UT-VMC emergency room tails:Cats Don’t Always Land on Their Feet

UTVMC ER TAILSBy Dr. Amanda Rainey

It was a busy Sunday afternoon when we heard the overhead page ring out, again signaling the arrival of another emergency case.  One of my students immediately set off up front to check on our new patient.  About ten minutes later she returned, a large carrier in tow.  She was of small stature, and whatever was contained within the carrier seemed very heavy as she panted and struggled to get the entire structure into our triage room.

“What’s in there?”  I asked after helping her get the carrier onto our exam table.  I peeked inside, but all I could see was a large ball of black fur huddled under a blanket.

“That’s Jimmy.  He’s a six year old cat that fell off a table and has an injured leg.”  She replied, catching her breath.  We tried to cajole Jimmy out of the carrier with soft words but this wasn’t his first trip to the vet so he stayed firmly put. Due to his rather portly physique, we finally decided to take the carrier apart to get a better look.  With the top removed, I carefully pulled off the blanket to reveal a very round black cat.  His wide green eyes darted around the room, but after a few moments I felt the soft fur of his head rub against my hand as he searched for reassurance.

Jimmy was quite large in stature, with a small head, no real neck, and short legs supporting a circular body.  Apparently he was feeling particularly athletic that afternoon and had found himself standing on the kitchen table.  There was an alluring cardboard box near the edge of the table that seemed to be calling his name, and forgetting that he was not longer a lithe kitten, Jimmy tried his best to jump into the box.  Unfortunately for him, he did not land in the box nor on the table, but awkwardly on the floor with a resounding crash heard and seen by his owner from his seat in the living room watching football.  Afterwards, Jimmy seemed fine except for being unable to use his left forelimb.  Concerned, the owner had brought him in to have the leg examined.

Other than his injured leg and size, Jimmy’s physical seemed very normal and he was quite the nice cat, even allowing us to manipulate his swollen left front paw.  From this brief check, I was able to determine that the area of Jimmy’s leg equivalent to our wrist was enlarged and moved in abnormal directions, signifying some sort of luxation.

We gave Jimmy an injection of pain medication, as even though he was cooperating and didn’t seem uncomfortable, I knew he had to be hurting.  Radiographs confirmed the luxation of his left carpus or wrist, and we applied a splint to the leg to stabilize the joint.  I recommended that Jimmy return the following day to see our orthopedic team, as it was most likely that he would require surgery to permanently secure the joint.

Jimmy’s owner was feeling guilty for leaving the box on the table, because as he explained to us he knew Jimmy loved to get into things like that.  He immediately agreed to bring him back the next day, and we discharged Jimmy who seemed very confused by the contraption on his leg.  His need for surgery was confirmed Monday morning, and a few days later he went home with some new hardware in his left forelimb, along with strict orders to stay away from table edges decorated with boxes!

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