Anna has owned Rupert since he was a kitten, and he’s become a much loved pet. He’s the only animal in the home, and he has a set routine that’s very predictable.
He starts his day with breakfast when Anna gets up, and he then has a long nap, till lunchtime. In the afternoon, he goes out for a stroll in the garden, coming back in the evening for his supper. But then towards the end of the evening, he tends to get more lively, and at bedtime, he likes to go out. He spends the night-time hours out and about, coming back first thing in the morning. Anna doesn’t know where he goes, but he has always seemed like a happy, healthy cat, so she has presumed that he’s busy enjoying life.
Up until now, he has never gone away for more than just one night. So when he disappeared completely for three days last week, Anna began to get worried. Where could he have gone? What could have happened?
She felt that he would be bound to be back soon, so she had not yet started the type of poster-on-lamppost and Facebook search that people tend to do for missing cats. And right enough, on the morning of Day Four, he was at the back door, looking for his breakfast.
As soon as Anna saw him, she noticed that there was something very wrong: he had a large, gaping wound on the underside of his neck. It did not look like a fresh wound: it was covered in thick, dirty discharge, and there was a strong smell. Rupert did not seem to be particularly bothered about it: he just wanted his breakfast. But Anna knew that this was a serious problem, so she brought him to see me.
When I examined him, the first task was to clean the wound up. It was covered in scabs, discharge and debris, so it was difficult to see what was really going on. The best solution to use for cleaning wounds is simple: slightly salty water. A dilution of one teaspoonful of salt in a pint of warm water is very similar to the concentration of salt in the blood, so it doesn’t sting, it’s effective for cleaning, and it has a mild anti-bacterial effect. I then used a pair of clippers to trim away the fur from the edges of the wound: vets nearly always do this, to stop damp, dirty fur from further contaminating a healing wound.
Once the wound had been thoroughly cleaned, I could see that Rupert had been lucky. The skin of the underside of his throat had been lacerated, either by another animal (such as a dog, a fox or a cat) or by contact with something sharp (a jagged piece of glass or metal, or something similar). However the injury was only superficial: the skin was the only damaged tissue. If the wound had been a couple of centimetres deeper, he would have suffered catastrophic damage to the main blood vessels in his throat, and he would not have survived.
As it was, he now had an open wound that was infected. This could not be sutured closed because it had been present for two or three days. The best way for this to heal was so-called “secondary intention”, which simply means leaving the wound to close up naturally, over three or four weeks. Anna will have to bathe the wound twice daily with mildly salty water and a wodge of cotton wool, and she’ll have to give him a course of antibiotics. I’ve also given him a supply of pain relief, to make sure that he’s comfortable. I am sure that his wound will heal well, and he’ll soon be back to full health.
Anna had one question: is this likely to happen again, and if so, what can be done to prevent it? My answer was simple: it’s time for Rupert to be neutered.
Most male cats are castrated when they are around six months of age, but Anna had never had this done to Rupert. She didn’t see that there was any need. He was the only animal in the house, he never sprayed urine in the way that male cats sometimes do, and he never went away for more than a night. He was fine as he was, so why bother with putting him through an operation? The problem with leaving male cats entire is that they are prone to doing exactly what Rupert does: going out and about on their own, roaming far and wide, looking for female cats, and strongly defending the area that they see as their territory. As a result of this behaviour, male cats are prone to getting into trouble, fighting with other animals and getting injured after accidents. Studies have shown that male cats have significantly shorter lives than neutered male cats.
The operation is simple: cats are left in at the vet in the morning, then collected in the evening. They don’t know that anything has happened, and they make a fast recovery. Within a few days, the levels of testosterone in their bloodstream has dropped, and they stop wanting to roam outside as much as before. They tend to live quieter, safer, more home-loving lives, which suits most pets far more. And best of all, they tend to be healthier, with a lower incidence of injuries and death.
Anna has thought about this issue, and a plan has been made: as soon as Rupert’s neck wound has fully healed, he’ll be booked in for his operation. His days of wandering are over.
For more about neutering, see www.spayaware.ie