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The Silent Killer Condition that Claimed a Young Cat's Life

Updated on March 17, 2014
Harley the cat - he was the third generation of black cats in the family and never suffered a day's illness.
Harley the cat - he was the third generation of black cats in the family and never suffered a day's illness.

None of the cats had ever had a day's illness

It was a typical summer's day, a Sunday afternoon, when all the dogs were lazing about in the house or the back garden, too hot to do very much.

The cats had been out prowling earlier, but it was too hot for them and they had retired to various beds, or in the cupboard, where a couple of them liked to sleep.

I was preparing the dinner and kept flitting through to the lounge to watch television, in between checking the food that was in the oven.

All of a sudden, I heard the dogs scampering round the kitchen, whining, so I went in to see what they were doing. I vaguely saw our black cat, Harley, disappearing under the kitchen cupboard. I thought nothing of it, as he often hid under there, where it was cool.

The dogs wandered off and settled down again and I continued with my pottering about the kitchen.

Harley was an adorable cat who belonged to my friend and housemate. He always had a black cat called Harley - it was a kind of family tradition - and this was the third generation of his beloved cats. None of them had ever had a day's illness and had been to the vet's only for routine appointments, such as neutering and inoculations. None of them had ever had any serious medical conditions and had lived long and happy lives.

Harley in the kitchen: He hid under the built-in cupboards all the time, usually coming out when he felt like it.
Harley in the kitchen: He hid under the built-in cupboards all the time, usually coming out when he felt like it.

A typical Sunday afternoon turned into a nightmare

About half an hour later, the dinner was almost ready and the dogs were becoming a little excited at the prospect of food. They were totally ruined and expected everything that we cooked for ourselves.

As I stood over the cooker, I became aware that a cat was miaowing noisily somewhere in the kitchen. I realised it was Harley - and when I followed the noise, I discovered he had gone behind the cupboard. I presumed he was wedged behind it somehow, as he went under it all the time, but usually came out of his own accord when he felt like it.

I had no idea what he was doing behind there, since he had never got stuck before.

I called my housemate and he too could hear Harley making a terrible, eerie noise from behind the built-in units. Talking to him and reassuring him rescue was on the way, my housemate pulled the front of the cupboard off altogether to try to reach his cat.

He managed to do so and found Harley lying on the floor behind the cupboards.

Initially, he seemed okay, but seconds later, we realised he was far from alright - he was in a state of semi-collapse and could hardly move.

Cat was rushed to the emergency vet

To say we were in a state of panic and hysteria would be an understatement.

My housemate took Harley into the lounge and put him on the settee. He was miaowing constantly and we realised his back legs were suddenly paralysed, with no movement in them at all.

His front legs seemed okay, but the poor little soul was trying to drag himself round with his useless back legs stretched out behind him, making a terrible noise as he continued to miaow.

We rang the emergency vet immediately. Our first thought was that an injury had occurred when the dogs had been jumping around the kitchen earlier and I had seen Harley disappearing under the cupboard. We feared one of them had inadvertently jumped on him and caused a spinal injury.

They are big dogs, but very friendly towards the cats, having all grown up together. They would never knowingly hurt them, but accidents can happen.

Harley playing with one of the dogs, Happy Buster, in the back garden, only a few weeks before Harley's collapse.
Harley playing with one of the dogs, Happy Buster, in the back garden, only a few weeks before Harley's collapse.

Vet told us to take Harley to the surgery immediately

On the telephone to the vet, I was asked all kinds of questions about Harley's general health and whether he had been ill in any way, or had any unusual behaviour or symptoms lately.

I said truthfully that he hadn't. I was such a worrier about the animals' health, he would have been whisked straight up to the surgery had I noticed anything untoward.

My housemate carefully placed him in the car and drove him the short trip to the vet's, while I sat at home worrying myself to the point of being ill. I couldn't help thinking that if the dogs had injured Harley's spine by jumping on him, I was partly to blame, as I had seen the cat disappearing under the cupboard earlier, but didn't investigate.

However, he had done this hundreds of times in the past and I'd had no reason to think this occasion was any different from the others. He was only a young cat (four years old) and I'd had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

Harley looking down at Roy from the dining room window, while the dog bounced around whining and the cat continued to tease him!
Harley looking down at Roy from the dining room window, while the dog bounced around whining and the cat continued to tease him!

A series of tests were carried out on Harley

I sat there for more than an hour worrying. Harley was to have an Xray at the vet's and other tests.

I wondered, if his back was broken, God forbid, whether he would be having an operation and would return in a plaster cast. I didn't even know if a surgery was possible in these cases and I started crying at the thought of never seeing him again.

I remembered all the happy times when Harley had played out in the back garden with Happy Buster, his favourite canine pal, or how he would sit just inside the open window in the dining room, looking down contemptuously on Roy, one of our dogs, who would be bouncing up and down furiously in the garden, trying to reach his feline friend.

