on Monday, April 15, 2013 4:50:47 PM
Gypsy was a lively, affectionate, sometimes mischievous kitten. Her shiny black hair, greenish-yellow sparkling eyes combined with her queenlike manners reminded me of the Disney character Mowgli Bagheera. We found her abandonned in our local park when she had her eyes barely opened. Our kids gleefully took turns feeding her warm milk and made sure she stayed warm which enhanced the bonding process. I think that was why she eventually developed a doglike personality following us around the house, making sure at least one of her human pack was always in sight. Being the only pet in our family, Gypsy received lots of attention, love and affection from all of us.
She was always current on her vaccinations and looked so healthy until the day I found her under the sunroom table. She was desparately gasping for air but little seemed to be taken into her failing little lungs. I picked her up in my arms, but it was too late to save her. A few minutes later she was gone.
What can be more devastating than a feeling of helplessness and terrible pain when your dearly loved pet dies suddenly? I do not have an easy answer for how long the pain will go on. I still blame myself for not noticing the subtle signs of her disease, and not knowing what I now know.
There are many causes of sudden death in cats. Poisonous plants, parasitic and bacterial infections, high blood pressure, and congenital diseases are among those that very often do not show signs of illness. Others produce signs only at the advanced stage of the disease when it is often too late to try and save a pet.
Some common plants are very poisonous to cats, including lily, oleander, sago palm, yew, and foxglove. The frequently mentioned poinsettia is only minimally toxic. Yew, oleander, and foxglove can cause irregular heartbeat and even result in sudden death.
Two common parasitic infections are particularly damaging to the heart: heartworm disease and toxoplasmosis. Sudden death from heartworm disease is more common in cats than dogs and is thought to result from severe lung damage. Cats can die so quickly that owners are not usually able to notice any signs before sudden death. You should become suspicious when your cat vomits between meals, circles, has seizures, or salivates excessively.
Toxoplasmosis in cats is known to causes serious eye diseases, but it is less known that this parasitic infection can also cause severe heart muscle damage which is a common cause of sudden death in cats, especially in kittens. Look for coughing (often misinterpreted as vomiting or dry heaves).
Heart disease often leads to congestive heart failure and sudden death. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is one of the most commonly diagnosed heart disease in cats where the heart muscle thickens and reduces the blood flow. In some breeds of cats the condition is considered to be inherited (Maine Coon, Ragdoll, American shorthair) but is also commonly diagnosed in mixed-breed cats. Look for mouth breathing, very fast heartrate, and cold limbs.
Pyothorax, meaning "pus in the chest," is a common cause of sudden death in cats, especially in young cats of 4 to 6 years of age. It is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth and throat. Bacteria aspirated from the mouth and throat settle in the upper airways and then spread to lungs causing severe lung inflammation and abscesses. Lungworms and ascarids moving from the intestines to the lungs can also act as carriers of bacteria. If you notice that you cat has difficulty breathing and is lethargic, take her to the vet as soon as possible.
Getting more vigilant and watchful is a hard lesson to learn from a tragic event, but I hope that at least this information will help others. Reply