Now that I’ve calmed down sufficiently, I’m following through on the suggestion of a dear friend who suggested I share the lesson from our story in the hope that it might spare someone else from going through what we did.
While enjoying some pleasant early fall weather out on our screened-in porch with Nettie, who so covets her time out in the fresh air monitoring the bird and squirrel action, she suddenly started “mouth-breathing” and gasping for air. She’s had some slight asthmatic tendencies in recent years, but nothing alarming. And certainly she had never exhibited anything like this before. Within a minute, it was clear this wasn’t passing. She continued to mouth-breathe, interrupting that every 15 seconds or so with what sounded like a howl of agony. She appeared to be suffocating.
After rushing her in to the vet, she was whisked away immediately to get oxygen therapy, blood work, and x-rays.
I sat in stunned silence in the waiting room. Forty agonizing minutes later, the vet reported that while it was difficult to know with absolute certainty what had happened, the two most likely scenarios were either an acute asthma attack or a blood clot in her lung. Radiographs showed that the middle lobe of her right lung was collapsed, although there was no way of knowing with certainty if that was a new development or something she’d had for awhile that went undetected time. The collapsed lung was consistent with both scenarios.
Over the next hour, as we tried to sleuth our way through the mystery, I was asked repeatedly if there was any chance she’d “gotten into” anything. I was adamant that she had not. No, I said, there was nothing that she could have gotten into. I am a zealot about what I introduce into the environment in our house – everything from floor and window cleaners to what I use to clean the litter box is scrutinized to make sure that anything she might get on her paws or her fur is cat safe.
We faced two awful options: a) presume it’s a blood clot and euthanize her; b) presume that it’s a severe asthma attack that she might recover from but, given her suddenly deteriorated and precarious state, first subject her to a one- to two-day hospital stay where she would undergo extensive diagnostics to see if they could figure out what was happening.
Obviously, option A was awful. But I wasn’t crazy about option B either. It’s wrenching to think of leaving a beloved animal alone and frightened and confused in a strange place – but particularly wrenching when you think that this might well be the way your beloved, loyal, furry friend spends her last days.
We went to her. She was laying on her side, her head in the oxygen mask, a catheter in her leg, looking like she was most certainly dying. It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. We made the decision to euthanize and while the vet went to retrieve the paperwork, we stroked her, we told her how much she was cherished and loved, and tried mightily to come to grips with the idea that this amazing creature wouldn’t be coming home with us. How could it be that at 2 pm we were enjoying the shade of the porch with her and at 4 pm we were saying goodbye?
Just when it seemed things were at their lowest, about 30 seconds before the vet came back in the room? Nettie pulled her head out of the oxygen mask, opened her eyes, and began to look mighty fine.
She meowed at me. She began to lick her paws and groom her face. The look on her face said, “Hey! What’s going on here? This is new.”
The vet came in and was pleasantly taken aback at what she saw. “This girl is really perking up!” she said, surprised as we were. My mind was racing and grasping for any explanation that made sense; I was trying to figure out if there was any possible cause for this very sudden and strange eruption of symptoms.
I recalled the question first asked when I brought her in: “Did you bring anything into the house that she could have gotten into?”
“No!” I’d insisted.
And then? Looking at Nettie, I suddenly remembered. Only the day before, we’d had brand new indoor/outdoor carpeting installed on the screened in porch.
The “new carpet smell” from that carpet was so strong that I remember thinking for a microsecond, “Wow, this is a mighty powerful new carpet smell coming off of something in a room surrounded on three sides by screens!” But I didn’t gave that passing observation so much as a second thought. I was busy. And hey, everyone knows “new carpet smell” is normal. It certainly didn’t occur to me that there might be a problem letting Nettie hang out there for nearly 24 hours sleeping on it, her nose half an inch away from it.
“Well, I got new carpeting installed on our porch yesterday . . . and the off-gases seemed mighty strong.”
As soon as I said it out loud? I wanted to kick myself.
Nettie’s breathing relaxed. Her heartbeat returned to normal. And we asked the vet, “Do we HAVE to take her to a hospital now if we don’t euthanize her? Couldn’t we just take her home?”
The vet said that seeing her now, she had no objections to us taking her home. We’d put her on a short course of steroids to make sure the inflammation triggered by the attack was calmed down, and then see if we needed to continue with those. If she went back into crisis, I knew I had the option of rushing her off again.
While it’s impossible to know with certainty, it would seem that Nettie had an acute, horrible reaction to the new carpet.
So? We brought her home. She ate dinner. She’s on corticosteroid therapy for the moment. But our girl is home.
In the meantime, I did a little digging. And here’s what I learned: new carpeting is full of volatile compounds. The fibers are laced with all manner of chemicals that ‘off-gas’ when the carpet is first unrolled and installed: benzene, flame retardants, and pesticides, just for starters. One of the most potent sources of ‘indoor air pollution syndrome’ is carpeting. The smaller the person/being, the more concentrated the chemical overload in their bodies – and among the top ensuing effects? Asthma. The closer to the carpet the nose is, the higher the concentration in the body of off-gas chemicals.
And I was letting her lay on that for a whole day.
One source I found online cited a claim that said that if you put a small bird in a room that’s just had brand new carpeting installed, the bird is dead in 24-48 hours.
There are steps you can take to mitigate the problem, I learned: expose the carpet to fresh, moving, air for at least 72 hours before spending any time in proximity to the new carpet; apply something called a “toxin sealant” made for carpets (the most promising one one I’ve found so far is called “Safe Choice“) which you use in a two step process. Step one is a nontoxic carpet cleaner. Then that’s followed up with a nontoxic sealant that seals off the toxins and prevents further ‘out-gas’ of the volatile compounds. I’m waiting for my order to arrive and will apply it as soon as it comes.
In the meantime, Nettie – who I’m delighted and relieved report is doing very well – currently gets no access to the porch.
If I had it to do over again? I would have researched safe options for a floor covering for the porch. Or if I’d decided to put that carpet out there, I would have kept Nettie away from it for at least a week and treated it with a toxin/off-gas sealant before anyone went near it.
So? Learn from my mistake. Please be very mindful of what you bring into your and your cat’s environment. It’s troubling that we can’t do something as seemingly simple as get some new carpeting or buy a new mattress without having to first get educated on the arsenal of toxic chemicals they’re potentially laced with. But we do.
We are counting our blessings that Nettie came through this and are cautiously optimistic that she will heal.
Don’t let one of your cat’s nine lives get gobbled up by something as stupid as new carpeting.