One morning a few weeks ago we had a walk-in named Lillie and there was no doubt she needed immediate attention. Lillie, a 16-year-old cat, was in obvious respiratory distress. Her respiratory rate was over 80 per minute and she was exerting a lot of effort just taking each breath. The owners stated they had noticed her breathing a little unusual last week, but suddenly this morning she had started having much more difficulty. I listened to her heart and lungs. All I could hear was loud lung sounds.
I rattled off conditions that could cause this type of breathing in a 16-year-old cat, and gave them the bad news that none of them were very good. I recommended some chest radiographs to try to find out the cause, and Lillie’s owners immediately consented. It appeared there was a small amount of fluid in the lungs near the heart. Although there was only a small amount of fluid, this is often the sole finding in cats experiencing heart disease. I discussed feline heart disease with Lillie’s owners and gave them a pretty guarded prognosis, but told them our best chance to get her to improve was for her to stay in the hospital so that I could give injections to try to clear up the fluid and get her breathing settled down. Without hesitation, the owners agreed to hospitalization.
By late afternoon Lillie’s respiratory rate was down to about 60 per minute, but she seemed less anxious and distressed. I discussed having the owner transfer Lillie to the emergency clinic to be observed through the night, but since she was showing improvement the owners opted to keep her at my hospital with me checking on her a couple times and giving injections through the night.
When I came into the hospital later that night, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a very noticeable improvement in her condition. Her respiratory rate was about 40 per minute and she was resting much more comfortably. I could now hear her heart clearly since her lungs had cleared up quite a bit. I attempted to start her on oral medication, but that just wasn’t going to happen. I am pretty much an expert pill giver to cats, but Lillie was having none of that. I then offered her some food and to my utter shock, she immediately went after it. Sick cats are notorious for not wanting to eat when hospitalized, but Lillie ate quite a bit of food for me that night.
By the next morning, I was actually getting pretty optimistic that Lillie might be able to do pretty well with her heart disease considering how quickly she responded to treatment. She was still breathing a little fast, but was acting well and eating well. I knew we would need to rely on the owners hiding medication in food to get these medications in her every day, but the way she was eating I didn’t think that would be an issue. I was wrong.
Lillie’s very grateful owners picked her up that morning and took her home with a couple medications to be given twice a day. We talked to the owner three days later and they reported her respirations were relatively normal, but she was eating very little. Since she wasn’t eating, getting the medicine was about impossible. I could definitely appreciate the owner’s difficulty medicating her. Medicating her was so stressful for Lillie and the owner that they just had to stop trying to get the medication into her. Within a week, Lillie was having the difficult breathing issue again and we had to euthanize her.
At first glance, you may wonder why I chose to relate this case of Lillie. I mean, it really didn’t have the “happy ending” we all wanted for Lillie. While I wish Lillie had responded better and been able to spend a few more months with her owners, Lillie had a great life for a cat! She lived to be 16 years old. She lived in a house with people who genuinely loved and cared for her. This love was very obvious whenever I talked to the owners. Throughout the whole last week of her life as we tried to treat this heart problem, the owners repeatedly thanked me and my staff for everything we were doing for Lillie. When they brought Lillie in to be euthanized, their love for her was again displayed. I assured them they had done everything they could for her and as a veterinarian that is really all I can ask of a pet owner.
Chad Higgins has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for the last 17 years and treats dogs, cats, ferrets and other little furry critters.