Cats lead dangerous lives, dodging traffic, fighting over territory and being chased by dogs, so it is not surprising that we vets spend a reasonable proportion of our working lives patching up the results of their adventures. Whether it’s repairing serious damage caused by road traffic accidents, or patching up less severe injuries from bite wounds, cats that have been in the wars certainly keep us vets busy everyday of the week.
Most of the time these injuries are not too severe – cat bites, and bruises and strains from over-energetic leaping and climbing usually heal well and require nothing much more than antibiotics and painkillers to help the cat recover. Sometimes, however, cats are less fortunate and that is when things get much more serious and the outcomes can be less positive. Road traffic accidents are by far and away the main cause of these more serious injuries, and repairing the damage that a tonne of car can do to 5 kilos of fragile cat can be a very involved and difficult process.
Thankfully there are now many highly specialised vets who can offer amazingly hi-tech operations and treatments that can quite literally put broken cats back together. A friend of mine from university, Toby Gemmill, is now an eminent orthopaedic surgeon in Birmingham and I truly believe that provided the pet’s head and chest are in one piece, there’s not much he couldn’t put back together successfully. Using all manner of techniques, including external fixators (metal frames that hold shattered legs back together from the outside rather than the inside), bone grafts and much more, vets like Toby can work wonders on even the most severely injured animals.
There is a problem though, and that’s the age-old issue of money. The state-of-the-art treatments that Toby and other orthopaedic vets carry out are understandably expensive with costs often reaching many thousands of pounds. This puts them out of the reach of many pet owners, unless of course they have pet insurance, leaving them faced with some very difficult decisions – should they try to beg, borrow or steal the money required for a potentially life-saving operation? Or should they simply call it a day and opt to have their pet put to sleep? These are terrible decisions to have to make, and it is one of the reasons why vets like myself, who are general practitioners rather than specialists, end up tackling complex operations that are well outside our comfort zone.
Take Portia the cat underneath the drapes in this picture for example. She was hit by a car and suffered severe injuries to her pelvis and back legs, and required a major orthopaedic operation if she was going to have any chance of surviving. However, her owner had no pet insurance and could not afford to consider visiting a specialist – but she was desperate to try and save her beloved cat, so I offered to try my best and have a go myself.
The operation Portia required was something I have attempted before, but it really is not something I’m that comfortable with, so it was a very long and stressful operation. The end result was pretty good – definitely not as good as if Toby had done the procedure, but a whole lot better than nothing and I think there’s every chance that she will pull through as a result. In fact it’s me that I’m more worried about – I need a stiff drink and a lie down to recover from the stress!
Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen