Injured stray cats come along sadly too often, and how do you decide what to do with a cat who is not yours, may even be someone else’s who wouldn’t want you to intervene in a situation, may cost a load of money and even be dangerous to you or your other animals?
The first decision is always in the animal’s best interest, and from there you simply do your best.
Skeeter has a good chance at survival and certainly has the will, but has a few strikes against his continued health aside from the ugly gaping wound on his neck. Here is his story.
An injured cat who stinks
I received a call on Sunday from a friend who lives a few blocks away that she had an injured cat on her porch. We discussed the injury and possible treatment, and she was willing to undertake the effort and cost to take him to a 24-hour emergency hospital. He wasn’t wild though he was hissy and growly, but no swats, and likely wasn’t feral but was a stray who was hurting and hungry. He certainly enjoyed the food and water she kept on her porch for “Porch Cat”, though her own cats are indoors, and when she called he was sunning himself on the porch. Oh, and she mentioned a smell. Hmmm, sounds like an abscess to me.
I told Peg I’d grab a carrier and be up in a bit.
And there he was, looking very handsome and relaxed on the red cover to the rattan loveseat. Then he turned his head and I saw the sticky and missing fur on the back of his neck. And then I smelled the smell of putrefaction and rotting flesh—nothing smells worse than an abscess. The wound looked like the typical outgrown-collar lesion, where the cat has either outgrown a collar or the collar has shrunk as some nylon ones will do, and actually cut into the skin, an open wound which then became infected, but this was the absolute worst I ever hope to see.
Still, he didn’t seem to be particularly bothered by it, though he was bothered by our efforts to sneak up and throw a blanket over him, silly humans. I have no problem with and am quite skilled at suddenly scruffing a cat and dropping it into a pillowcase or carrier. I do have a problem when the cat basically has no scruff, as was the case with this cat. Even if I could have grabbed the loose skin on his upper back I was afraid the wound would break open and would not risk it.
I called Karen Sable for a little advice, and she suggested putting on heavy garments and gloves and trying to enclose him somewhere, carefully pick him up, even scruff him temporarily, and get him in a carrier. Nothing worked and he got away from us on Sunday, only to crawl under a neighbor’s porch and curl up in an unrolled portion of household insulation.
No luck on Monday so we made arrangements with Karen to borrow a humane trap on Tuesday. But good news was first thing Peg e-mailed and called to say that the cat was in the carrier with the door shut, and she’d named him Skeeter! He had gone in there for comfort, she had closed the door. She said she’d even been able to pet him a little longer. Peg had appointments and had to put him in the garage, but we’d take him to the emergency hospital just after noon.
It’s really heartening when a stray cat who is ill or injured and has been acting hostile starts acting nice, or at least growling and hissing less. But I was concerned this meant something less positive, that the cat was actually beginning to fail and give in to his injuries, that he wasn’t weak enough to fight and he was willing to have a little comfort if it was his last. I’ve seen my share of crusty old tom cats who came in from the cold only to die from some injury, chronic illness or just old age. I didn’t know at the time this cat really was an old tom cat, but he was beginning to seem like it.
PVSEC, here we come
I refer to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Clinic, which is where I’ve always taken my cats or any other cat who is in need of emergency care; Peg and I had discussed our options on Sunday and felt this was the best though it would be expensive. We drove with the windows open so the smell wouldn’t saturate the car.
They took Skeeter back in the carrier as soon as we arrived, then a veterinary technician met with us to take notes. They had told us they would first do FIV and FeLV tests since he was a stray, and the vet tech told us that Skeeter was FIV positive. Peg and I briefly discussed if we should stop here and decided Skeeter had a strong will to live, and we should at least go on with an array of blood tests.
In a while Dr. Manhart, who was treating Skeeter, came to give us an initial diagnosis and treatment plan, and the information from exam and blood tests that would help us make decisions.
She said Skeeter was middle-aged, eight to nine years at least, that the wound was very old with scar tissue all around his neck, and he was also an intact male. There was not enough skin left to close up the wound, and the best they could do would be to stabilize him first, get him on antibiotics and rehydrate him, trim the skin in hope of “second intention” healing, where the wound is covered with various types of bandages and the edges of the wound heal toward the center and create scar tissue, much like a serious burn is healed; this has always reminded me of how trees grow bark over wounds to their trunk or cut away branches. He might also be septic, where the infection or a secondary infection spreads throughout the body.
His blood test results were all out of whack, but that’s not unusual in a cat with a serious infection who’s in a lot of pain, hasn’t had much or anything to eat or drink for a while and was a little stressed at his current situation.
The FIV diagnosis gave us two hurdles: it would hamper his healing to a certain extent no matter what, and he would need to live in a home without other cats, or with other cats who were already FIV positive at least for a while. The wound would take a long time to heal, someone would be physically handling care of the wound and there would be a certain amount of fluids emitting from the wound, and then his imperiled immunity with both FIV and an open wound put him at risk. Also, he may be nice with people, but he was also an unsocialized intact male and it would be a while before they neutered him, perhaps the first time he went under anesthetic for debridement, perhaps later. Until then, he could still act like an unneutered male, and they often continue to act like one even after neutered just out of habit. We decided we’d work with that.
Then she pointed out his blood glucose: 376, unlikely to be a situational fluctuation, likely to be real diabetes, and in fact could be the reason he could have lived with the wound for so long yet it may have suddenly begun to abscess as diabetes developed. If it was, then it would be even more difficult for the wound to heal along with the FIV+, and would he be able to be poked with a needle twice daily?
A urinalysis, however, showed no glucose in his urine so it was not diabetes, though Dr. Manhart said that was possibly stress-related but was a much higher number than stress-related diabetes typically showed.
After reviewing a few other things—his spine was not affected, his kidneys were functioning, his liver values were a little high but that was probably due to his recent diet, he had few teeth left and those in bad shape, one of the reasons it was hard to guess his age—we decided to go ahead with treatment.
Treatment: stabilize him, then clean up his wound
So that’s what we decided to do. At every step we looked at each other and said, “You can’t save them all,” yet we remembered how he had shown up on Peg’s porch and to me seemed to be asking for help. Most important, he still had a will to live, and that is the deciding factor after all the blood tests and diagnoses—he wants to live, and that means that if he gets the support he needs and it is at all possible, he will live. So we will help him.
So far the low estimate, which Peg has already paid, is $670. The high estimate is a little over $900. Several people have already offered to help pay for his care, and she has set up a ChipIn for Skeeter the Cat for anyone who wants to donate to his care in any amount.
More important, a home that can care for him
Skeeter wants to live, not only could Peg and I see that, but so could the people who treated him, but he will need a special home, one that can accept an FIV+ cat and has the skills to care for him while his wound heals on its own. Can you take Skeeter, or do you know of a rescue organization that can help, or an individual rescuer? Any leads would be much appreciated!
Emergency animal hospital veterinarians and technicians
This cat was a mess and smelled like death, yet they all treated him with the utmost gentleness and respect. Not that I am surprised, and any animal deserves nothing less, but I’ve seen less and remember a day when we’d have been told to just put him down and his existence would have been waved away like so much trash. I’m glad that is changing. We may have met with that elsewhere, perhaps the emergency clinic sees things differently.
Thanks to Peg
And thanks to Peg and people like her who, when they can, will undertake the care for a cat like Skeeter.
Skeeter sadly failed under anesthesia with the first procedure; read Peg’s explanation in the comments below.
Also read What’s the Matter?
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