In early 2012, an extremely emaciated/dehydrated cat came into our shelter (big surprise, I know). We routinely receive cats and dogs in need of nourishment and/or hydration, but few that are as bad as this cat. He reminded me of Marmalade, and I instantly thought, “Here we go again.”

I immediately warmed him up, gave him fluids, offered him wet and dry food, then, after he inhaled the wet food, gave him more. After he was finished he wanted my attention, so I held him in my lap while I worked on my computer.

As with Marmalade, he felt hollow and, because he was a medium-long-haired cat, felt as if he was all fur with nothing underneath. After about an hour in my lap, I placed him in a cage with kibble and water, and left for a few minutes. When I returned I found that he had thrown-up the kibble. The food was barely wet and almost whole, which means he didn’t chew it (well) and threw it up right away (before it reached his stomach). He was obviously very hungry and ate too fast, so I didn’t think much of it.

Before I left for the night, I gave him Hill’s prescription a/d wet food. I feed thin/emaciated cats Hill’s prescription a/d wet food (or the equivalent) until they start showing some improvement and/or significant weight gain. “a/d” means “anorexic/diet.” Hill’s a/d is not a good long term solution. If a cat can’t/doesn’t gain weight on a/d in three to five days there’s something else wrong, i.e hyperthyroid. Anyway, I set him up for the night, explained to him I’d be back in the morning (I talk to all of my animals), and went home. Unlike Marmalade, I was confident he’d make it through the night. I was able to give him much more food and attention than Marmalade, so by the end of the day he was much more active and alert than she was, and seemed to be on his way to a recovery.

That night I tried to come up with an appropriate name for him. Orion. The warrior. That would be his name.

The next morning I found Orion resting comfortably in his cage. He perked up when I entered, so I opened his cage and picked him up. Doing so I noticed that he had vomited kibble all over his cage. And it was the same as yesterday – barely wet and almost whole. He ate a lot yesterday and I gave him a lot of a/d last night so he can’t be that hungry. Maybe he has sensitive or loose teeth or a mouth issue or… I took a look: tested some teeth, looked under his tongue, down his throat, but didn’t find anything abnormal (hindsight’s 20/20, but I’ll get to that). Still, I’m not a vet, so we’ll see if Dr. Baldwin finds anything abnormal.

In the days preceding Dr. Baldwin’s visit (he comes in once a week for exams, rabies vaccinations, etc.), Orion continued to gain weight. This was good. Rules out a number of things. He continued on his a/d wet food without throwing it up, but continued to throw up his kibble. I also noticed that he was missing his litter box. On purpose. At first I thought it was just because of his health and/or new surroundings. But I watched him on several occasions purposely poop outside the box. He didn’t even wander into the box first. Just pooped on his blanket then looked at me with “Can you please clean this up now. It’s rather stinky. Thank you.” It’s rare, but some cats just won’t go in a box. Hopefully he’s not one of these cats and we can modify this behavior.

The obvious solution is to try different litter. So I tried non-clumping litter. Nope. Pellet litter. Nope. Sandy litter. Nope. Shredded newspaper. Ah ha! He used his box with shredded newspaper. Okay, for some reason he doesn’t like the feel of litter. Not a huge deal, but this makes him a much higher-maintenance cat. Regardless, one down, one to go.

So I thought.

The following day I started Orion on regular wet food. He had gained enough weight on the a/d, and was ready to move so I gave him Fancy Feast Shrimp Feast (with real shrimp!) He threw it up. What? It’s wet food. Orion, you don’t throw-up wet food. Maybe he doesn’t like shrimp. So I tried Whiskas Perfectly Fish Sardine & Mackerel. He threw that up. Damn. We’re going in the wrong direction. I tried Friskies Salmon pate. Please oh please oh please. Hey, he didn’t throw that up. All right! Making some progress. I have no idea what that progress is, but…

So he gets Salmon pate. At this point I didn’t care why as long as he kept it down. Maybe it’s a food allergy. Maybe it’s… Whatever. Let’s see what Dr. Baldwin says.

On Dr. Baldwin’s visit we examined Orion thoroughly, especially his mouth and esophagus. The good news was that Orion was still gaining weight, had no unhealthy symptoms, and tested negative for FeLV and FIV. So we’d run no other tests unless something else popped up. The bad news is that Dr. Baldwin didn’t find anything abnormal in Orion’s mouth and esophagus – no pain that would cause chewing problems or any reflux issues that would cause vomiting (another hindsight 20/20 moment.). So I said I’d try a few things to see if I could figure it out why he couldn’t eat specific foods.