Harley also adored sitting in boxes and when ever a parcel arrived, I knew he would find the cardboard box far more fascinating that any of his scratching posts or catnip mice! Once he disappeared for several hours and I was worried about where he had gone - until I found him fast asleep in a cardboard box in the cupboard.

Harley enjoying one of his favourite pastimes - sitting in a cardboard box.
Harley enjoying one of his favourite pastimes - sitting in a cardboard box.

The agony of learning what had happened to Harley

A long time had passed and I still didn't know what had happened to Harley.

But I knew it must be something very serious.

When I saw the car pull up outside, it was with a heavy heart that I saw my housemate getting out alone and walking up the garden path. I looked at him from the dining room window and he just shook his head, his eyes filling up with tears.

Harley had gone. I would never see our beautiful boy again.

The vet had discovered that he'd had an enlarged heart and it had killed him.

I had never even heard of this condition before, but it was a relatively common cause of death in cats. The vet had said that even if Harley had actually been in the surgery when he collapsed and the paralysis of his back legs struck, it would have been impossible to save him, because his heart had packed in and he was dying.

The dogs were exonerated from having injured him, as the vet said it would have just happened suddenly when he had suffered heart failure.

The terrible thing was that it had struck without warning and we'd had no idea anything was wrong, as there had been no symptoms. The vet said Harley would have had the condition since birth and it would have become progressively worse. She was amazed he had lived to four years old.

Harley in one of his favourite spots in the dining room window during the summer.
Harley in one of his favourite spots in the dining room window during the summer.
Harley (pictured with his pals Pepper the cat and Roy the dog) had shown no symptoms at all of heart disease.
Harley (pictured with his pals Pepper the cat and Roy the dog) had shown no symptoms at all of heart disease.

Shortness of breath can be a symptom

I read up on the condition on various veterinary sites to try and understand what had happened, as I couldn't get my head round the fact he had been taken from us so suddenly, in the prime of his young life.

I learned how congestive heart failure occurred when the cat’s enlarged heart was not able to adequately distribute blood throughout the body. Shortness of breath and lethargy are apparently symptoms to look out for - but Harley had not had any untoward symptoms at all and had seemed perfectly well.

The condition, if left untreated, can lead to thromboembolic disease due to the abnormal blood flow, which subsequently causes blood clots. If one becomes lodged at the base of the aorta artery, which delivers blood to the cat’s hind legs, it results in paralysis and can also cause circulatory shock and heart failure, which can be fatal.

This is what had happened to our poor Harley.

Treatment is possible if the condition is found early enough

I also learned how many cases of feline enlarged heart were congenital, meaning that the condition was caused by problems that had been present since birth.

If your cat goes for regular check-ups at the vet's, it is worth having his heart tested to make sure everything is okay. If the problem is diagnosed early enough, medications including diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel-blockers and aspirin (to prevent blood clots) can be prescribed.

But ironically, because Harley had always seemed so well, we never had cause to take him to the vet's, so his condition worsened untreated and we had no idea of its existence until it was too late.

Harley (pictured on our back fence with a neighbour's cat) was always lively and adventurous and showed no signs of shortness of breath or lethargy.
Harley (pictured on our back fence with a neighbour's cat) was always lively and adventurous and showed no signs of shortness of breath or lethargy.

Our home will never be the same without Harley

After Harley had gone, life went on with as much normality as possible that night.

Pepper, who had been Harley's pal for four years, their cat beds next to each other in the kitchen, had gone out into the garden again before Harley's collapse. He returned much later for his supper. He had not seen Harley fall ill and being driven away from the house.

He and Harley used to have their meals on top of the kitchen cupboards to avoid the dogs trying to steal their food. They always ate at the same time and I felt sorry for Pepper. If he could talk, he would have asked where his buddy was.

Harley and Pepper always dined together.
Harley and Pepper always dined together.

My dog missed Harley when he had gone

I remembered a time when Harley was two years old and he had gone missing for three days. I had been worried and out looking for him, printing off posters to distribute through people's letterboxes. On that occasion, Pepper had dined alone and slept alone, with Harley's empty bed next to him. He knew something was wrong.

Then Harley had arrived home in the middle of the night, popping through the kitchen window and miaowing loudly as if nothing had happened. It turned out he had temporarily moved in with a family up the street who had a cat themselves! We had seen it in our garden and apparently Harley had followed it home and darted into the other family's house.

They thought he was a stray and had fed him for two days before he "disappeared". This came to light only a few weeks later, when they saw him in our garden and we all pieced together what had happened.

But to my eternal sorrow, this time, my dear friend Harley had gone for good. The main family member to miss him was Happy Buster, one of the young, male dogs, as he loved being outdoors in the summer and spent a lot of time in the back garden with Harley. He looked for him around the garden and in the dog kennel, where Harley sometimes sat to keep out of the sun.

