I have a 16-year-old indoor-only neutered male DSH. Until this past weekend he was in good health for his age; some kidney disease, very slight elevations in his thyroid tests, and he's a few pounds lighter than he was as a strapping young guy (13 pounds, down from a high of 17 in his prime) with some arthritis. Starting Sunday morning he showed nausea and refused to eat, though he would drink, and he appeared a little unsteady on his feet--he shook his head after drinking and nearly tipped over. Monday he still wouldn't eat and was clearly depressed and uncomfortable, so we went to my vet, who did blood work, gave him some fluids and a shot of anti-nausea medication, and sent me out with Pepcid for him. His appetite has returned, but his unsteadiness is worse, especially if he needs to move his hind legs sideways (turning around in place, getting in and out of the litter box, etc.; he also shook his head after eating as he sometimes does in cleaning his whiskers and his feet went clean out from under him). Blood work and urinalysis came back with nothing except elevated lipase: BUN and creatinine were steady, he doesn't have diabetes, nothing else presented as unusual. We made a second trip to the vet for a BP check (170, which my vet said wasn't really high enough to cause him trauma); she examined his eyes carefully but he has no retinal hemorrhages or other apparent problems. Ears seem fine, no evidence of infection. Palpated his spine for sensitivites that could indicate cancer but found nothing. No drooling or other behavior that might indicate a toxin. He's been urinating normally; went a little while between bowel movements due to not eating but started having them again normally once he was eating. My vet's having them run more blood work for possible pancreatitis, with the lipase.
Does anything come to mind that could account for the unsteadiness?
At his age, and given that he's already slightly compromised, I don't intend to put him through much--I don't plan to ask for an MRI to see if he has a brain tumor, for example, because I wouldn't put him through surgery. As of now his spirits are good and he's enjoying treats and head skritchies, and he's getting around the house okay, including up and down carpeted stairs and jumping on and off beds. If he stops being himself, or if I think he's at risk for falling and getting hurt, I'll obviously do the right thing by him. But I'd love to know if there's anything else he could be tested or checked for that could be treated.
My first thought would be that it is age related, possibly worsening arthritis. Otherwise, I might suspect a mild stroke, considering his age and all. This is not uncommon and does not necessarily need to mean that his quality of life is significantly reduced.
One rule of thumb that I have used is that a cat that is grooming, eating and generally taking care of itself does not need to be put to sleep. When a cat stops caring for itself, then it usually has given up. Now, this is not universal, but it's a rule of thumb, depending on the condition and prognosis.
He sounds like he's doing great. I have rarely seen an elderly cat that doesn't reach unsteadiness at some point. It's normal and they can still go on happily for years.
By the way, another possibility is inner ear infection. You can't always see explicit infection symptoms when it's the inner ear that is affected and it definitely causes unsteadiness. Especially if he's circling (walking/moving in circles) or tilting his head, I would consider this possibility.
No circling and no head tilting per se, but his balance gets a lot worse when he moves his head. He seems to be declining. He's not too bad going straight ahead on carpet, but anything involving turning about knocks him over. Even being startled and moving his head quickly makes him fall. He's not really grooming--perhaps a lick at his chest or his front feet. Eating is intermittent; sometimes he's disinterested in everything, sometimes he'll eat. Despite the Pepcid he vomited again this morning (just liquid, I don't think he'd eaten yet--he then couldn't seem to pick up crunchy treats but did eat soft ones when I hand-fed him). He's giving me the impression that his personality wants to keep going but his body may not let him. Last night he jumped for "his" chair, and fell--I think it hurt, of course, but he seemed to get the spirit knocked out of him for a while, too. I really don't want to push him to where he's actually given up; I'd rather have him go with a little fight left, if signs are that there's not much time left.
I'm waiting for a call from his lifelong vet, and I have an appointment this afternoon with the other vet in her practice.
Further update... my vet hadn't come in, so I talked with the other clinic vet. I'd thought it all but sure that I'd end up having him put to sleep today, but he gazed up at me from the bed, as though he wanted me to look closer into his eyes, so I leaned in closer--and the little bugger went after my necklace. Like I said, I don't want to push him; for all I know tomorrow's the day. But he, at least, wasn't quite ready to hear the bell toll today.
I hate to say it but this is exactly what happened to my neighbours cat who was 17, he went downhill very fast, not interested in food and vomiting and his legs would give out from under him all the time, he died within 2 weeks of these symptoms, he was at the vet as his BP was up and other problems and my neighbour had to make the decision to put him down. I knew when I looked after him for 2 days that this was very serious and that he didnt have long to go, it was just awful watching him fall over. I'm so sorry you are going through this too, please give an update, I will be praying for him.
I just read your post again and noticed he isnt eating the crunchy treats, this is how it started with my neighbours cat as the cat always loved his biscuits, so I thought he may have had a broken tooth because at this stage he wasnt falling over, so the vet ran some tests and said his BP was high and they had to wait for it to come down before they could give him anaesthetic to fix some of his teeth which were worn down.
So he comes home and then the falling over starts, so back to the vet he goes and I thought it odd that they were still worrying more about his teeth when he clearly had another major problem going on with the falling over, weight loss, vomiting and not eating as much so basically the poor little guy never came home from the vet after that second visit as he deteriorated further, he was my little friend too as he came to my place every day for 8 years for some biscuits and a cuddle.
Thanks much for your posts; even though it was bad news, in a way, it actually made me feel better about the decision I made today, which was to have him put to sleep. He fell earlier today from a standstill. The nausea seemed to be returning--he would lick up the liquid from the packeted food but didn't even want the soft treats, and after what he didn't take in, he sat looking very uncomfortable with his tail wrapped tight. Barely balanced long enough to use the litter box, then went to bed, where I could see he was having bouts of shivering or trembling. He looked like he hurt--but he was such a good cat he wasn't going to give up. I decided the only humane thing for me was to break my own heart and give him his peace. :(
I'm sorry to hear of your own loss. We had a neighbor's cat who visited as well; his family had young children, so he'd come over in the afternoon for a snack and an undisturbed nap.
I'm very sorry to hear that there was nothing further you could do for him, as painful as it is for you, you did the right thing but I know if doesn't make it any easier, another cutie now in cat heaven, I wish animals didnt have such short lives. I put a little photo album together of my cat's photos and look at it periodically and it always brings a smile to my face. You know when you said he gazed up at you and went for your necklace, I reckon he was saying goodbye in his own little way, cats know these things.
My own cat got to 18 a few years ago and he was dying of cancer and one day I was lying on the bed with him, crying of course about the decision I knew I had to make and he sat right up on my chest and head butted me for the first time ever and looked deep into my eyes for a minute, something he had never done before and I knew then that he knew he was sick and he was saying goodbye. :(
I'm soo sorry to hear all you went through and that it didn't alter the final decision to put him down. I would reall like to know what it was that was ailing your cat as I have a 5 month old kitten who has developed these symptoms. It started Sunday sometime and I noticed after work but at first I thought it was just a pulled muscle from jumping off something but it has appearantly spread in the last day to his whole back half. He can stand but not walk.. Have a vet appointment today and I'm hoping he can figure it out today as I feel his 5 months is by far to short of a stay.
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