A Big Fat Introduction
Hercules was larger than life.
Online, he was known as @fatcathercules on Instagram and thought that platform as well as TikTok, he touched hundreds of thousands of lives as he took people along his diet journey, struggles with pancreatitis. He did it with a salty, sassy, completely unapologetic humour to help lighten the mood in even the darkest of situations.
In late 2021, we made the decision to let Hercules cross the rainbow bridge after an exceptionally quick but devastating case of necrotizing pancreatitis.
Herc’s story doesn’t have a sad ending though – in fact, there isn’t an ending yet! Hercules’ mighty (aka squishy) body may have left this earth, but his legacy lives on as his sister Stella’s diet coach and a source of education for feline obesity and weight loss feline pancreatitis online.
Celebrate Hercules and his 13 years of life on earth by reading his story.
Hi – I’m Erika. On Instagram I’m known as “meowmy”. I don’t want to say that I owned Hercules, in fact, the opposite it true – he owned me. I had graduated school and had recently moved in with my boyfriend (now husband, aka ‘hoodad’) and started my career in healthcare. I wanted to make our apartment a home by adding a cute, furry little creature to our family.
While I had cats growing up, Hercules was my first cat. I adopted Hercules from an ad I saw in Kijiji back in December of 2008. I saw this picture of a little playful tabby and my heart was bursting. He was so adorable – I needed to have him! I knew right away that he would be the perfect fit for our family.
When I met the lady who was giving Hercules away, I asked her why she was getting rid of such a young kitten. The story she told me made my heart hurt.
She told me that she originally bought Hercules from a petstore. They had never had a cat before and they didn’t realize how playful, desructive and often aggressive they can be. She worried Hercules would destroy her house during the night so she would put him in the bathroom at night and let him out again in the morning when she went to work. Her partner worked from home and unbeknownst to her, the partner was locking Hercules in the bathroom for the majority of the day as well. He “couldn’t handle” the disruptive kitty life.
Over all, Hercules only got a few hours of socialization a day and mostly had interaction with the humans when they went in to feed him.
Petstore cats can be aggressive when it comes to food; petstores are a highly competitive environment and it’s not uncommon for petstore animals to have changed food behaviours as a result of the competition. Factor this in with Hercules mostly having human interaction when he was given food, his early kittenhood set him up for struggles with food – although we didn’t know to what extent.
When the human woman realized that her husband was locking Hercules up during the day, she had the decency to put an ad for him online in an attempt to rehome him.
That’s how Hercules entered our lives – some time around December 10th, 2008.
I’ve always thought Hercules’ birthday was October 26th, 2008. It’s what I’ve celebrated for YEARS although I have no recollection of how I came up with that date although I can only assume that past-me was extremely bad at math because the dates don’t add up. Hercules would have been 8-10 weeks when he was bought from the pet store, and he was with his initial humans for at least 2 months from my recollection of the story. That would put his birthday around early August 2008 and make him a Leo…. but it’s also a good Scorpio so for the record I’ll stick with October 26th
When Hercules came into our home, he was an only cat. StupidZoe, Marv, Stella and Mini Hooman weren’t anywhere close to being in the picture yet. And baby Herc? Well…. he was a complete and utter jackass.
He destroyed everything, including our flesh. He was razor sharp and faster than I’ve ever seen a cat move in my life. He was a tornado of chaos. I knew that he was bored. He wanted enrichment beyond what toys could provide for him.
It took some convincing for my husband to be okay with the idea, but in April of 2011, 15 months after getting Hercules, we got StupidZoe. We adopted her from Forgotten Ones Cat Rescue in Richmond Hill and she seemed like a totally normal kitty – until we got her home. She was skittish, scared of her own shadow, and just wasn’t a “cuddle on your lap” kind of cat. She did, however, love Herc. So we learned to love StupidZoe for who she is and the cats flourished together.
This photo was taken circa May 2011; Hercules had only been living with Zoe for a handful of weeks. You can see that even before getting other cats, Herc was a big boy.
He wasn’t just chonky, he was also long, tall and wide! He was an absolute unit. His growth spurt was normal for a kitten, but after he was neutered, we noticed the chonk pile on. He was active, playful, was on vet prescribed food and had a healthy appetite. The vets were aware of his weight and at the time he was 19 pounds.
Given his large frame, he wasn’t considerably overweight at 19 pounds. Losing 1-2 pounds would have been enough for him, considering his overall skeletal size.
King of Chonk-town
Unfortunately, things took a turn towards Chonktown really quickly after Zoe moved in.
