The Vet Visit Saga


20150929_151726We adopted our kittens in mid-September and within the first 6 months of pet-ownership, we had a lot of vet visits. 11 appointments scattered between 3 different clinics and 1 specialist’s office. Also, 2 quick cat-less visits to pick up more medication. I’d hoped Grendel’s last appointment mid March would have been a wrap up to things, but she’s still on eye drops and they want to see her again 6 months out. Someday we’ll have an un-medicated kitty. Someday.

Here’s the summary of the whole ordeal, for those who are curious and as an explanation for why many of my cat photos and videos feature Grendel with a cone on her head and copious amounts of orange medication bottles in the background.

Nothing like staring down those vet bills these last few months to make me very, very thankful we waited to adopt until we were on better footing. So, I suppose this is a bit of a cautionary tale to others cat-lovers out there debating when to adopt. Probably best to not just calculate for the start-up pet supplies and adoption fees, but also the possible vet visits if things go badly. It’s like having a slush fund for when your car blows a tire, or make that several tires and some speeding tickets in a double-penalty school zone..

Volume 1: Adoption
Volume 2: Non-Critical Infection & Ear Mites
Volume 3: More Drugs
Volume 4: Start Panicking
Volume 5: The Goody Bag
Volume 6: Signs of Improvement
Volume 7: More Ear Mites 
Volume 8: Results Pending
Bonus: Photos Over Time

Volume 1: Adoption


When Nate and I decided we were finally in a position to adopt some kittens, we went to the quickest route readily available: the Petsmart near our apartment. We were at the end of “kitten season,” so the cages that weeks earlier had been packed with whole litters of adorableness, now had just some random stragglers. A pair who appeared to be from the same litter (same age) were hiding in the back of their respective cages, sniffling and runny eyed.

To the right of these was a little black bundle of energy mewing furiously and reaching shoulder-deep through the bars of her cage in an attempt to swat at us with her little paws. She even kept her claws sheathed as she tried to pull my hand into the cage. I was smitten. The problem was, we knew she’d need a playmate. The sickly pair didn’t look too promising. So we went with the slightly older and healthier looking male caged below. That is, we picked the thoroughly handsome Fafnir.

Of course, just because our pair looked healthy, didn’t mean they were free of the omni-present Feline Herpesvirus (also called FVR). Most shelter cats have it, but they aren’t always symptomatic. Just takes some stress to weaken their immune system and allow the virus and subsequent bacterial infections to move in and cause respiratory issues (-or so our vet techs have told me. Feel free to update me if I’m misinformed).

Volume 2: Non-Critical Infection & Ear Mites

Thankfully the adoption group stressed over and over in their paperwork that new kittens should be taken to a vet as soon as possible. They offered a discount at their own clinic. We called them that weekend and had something set up a bit over a week out. Meantime, Fafnir degenerated into a full out respiratory infection. Grendel sneezed a bit and had crusty ear discharge (probably ear mites), but seemed mostly okay.

Fafnir Ill
Fafnir is still attached to the sweatshirt he slept on through most of his illness.

Honestly, I was freaked out about Fafnir during the days leading up to our appointment. He would eat wet food, but wasn’t drinking. He became less and less playful, wheezed when he breathed, and his eyes were continually watery and goopy. Sometimes they sealed shut and I had to wipe them off with a wet cloth to open them again. We let Fafnir sleep in the bedroom with us at night and made him a perch up on a bookshelf during the day where he could get away from Grendel (who was still all energy).

That first vet visit went well though. Lots of complaining in the car ride of course, and Grendel was not a fan of getting her shots, having her temperature taken (what cat is?), and having her ears cleaned. However, since the last vet visit I had gone to was with a semi-feral cat we’d temporarily taken in, the fact that neither of our duo was screaming bloody murder or drawing blood was a good vet-visit in my book.

We were given some antibiotics to help fight Fafnir’s issues and told to preemptively dose Grendel since she was starting to have watery eyes too.  They said it was a classic case of a secondary bacteria infection because of the Feline Herpesvirus and they had the cat-equivalent of a really bad cold.

Back home, everyone seemed to be getting better, but then Grendel’s eye started watering strangely and her third lid was red and almost always visible. Anxious, we scheduled another visit visit – this time at a different clinic because the one we’d gone to before didn’t have openings in the near future.

Volume 3: More Drugs

The next vet was rather disapproving of our former, noting that the medication they’d given us was “bad for kittens” because it could hinder growth. She gave us a different antibiotic and an ointment for the swollen eye. It sounded like all we had to do was follow their directions, and we’d be fine. Her cold symptoms went away well enough, but the eyelids remained swollen.

Meanwhile, we moved to a new apartment. We reached the end of the two week period that the vet had prescribed us to treat her without much sign of improvement. She was running around and playing like a normal kitten–nothing like Fafnir’s illness–but her eye was almost closed shut. One evening, she started cleaning it and went into a panic, pawing at it wildly like she was in pain. We set up an appointment with a vet near our new place, fingers crossed they just needed to give us a different medication to clear up the problem.

Volume 4: Start Panicking

Nate texted me at work from the vet where he’d taken Grendel. The vet had tried to pry back to lids to see what condition the eye was in and was worried that it was ruptured. She referred us to a specialist, noting that there was a high probability that Grendel might need the eye (or what was left of it) fully removed.

