From the Blog

A Sick Kitty And Litter Box Adventures

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I have a cat. This is a crazy cat lady post. If you’re not into cute, loveable, fuzzy-wuzzy kittiness or cat crap, you may exit now.

I got my cat about ten years ago. He was born to a feral mom under a house in Burbank, California. I had friends who tended to the litter of kittens after the mom was finally caught, spayed and released back into the wilds of Burbank. This was the third or fourth batch of kittens born under that house.

I had just moved to Los Angeles, not because I wanted to, but because it was the path of least resistance. I got a temp job in a movie studio accounting department, and an apartment in Glendale. It was about a month after 9-11. Not long after, my friends who were tending the tiny little kittens came to my apartment and unexpectedly dropped off the little striped gray one that I said I liked.

I like cats, and who doesn’t love kittens? But I wasn’t actually ready for a destructive little creature living in my new apartment. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the commitment. All the cats I grew up with have lived to their late teens. That would put me in my mid forties. That was a hell of a long time.

This kitten was the one that we suspected was leaving little tootsie rolls outside the box. He was also the one that wouldn’t sit still. You couldn’t hold him and pet him until he curled up to sleep in your lap. He wanted to fidget and squirm until he got away. He explored the dark corners and the deep inaccessible hollows under furniture. And he liked to claw up the curtains and go for a swing. He was already a little shit.

At my temp job, I was sitting next to a guy who was a math major, which I found baffling. He was studying math on purpose. I don’t even know what kind of career you can get from studying math. Not engineering or physics or science. MATH. But I was the one with a degree in literature working in an accounting department.

I casually mentioned to the math major that I had just gotten a kitten and I was sort of thinking about naming him Schrödinger. And the guy nearly had a nerdgasm. “Oh my god, you have to name your cat Schrödinger.” He drew me a little Bill the Cat cartoon to explain the experiment. It helped my feeble literary brain understand a bit of quantum mechanics. I called the kitten “Dinger,” for short. Sometimes “Ding Ding Kitty.”

I moved from Glendale to Hollywood. I took the cat with me. And I moved three more times in the Los Angeles area until 2007 when I moved to Hawaii for four months. I took the cat with me. Then I came back to the mainland with a quick stop in at my parents’ in California before I drove up to Oregon. I’ve moved four times since moving to Oregon. I took the cat with me. I’ve moved thirteen times in the past ten years.

The cat sprung back from each of these upheavals perhaps better than I have. He’s been there as I worked through shitty jobs, psycho bosses, an awful relationship, and a few less than ideal living situations. But he’s just a cat. He just eats, sleeps and craps. But he curled up next to me in all my difficult moments and has been a constant in my life.

Not long ago I brought him to the vet for a check up and maybe a teeth cleaning. He had stinky breath and he suddenly seemed to be making a swamp out of his litter box. We ran some tests and it turns out he has kidney failure. It’s chronic and eventually fatal. The words I heard were “months to years.” I talked to friends and family about it, and we got sympathy and condolences. My vet said not to worry about giving him intravenous fluids right then, but I got advice from other vets saying to start fluids right away.

Dave and I were a little baffled. He wasn’t acting sick. He didn’t seem like he was on death’s door. He seemed as energetic and affectionate as ever. After switching to a low protein food, the stinky breath and the swampy litter box went away. On the advice of a friend who is a vet, I cancelled the teeth cleaning to avoid the strain of anesthesia on his kidneys. After a few weeks, we ran another series of tests and there was actually a slight improvement. We breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s been now about six months, and we keep an eye on him. He appears healthy and happy. How can you really tell with a cat? One of the symptoms of kidney failure is lethargy. But he’s a goddamned cat. They sleep 20 hours a day.

Lately he has slowly begun to reject the low protein food. He made sure to alert us by puking on the rug multiple times. It’s more important for him to eat than it is for him to eat the low protein food. So I put out a dish of both the low protein plus his old food.

But in the past week or so, he seems less happy with any of his usual food. I keep a dish out of the old standby, plus another very expensive food that is supposed to support the kidneys. He doesn’t seem to be super interested in either of them. And he’s not just refusing to eat, then slinking into a corner. He’s got plenty of food, but he nearly trips us when we get near the utility room where we keep his dishes. He chirps and meows at us urgently. What, cat? He’s got three different types of food in there. It’s all nicely mounded because we’ve learned he doesn’t like having to dig to the bottom of his bowl to get his food. He starts getting antsy if he only has half a bowl and it’s not nicely rounded. He’s a baby about this.

He’s also drinking a ton of water and swamping up his litter box. These are not good signs. I’m going to make an appointment with the local vet, but I don’t know what they can say beyond what we already know. We are beginning to realize time may be short. There has been at least one day where he seemed faded and tired. He barely moved all day. We then understood what it meant for a cat to be lethargic.

But more often, he’s super affectionate to the point of being needy. He also seems to have plenty of energy. I’ve been giving him regular wet food because he scarfs it down without complaint. Again, any food is better than nothing. I have been told I can give him the low protein food and also give him anti nausea pills to help him keep it down. But gawd. I’ve never had to give my cat a pill. And he’s got a super low tolerance for bullshit. I’d rather seem him chow down food he enjoys.

We struggle with how much we want to do to prolong his time with us. Do we want to give him fluids? Force medicine down his throat, and make him eat food he doesn’t like? I don’t want him to dread coming near me because he thinks I’m going to poke or prod him. Perhaps he could live for years longer. Are we being neglectful for not doing everything in our power to keep him alive as long as we can? I want the cat to tell me, but he doesn’t speak goddamned english.

A few nights ago, a pungent wave of the most deadly rotten stench permeated our apartment. The cat trotted out and seemed light and springy. The smell hit Dave first because he is closer to the litter box. And he nearly fell into convulsions, it was so awful. We opened windows to the night air, but it was too late. The horrid vapor crept into every corner, displacing any sweet smelling oxygen. It was enough to make your eyes water.

While the cat likes the wet food, he somehow digests that food and squeezes it out into a substance more deadly than plutonium. I’m very happy he is eating. I have a sweet smelling bar of soap to hold under my nose for the newly powerful A-bombs he is dropping. Holy crap, cat.

But if he continues to eat happily, I can live with toxic plutonium poops as long as he is around to make them.


  1. Thinking good thoughts for your kitty. I love his name.

    I loved Bloom County back in the day, still do.

  2. So sorry to hear about Dinger, he sounds like a true and faithful cat friend! A couple of years ago I faced the same situation with my wonderful 16 yr old Maine Coon cat. Deciding when it is time to help your friend leave this world can be an agonizing process. I once heard some really good advice to know when the time has come…is your cat still eating/enjoying food, does your cat still enjoy being with you-even if it is only a short amount of time each day and finally is your cat comfortable/doesn’t seem to be in pain. As long as all 3 conditions are met: food, interactive, comfortable it is not time yet. I also rejected doing “heroic” measures such as injecting fluid under the skin. My cat always hated getting pills etc, and like you I didn’t want her to become afraid of me and hide. I knew it was time when she stopped sleeping. She would just sit motionless like a statue but not curl up or lay down. During this time, a good friend also struggled with her elderly cat’s kidney failure. She decided to do SQ fluid, insulin injections, pills for acid reflux and low protein diet. She did this for one year. Her cat would hide when it was fluid time, and getting it to eat the diet was a struggle. I feel I did right by my cat, she had a good long cat life. I didn’t feel she needed to suffer just to extend her life. I still miss her 2 years later. You know and love Dinger, he trusts you will make the right decision when the time comes. It’s never easy.

