Name: Jennie Conneely, from Roundwood, Co Wicklow
Pets: Kat, her eight-month-old cat
Problem: Kat broke his jaw when playing with his brother outside
Jennie has two cats -- Kat and Kit. She took them both on as kittens in the hope that they'd grow up to be friends. It's worked out well so far: the two young cats spend much of their day keeping one another entertained, with endless games of chase, tumble and pounce.
A few weeks ago, Jennie let both cats outside after breakfast: they were in good form, and they scampered out to enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. An hour later, Kat appeared at the back door in distress. His face and chest were covered in blood and he was panting breathlessly. The bright red blood was stark against his pure white fur, and Jennie was shocked. It was obvious that Kat had suffered from a dreadful accident and he needed urgent veterinary help.
Jennie rushed him down to our clinic and I saw him at once. I immediately took him into our treatment room, giving him pain relief by injection and extra oxygen via a mask.
At first, I thought that he must have been hit by a car, but Jennie explained that she lived some distance away from a road. After analysing the precise nature of his injuries, a different cause began to seem likely.
Kat had a classic combination of signs that were typical of so-called "high-rise syndrome". This is a condition that's often seen in cities when cats fall from apartment windows or balconies. In Kat's case, he must have been playing with his brother in a tree or on a wall; after losing his balance, he must have tumbled, falling on to a hard surface.
Cats are good at falling: they have a natural ability to twist their body so that they land on their feet. This means that if they fall from a moderate height (eg, less than 10 feet), they'll often escape without injuries. If they fall from higher than this, they still land on their feet, but they hit the ground with such a jolt that they can't escape unscathed.
Typically, they suffer a combination of skull fractures and chest trauma.
Even though a cat may land on his feet, the head continues to move rapidly downwards. As a result, the head crashes down against the ground, chin first. The lower jaw is usually broken and the hard palate (the roof of the mouth) splits along the mid-line. Kat had precisely these two injuries and it was this combination that confirmed the diagnosis of a fall from a height.
His chest must have also slammed against the ground, leading to another problem: bleeding into his lungs. This was why he was coughing up blood and struggling to catch his breath. Kat's injuries were life-threatening: he was in serious trouble.
The initial focus was to get him over the immediate shock and trauma. Kat was in a state of pain, shock and panic when he arrived. Pain relief, oxygen and intravenous fluids helped him recover rapidly and within a few hours, he was sitting up and breathing comfortably. Two days later, his jaw fracture was repaired with surgical wire and he was sent home to be fed soft food.
Kat continued to recover well and he came back for his final check-up in the week before Christmas. He was wearing a red Santa coat to keep him warm and he's almost completely back to normal.
There's just one change in his routine: he still loves playing with Kit indoors, but he refuses completely to go outside. One fall from a height is more than enough for this sensible cat.