The first thing I did is crumble-up his kibble a bit to see if that helped. Nope. Then I tried a different kibble thinking it was an allergic reaction to our standard kibble. Nope. I started charting his reactions to the different foods to see if there was a pattern.


Kitten kibble immediately after eating

Crumbled kitten kibble immediately after eating

Adult kibble immediately after eating

Fancy Feast Shrimp Feast wet immediately after eating

Feline Flavor with meds in it (hell, I’d throw that up, too!)

Max Cat Chicken & Liver shreds wet

Whiskas Perfectly Fish Sardine & Mackerel wet

Does Not Throw-Up

Hill’s z/d wet food

Hill’s a/d wet food

Natural Balance wet

9 Lives with Salmon wet

Royal Canin Rabbit Wet

EVO 95% Duck

I was starting to think it was a protein allergy, specifically chicken protein. Most cat foods, despite being labeled fish or lamb or whatever, have chicken protein in it. So I tried a 100% non-protein kibble (Royal Canin vegetarian). Nope. Threw that up, too. Shit. What is this?

Talk to me Orion! (He was, I just wasn’t listening.)

That night at home, as I prepared my dinner, I racked my brain trying to figure out Orion’s kibble problem. This was killing me. It was right in front of me. I knew it. I just couldn’t see it. I decided to just let it go for the night. Maybe by letting it go it’ll suddenly hit me. I poured myself a glass of wine and blended-up some Pad Thai sauce in my Magic Bullet. I love my Magic Bullet. Honestly. I know the infomercials look hokey, but that machine is a dynamo. Thirty-seven attachments. I love it!


As I watched my sauce blend into a smooth, creamy delight, it hit me: maybe it’s the size of the food that makes him throw up. The wet food Orion throws up has chucks in it. The pate doesn’t. Why don’t I grind-up his kibble into a powder and mix it in some pate to see if it’s simply the size of the food and not the kind of food. Hey, it’s worth a shot. The cat doesn’t like the feel of litter under his feet, maybe he doesn’t like the feel of food particles in his mouth.


So, the next morning I hauled my Magic Bullet into the shelter, plugged it in, poured some kibble in, turned that baby on and ground the kibble into a powder (complete with all of the showmanship that you see on T.V. because, well, I had an audience and just couldn’t help myself). I mixed the powder into his wet food and headed into the cat room.

I made a big deal of what I had for Orion because, well, it’s all about presentation. I placed the bowl in front of him as if it were a bowl of gold, er, tuna. He sniffed it. Hmmm, this isn’t my normal food. Something’s different. He looked at me with that skeptical “What’re you up to?” He contemplated for a minute. Sniffed again. Then, after some delay, started eating.

My theory was this: If it’s a food allergy he should throw it up immediately. If it’s a food size issue, he should scarf it all and walk away happy.

He scarfed it. Licked his lips. Looked at me.

We stared at each other for what seemed like an hour (10 minutes, actually). Nothing. He held everything down. SO THAT’S IT! No chunks. No litter in his box, no chunks in his food. Other than that he’s a perfect cat!

Honestly, he was not going to be an easy adoption.

Now that Orion was almost back to normal weight, we put him in the main cat room for adoption. He was a huge hit with visitors. His fur was beautifully long and pointy – he looked like one of those carnival dolls that you try to knock down with a baseball – and he had the best personality of all our cats. He flirted and played with everyone that came in the room. Everyone was smitten with him… until they learned about his special needs – litter box and chronic food prep problems. They were always just a bit more than what people wanted in a cat. We were so close to adopting him out so many times, when the interested party decided he was just too much. I didn’t want to place him as an outside cat because he needed a lot of attention and would go nuts unless he got it. So we weathered on, hoping the right person/family would come along.

Several months had gone by. We had the food and litter box routine down pat. We put newspaper in his box (it didn’t have to be shredded, just laid in there), and fed him wet food with ground kibble three times a day* (and left a big bowl of the mixture for him overnight). We made sure there was no kibble available ‘cause he’d eat it and throw it up. (Another light bulb should’ve gone off in my head at this point, but it didn’t until later.)

One morning my kennel tech, Todd, mentioned that I forgot to pull the kibble off of the floor when Orion was left out overnight. Great. Throw up everywhere! No. Todd said there wasn’t any. So Orion either didn’t eat the dry food or, if he did, he didn’t throw it up.


