I’ve never really had to deal with a sick or recovering pet before. All the pets I had growing up either died of unnatural causes (hit by car, shot by crazy ass neighbor) or were SO sick that treatment was not really an option and it was kinder to have them put to sleep. However, now I am in possession of my very own brain-damaged feline, and my learning curve has been sharp. The vet still doesn’t know what is wrong with the cat. Could be stroke, could be brain tumor, could be infection, could be vestibular disease. Therefore, if your cat has any or all of these neurological problems, she is probably falling over, peeing herself, having trouble keeping food down, and many other symptoms which might scare the shit out of you but are probably not that serious. Here are some things I’ve learned so far about caring for a cat that behaves like she is constantly drunk.
Keep her confined. The cat will fall over, a lot. She can’t help it. But allowing her to be in places where she will fall from ANY height is bad. No stairs, no couch, no bed. Nothing off the ground. Many sources online recommend keeping her in a separate room, but how many of us have rooms with no furniture in them? Even the bathroom has a toilet. Grab a dog kennel sized for medium dogs and set her up in there. We keep our cat near our computers so she is at the center of the house and there are people around her. I threw an old, dark blanket over the kennel to give it that “cave” feeling my cats seem to like, and also to filter the light so she can nap more easily.
You’ll need to give her a litter box in the kennel, but since she is so unsteady, a normal litter box will be very difficult to manage. We had a few “oops, I fell down into my own pee” situations before we realized that making her step over the wall of the box was cruel and unusual. Deep litter also seemed to freak her out because it is a shifting surface. Buy a throwaway foil cookie sheet and fill it with litter. You will need to keep this very clean.
Occasional “accidents” onto her bedding are nothing to be alarmed about. Because she is so unsteady, she might not be able to make it into the litter box before her bladder lets go. Also, she is pretty freaked out about not being able to stand up properly, and this might contribute. Use old towels or old clothing for her bedding – something you can wash with hot water and bleach is the best. After awhile, this will probably get better as your cat adjusts and begins to cope with things. If she never uses the box and is always doing her business outside of it, consult your vet.
Also, don’t be overly alarmed if she throws up occasionally. One of the side effects of brain issues is vertigo. Just imagine always being really, really drunk. You’d puke sometimes, too. If she is throwing up every meal, call your vet.
Get some “bath wipes” from your local pet supply store. It will be hard for her to groom herself effectively because she has no balance. You will need to keep an eye on her and clean her up. Even if she doesn’t look particularly dirty, give her a nice once over. Cats do not like to be dirty. Just think how you feel when you’re sick and have been laying in bed for a few days. A shower goes a long way toward making you feel better. It’s the same for cats. This should go without saying, but only use wipes designed for use on cats. Do NOT use “Wet Wipes” or those disinfectant wipes that are made for cleaning counters.
Keep her living area clean. If you opt for the kennel solution, some litter will spill out of the tray, some food will get spilled, some water might spill, etc. Keep her bedding aired out and free of debris. I know not everyone is at home all day like I am, but shaking things out once or twice a day will help keep the cat happy and comfortable.
Let her out occasionally for some supervised exercise time. She won’t be able to play, but she has to stretch her legs a bit. I think of it as physical therapy. We are not yet sure how much our cat is going to recover, so she might need to learn to compensate for her dizziness. However, we don’t want her to get too upset and stressed out. So, I let her walk around the dining room and check things out. After she falls over twice, she goes back into the kennel for some rest. Now is also a good time to groom her, do a little brushing (if that soothes her, my other cat HATES to be brushed), pet her, and comfort her. She might be spending a lot of time sleeping (I know my cat does), but she still needs to move around a bit.
Make sure she is eating. For whatever reason, my cat will not touch the food she’s always eaten, even if she’s obviously hungry. At this point, I could care less what she eats as long as it’s cat food. I bought a ton of Fancy Feast canned food, and she eats this. It’s not my first dietary choice, but it’s better than nothing. Also, feed several small meals. It will be easier for her to keep down, and if she does throw up, she’s not vomiting an entire days worth of food.
Make sure she is drinking. Cats get dehydrated very quickly, so keep an eye on her water intake.
BE PATIENT. Injuries and illnesses dealing with the brain are slow to heal. Some of them may not heal at all. Your cat may be different from what she was before. Your vet will be able to guide you along the recovery path. If you have any questions, call your vet. He or she will know what you are going through. That is, if you….
Have a good vet. Some pet owners freak WAY out and overreact, it’s true. But, if you feel like your vet is not taking your concerns seriously, do not hesitate to get a second opinion. Especially get a second opinion if your vet recommends euthanizing your cat and you don’t think there’s a need. Many cats recover and go on to lead happy lives after suffering a stroke or other injury to the brain. There’s no reason to cut their lives short just because they might need some help for a time. Your vet should be receptive to hearing from you and answering your questions. He/she should also want to check up on your cat regularly, especially if there is not a definite diagnosis – mine has had me check in every couple of days so far.
Your vet may have more suggestions for you, but the main thing to remember is to not freak out too badly. It can be very scary when your pet has little control over herself, but most of the time, it is only temporary. Keep your cool, keep your cat protected, and everything should be fine.