I would urge anyone who is even slightly concerned about their cat and thinks there might just be something wrong - but cannot put their finger on what it is - to have him examined to be on the safe side.

It was a tragedy that such a young life was lost and to a medical condition that could have been kept under control, had we known it existed.

In memory of Harley (2008-2012)

Harley with his canine pal, Happy Buster, relaxing in my back garden in the summer.
Harley with his canine pal, Happy Buster, relaxing in my back garden in the summer.

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    • LCDWriter profile image

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      This is great information for all cat owners to be aware of. You did a good job of telling the story as well.

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you very much for your supportive comment. I felt upset as I wrote this as I remembered Harley, but I wanted others to know about this condition, as I had never heard of it until this tragedy happened.

    • LCDWriter profile image

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      I know the feeling. I recently wrote about my cat's cancer journeyand I cried all the way through writing it. He passed away in my arms this afternoon. We get so attached to these sweet babies but writing about it can be very cathartic. And maybe your advice and list of symptoms will help another cat owner catch it earlier and buy some more time for their cat. Sorry for your loss!

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      I am so sorry to hear of your cat's battle with cancer. You must be heartbroken. They are a member of the family and we feel their loss very deeply.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and very useful.

      Thanks for sharing this great hub.

      Eddy.

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you for your supportive comment. I just hope it can help others.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      This educational and loving hub was a beautiful tribute to your Harley. I think he would be proud. I admire your love of animals. I love them deeply as well.

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you for your kind comment. It is always good to meet a fellow animal-lover. Harley was such a beautiful boy and I still feel upset to this day when I think of how he passed, on a warm, sunny day, not unlike today, which had started out like every other day. I always think you never know what is round the corner and that is why I try to love and cherish all my animals and give them the best life I can.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This was a great story to share. I just got two new kittens but my last cat lived almost 20 years and I do believe it was due to garlic in her diet I put in tuna for her about every ten days or so. (chopped fine) It kills fleas and worms I know.

      You are my 1000th follower, thank you!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Cats can go so quickly. My 14 year old died a few weeks ago. Kidneys started failing, and it happened so quickly. What happened to your Harley sounds like what happened to my 11-year-old Blacky several years black. He couldn't move, but then it passed. Now I wish I had insisted something be done when I took him to the vet as a few days later he woke me up crying during the night. He couldn't move his back legs, was breathing heavily, and died shortly after. It was so sad. I'm sorry for your loss. Sounds like a wonderful cat. Sometimes we just can't save them no matter what.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 2 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great article. I've not pets, but know many friends who do. I'll share your article as FYI to them.

      Thanks!

    • Relationshipc profile image

      Kari 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I can feel the pain of Harley's sudden death, and he left behind a very good lesson. Like you said, if something seems off, getting it checked out is important. A good reminder for me to not write things off with my dogs.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      This is so sad! It brought tears to my eyes reading through. It reminded me of some past episodes when I worked for the vet. I recall a distraught family bringing in their cat that was in severe pain and dragging its legs and they had no clue what happened to him. The kids were there petting the cat, and when they left the room crying, I knew it had a bad outcome. It's a terrible condition, my thoughts are out to you.

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image

      Kathleen Odenthal Romano 2 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

      Wow what a touching and heartbreaking hub. I have three rescue cats of my own and they are all close to Harley's age. I had never heard of this condition before reading your hub but am so grateful that you shared this information with us. My cats are my babies and I would be lost if any of them passed. I am so sorry for your loss, and again I thank you for sharing your story.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I am so sorry to hear about Harley. I know how sad you are. I lost a little dachshund to heart failure once. You will see Harley again someday.

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thank you all for your lovely comments. I do hope that by sharing Harley's tragic story, it may help someone else who has a cat who may be suffering from the same condition without knowing it. One sign can be shortness of breath, apparently. But with Harley, there were no symptoms and we had no idea until the day of his death. But if anyone has an animal who has symptoms that are hard to diagnose, it is always worth checking with your vet to see if an enlarged heart might be at the source. Incidentally, I still have Harley's 'legacy' here - he brought home a wild baby mouse one day and deposited it in my kitchen sink. I put the mouse in a huge fish tank converted into a mouse 'den' (thinking he may not survive the shock) and the little guy is still alive today! He must be the oldest mouse in existence, I think. Love to you all.

    • profile image

      Angela Griffin 2 years ago

      What a tragic story, but a useful read for other cat owners who may not have heard of this awful affliction.

    • K L Evans profile image
      Author

      Karen Evans 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Thanks, Angela, for your comments. It is indeed a terrible condition and without it showing any symptoms in the early stages, it is often too late to do anything - as in Harley's case - when an attack happens.

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