As the name would suggest, supportive care is care provided to your cat to assist him when he is sick or injured. The aim is to help reduce pain, keep fluids and nutrition when a cat is too sick to eat and drink on his own, provide necessary medical care, such as medications, change dressings, and keep your cat comfortable while he recovers.
It is very common for a sick or recuperating cat to lose his appetite and drink fewer fluids. Dehydration is quickly life threatening and anorexic (cats who are not eating) cats are very susceptible to developing a life-threatening condition known as hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver disease). This occurs as the body begins to use fat stores as fuel, these are sent to the liver to be processed, quickly overwhelming it and its ability to function properly.
Other effects of a loss of appetite include metabolic disturbances due to mineral deficiencies including hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hypokalemia (low blood potassium) and hypocalcemia (low blood calcium).
What situations occur where a cat requires supportive care?
Surgery, chemotherapy, palliative care, severe infection, poisoning, kidney disease, liver disease to name a few.
Antibiotics are a class of drug used to treat bacterial infections but it can still take a little while for them to kill off the infection. Most viral infections can not be treated with medications to kill the virus and it is the role of the cat's own immune system to launch an attack on the invading virus. This can take some time, and supportive care is necessary for many instances to help your cat while his own immune system fights the disease.
Surgery may be required in the event of an accident (hit by a car, a fall etc), to treat a congenital disorder, remove a tumour, abscess, dental extraction, remove stones (bladder, kidney), repair broken bones, spaying, and neutering, remove blockages. Some surgeries are fairly minor and won't require a great deal of supportive care, the age and condition of your cat are also factors. A younger, healthy cat will bounce back much quicker than an older or very young kitten.
What treatments will my cat receive?
This depends on the underlying condition and how sick he is. In some cases, all that will be required is rest and keeping your cat comfortable. More severe cases may require some or all of the following:
- Medications - Antibiotics, antivirals, anti-nausea medications, laxatives, painkillers, cortisone and other types of medication to relieve symptoms.
- Fluids to maintain hydration - In the veterinarian's practice, this will usually be via an IV drip.
- Blood transfusion - A severely anemic cat may require a blood transfusion during treatment.
- Wound cleaning and dressing.
- Ensure comfort, keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, clean and soft bedding.
- Love and support.
Is supportive care always carried out at a veterinarian's surgery?
Not always, in some cases, your cat may be discharged from the veterinary practice and sent home to be cared for by the owner. This may vary depending on the level of confidence the cat owner has your family set up (are you out of the house for long periods of time, is it a busy house which may be disruptive to a recuperating cat).
Your cat may need some basic medical procedures such as changing feeding tubes, maintaining hydration levels (by injecting fluids under the skin), giving medications either orally or by injection, syringe feeding the anorexic cats. If you are out of the house for long periods of time, it may also be recommended that your cat stay in the surgery for a little longer.
If your cat is allowed home and still requires supportive care, your veterinarian will provide you with all the instructions and medications you may require.
Does supportive care always work?
Not always, sometimes a cat is too sick to recover. In other cases, supportive care is offered to an older cat to keep him comfortable in his final days, weeks or months. The level of supportive care varies depending on his sickness. Acute supportive care is required to treat a medical emergency, in other situations, a cat may have a long-standing disorder, which will eventually lead to his passing, such as kidney disease, and will need support with this condition which can prolong life and keep your cat as comfortable as possible.