Both StupidZoe and Herc were free-fed. When I grew up, we never fed our animals measured amounts of food. Our animals always self-regulated when it came to their food and I didn’t think much about it until I saw what was happening to Herc. Every few months I started to think he was looking bigger but when we would weigh him the scale wasn’t significantly different.
We would hold him and weigh him on our scale (and then let him go, weigh ourselves alone and subtract the difference) and it seemed like he was around 20-20.5 pounds – so an overall gain of 1-1.5 pounds over the next year. Not great, but not horrible either. We started measuring Herc and Zoe’s kibble daily, based on the charts on the back of the food bags.
Now it’s December 2012; it’s been 4 years since Herc moved in and ~2.5 years since Zoe moved in. Things seemed to be stable with Herc’s weight.
Until Marv came in and effed the whole thing up.
Marv: The P.I.T.A. Cat
Marv was, and arguably is still, intense. He had teenager energy and wanted to play 24/7. He wasn’t neutered yet when we rescued him off the streets (his owners moved away and purposefully left him behind; they took their 2 other animals but left Marv on purpose). He walked into the apartment and thought he was kind of the house.
How dare he question the mighty Hercules, who sat on the throne as King of the Apartment!
Herc was mildly annoyed with Marv but realized that with the addition of Marv came an extra bowl of food. We learned from the past, though, and measured Marv’s food out as we were doing with Herc and Zoe’s.
We celebrated New Year’s with the ball dropping (ie: Marv got neutered) and 2013 was relatively stable for the cats. Nothing big, nothing small. We weighed Herc at one point and would get around 21 pounds – only a 0.5 pound gain in a year. We were feeding him what he was supposed to get, according to the bag, but we decided to decrease it a bit and make sure to limit treats.
In 2014 we did a weight check for Herc, still around 21 pounds according to our ” weigh yourself holding the cat then weigh yourself again without the cat ” method. It was time to change his food.
From mid-2014 until the fall of 2014, we switched Hercules onto a different kibble. We noticed he had a sensitive tummy and could not tolerate quick food changes without vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. We slowly – and I mean slowly – changed his food to the Royal Canin “Light” (ie: Indoor) cat formula. We gave him the amount of food that the back of the bad suggested.
Actually – the chart didn’t go up to 21 pounds, so we had to do a little bit of math to extrapolate. Yay math!
By the fall of 2014, Herc was on his fancy new “light” kibbles. We kept up as much exercise as possible, including encouraging him to run in the hallways of our apartment building, and got him a variety of toys to encourage activity. Between light kibbles and more exercise, this is surely going to work!
Traumas, Losses and Utter Defeat
The next 10 months were a blur. I recall weighing him at some point and the scale now said 22 pounds. How could that be? How could he be eating a lower calorie food and exercising more and still gaining weight? He can’t possibly be getting into that much of the other cat’s food – we weren’t leaving bowls of kibble around anymore. Herc’s weight was a priority for us, but we had to navigate this amongst a storm.
You see, from the fall of 2014 until fall of 2015, around 12 months, we were struggling to get Herc’s weight under control while also struggling to deal with pregnancy loss. Shortly after we got his food switched over to the “light” kibble, our world turned upside down.
Truthfully, those months are a complete blur for me. Balancing my healthcare career, a wedding photography career, an ever-hungry chonk who would hunt the smallest morsel of food and coping with pregnancy loss was a lot to handle. Was it an excuse for not being aggressive with Herc’s diet? Absolutely not – but it’s an explanation. We all would like to think that we can take on all of life’s challenges and “be stronger” or “cope better”, but until you’re the person experiencing a series of really unfortunate events, you really have no right to judge how anyone reacts to or manages through traumatic events.
As the fog lifted near the end of 2015 and we were able to celebrate another positive pregnancy test (fingers crossed the outcome would be better this time) we got to work on cutting down Herc’s food even more than what the back of the bag said, kept increasing his exercise opportunities and checked his weight. He hadn’t lost a pound by the time 2016 rolled around and in fact, gained one more. He was now 23 pounds.
We were doing all the right things; we had “light” food that was lower in calories, we stopped free feeding the other cats, we were encouraging daily exercise. Why were we not seeing success?
After some research, I learned that cats should be avoiding as much grain as possible. Looking at the ingredients of the “light” food Hercules was eating, the first few ingredients were grain. Going in with the assumption that wet food was “like McDonald’s for cats”, I stuck with kibble and did more research.
