food option to the amount of calories and ingredients.
- Be patient. I was not patient and I tried to get Jammy to eat food his body wasn't ready to eat. I've since learned that you can't hurry nature. Every pet is different. Every pet's body is different. Go slow. Make your changes gradually.
- Make them feel safe. One thing I've learned about animals is that their good health is strongly attached to how safe they feel. Stress is a huge factor for recovery, so it's important to make your pets feel protected.
- Look at the big picture. This one can be hard. I knew if I couldn't get Jammy back to eating solid food, I would have to put him down.
We had many, many weeks when the prognosis didn't look good. All my efforts were keeping him alive, but his quality of life was zero. I had to find a way for him to eat again, on his own, and keep it down. After many months of experimenting, I found a regimen of foods that rebuilt his strength and weight. I'm content with this.
At some point, you too will have to look at the big picture. Is your pet thriving or existing? It's a hard question with an even harder answer.
It's my hope that you never have to face a long term illness or disability with any loved one. Our pets can't speak for themselves so it's vital that you speak for them. None of us want to lose our pets, so don't throw in the towel too soon.
It can be discouraging and heart breaking. They might never go back to being normal, but you can still give them a happy life.
I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences. Have you ever had to take care of a pet with a long term illness or disability?
Affiliate Notice: Anytime you buy something through any of my Amazon links, I get a tiny commission. It costs you nothing, but it supports this blog and earns you my gratitude for keeping us going. Thank you!
check out my Favorite Things Page. These are items that I have bought for myself or friends and can absolutely recommend.