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Cat’s life– hanging by a thread

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by

A cat, without cat insurance, plays with a string.

Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Oscar, a handsome 7-year-old male, black and white, short-haired cat was brought to our clinic because his owner thought he might have eaten embroidery thread. She had come home at the end of the day to find a trail of the string she left on the kitchen counter the day prior, wrapped around the legs of the counter bar stools. The next morning she noticed that he was listless, didn’t eat and had vomited clear fluid a couple of times. Unfortunately, Oscar’s owner didn’t have cat insurance. Sometimes pet owners assume that if their cats live indoors they will be safe from harm’s way. But cats can have numerous accidents and illensses, even if they are indoor cats– just like Oscar.

As I began the exam, Oscar was bright and alert with no evident belly pain. However, I could see a royal blue embroidery thread caught around the base of his tongue. Oscar was anesthetized later that afternoon. I re-examined his mouth and found that both free ends of the thread were already down his esophagus. I removed the thread from around the tongue base and gently tried to pull it. I was only able to move the thread about 2 inches before feeling resistance, so I had to stop to prevent any tissue damage.

The resistance indicated that the thread was already in the stomach and possibly even down into the intestines. I cut the thread as short as possible in hopes that it might be able to pass uneventfully.
Cats, especially young ones, love to play with long, thin objects like string, yarn, ribbon or thread. If ingested, though, these linear foreign bodies can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

It can cause the intestine to scrunch together, or plicate, just like if you were to pull a loose thread on the hem of a skirt or pant leg. In addition, very fine objects like thread can actually start to saw through the intestinal walls where they are all bunched together. This can cause holes in the intestines and bacteria can leak out into the abdomen potentially causing massive infection and maybe even death. As you can see, it’s because of accidents like these, that cat owners should consider purchasing pet insurance for their kitties.

X-rays of Oscar’s abdomen showed a suspicious area of intestines that I thought might be starting to plicate. He also seemed to be getting a little painful in his belly at this point too. He was stabilized overnight with fluids and pain medication, and after reassessment in the morning, I decided he needed surgery to remove the embroidery thread before it caused major damage.

Oscar was anesthetized for the second time, and I surgically opened up his abdomen. I cut into his stomach and found one end of the thread inside. I tried gently pulling it out from the intestine, but it wouldn’t budge. I made an incision into the beginning of the small intestine, grabbed the thread at that point, gently pulled it from the stomach and stabilized it. I then went back and stitched the stomach closed. My next incision was about 5 inches further down the intestine from the first incision. Again I grabbed the thread and gently pulled it free and went back and stitched the previous incision.

I continued in this step-by-step manner, making an incision, pulling the thread loose and closing the previous incision, until I was able to completely remove the entire amount of thread. There was a lot of it, and it had almost made it all the way down to the large intestine. Luckily for Oscar, none of it had cut through the intestine. I ended up making nine incisions into the intestines, plus the one into the stomach.

Oscar recovered like a real trooper. He was up and about the next day wanting to eat! He went home under close supervision and never looked back. That turned out to be quite an expensive skein of embroidery thread! The total bill was nearly $2,100. Pet health insurance would have made it a lot easier on my client’s pocketbook. Especially since 5 months earlier Oscar needed surgery to remove a bladder stone, and 2 months after eating the thread, he and his housemate devoured some chocolate and ended up at the emergency clinic to make sure it didn’t make them toxic. If you have an indoor (or an outdoor cat) be sure to research cat insurance. It just might help save your kitty’s life.

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