I had always assumed that wet food was a “treat”. Meat paste smothered in gravy – how does that not seem inherently unhealthy and ultra rich? Here’s a little foreshadowing but boy was I wrong on that assumption!
After some research, we found a fancy and expensive kibble that had the most protein and least carbs out of all the kibble out there.
The $500 Fart
We started changing his food again – slowly but surely – and after 2 weeks we noticed that Herc was lethargic.
He looked bloated. He was lying down weird, almost like he had a tummy ache and wanted to be careful with his abdomen. His little box habits were a bit off too. We figured it was from the change in food.
It was time to call the vet and make an appointment.
This was something I had avoided doing in the 2 years prior. I avoided it for a few reasons:
- I thought I could manage this on my own – calories in, calories out, what’s so hard?
- I knew there were plenty of food options available at the pet store, all of which had nutritional and feeding information on the bag
- I had been trying to get Herc’s weight under control for some time now, but I was worried the vets wouldn’t believe me
- I didn’t want them to just me for being a fat person who had a fat cat – I was worried they would think that it was my fault because I’m a horrible person
Thankfully, we met a new vet named Cheryl. She was so kind, supportive and understanding. She engaged us and asked questions about what we were attempting, what we had tried and what worked/didn’t work in terms of Herc’s weight problem. She provided education to us and explained that the clinic has a weightloss program for pets.
I was about to breathe a sigh of relief until they put Hercules on the scale.
He weighed 30 pounds.
I was so confused – when we weighed him at home only days earlier with our “weigh yourself holding the cat then weigh yourself again without the cat” method, we were getting 23 pounds. How could this be? Turns out that when it comes to weighing cats, you need to be SUPER accurate and a pediatric scale is your best bet.
We recreated this discrepancy in a TikTok video a few months before Herc passed. The issue seems to be around how the weight is displaced on the scale. Because Hercules is so massive, a lot of his body wasn’t on top of the scale – even though we were holding him. It’s likely this is what lead to the bathroom scale reading on the ‘light’ side. For many people with smaller cats who aren’t 2 feet long, the “weigh yourself holding the cat then weigh yourself again without the cat” works fine.
So back to the upset tummy and the thing that brought us to the vet’s in the first place…
We paid for x-rays and bloodtests and Herc had a fair amount of gas in his abdomen. Other than that the x-ray was unremarkable since many internal organs (like liver, pancreas, kidneys) aren’t always provide a clear diagnosis of problems on an x-ray. We told the vet about Herc’s upset tummy in the past when we tried to switch food and how incredibly long it took us to incrementally switch the food and we discussed that there may have been the possibility that we switched his food too quickly this time.
The vet agreed, gave him some intestinal distress food for a few days to help him recover, and advised us to come back if he doesn’t improve in a few days. We also got our plan for a diet which contained both kibble AND wet food!
So we left the vet after spending $500 dollars to learn that Herc had to fart but at least we had a diet plan!
Weightloss Tips for Cat Owners
How to set your chonk up for success on the scale
We left the vet filled with hope that Herc’s tummy problems would result and some major takeaways about feline obesity and weight loss
The Birth of @FatCatHercules
So on that faithful day of the $500 fart, Herc’s diet journey began. I decided to create an Instagram for Hercules to chronicle his weightloss journey and to share information with others that I so sorely wish I would have had in the years leading up to this journey – and just like that, @FatCatHercules made his first mark on the internet.
- Step #1 – get him onto the diet food, after a brief stint on the I/D food to cure his upset tummy. That took a week and we got there. He loved having wet food so often!
- Step #2 – we had to keep him away from Marv and Zoe’s food dishes. They weren’t loving times feedings – they never did – and they really preferred to free feed. They had no problems self-regulating. We found a way to do it… we had to embrace the fat cat’s natural enemy…. GRAVITY.
I put Marv and Zoe’s food dishes at the top of the cat trees. Herc couldn’t get up there.
This worked until Herc was around 25-ish pounds. He had dropped five pounds and all of a sudden gravity wasn’t his enemy anymore! I came home one day to see Herc on top of the cat tree scarfing down the whole bowl of Zoe and Marv food. I knew two things were imminent:
- We need to find another way to lock Herc out of Zoe and Marv’s food
- Herc was going to have nasty, stink poop and an upset tummy after that feast!
I ended up getting two Surefeed microchip feeders; one for Zoe and one for Marv. They’re not cheap, but I was committed to Herc’s weight loss and we found the money for them. By this time, mini-hooman had been born and I was on a scheduled 12-month maternity leave. I knew that I’d have plenty of time to devote to Herc’s diet and make sure that he was successful with his weightloss.
