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