Dear friends, this is a different blog post…. We usually write articles about nutrition and health, but this one is personal – this is the story of my own journey against this horrible disease.
Only those who have a cat with PICA know how devastating this disease is. Unlike any other, there is nothing you can do to prevent or foresee it – it can happen anytime, with horrible consequences.
I decided to write this post as up to now, I really hadn’t heard of a permanent solution, a “cure” for feline PICA… But then a small miracle happened – or was it? We beat it! And I feel I must share our experience as if we can help even one kitty out there…. All she went through might make sense…. Might have been worth it.
Without further ado, here is our story –
Blanket was found on the streets, either abandoned by her mom, or someone, but either way – she came to me as a malnourished soon to be bottle baby – itty bitty, and full of spunk!
It didn’t take much to get her going though – aside from tiny, she wasn’t ill, and good food would bring her to great health. She was quickly transitioned to EZComplete and had a voracious appetite. She grew into a gorgeous, healthy little kitty!
One day, when she was a little over one year old, I went out of town and upon my return I noticed that my blanket (how’s that for “well” chosen name?!) had holes in it! LOTS of holes! I didn’t know what had happened, and started watching all my cats like a hawk.
That’s when I caught Blanket eating my couch – yep – the couch. She had already made a huge hole in it and was already munching on the stuffing!
Little by little she started to eat everything – her favorites were cloth items – blankets, sheets, couch, towels, pants, shirts…. But she also ate my wall, the wooden cat tree, my mattress... There wasn’t a way to “keep things away from her” – because that meant not having a bed, a couch, clothes, mats, or even walls.
Vet trips were done, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with her – she was the picture of health… Which was both good and bad news…. Good because of course you want a healthy baby! Bad because medically there wasn’t anything I could do.
There were theories about how kitties that are abandoned by their moms can develop PICA…. Some people found help by adding lanolin oil to their food, as in some cats this seems to be what is called “Wool suckling pica”, and by replacing this component of the wool – lanolin, you might be able to help to curb the craving... I did that, and I thought it was helping…. If it was, it wasn’t enough.
I also did the best I could to redirect her chewing to Lamb Ears chews – while she DID love that, I wasn’t able to make her chew on that 24x7.
Blanket’s first hospital stay with a blockage was on 10/21/2016 – she was 16 moths old. She started hacking and threw up what I came to call a “thing-ball” (Thing-balls were much like hairballs, but made up of things instead of hair). From that point on, she wouldn’t keep food down anymore, and would just keep vomiting.
Off to the vet we go – X-rays are done, which show a pattern of gas, but are somewhat inconclusive. Since she went to the vet very early, she spent all day on fluids and getting X-rays to see the progression of the blockage – she finally passed it, and we dodged a major bullet.
Three months later, on 01/07/2017, Blanket passes another thing-ball and starts throwing up. I immediately take her to the ER, who tells me she isn’t blocked, and has gastritis – they want to keep her IV and antibiotics. I ask them to see the X-Rays. There it was, her stomach and intestinal tract all full of gas – when I brought that up, the vet said that nope – that wasn’t a blockage. No one in the ER would do anything other than leave her on fluids/antibiotics.
I took her home with me, as I KNEW that was a misdiagnosis, to wait for my vet on Monday (This was Saturday).
On Monday, at 7am I was on my way to my vet. There was no doubt that was a blockage when my vet saw the x-rays, and the radiology report confirmed the location for the exploratory surgery.
Blanket had ingested a piece of my exercise pants made of Dri-fit, and it had absolutely devasted her gut tract – it was as though she had ingested acid – her gut was paper thin, totally corroded.
A few days later, while Blanket was still in the hospital, my other cat Bugsy started having very similar symptoms…. Which was strange, since Bugsy doesn’t have PICA.
Misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, to make a long story short, it turns out that Blanket had eaten my pants, thrown up half of it, and since she eats raw meat, Bugsy thought it was a nice lunch – yuck! Ate the meat, along with the other half of the pants that she had thrown up, and ended up blocked too. Now I had her on my vet, and him going through Emergency exploratory surgery at the ER, at the same time (I only foud what happened after Bugsy's surgery, when the ER vet scooped up the other half of the cloth).