Eventually, Herc was down to 23 pounds!!
Things were going so good, but some struggles were ahead of us; both unexpected and scary.
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The Re-Fattening #1
In April of 2018, we bought a townhouse and for the first time we had stairs! We took advantage of this for Hercules and made sure that his little boxes were in the basement and his food was on the mainfloor. This way he would have to do the stairs and move more!
Shortly after moving in, I returned to work from my maternity leave and with both myself and my husband working again, Hercule’s intricate feeding schedule had to be adjusted. He was eating multiple small meals a day because if he went more than 3-4 hours without food, he got angry. He would get cranky with the other cats and start hunting for anything even remotely edible and even things that weren’t (like plastic, paper, etc.).
After discussing the strategy with our vets, we decided that some kibble would be re-introduced as a “snack” mid-day to help keep Herc from being too angry. We were extremely conservative on the amount as we kept in mind how previous food changes have affected his diet in the past. We kept overall calories as low as absolutely possible and he got zero treats, much to his displeasure.
At this point we were weighing Herc at the vet’s about 10-12 weeks knowing that his progress can be so slow that weekly or even monthly weigh-ins often don’t show much difference at all and being at the vet stressed him out. The vet team supported this and they knew that we had a pediatric scale as home for check-ins when necessary.
First check-in at home and his weight was stable – hooray!
The next check-in at home and there was a few ounces of gain. Could this have been poop? Possibly – it wasn’t even half a pound after all.
Hercules would stalk Mini Hooman and try to swipe food from his hands, but we were like vultures as he watched him. There were a few times when Herc managed to get a bite of something and if we saw, we would take away a few kibbles to account for the calories. He would even lick sauce off the floor that Mini Hooman spilled from his high chair! Herc was a big, murderous Roomba.
We weighed him 2 weeks later, hoping that those few extra ounces would have disappeared after he had a good poop, but unfortunately he was gaining more weight.
Only 15% of his calories were coming from kibble – and his total calories were the same as before aaaaand any time he ever managed to swipe human food, we took the equivalent estimated calories out of the remainder of his food that day.
How freaking sensitive is this cat to macros that he’s gaining this easily?
The Ol’ Switcheroo
During a visit with our beloved Cheryl + Rebecca, we learned that Herc’s food amounts needed to be adjusted. Not his calories, but his FOOD amounts.
Because Purina made changes to their formula – especially for the O/M kibbles – and they didn’t exactly do the best job at communicating this with all the freaking vet clinics everywhere! The kibble now had more calories in it than it did before and Herc was inadvertently overeating.
I was livid – you’d think that if a company was going to make major changes to their products (products you need a vet prescription to get!) that they would have exceptionally rigid change management guidelines to ensure that without a doubt, the new information is shared with those who need it. If nothing else, at least change the bag enough to make people take a second look or put a big ol’ warning sticker on it?
Blame wasn’t going to solve anything, although I still – to this day – think that Purina can learn from this and make positive changes for the future. We figured out Herc’s new food amounts and started the process of losing the weight again. We were seeing success again! Hooray! Easy peasy, right?
…. and then he started vomiting.
How Fast can a Cat
Unlike human diets, cats must take a ‘slow and steady’ approach to weightloss or they risk potentially life-threatening liver complications. So just how fast or slow can a cat lose weight?
Did Herc lose weight slower or faster than he should have?
Pancreatitis: Round 1
Herc started vomiting, having diarrhea and was quite lethargic. He then starting hiding and refused to eat. We got him to the vet ASAP.
While at the vet, Herc was still spicy – making sure to let his vet tech (Rebecca) know how much he hated her. It said a lot about his hatred for her that even when he was sick, he still found the ability to be a total psychopath.
After an exam and some bloodwork, the diagnosis came back as acute pancreatitis.
You can learn more about feline pancreatitis here, but the TL;DR summary is that unlike with dogs or humans, there is no known cause for feline pancreatitis – it’s often idiopathic and not related to diet or fat. Acute attacks, when mild, require supportive care but the prognosis is generally good. If the attacks keep coming back then you’re looking at the potential of chronic pancreatitis and management and prognosis can change.
