As an older cat, Bluebell lives a calm, quiet life. She spends her day snoozing in the sunshine or strolling around the garden, never venturing far from the house. She usually stays in at night too, although she is free to come and go as she pleases through the cat flap.
The family live in a bungalow, and last Monday night, Marguerite was woken at three in the morning by the sound of a fearsome cat fight immediately outside her bedroom window. The caterwauling of the two animals was astonishingly loud, with screeches, wails and screams. Marguerite opened the window, and Bluebell jumped straight in, as if she had been waiting for an escape route. The security light outside had been activated by the cats, and Marguerite could clearly see a large, well-fed, grey tabby cat skulking off into the night. He looked like a pampered pet cat rather than a lean hungry feral animal, but he was obviously no less aggressive for his posh background.
At first, Bluebell seemed completely unfazed by the incident: she was in good form, behaving normally, with a good appetite. It was as if nothing had happened. But thirty-six hours later – the morning after the morning after – she developed a dramatic lameness. She was unable to put any weight on her left foreleg, and she was limping around the house, holding it in the air. Marguerite brought her in to see me.
The story of the cat fight gave me a useful clue about the cause of Bluebell’s lameness: cat bites are the most common cause of painful legs in cats. Even if a bite doesn’t cause lameness immediately after a fight, a cat’s sharp teeth are loaded with bacteria, and over a period of one or two days, these multiply, causing swelling and pain at the site of a bite. I examined Bluebell’s leg carefully, feeling for areas of swelling or pain, moving my fingertips over the skin beneath her fur, searching for tell-tale scabs or cuts. I found an area in her mid-forearm that was suspicious, so I then used electric clippers to shave the fur away. Once I did this, my diagnosis was confirmed: there were four puncture marks, in the pattern of the dots on the “four” face of a dice. Each of the four marks had been caused by one of the sharp canine fang-like teeth that cats use as weapons when biting: two upper teeth, and two lower teeth.
Now that the diagnosis had been made, treatment was simple. I gave Bluebell a one-off injection of powerful pain relief, so that she’d feel more comfortable almost immediately. I also prescribed her with a one-week course of antibiotic, to be given as a tablet twice daily. The medicine has been designed to be palatable, so that it can be ground into a powder and mixed with some tasty food. I fully expected that Bluebell would make a rapid recovery.
There are only two remaining problems. First, the cat has attacked once, and it’s likely that he may come back and do the same again. Marguerite has a dog who normally makes sure that visiting cats stay out of the garden, so she’s resolved to put the dog on full guard duty for the next few weeks. And second, although Bluebell will make a full recovery from the bite wound itself, there are some serious viruses (such as FIV, the cat equivalent of HIV) that can be passed on via cat bites and vaccines are not available to protect cats.
The best answer to cat fights is to prevent them: from now on, Bluebell will have a dog-guard in the daytime, and she’ll be kept in at night.
- Cat bites are a common cause of lameness in cats
- Pain relief and antibiotics are usually needed
- There’s a longer term risk of serious viral infections