Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Please help. My 7-year-old cat has been to the emergency clinic twice and her vet three times in one week. She’s been acting listless and not herself. She has lost her eyesight in her left eye and walks around aimlessly. She does respond to my voice and will come to me when I call her. She acts as if she has had a stroke, as she has forgotten how to jump up onto the couch, use her litterbox, climb stairs, and more importantly, she has forgotten how to eat. She will lick food, but does not know how to bite it. Today I noticed her paw pads have turned black (they were pink). All of her blood tests came back good, and the eye specialist said there is nothing structurally wrong with her eye. She has always been an indoor cat, and has never been outside. The only thing that I can think of that might have caused this it that we had our house sprayed for bugs about three weeks ago. The bug man said he used “green” spray that was harmless to animals. Does anyone have any ideas?
Siouxsie: Karen, your cat’s symptoms are more indicative of a stroke than anything else.
Thomas: We think that if your cat had been poisoned by an insecticide, the symptoms would have been much more acute — they would have started shortly after the insecticide was applied.
Dahlia: If you can find out exactly what insecticide your exterminator used, you may be able to check it against this list of insecticide poisoning symptoms from peteducation.com.
Siouxsie: There are some bug killers that are considered pet-safe, but which can cause poisoning in cats. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids, for example, are commonly used in bug sprays, foggers, flea dips and the like. They’re considered the safest insecticides to use in an environment where people and dogs live. Pyrethrins themselves are generally safe for cats, but pyrethroids (synthetic pyrethrins) are not cat-safe.
Thomas: The most common signs of pyrethroid poisoning are tremors, drooling, lack of appetite, vomiting, staggering, rapid breathing, and seizures. In cats, you might also see ear flicking, paw shaking, or contractions and twitching of the skin.
Dahlia: Rotenone, an insecticide commonly used in sprays and dips, is generally considered an organic alternative to chemical insecticides. Some organic gardeners use rotenone to control Colorado potato beetles and other plant-eating pests.
Siouxsie: The symptoms of rotenone poisoning include Vomiting, lethargy, depression, ataxia (a lack of muscle coordination that causes staggering or abnormal gait), muscle tremors, seizures, respiratory failure, and death.
Thomas: We trust that you mentioned to your vet that your home was sprayed with insecticide. If nothing else, that information might help him or her figure out what’s going on with your kitty.
Dahlia: It is, however, pretty rare that a cat would have lingering, chronic symptoms that started two weeks after the pesticide application.
Siouxsie: However, cats can and do have strokes. Strokes in cats are caused by high blood pressure, which causes bleeding in the brain due to ruptured blood vessels.
Thomas: Generally, high blood pressure is a secondary symptom of an illness like chronic renal failure or hyperthyroidism. But since your cat did have blood tests and all the results came back OK, that cause can be eliminated.
Dahlia: We have heard of cats getting such a huge fright that their blood pressure skyrocketed temporarily and caused a stroke. Siouxsie: In most cases, though, the initial cause of the bleeding in the brain is unknown.
Thomas: Stroke symptoms that come on suddenly and include spasms of the face and limb muscles, blindness, loss of coordination, or paralysis. A cat that just had a stroke may also vocalize excessively. Typically, only one side of the body is affected by a stroke.
Dahlia: Symptoms that linger after the stroke include behavior changes, pacing and circling, and occasionally, seizures. We suspect that depending on the area of the brain affected by the stroke, forgetting basic behaviors can also be included in those symptoms. The same is true of humans that have strokes; some people forget how to talk, for example.
Siouxsie: In some cases, traumatic brain injury can lead to the same sort of symptoms. It’s quite rare for a cat to get a traumatic brain injury, however. Car accidents can cause them, but since your cat never goes outdoors, she wouldn’t have gotten a brain injury that way.
Thomas: Sometimes traumatic brain injuries can be caused by abuse at the hands of humans, too. It’s sad and unfortunate, but it’s true.
Dahlia: We’re not suggesting that your cat was abused, Karen. This comment was for the benefit of all of our readers to illustrate one way that cats can get traumatic brain injuries.
Siouxsie: Veterinarians can diagnose a stroke, but generally this requires tools that aren’t available to most vets. This would include an MRI or a CAT scan, and/or a procedure in which radiopaque dye is injected into blood vessels leading to the brain, followed by an X-ray to see if there’s any spillage of blood outside the veins and arteries.
Thomas: If you’re interested in having such a test done, you can ask your vet for a referral to a diagnostic center. These procedures are usually quite expensive, but if you can afford it and you want to find out what’s really going on with your cat, this would be a way to do it.
Dahlia: The only real treatment for stroke is supportive care until your cat regains whatever part of her functionality she’s going to regain. You’ll have to do things like bring her to the litterbox about half an hour after she eats and stroke her abdomen and bottom until she relieves herself (just like a mama cat would do with her kittens).
Siouxsie: It’s possible that the reason she’s not jumping, climbing the stairs or eating is that her brain injury or stroke has damaged the area that gives her the coordination she needs. Also, if your cat only has vision in one eye, she doesn’t have any depth perception, which makes jumping very difficult. Eventually she will adapt to her disabilities, but it’s going to take time.
Thomas: Your cat’s inability to eat could also be caused by paralysis to the muscles on one side of her face or jaw. You can feed her canned food so she can lick it and still get the nutrition she needs. Also, make sure she’s drinking enough water.
Dahlia: We don’t know what to tell you about the paw pads turning black, though. But we all wish you and your kitty good luck and a speedy recovery. If you do eventually find out what happened to your cat, please let us know.