  3. Sorry to hear about Dinger, but you never know, he could still have quite awhile left.

    I’m a crazy cat lady myself. I have a 14yr old Maine Coon mix that got diagnosed with diabetes three years ago. I cried like someone shot him in front of me or something. I had to give him insulin for awhile, and although he’s the biggest scardy cat in the world he’d come to me for his insulin. Pills, no way in hell, but he took the shots like a champ. Eventually he became diet controlled and didn’t need any more insulin (so far). We celebrated because once again we didn’t have to be home every 12 hours on the dot. Then the peeing started again and this time it was kidney failure. I think that was two years ago. He has his moments where I think he’s gonna take a turn for the worse, but so far seems stable (knock on wood). Thanks to Mr Diseasey all three of our cats get only wet food now.

    An old co-worker had a 19 yr old cat with kidney failure that had been living with it for years. They did do fluids every couple of days. The cat was still happy.

    This is just my long-winded way of saying your kitty may have many more years of stinky poop bombs ahead of him. :-)

  4. My lovelies, thank you for your stories.

    When “that time” comes, I’m going to be a mess. When I first took him in, the vet said nine “was getting to be old.” And I was all like, “You filthy whore, nine years old IS NOT OLD!” All the cats I’ve had lived to their late teens. So Dinger is still just a kid! But we are slowly coming to grips that this is really happening. Hopefully later rather than sooner.

    I didn’t really call my vet a filthy whore. She was a nice lady.

  5. Ugh. I’m sorry. I agree with Zoe Baily. And as long as he has more good days than bad.

  6. Meredith, you took that last photo. Thank you.

  7. Please join this free support and resource group:

    It is a life-changing experience for people and for kitties with kidney disease.

  8. Okay, sick kitty update. I brought him to the vet today and they gave him SQ fluids. There’s really not much else to do. He’s all bloated and lumpy now for the first time in his life, waddling around like a fatso kitty. It’s kinda funny.

  9. You are doing everything you can for Dinger, and I know first hand how much of an awesome life he has lived. You are an amazing kitty mommy and he couldn’t have asked for a better one. You will know when the time has come, when he is ready, and I will always be here for you if you need me in any way. Your sis is awesome at this too, she helped me with Ai chan. Just know that you have both your sisters here for you…..always. LOVE YOU!!!

  10. What a sweet boy! Kidney disease is the bane of cat ownership and an all-too-common cause of death for felines. My kitty was diagnosed at 10… I had always lived under the assumption that being a pampered indoor kitty, she would live well into her teens. I hadn’t factored her genetics into the picture. I did daily fluid injection, appetite stimulant, phosphate binder, as well as an every-third-day injection later on to help stimulate red blood cell formation due to secondary anemia. She was a very docile, easy-to-medicate cat, and I was working at a vet clinic where I could get supplies and any support I needed. It’s an individual decision for every cat and person family to make. My kitty was diagnosed in early spring and ended up living a quality life until the fall. I had to accept that it was time when she developed resistance to the red blood cell stimulant and there was no other feasible treatment for her anemia. She was lethargic, nauseous, and miserable. It was one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of my life.

    I worked as a vet tech for 7 years, and helping people with their kidney cats became somewhat of a ‘specialty’ of mine. I truly appreciate the fear, worry, and agony of the decisions you have to make. It’s so hard, but trust yourself to make the right decisions for Dinger. No one knows your kitty better than you.

    I want to mention a few tips about food. You can try adding tuna juice, or the gravy and/or small amounts of canned kitty ‘junk food’ (friskies, whiskas, etc) into his food. Heating it up in the microwave is great, just be sure to stir it well and make sure it’s not too hot. You want it to be as stinky as possible so that he can smell it, which will make him want to eat despite the nausea he may be experiencing. Serve it on a flat plate, and if he refuses, you can try putting a dab on his lip or in his mouth. Sometimes he might just need a little prompting.

    I wish you and Dave and Dinger the best. I’m here for any questions, support, or listening you need.

    Take care,

    • Thanks for your insight, Jen. Since I last checked in on this post, he’s been doing great. Springy, affectionate and happy. There’s a science diet dry food that he likes and I give him wet food once a day. He’s eating like a champ. I know he’s still sick because he drinks SO MUCH WATER. But besides that, he is doing really, really well.

      He was diagnosed in February and I was told “months to years.” He’s going strong. I love my kitty.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

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