It was a chilly winter day when a kind member of the public rushed into the vet hospital with a lost and very unwell cat. The cat, a beautiful 12-year-old ginger boy found in the good Samaritan’s garden, was later identified as “Harvey”. He had collapsed and was not responding to the nurses triaging him. The veterinary team immediately set to work, trying to find out what had happened to Harvey and making him feel more comfortable.
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A minor setback
Harvey’s body temperature was extremely low, he was very pale, and he did not look to be in a good way. The nurses also noticed a nasty-looking wound on his face that was starting to smell. He was scanned for a microchip, and the team were relieved to find that he had been chipped. Unfortunately for Harvey, the details on the chip were out of date, and the phone number did not work. But not to worry. He looked like a well-loved pet, so the quick-acting receptionist snapped his photo, posted his details on social media, and contacted other local vets and charities to see if a handsome ginger cat had been reported missing.
In the meantime, Harvey was being warmed up. The vet authorised the team to start him on an intravenous drip (to improve his blood circulation and manage his state of shock) and to run a very basic blood profile. If no owner were to come forward, they needed to know just how sick this cat really was. He might be a candidate for a local rehoming charity if they could get him better.
While the blood test was running, they checked Harvey over for other injuries; luckily, there was no sign of any obvious bone fractures or injuries to his legs. He looked a little underweight, and they wondered if he had been missing for a while. The wound on his face was quite nasty, with an unpleasant discharge and a strong, pungent odour emanating. But the vet concluded that it looked like an old cat bite abscess rather than a traumatic wound; which was potentially good news for Harvey. They gave it a good flush and clean, then started Harvey on opioid pain relief and antibiotics to fight the infection.
What happens to stray cats?
At this moment in time, Harvey was technically considered a ‘stray’ cat. The Veterinary Surgeons Act describes the level of care that must be provided to stray animals by law,
“Lost or stray animals presented to a veterinary practice may be in good health, or they may be ill or injured and require first aid and pain relief, which could include euthanasia.”
Unfortunately, there are rare cases where animals are so severely injured and experiencing such extreme suffering that the sad decision is made to euthanase them before their owners can be found. But, more often than not, vets can provide very basic care and pain relief until owners are traced. Sometimes, as in the case of Harvey, vets will even go the extra mile if they have the resources to do so; Harvey was a lucky boy.
Nursing Harvey back to health
By the second day, Harvey’s body temperature had returned to normal, and he looked like a new cat. He was up and about, with no signs of lameness, and enjoying fuss from the nurses. Not only that, but he had a good appetite and was looking much more hydrated – the transformation was incredible.
His blood tests showed that his kidney levels were elevated. It was unclear if this was a sudden change due to the infection on his face and dehydration causing a kidney injury. Alternatively, he might have an underlying chronic disease that had suddenly worsened. Either way, it was clear that he needed to continue intravenous fluids, but the prognosis for Harvey was uncertain.
Harvey also had very low potassium levels due to eating less, contributing to his weakness when he was found. Potassium was supplemented in his drip, which made a world of difference to how he felt. Thankfully the rest of Harvey’s blood tests were normal. Many other complicated medical conditions, including fatty liver disease and refeeding syndrome, can occur rapidly when cats are lost and starved for many days.
A bittersweet reunion
At the end of day two, the vet team was over the moon to hear that Harvey’s owner had been tracked down via social media. The owner had moved a couple of weeks before and, hence, had forgotten to update Harvey’s chip details. Harvey had gone roaming back to his old home 10 days ago when he went missing. He was found nearly 5 miles away from his new address. Add with the nasty facial abscess and sub-zero temperatures, and things had clearly become too much for him.
On hearing that Harvey had been found safe and alive, the owner rushed to the vet immediately to see him. She was incredibly thankful to the whole team for all their hard work and the notable improvement in his condition so far. Harvey’s owner confirmed that he had mild underlying renal disease, but he had never required hospitalisation. It seemed likely that dehydration had made his kidney disease dramatically worse. Harvey’s owner permitted the vet to run a urine sample to check that he was not suffering from a urinary tract infection too.
The vet explained that Harvey was at risk of sepsis (an overwhelming infection in his blood) due to his infected wound; and that his kidneys needed time on the intravenous fluids to recover from the ordeal. Plus, they really wanted to keep an eye on him for a couple more days to check for any sudden changes for the worse. He might require x-rays or an abdominal ultrasound if they suspected other injuries.
After five long days in the hospital, Harvey’s owner was excited that he was finally going home. His kidney blood tests were back to normal, and he was fighting fit. The vet explained that Harvey would need to complete a course of antibiotics and continue on a kidney diet lifelong. His own vets should check his wound and repeat his blood test in a few days, and they could take over his care. His owner was truly grateful that the member of the public had taken him to a vet promptly and that Harvey was given an excellent level of care from the outset. She was also relieved that she could reclaim most of the costs through her pet insurance company, which meant she was not worrying about finances at such a stressful and emotional time.
As soon as they got home, Harvey went straight to his favourite armchair by the fire and curled up on the fluffiest cushion. And of course, his owner called the microchip company immediately to let them know their new address.
- RCVS Code of Conduct: Small animals and microchips
- Hepatic Lipidosis | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
- Refeeding Syndrome – Phantom Menace? – EVECC 2019 – VIN
Some details have been changed to protect Harvey’s owners privacy