With this case appearing mild and acute, Herc was given hydration by injection (sense he hadn’t eaten in a while and fluids are so important with pancreatitis management) as well as a shot of anti-nausea medication. He was given probiotics to help with the diarrhea and got the dreaded temperature check. No temp and he was still as spicy as ever. We got sent home with extra meds and special intestinal distress food – the same stuff he was given a few years back when he had other tummy troubles.
I was immediately concerned about what would happen with his weightloss. After all, he was gaining again even with 15% of his diet changed to kibble – if he started eating this I/D food, he would gain at an extraordinary rate. I expressed my concern to the vets and they were very clear:
Pancreatitis needs to be managed properly and this food is part of the management plan. Yes, we want him to lose weight – but right now isn’t the time for weightloss. Right now is the time to keep him alive and put the steps in place to prevent the pancreatitis from getting worse. He can always lose the weight again later, after he beats this pancreatitis attack.
Fair point. We took the meds and the I/D food and went home. We were told that if he can make it 10-12 weeks without a flare up then we’ll likely be in the clear, but that if his symptoms persist then we have to investigate further with an ultrasound.
First few weeks went well and things were looking promising. By week 8 after his flare-up we started slowly transitioning him back onto his diet food knowing that he had a follow-up appointment coming up in a month.
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Pancreatitis: Round 2
A few days before Herc’s scheduled 3-month follow up, the date where we would likely be “all clear” from the pancreatitis and could gain confidence that it was an isolated incident, Hercules started throwing up again. Diarrhea. Lethargy. Hiding.
We knew the signs – we gave him the meds we had on hand (gotta keep an emergency kit!) and headed back to the vet.
More bloodtests and now an ultrasound – we needed to confirm that it was pancreatitis and not another underlying condition like IBD or cancer.
The ultrasound required sedation – and not just light sedation, heavy-duty sedation. The kind where you need a reversal after the fact to help the body break down the drugs. Hercules is a spicy boy and even when he’s sick, he still fully intends on hurting every possible vet and vet tech he sees. They factored in safety and sedated him with the good stuff.
Rebecca, Herc’s most hated vet tech (but we love her!) was with him for his ultrasound. She shaved his belly and send me photos during the procedure to let me know he was doing okay. When the procedure was done, Rebecca decided that since Herc was still sedated and they had not given the reversal meds yet, she would give him a big cuddle. Something she’s always wanted to do.
Well, Hercules being Hercules – he clearly knew that Rebecca was holding him and cuddling him and he woke himself up from the sedation, without the reversal meds, and showed her who was boss! She still has scars from that.
Herc’s hatred for Rebecca stayed strong and his recovery from the ultrasound went well. The imaging confirmed that it definitely was pancreatitis. His liver looked fine, kidneys looked fine and bladder was fine although a teeny tiny amount of sediment was in his bladder. There was thickened steatitis around the right limb of his pancreas and adjacent lymph node but not exceptionally significant to incident further problems – likely a result of the pancreatitis and it’s effects on the surrounding tissues.
We were sent home with the same management plan and this time, all went well and we made it to the coveted 3-month mark and could finally breath a sign of relief.
The Re-Fattening #2
Once 2019 was coming to an end, we could put the pancreatitis saga behind us and focus on his weight loss again. Herc was back up to 30 pounds and we knew exactly what we had to do. We transitioned him back onto his Purina OM food and this time we avoided kibble entirely. It didn’t make any sense that Herc was still eating the same number of calories and gaining weight, but clearly there was something about the kibble that just didn’t agree with him. So the plan was:
- wet food only, no matter how difficult it can be with our work schedules
- as much exercise as possible
- no treats
When we brought him to the vet for a weigh-in, we were shocked to find out that there was a reason that Herc was gaining weight on the kibble!
Our vet informed us that in the months prior, Purina had made some changes to their “OM” formula. The calories weren’t all that different for the canned food, but the OM kibble had more calories per serving than before. The Purina rep for the vet clinic didn’t share that information with the clinic so when the calculations were done to account for having 15% of Herc’s calories come from the kibbles, he was being given too much kibble.
While knowing this information doesn’t change the fact that Hercules was 30 pounds again, it at least was reassuring to know why Herc had gained some pounds despite all of our best efforts. It also highlights the importance of proper change management and communication from food manufacturers to veterinary clinics when formulas change – especially weightloss food!
Had the issue been the other way around; where the kibble now had fewer calories, it could have put many cats at risk of hepatic lypidosis!
