Things That Go Through Your Head When You Are Syringe-Feeding Your 20-Pound Cat 520 Calories Per Day in Tiny One-Milliliter Doses

I have spent the past several days giving food to a cat that doesn’t want it, and on the scale of difficulty, this ranks somewhere between assembling a different IKEA desk once every hour or so all day long, and performing brain surgery on yourself.
Publish date:
June 15, 2012
cat acceptance, pets, cats, questioning my sanity

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of uber-positivestuff around here, possibly to the extent of being annoying about it. There’s a reason for that: I’ve needed some optimism this past week.

My cat Rufus, whom strangers on the internet are frequently telling me to put on a diet, has developed an eating disorder following an unfortunate butt-related surgery last month. No, no we shall not speak of that, for it is unspeakable.

Understandably, having had his bottom thoroughly irrigated and plunged, Rufus seems to have decided he just wasn’t going to eat food anymore. Thus: NO BOTTOM PROBLEMS. And hey, it worked out great for awhile. Until he started to lose weight. Until he developed a life-threatening disease called hepatic lipidosis, and his liver began to fail.

This is a thing that happens to fat cats that go anorexic (I’m not being cute here -- that’s really what they call it) and lose weight too quickly: their livers fail. The illness as a result of not eating makes them even less interested in eating, and eventually, if left untreated, the cat will die.

The primary treatment, ironically, is food. Loads and loads of food.

What Rufus has been seeing roughly every two hours for the past week, with breaks to allow me time to sleep.

In fatass Rufus’s case, as determined by his weight, that comes to three 5.5-ounce cans of food. Syringed into his mouth one milliliter at a time. Every day.

I’ve been doing a lot of math. A quarter can of food mixed with just enough water to get it into the syringe comes to about 40mls. I need to give Rufus 12 quarters-of-a-can of this particular prescription food per day, coming roughly to 40mls of food every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to administer those 40mls. A normal cat’s stomach can hold between 40 to 50 mls at a time (or else there is vomiting), and needs at least an hour -- or two or three, for a cat recovering from illness -- to evacuate to the bowel-based second act of the feline digestive process.

Do you see where the math fails, here? It is a question of time and space. I am in the midst of tracking down a higher-calorie food to expedite this process, but ultimately I am still forcing a huge volume of food into a fat cat to save his life. And it is -- I am not overstating things here, even though it probably sounds like I am -- ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS I HAVE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE.

He's taken to hiding under my desk to escape my syringe-based torture. It doesn't work, as I am more limber than he thinks.

The vet has suggested the installation of a feeding tube. I suppose this might be slightly easier, and less messy, but it is also more expensive and would require Rufus to undergo anesthesia in his already weakened state, and never let it be said that I have not taken the less-traveled and incredibly difficult path when it is offerred to me.

And so I have spent the past several days -- and will likely spend weeks more -- giving food to a cat that doesn’t want it, and on the scale of difficulty, this ranks somewhere between assembling a different IKEA desk once every hour or so all day long, and performing brain surgery on yourself.

After awhile, your ability to reason breaks down. Your thoughts are consumed with cats, cat food, cat stomachs, mililiters and liver disease. Some of the things continuously running through my mind include:

  • This is the most absurd thing I have ever done.
  • I am going to need to take every towel, blanket, quilt and comforter in the house to be professionally cleaned. [Seriously, there is cat food EVERYWHERE. I will probably need to rent a carpet cleaner as well.]
  • What does THAT posture mean? Nausea? Anger? Despair? Oh wait, I’m looking in a mirror.
  • So this is what having a baby is like. Except without the added fun of dirty diapers. And if I had a baby I could at least try to breastfeed it.
  • I would probably breastfeed this cat if I could. At least then I could multitask instead of just listening to whatever DVD I have on ["Forever Knight," "The Lone Gunmen," anything ridiculous and campy] in the background.
  • I am so never having kids.
  • Every room in this house smells like cat food. I’m going to have to move.
  • Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up.
  • Just eat, for heaven’s sake. It’s one of two things cats do really, really well.

My frustration has reached its apex as of today, and I have burst into tears three times already and it’s not even noon. (PMS probably doesn’t help.) I do not consider myself a particularly nurturing person; I am less about tender loving care and more about just fixing things. So having to dedicate literally many many hours every day to the painstaking administration of nourishment to my cat is wearing on me quick.

As a result I am seriously considering just getting the feeding tube installed in Rufus next week -- this would be a tube extending from his neck and penetrating all the way down his esophagus to his irritatingly tiny kitty stomach, and if the Internet research I’ve done is any indication, it probably won’t bug him that much. At least no more than me following him around with a syringe dripping with food and grabbing him by the head and forcing it into his mouth 1ml at a time.

I feel a little like a failure about it -- leave it to me to make my cat’s illness about my inability to be superhuman -- but I’m making peace with that, and trying to stay positive regardless.

My question for you, beloved commenters, is this: What’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done for a pet? How far do you imagine yourself going to take care of your furry companions? Am I completely off my nut for doing this much?

I will say this: The next person who questions my commitment to cat-care is getting punched in the groin, I don’t care who they are. This is your only warning.