My office has no good place to take phone calls privately, so I went to my car to talk with Nate on my cell. Not going to lie, I was crying pretty bad. I was scared for Grendel, yes, but there was also the fear of finances and not knowing how best to proceed. My husband and I were recent college graduates still working for close to entry-level pay. I had a bundle of student loans, we were living in an expensive area, and the possible vet bill for a surgery was pretty big. Add to that, it wasn’t a guaranteed fix–we might pay for the surgery, but lose Grendel anyway.

The rescue group we’d gotten them from had a clause that any “unwanted” cats should be returned to them rather than brought to other shelters, so that was my reluctant backup plan if the price tag was more than we could enter into. However, I couldn’t be sure that the rescue group might not decide to put Grendel down themselves–they seemed pretty against kill-shelters in their paperwork, but it’s one thing to advocate to save perfectly healthy cats, quiet another to pour money into a medically-complicated cat.

Still, we didn’t know what the situation was until we’d seen a specialist. I thankfully have a pretty flexible work schedule and was able to take some sick leave to go home early and accompany Nate and Grendel to the vet, desperately hoping the situation would work out for us to have a healthy kitten at the end of it all, even if she was more of a one-eyed Odin than a Grendel.

Volume 5: The Goody Bag

The specialist couldn’t give us too much in the positive or negative. Her eyelid was so swollen the vet couldn’t get much of a look at the eye, but she noted that Grendel was young and she’d known kittens who were able to heal ruptures without needing surgery. Her estimated odds were 50/50 if the eye could heal itself. She gave us a dosage plan and had us schedule an appointment three days out when she could reassess if medication would be enough or if surgery would be necessary.

Coned GrendelWhen we went to the front desk, the vet tech came out with what she jokingly referred to as our “goody bag.” Honestly, that one vet bill is probably the one to which I’ll measure all others now. We had about five different eye drops to give her–some to be given twice, others 4 times a day, and one that needed to be kept refrigerated. We also had an oral antibiotic and an oral pain medication to give her, and she had to wear a cone (Elizabethan collar or e-collar). The vet recommended keeping her in isolation to keep her from injuring the eye further by playing with Fafnir.

That first night was emotional turmoil. It was a downright struggle to pin a kitten who had spent the day carted between home and two different vets, poked, prodded, eye lid pealed back, etc. Add to that a kitten buzzed with pain medication, disoriented by her new collar, and distressed that her playmate wasn’t allowed to be in the room with her. But we made it through and got a thorough crash course at administering eye drops to a cat.

Volume 6: Signs of Improvement

GrendelEyeThe eye drops had a noticeable effect. While the ointment of the second vet had done little more than make her eyelids slimy looking, the eye drops quickly began reducing swelling. Instead of the eye being tightly shut, we now could see some of the interior lids. Not the eye itself yet, but it was better than nothing.

Our next appointment confirmed that things were looking better. We weren’t in the clear, and we still would be heavily medicating her, but for the subsequent visits, we kept spacing things out further and further. Eventually, the third lid was no longer that big of a problem. It wasn’t as swollen and we could see her actual eye! Mind you, the eye wasn’t in perfect shape; she had severe keratitis (inflammation). This meant the dome of the eye that is clear on a healthy cat’s eye was all white and cloudy in Grendel’s.

They switched our meds from trying to encourage healing the rupture to encourage the inflammation to go down and the cloudiness to dissipate.We were given the go-ahead to remove the collar and were allowed to let the cats mingle again without supervision.

Volume 7: More Ear Mites 

20151215_160052Fafnir, meantime, was apparently feeling sorely neglected. So he decided that he wanted to have medical problems, too! We noticed he was scratching at his ears a lot, and a quick swab with a q-tip revealed blackish-brown earwax just like Grendel had when we first got her. Fafnir was also going to town on one ear with his back claws until it was starting to get bloody. We scheduled his appointment with the clinic that had original referred Grendel to the specialist.

While there, Fafnir proved a very friendly kitten who purred when nervous and made it difficult for the vet to listen to his breathing or heartbeat. She finally had to sit him by the sink and run some water to distract him from his purring because even scruff-ing him had no effect.

She gave us some ear-ointment to give twice a day. It did the trick and the next visit found no more infection. I had to smile a bit though when scheduling the follow-up. The receptionist was trying to reassure me that the follow-up wouldn’t be as expensive as this initial visit. Both, however, were significantly cheaper than even Grendel’s cheapest eye appointment. I’ll take ear mite problems over eye problems any day.

Volume 8: Results Pending 


I’d expected Grendel’s latest visit to have been her last. It’d been 3 months between appointments and while the keratitis had certainly dissipated some, I hadn’t been noticing much change for awhile. We were down to four drops a day – two in the morning, two in the evening. I figured what remained was primarily scarring from the rupture and would be permanent.

Our vet was pretty sure a strong anti-inflammatory could improve things further, though. So, we’re now up to 6 drops a day (adding in a higher-powered med) which will go down to 2 drops a day as we use the existing medication up. 6 months out, we’ll see where we’re at again. Fingers crossed, we’ll be in the clear at last.

Bonus: Photos Over Time

My photos of Grendel’s eye over time are a bit scattered. Grendel is hard enough to photograph in general (fast moving & solid black), but getting a good shot of her eye can be a challenge. Especially after those early vet visits (where they had to physically push back the inner lid), her default response to anything near her face was to squint her bad eye closed.

Also, Big huge ultra-thankful shout out to Eye Care For Animals in Annapolis, the practice that treated Grendel. Thanks for saving my kitten’s eye. : )


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