So welcome to 2020, the year when the shit hit the fan and the world became unpredictable – but at least we could control one thing: Herc’s weightloss journey
We entered 2020 with Herc back on track. He was exclusively eating wet food and we were planning on doing his weigh-ins almost exclusively at home and checking in with our vet via phone. With the COVID pandemic causing disruptions in vet care and the inability of owners to be present with their pets, I was reluctant to send Herc in by himself. He gets so exceptionally stressed when he sees Cheryl or Rebecca and I didn’t want to put him through weigh-ins alone (and frankly, I didn’t want to put them through it either).
It was a slow start but progress was steady. Slow… but steady.
Herc didn’t lose the weight quickly the first time and it seemed to be going even slower this time.
By July he was a good 8+ months into round 2 of his diet and he had only lost 1.5 pounds. We had tried changing his food schedules and even giving a few more calories in an attempt to kick-start his metabolism as we (including the vets) briefly considered that perhaps he was in ‘starvation mode’ because he was eating too few calories.
Things were different this time, progress was so slow. His body had been through a lot since he last reached 23 pounds. He was older and he now had a more complicated medical history. His skin never ‘tightened up’ after the initial weight loss and he was, well… saggy. This caused some barriers to movement but so did his age. We started using “fat stools” as a means of providing him with options to jump up to places safely and with less strain all while hoping that as he continued to lose weight he would perhaps no longer need the stools.
At the time I had done what every other millennial did during the first wave of COVID and I got onto TikTok. I decided to make a video about “Things in my fat cat adapted household that just make sense” to highlight some of the tools that we use in hopes to educate and entertain others. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to go viral.
Hercules became a TikTok star in the summer of 2020 and millions upon millions of people viewed his videos.
Despite the fun of TikTok, we still had to focus on Herc’s diet and his lack of progress. One of the things that differed from last time was his activity level. As an older cat now, at 12, he wasn’t as active as a 6 year old cat and getting him to move was exceptionally challenging. With guidance from Rebecca, we opted for hydrotherapy – the water would help take pressure off his joints while still giving him the ability to get his heart rate up.
Hercules was a champ – we spent several months doing hydrotherapy 1-2 times a week with him and he only tried to kill us a handful of times. Rebecca encouraged us to keep going despite the fact that she left the clinic we were at. We had become friends by then – bonded over a 30-pound psychopath – and she was such a light in our lives and ever so supportive of Herc. We kept in touch but clinic visits were never really the same without her.
By December of 2020 Herc was down to 27 pounds. Good but by no means great. He had been on his diet for around 15 months at this point and had only lost 3 pounds despite all of our efforts with the hydrotherapy.
He found himself at the vet right before Christmas with what we thought was an ulceration on his lip. Turns out that he had punctured his lip with his own tooth, likely while jumping down from something and slipping. We learned 2 things from that appointment:
- We love Cheryl, but Rebecca really knew how to handle Herc during an exam
- We clearly need more fatstools
Out of kindness and consideration, I asked Rebecca if she was okay with us following her to her new clinic; after all – this was her chance to finally escape Hercules! She welcomed us with open arms, much to Hercules’ disapproval and we thought it would be beneficial for another vet to give us an additional opinion on Hercules’ weight loss. Enter Dr. Grant!
In February 2021, Herc graced Dr. Grant’s presence and much to his utter objections, got to hang out with Rebecca again. She knew what she was getting into and had the gloves and a towel ready. Herc weighed in at 26.8 pounds and his bloodwork was normal. His lip had healed and all was well.
We discussed the possibility of moving onto the Hills Metabolic Diet food rather than the Purina OM as perhaps a different protein could kickstart Herc’s weight. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the Hills Metabolic was on backorder with no shipment date available. We decided to keep things status quo and try to inquire about the Hills Metabolic in a few months.
In June, once it was evident that the Hills Metabolic wasn’t ever going to ship from the suppliers, we opted to add a small amount of the Weruva Paw Lickin’ Chicken into Herc’s Diet. That should be just enough new protein to kick-start a bit of a change, right? Knowing Herc often gets an upset tummy, we picked up some Fortiflora from the vets to have on hand just in case (we still had the Cerenia from previous pancreatitis attacks).
By October Herc was down to 24.2 pounds; the Paw Lickin’ Chicken seemed to be helping! How fantastic, a change in type of protein was all he needed.
At this point, Herc was extremely saggy. He had at least 2 pounds, if not closer to 2.5 pounds of extra skin. Factoring this in, if he hit between 19-21 pounds, he would essentially be as his goal weight. He would never look tiny or slim as the loose skin definitely gives a perma-chonky appearance, but we felt like we were closer than ever before to our goal!