Fast forward to August 2017, seven months later. Blanket again tosses out a thing-ball, and I immediately go off looking for what it could be – I find my shorts, with a huge hole she had eaten (picture on the right). She starts again, throwing up violently. Luckily a day at the vet on fluids made her pass that one – another bullet dodged!
November 01, Blanket hacks and violently throws up dinner. I immediately knew that was bad. Decided to fast her and leave a message to my vet saying we were coming first thing in the morning with a blockage.
Sure enough – Blanket was blocked, and another exploratory surgery was in order. This time she had eaten the tip of my winter glove. It took me weeks to realize that she had fished this glove through a 1” opening on my dresser and eaten the tip of it. That-is-how-bad-she-was.
Anyways, as she is recovering from surgery at home, not even a week later, I catch her eating a bath towel.
I immediately picked up the phone and made the call to her vet that would forever change our lives.
First, I explained to him that I had just caught Blanket eating a towel, and that I was afraid for her life – it was much too soon to have another surgery. Then I said I needed him to keep a very open mind, as that had not been done before – but I had my reasons to think it would work.
He met with all the vets in his practice, and all but one agreed with me and him. We scheduled the surgery for as soon as possible, and that day couldn’t come soon enough!
The days leading up to that surgery were excruciating – walking on eggshells doesn’t quite explain what I was feeling. Every day she didn’t hack, every day she didn’t block, was a victory…. And then finally, the day arrived!
I had all these feelings within me – guilt, sadness and relief. Guilt and sadness because I knew I was putting her through pain, and couldn’t explain to her why she was going through that yet again <3…. Relief because if that worked, she would never go through that again! I was finally looking forward to sleeping a full night without the fear of her eating something that could potentially kill her….
Blanket did great through surgery, and the 4 large molars and 4 large pre-molars were removed.
We came home, she ate a meal, and few hours later, something very interesting, very telling, happened:
Blanket jumped on the coffee table and incessantly started to look for something to chew. She was completely OCD – desperate. She finally found a dried lamb ear that I had hidden from her, as I was scared of being too rough on her stitches…. Since she was so desperate, I gave it to her and she ran away to chew on it. My instincts kicked in, and I decided to give her a dose of buprenex – that was just too strange... She was just too desperate to chew on something. As soon as the bupe kicked in, she stopped chewing. And that was the last time she chewed on something – the last time.
Folks, Blanket’s PICA wasn’t OCD – it was PAIN.
Even though there was nothing that could be seen through X-rays, and she had no teeth/gum disease, she was in pain, and she chewed to relieve that pain. That became SO clear when I gave her Buprenex and she stopped chewing! And of course as clear as day now, that her teeth are gone, and so is the behavior.
I wasn’t expecting this – I was expecting her not to be able to rip and tear the cloth material…. But the behavior itself is gone.
In hindsight, it all makes sense…. Babies chew to relieve the pain of teething…. Kids with braces chew gum for pain relief…. Why wouldn’t cats?
The issue with cats is that as obligate carnivores, their teeth are made to rip and tear – unlike us that chew in and up and down motion, they chew back and forth – and when they rip, their tongue hooks complete the job in aiding them swallowing whatever they are chewing. The damage is done.
Friends, I don’t know if this is a solution for someone else other than us…. But after going through what we have gone through, I can’t imagine why it’s not possible to think that this might be a physical problem, instead of purely a behavior problem – honestly.
My Blanket is not, by any means, a stressed out kitty – she isn’t OCD in anything else – she has no reason to be. She displays no signs of any OCD behavior – why PICA? Why are all these cats suffering from PICA? Why is no one out there considering the possibility of pain?
I know this might be seen as a radical solution – trust me, I was well judged when I shared this idea in an online group, and I might be judged now – but to me, it was far more radical to know that she would be going through a life of one exploratory surgery after another – she simply wouldn’t survive.
It might be too soon…. But this is the longest she has been without chewing on something…. Her recovery was very quick, and she didn't skip a beat. As for me? I am finally able to sleep through the night knowing that when I wake up she won’t be blocked. Walking on eggshells is finally behind me.