It all started innocently enough. My yellow and white tabby, Yellow Kid, had been battling a stubborn infection in his paw for months. We'd get it cleaned up, and it would return, time after time. Finally, our new vet cleaned it out completely, and all was well.
Or so I thought. His paw was looking pink and healthy, with just the smallest scab. He was walking normally,, no longer limping. Everything was going well. And then - of course, on a Saturday when vets generally aren't available - he started walking stiffly. The cat with the voracious appetite wasn't eating, although he was sniffing his food as if interested. He'd then just walk away - something I'd never seen him do before. Yellow Kid just never passes up food.
The stiff walking became more pronounced that evening, and by Sunday morning he was walking with his back arched, just a step at a time, looking seriously ill. I was sure he had some kind of blood infection from the paw problem. But soon Yellow Kid was becoming sicker by the minute, and I knew that waiting until Monday morning was a bad idea.
So off we went to the Veterinary Emergency Hospital. That's the only choice one has around here on weekends. By the time we got there, Yellow Kid was unable to walk, which was a major change from 30 minutes prior. His body was stiff, and he wasn't able to move. He couldn't sit, stand, walk or do anything other than lay flat on his side. He couldn't move his head. His tail was stretched out ramrod straight, his legs were extended and not bending at all, and his ears stood erect without moving. That's when I learned from the ER vet that Yellow Kid had tetanus.
The vet had never seen a cat with tetanus. Neither had the other ER vet working the clinic that day. Turns out that cats have a natural immunity to tetanus, so a cat with tetanus is a true rarity. It also turns out that there is no blood test for tetanus in cats; the only way it can be diagnosed is visually. Unfortunately, Yellow Kid had all the signs - stiff ears and tail, locked jaw (which sadly explained why he had sniffed his food and walked away), body stretched out and unable to move. If you picked him up, his muscles were so taut that he was literally as stiff as a board.
It was heart-wrenching to see him that way. In fact, so painful for me that I couldn't take any photos of him. I didn't know how much longer he'd be on this earth, and I didn't want a photo of him like that as my last memory. My camera stayed in the car.
Talking with the ER vet, she said that although he was in rough shape and not far from death, that she believed that with treatment he had a chance of making it. So they immediately pumped him full of IV antibiotics and muscle relaxants, and fed him intravenously since he hadn't eaten in at least two days.
What I didn't know when I brought him in was that transporting him in my noisy, bumpy big diesel van wasn't a good idea - an animal with tetanus reacts to sound and movement in a negative way, stiffening up with each noise and bump. That explained why Yellow Kid had been able to walk just prior to our trip to the vet, but not after we arrived. Though not intentionally, I'd inadvertently bounced him in my noisy city-bus-of-a-van for the 20 minute ride to the emergency vet, which worsened his condition considerably.
After discussing the options with the ER vet, we decided that they'd treat him until the next morning, when I'd transfer him to our regular vet for continued treatment. So Monday morning I moved my board-stiff-cat - now in my quieter, smaller Kia van - and we headed to Denney Veterinary, where they babied him while he slowly recuperated.
His convalescence was slow in coming. They set him up in a big laundry basket in the middle of their work area so they could check on him frequently. Everyone fell in love with Yellow Kid. Even in his sad state, he'd purr when they talked with him, said a kind word to him, petted him, or encouraged him. They had never seen a cat with tetanus either, although they had experience with tetanus in dogs and horses. They were cautiously optimistic that Yellow Kid would pull through, and they worked hard to make it happen.
After several days of antibiotics, he slowly showed improvement. At first, he could just lift his head from his stiffened position, still laying on his side. He was hungry, and they discovered that he could eat wet cat food on his own, although he slopped it down his face and all over his blanket. Then he was able to move his shoulders, and then he was off IV completely. He could eat and drink on his own, although he was still stiff and laying on his side. They were able to feed him his antibiotics in pill-form. He'd started to move his front legs a bit, and they'd been seeing more and more improvement, so after ten days it was time for him to go home.
That night at home, after giving him the physical therapy suggested by his vet, I carefully placed him in the bathtub. He was still stiff and laying on his side, but he was safely "caged", unable to climb out of the bathtub. I fed him - he was back to voracious eating again - and left the door open to the bathroom so the other cats could visit.
Early the next morning I checked on him, only to find no Yellow Kid in the bathtub. Or in the bathroom. Or anywhere. He'd disappeared, and after several minutes of worrisome searching, I found him leaning against the stairs in a half-sitting position. He stood up to greet me, then toppled over. Somehow, he'd managed to crawl out of a extra tall porcelain bathtub and drag himself on his side to one of his favorite hiding spots 20 feet from the bathroom. He still had almost no balance, but was now able to half-sit up and lean against something, very tentatively. Progress!
So much for physical therapy - there wasn't any point in doing it when Yellow Kid was creating his own PT program. From then on, we just went outside, where he could crawl around in the grass and do his own thing for a half hour. Crawling turned to cockeyed sitting, then attempting to standing (and toppling over many, many times), then finally standing and taking a wobbly step. He was so determined, this big three year old cat who had endured so much. The improvements were amazing - for a cat that was stiff as a board just days prior, he was moving a different part of his body nearly every day.
Forgive me - this might be considered a gross photo, but when you realize that this was an impossibility just a few days earlier, you'll understand how astounded I was to see him grooming!
His appetite has definitely returned, right down to his daily 'salad', which is part of the Yellow Kid ritual.
And rolling around in the grass on a sunny day feels sooooo good!
All amazing moves from a cat that used to look like a piece of firewood...
It's nearly three weeks since he came home, and he's 95% back to normal. I've noticed his stance is a bit bow-legged, but it doesn't seem to cause him any problems. He's now doing normal cat things - running up stairs when he hears the vacuum, jumping up on furniture, antagonizing his fellow kitties. But he's slowed down a bit, and also has become much more a loverboy, spending quite a bit of time rubbing up against my leg, asking for a head or back rub. It's as if he realizes he wouldn't be here except for the superb medical care and love he got from his vets.
A gigantic Thank You to veterinarians Dr. Denney and Dr. Heikes for their loving care of Yellow Kid. Though he's probably gone through half his lives with this episode, Yellow Kid is still one tough cat!