With Herc’s goal weight on the horizon, we kept doing what we had been doing for years. Herc was starting to get a bit fussy and turn his nose up to his food after licking only the gravy off the chunks. He had gotten like this in the past and we always felt like it was attributed to him knowing that the other cats in the house were getting “tastier” food. He had gotten a few bites of Stella’s Mack&Jack (Weruva) around that time and we figured he was going on a hunger strike in protest.
Like good cat parents, we got the pate version of the Purina OM to add to Herc’s diet instead of just the chunks in gravy. A little bit of variety for our king!
It seemed to do the trick, he showed a bit more interest in his own food but we also noticed that there were many occasions when we wouldn’t finish his bowl. We would bring it back to him 20-30 minutes later and he would eat the rest, but he no longer seemed to be a furry vaccum.
Herc had been eating 5 small meals a day for a few years; it was within the realm of possibilities that he was just getting very accustomed to eating smaller portions. He still ultimately finished the food so we weren’t overly concerned. There was no vomiting or diarrhea or other signs of problems. I guess this is what happens when your cat gets old.
I got a text from the vet’s on Friday December 17th that Herc was due to bloodwork. I talked to my husband and we were going to make an appointment for between Christmas and New Years.
The Final 48 Hours
When time both stood still and flew by
The next section talks about our experiences in Herc’s last 2 days. There are no gory details but it is highly emotional. If you’d prefer the simplified version, click the link to bypass the heavy stuff.
The Final 48 Hours
On December 20th I had come home from work and lied down in bed. Herc was behind my knees and I was giving him bum scratchies. His fur was so unique – he was shorter and fluffier brown tabby fur on his sides (and white on his belly) but he had a strip of long, sleek black fur down his spine. Even without looking I could tell which part of Herc I was petting. My husband brought down Herc’s “after work” meal and he was reluctant to get up.
“He just wants love!” I said to my husband – a little proud that Herc was choosing me over food. Does that mean he loves me that much?
Eventually my husbands picks up Herc and gives him an ‘elevator ride’ down to the floor to eat. Herc – the perpetual toasty cinnamon bun of a cat – never liked getting out of bed but we also didn’t love the utter mess that him eating in our bed would create. So we would pick him up and give him an “elevator ride” to the ground.
He ate and went to the bathroom to lie down. It wasn’t uncommon for him to chill in the bathroom – after all, there’s a nice square bathmat that’s perfect for loafing on.
About 20 minutes later he came out of the bathroom and headed towards the litter boxes. Before reaching the boxes, he vomited the entire contents of his stomach onto the floor. He went into the boxes after and it appeared like he was perhaps trying to poop but not really straining. I thought maybe he was anticipating diarrhea but then nothing happened. He left the boxes and went back to the bathroom.
My spidey sense was tingling.
I ran upstairs and got the Cerenia and medicated him. First step – reduce the nausea. There was no diarrhea so I didn’t give him any metronizadole or even FortiFlora but we did have some I/D food in our ’emergency kit’ and I planned on giving him that in 1-2 hours, after the Cerenia kicks in. The vet was closed but I messaged Rebecca and she told me that they have same-day urgent appointments available and that if we call first thing in the morning they’ll squeeze us in.
Later that night we gave Herc some I/D and he ate it. He stayed chilling in the bathroom but he didn’t vomit again so I was feeling confident that we nipped things in the butt.
December 21st – Herc had eaten his breakfast (yay!) and still hadn’t thrown up. We made sure to put extra water in his food to help with hydration, too, and then my husband took Herc to the vet for an urgent checkup. Rebecca knew he was coming and she got the gloves. We didn’t get to see Dr. Grant that day, we saw Dave. Dave asked Rebecca “Why are you getting the gloves?” and her response was “Oh Dave, you’ve never met Herc before have you?”
Herc’s exam went well. No fever, respirations were good and everything in his abdomen felt normal upon palpation. Herc was growling and quite displeased but not quite as spicy as he had been before. A towel was used in lieu of the gloves.
We were told that the ultrasound specialist was coming in the next day and that if Herc gets worse we can bring him back for an ultrasound to rule out pancreatitis vs IBD, but that all clinical signs (when factoring in history) pointed to pancreatitis and that we managed it early and he seems to be stable. We got some more meds and stocked up on the I/D food – nothing we hadn’t done before.
That evening, when it was time to give Herc his next dose of Cerenia, he was being a little more grumpy than usual. I put the cerenia inside pill pockets (like I did the day before) but this time he wouldn’t eat them. He barely even sniffed them. I sat with him for a good 20 minutes trying to coax him to eat. He must have been so nauseous.
