Has caring for my sick cat helped prepare me for parenthood?

Frank in the garden

Frank in the garden - Credit: Archant

It started with a little cough in the middle of the night. “He’s got a hairball,” my wife mumbled as we tried to figure out what had woken us. We went back to sleep.

Frank asleep after coming back from the vets

Frank asleep after coming back from the vets - Credit: Archant

Frank, our one-year-old black cat, continued to cough intermittently through the night.

Over the next couple of days he was still troubled by the tickle and there was no sign of a hairball anywhere in the house.

The usually active little chap became lethargic, wouldn’t eat and finally was unable to scale the stairs.

“He needs to go to the vet,” my wife said as she left for school on the third morning as he sat sullenly under the hallway radiator. “Today.”

Frank up a tree

Frank up a tree - Credit: Archant

I woke myself up and made the first of many phone calls to the surgery.

It was the start of a saga that cost us hundreds of pounds, led to the shedding of plenty of tears and left us with an asthmatic but otherwise healthy cat who – unbelievably – takes an inhaler twice a day.

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Frank and Suki, our two little companions, quickly became a huge part of our lives when they “moved in” back in November 2013, shortly after we bought our first home.

The brother and sister four-legged bandits wreaked a mild form of havoc around our house, and we instantly fell in love with them. Stupidly, we didn’t get pet insurance from the off. They were chipped, snipped and vaccinated as required, but as they’re predominantly house cats we didn’t think there would be much to worry about for the first year or two.

How wrong could we be.

Frank’s ordeal, through a series of blood tests, costly x-rays, even more costly visits to out-of-hours weekend vets, and lots of medication, was a trying one.

We hardly slept for a week as he struggled through the nights, and had to prepare ourselves to say “goodbye” several times as the vets struggled to nail down the cause of the problems and the best way to treat him.

We were given a range of possible outcomes – from lungworm to feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV, the feline equivalent of HIV – but the tests were inconclusive, despite ruling plenty of things out, especially the more deadly conditions.

It was very difficult to watch the little chap sitting uncomfortably, struggling for breath and clearly terrified about the way he was feeling. We cried and cuddled him, desperate not to make him feel any more distressed by the situation than he already was.

He got over the initial bout of coughing thanks to antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and plenty of TLC, and seemed to perk up. However, a few weeks later he went downhill and the same thing started to happen.

Quicker off the mark, the symptoms weren’t as severe and he didn’t get so sick, but it was a worrying and unsettling time, especially for little Suki, who was clearly wondering what on earth was going on with her constant playmate.

Eventually our vet, after many examinations, plenty of analysis of test results, and a chance encounter with a world-leading expert in cat asthma at a conference, diagnosed him with that most everyday of conditions.

I had never heard of a cat having asthma before, let alone having to take an inhaler twice a day.

But that was the verdict.

And it seems it’s not that uncommon, either.

There are numerous websites offering plenty of helpful info about the condition, all suggesting that if you do the simple things right, your cat should not be overly troubled by it. There is all sorts of advice about how to make your home more suitable for cats with asthma – from more regular and thorough vacuuming to ditching the deodorant (something we decided against). There are many ways to help limit the risks in the environment of triggering an asthma attack. It means the end of having fires in our nice open fireplace in the winter, and cutting back on the use of candles and carpet spray cleaners, but these are things that we can easily do away with or substitute.

The inhaler, exactly the same flixotide nebuliser that you would give to a child, works with a special spacer and it keeps the inflammation in his lungs down, helping him live a normal, active lifestyle.

After some initial difficulty in administering it – you’d be shocked to discover that cats don’t like having things shoved onto their faces – he now takes it quite happily.

In an unexpected way, this whole experience I feel has put us in good stead as we prepare to become parents for the first time.

Come September we’ll have a whole lot more to deal with and the cats, for the first time in their lives, will have to take a back seat in our affections.

There may well be some difficult days ahead for Frank as this is a serious condition that could affect his health in later life, but for the first time in six months it feels like we’re on top of the problem and he’s truly back to his old self.

Now I can fully focus on the many challenges we will start to face in the coming months and learn from the experience of caring for a helpless little loved-one, although I’m sure I have no idea what really lies in store for us.