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I have two 17-year-old male Siamese cats named Kit and Oreo. They have been in my family their whole lives. Due to changes in our living arrangements, Kit (my cat) and Oreo (my sister’s cat) have been moved around amongst us over the years, but have both been with me for the last 6 years.
Overall, we’ve been lucky. Our cats have been happy, healthy, and very budget-friendly. I’ve only been responsible for one trip to the vet with Kit, when he caught a kitty-cold from my roommate’s new cat. It wasn’t fun or cheap, but after a few days, he was back to normal.
But, the morning after our little trip to the E.R., we had to take Oreo to the vet.
Since mid-June, we noticed a lot of “accidents” happening just outside of the litter box. After monitoring the cats, we discovered that Oreo was no longer using the litter box properly and therefore was constantly leaving a mess on the floor.
We tried a few different things to correct this behaviour, but it didn’t make any difference. So we decided to keep the litter box in the bathtub. It’s not the ideal solution, but it is a hell of a lot easier to clean up and it’s not causing any damage to the floors this way. And that’s when we started noticing blood in his urine.
After some researching online and chatting with Alicia of Financial Diffraction, it sounded like Oreo might be suffering from crystals (which is a urinary tract disease where crystals or stone develop and creates a blockage). It hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be a health issue. He was acting normal, never seemed to be in any pain, and only had one or two symptoms of crystals – but the blood indicated that it was time to take him to the vet.
Naturally, money was a concern. With me on E.I. and R not getting the hours he was promised all summer, our finances are tight. But I wasn’t going to let Oreo suffer over an $85 check-up fee.
Unfortunately, the vet wasn’t able to find any issues with Oreo with the routine exam. He was going to need more testing including blood work and a urinalysis. I had two choices: spend another $215 for the testing to hopefully figure out what’s wrong with him, or walk away after spending $85 to learn nothing. I opted for more testing. We left him with the vet and headed home to wait for a phone call to come back and get him.
I was NOT prepared for the phone call we received.
The vet started talking in medical terms that I didn’t follow at all and she then said something to the effect of “we don’t like to give time-lines in situations like this because it could be a few months or a few years“. I completely lost it and didn’t hear much else of what she said. We had brought Oreo to the vet expecting he had a urinary tract infection and now I’m being told he’s dying from kidney (renal) failure?
Suddenly, money didn’t matter anymore. I would pay whatever I had to to help Oreo.
The vet sent us home with some basic information and a $55 round of antibiotics. I paid the bill without even looking at it and booked a follow-up appointment for a week later.
Thankfully, I had been keeping my sister and her husband in the loop and they had graciously offered their financial support. It really helped take some of the stress off.
But it was still a really hard week. Oreo did not like taking the antibiotics at all. R’s stitches were bothering him. We were once again dealing with mould in our living room. And then a family member was rushed to the E.R. and spent a few rocky days in the hospital (but has since been released).
The more we learned a lot about kidney failure in cats that week, the guiltier I felt. Was it my fault that this happened to Oreo? I was only feeding them dry food (which is apparently bad for them) because they stopped eating wet food. I was trying to buy dry food with meat as it’s first ingredient, but I still opted for the cheap grocery store brands versus a better quality brand. R and I were having a lot of stomach issues which we traced back to the tap water – so we switched to bottled water, but the cats didn’t. Basically, I hadn’t changed how I took care of them as their needs changed.
But, we also learned that feline kidney failure is pretty common and that cats can still live for years with it by simply changing their diet and increasing their fluid intake. (Why didn’t the vet tell me this?)
We were much more prepared for Oreo’s follow-up appointment – thanks to our researching and getting some personal insight from KK of Student Debt Survivor (who has unfortunately had to deal with this too). But the antibiotics didn’t work and there was still blood showing up in Oreo’s urine. So for another $200 the vet sent a urine sample to a lab to test for cultures – which came back clear. Meaning after all of that, we still don’t know what’s causing the blood.
Oreo is still in the early to mid stages of renal failure, which means we might be able to prevent him from getting worse by just changing his diet: more water, more wet food, and little to no dry food. R has even started making them home-made cat food (which they love!) that should help their digestion. (Incidentally, this change of diet should also help reduce the risk of kidney problems for Kit.) So for now, unless something changes in his health or behaviour, that’s all we need to do.
I’m obviously relieved that things aren’t nearly as bad for Oreo as the vet initially made it seem, but I’m questioning why we had to spend $600 and a week stressing out to basically learn nothing more than dry food is bad for older cats. Was I purposely told my cat was dying in order to manipulate and “up-sell” me on tests and medicine that he didn’t need? Or was I being prepared for the worst while they ran these tests to accurately diagnose him?
So, how much would you spend on a sick pet?
Apparently, I’m willing to spend a lot more when I’m told it’s a fatal condition (even if that may not be true).
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