So we tried something. Instead of feeding him his usual breakfast, we placed a bowl of kibble in his cage… straight kibble… just to see what would happen. He sniffed it, looked at it, looked at us, looked at the kibble, then looked at us again with “This isn’t what I ordered. Can you please get me my normal breakfast. Thank you.” He wouldn’t eat the kibble.


I replaced the kibble with his normal breakfast. He scarfed it.

Very interesting. I guess Orion learned not to eat kibble because it made him throw up. That’s a smart cat. And that’s good. It makes him more adoptable, since he won’t have to be an only cat now. He’ll still need his own special blend, but at least he won’t eat the other cat’s kibble and throw it up all over the house.

Another long month went by and still no adoption. Oh, there was interest, until they learned about the special needs. Honestly, I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. Other than a special diet and the box being a bit unsightly and stinky…


Then, one morning, things took another strange turn. When I was in the cat room, Orion was out, and he started eating kibble. (We had stopped removing the kibble because Orion wouldn’t eat it. That way we didn’t have to remember put it back for the other cats when they were out. Hey, it’s the little things that makes our jobs easier, trust me.)

Really? You’re eating kibble again. Great. We’re going in circles.

Yep. Orion ate the kibble and… nothing. He didn’t throw it up. He ate more. Nothing. I watched him for while. Nothing. What the…?

Suddenly that light bulb went on.

Of course. When Orion came in, he was so emaciated that his esophagus constricted to a point that it couldn’t/didn’t want anything “chunky” (it was too sensitive). Anything slightly significant in size was instantly rejected. That’s why he vomited it right away. That’s why he could eat pate wet food and ground-up dry food but not chunky wet food and kibble. And that’s why he tried to eat kibble (until he finally learned better) because he was used to eating kibble before his emaciated condition. Now that he gained the weight back and filled out, his esophagus expanded back to its normal size (and felt normal), thus became less sensitive, and Orion knew he could eat kibble again. Just a t theory, I know, but it makes sense, right?

Okay. Food problem (finally) solved. Now that he was eating “normally,” we had an even better chance of finding him a home. The litter box was the only minor issue now, right? Right?

Two days later, Orion was adopted by a family (with kids) who just loved him. Loved! Him! They didn’t care about the litter box problem. They wanted him no matter what. Yeh!!

Three days later Orion was returned. He wasn’t using his litter box. He was pooping and peeing on one of the kids’ beds. Now what?!

I asked the family about everything that went on in their house. Around their house. other animals. Noise. Barking dogs. Neighbors. Construction. Nothing. Then I learned that one of their kids had “emotional” issues and, not on purpose, antagonized Orion by constantly wanting to pick him up, making Orion uncomfortable, etc. And it was this child’s bed that Orion peed and pooped on. I explained the following, although I knew it wouldn’t change the situation:

When cats are upset, they’ll either take it out on other cats/animals or on what’s upsetting them. In Orion’s case, it was the child that was upsetting him. He didn’t like it, so he pissed and pooped in that kid’s bed. It’s not the kid’s fault, but it’s nothing we can fix, either.

We were both upset that Orion didn’t work out. And it was another problem we had to overcome: For the best chances of a permanent adoption, Orion only goes to a childless home.

Two weeks went by. Orion never missed his litter box at the shelter, so my theory about the antagonistic child proved correct. Now, if we can just find a childless couple who likes stinky litter boxes.

On May 5, 2012, we did. A couple from Forestville came in. They fell in love with Orion, didn’t mind the litter box issue, had no kids, and understood all of Orion’s “potential” problems. They didn’t care. Like so many others they were smitten with Orion. So Orion was adopted. And to this day, hasn’t missed his litter box once in his new home.

* I feed my cats good dry food (kibble), and treat them with a little wet periodically, because there’s more sustenance in dry food than in wet. Wet food is 75% water. Dry food is 90% dry matter. You get more essential protein, vitamins and minerals per volume in dry than with wet food. Thus, I wanted to feed Orion dry food along with wet.

A good kibble will have the protein listed as the first ingredient, i.e. chicken. Then the next ingredients can be by-products, meals, etc. The better food you give your cat, the better chance it has at a long, healthy life. Think of it as the difference of eating healthy every day to eating McDonalds every day.

Remember: cats are grazers. They want/need to eat seven to 10 times a day. If they can’t/don’t, it can upset their digestive system and can cause health issues.

Tip: If you have an overweight cat, try a strictly wet food diet for a bit. Again, mostly water. Once the cat is back to normal weight, make sure the cat starts back on kibble for the necessary nutrition. Try Hill’s w/d dry or Purina OM dry, both are weight-control foods.

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