Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cat...Got Your Tongue?

For a  rural veterinarian emergency calls are often part of the job. It's not unusual for my phone to ring late at night or on a Sunday afternoon. However, after 23 years in practice even the emergency calls fall into a few categories and I usually know before I see them what to expect and what I'll need to do to ensure a good outcome.

(Courtesy of
There are the various traumatic injuries of  hit-by-car cases, the vomiting and diarrhea for a week that becomes an emergency after midnight, seizure disorders, urinary blockages, and c-sections.

The other consistent feature of emergency calls is that if they aren't horses, they're dogs. For horses, it's typically colic or fence wounds. I attribute this to the well-known fact that domestic horses are accidents looking for a place to happen, and they're very diligent in their search. Horses can get hurt in a padded room, which is why they recover from anesthesia whenever possible wearing a helmet, under close supervision and in a padded room.
(If you think I'm exaggerating or the picture above is an anomaly, check out the stories on this Horse Forum site, which has an entire heading entitled "Stuck in the fence.")

Dogs are just prone to doing dumb things like chasing large vehicles, eating all manner of things they shouldn't, and fighting fang and claw for a scrap of food or patch of turf. 

In most cases, the cause of the injury or illness is obvious.

So Daphne's emergency call was especially unusual. Daphne is a young adult barn cat. She's one of the lucky ones, carefully supervised and well-cared for despite her outdoor habitation. It was that careful supervision that occasioned an emergency call one spring weekend. Her owner, Joanne Robb, was on the way through the barn for a horseback ride and, as was her habit, checked on her Barn Lions. She noticed Daphne's tongue, "hanging out." From the sound of her voice I knew it was serious and we agreed to meet at the clinic as soon as possible. A quick exam revealed that Daphne's tongue had multiple lacerations, the most serious of which irregularly transected 1/4 to 1/3 of the tip, leaving it attached on the left side by a few millimeters. Her owner was still shaky from concern and adrenalin, the carrier was a bloody mess, and although certain it wasn't life-threatening, I was completely puzzled as to the cause of the injury. Daphne, inscrutably Sphinxish, purred.

Ya gotta love barn cats!

In addition to the most serious full-thickness laceration, there was another sharp, v-shaped wound further back on her tongue. It looked as if it had been pulled into a piece of machinery, something no self-respecting cat would ever allow.

(Courtesy of Icanhascheezburger)
What was clear was that Daphne needed some reconstructive surgery. The challenge was to debride the wound while preserving blood supply and giving her something she could eat and groom with. I sutured the smaller laceration first, carefully trimmed the damaged right tip and then angled the left edge around front. When I finished, tiny knots studded the top and underside of her tongue but the margins aligned nicely and I was hopeful.

She recovered well from anesthesia despite seeming a bit puzzled to awaken wearing a soft Elizabethan collar to prevent her from licking something rough or pawing at her tongue. The next morning she happily ate her breakfast and seemed so unfazed by the zig-zag of her tongue that I feared she'd work the knots out of the sutures before they were due to dissolve in 10-14 days. Fortunately they held long enough and on recheck she seemed as good as new. Despite a congenial purr she remained mum on the source of her tongue-slashing.

For an interesting look at what a tongue actually does when a cat drinks, see this MIT news story. It may not be what you think.

Adopt a Shelter Cat Month may be past but there are still plenty of cats and kittens at your local adoption center, please consider taking one, (Or three!), home today.

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