I decided to crush up the cerenia in a syringe and administer it that way. He did not enjoy that. His mouth looked foamy and he was drooling. About 15 minutes later he vomited a considerable amount of liquid and boy did it ever smell. Even my husband and Mini Hooman were gagging at the smell. At the time it didn’t register with me that so much liquid came up when he had been eating so little.
I forgot that Cerenia is extremely bitter and that crushing it up is not a good idea at all. In retrospect I remember being told this before but I had forgotten over the years. When animals are given bitter meds it can make them vomit and even foam.
I knew I had to pill him. I didn’t want to but I had to. I needed to get this medication into him and it’s already night time and the vet is closed.
I have had lots of practice pilling cats; Zoe and Marv each get a medication nightly. Herc, however, I try to stay away from his teeth. The last time he bit me I ended up on antibiotics and tonnes of swollen lymph nodes. But this time – I had to do what I had to do.
Using my experience in pilling cats, I gave Herc his Cerenia. He bit me. Dammit. I quickly picked up the pill and tried again. Success!
Now it was time to let him chill for an hour or two, let the medication work, and I’ll feel him before bed.
When I came down with his bedtime food, I couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in the bathroom anymore. I checked his cube and our bed, thinking he perhaps went somewhere more comfortable. He wasn’t there. I found him hiding in a corner in the computer room, facing away from the door. I didn’t like what I was seeing. I put a blanket down on the floor and gave him his I/D food. He sniffed it and lied down.
At this point my husband went to bed and I decided I would be staying up all night with Herc to monitor. He never ended up touching his food and in an attempt to get him to eat anything, I brought down a Churu. You know – cat crack! He delicately licked about half the tube’s contents and then went back to loafing.
A while later I checked on him. He didn’t vomit up the Churu – good sign? Let’s try the food again.
Nope – still no desire to eat.
Around 3 am he went back to the bathroom and I sat with him. He wasn’t vomiting, no diarrhea, but he was definitely not comfortable. I knew I’d be bringing back to the vet in the morning and I wasn’t even going to call first. I was just going to show up. I left a message with Rebecca to give her an update, not expecting her to reply since it was the middle of the night. To my surprise, she happened to be up and replied.
For the next 2-3 hours, Rebecca stayed in touch via text and I monitored Herc. His breathing seemed to be getting a bit faster but he still wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhea. We talked about how perhaps this wasn’t pancreatitis because he’s presenting quite differently to how he was presenting last time. She asked many questions about behaviour changes, things he may have eaten, bathroom patterns and more. I saw Herc get up and walk near his little box and stop. He took a few breaths out of his mouth and then was breathing normally again. I mentioned this to Rebecca but also mentioned that I had seen him do that very same thing off and on for about 2-3 weeks prior. I had actually been wondering if perhaps he was becoming asthmatic and was going to ask about it when I brought him in for bloodwork.
I always knew the emergency vet was an option but with our regular vet opening up in only 2 hours (at that point) and Herc being sick but relatively stable, I continued to monitor with the plan of getting to the emergency vet if his breathing changed OR if any other symptoms showed up. Even with the few breaths he would take out of his mouth – I had seen that off and on in the weeks prior and he had no other symptoms then.
As morning came around, I got him into his cage and we headed for the vets. I was there before anyone else and once the other techs arrived, they came to get him early and bring him in. They gave him pain medication to make sure he was comfortable and they did more tests, including another ultrasound. Things didn’t look good.
I want to say that I never would have expected that only 8 hours later, we would have to make the decision to let him cross the bridge, but part of me knew. I didn’t want to accept those gut feelings, but I knew. It was his time. He gave us many signs and told us it was what he needed and that it was okay.
Goodbye my sweet chonk!
Herc’s body may have left this earth, but his legacy lives on. Hercules brought so many people joy and he encouraged so many to seek more help with their cats diet – he truly made a difference in the world.
Herc was sassy, full of attitude and his primary motivations where either hunger or rage – but he was a caring boy underneath all of that. I was lucky that he chose me to be the human that he trusted and shared his love with. He cared for me deeply and instead of seeing that love lost in his absence, I see that love as being transformed into new ways to care for others.
Hercules’ platform will always showcase his siblings and mini hooman, but we will use his platform to educate (and entertain!) on matters of feline obesity and feline pancreatitis. Herc’s legacy will live on in the health journey of others.