Most cats with such symptoms have an upper respiratory
infection, probably caused by one of the cat 'flu viruses
(Feline Herpes Virus or Calicivirus). In other words, these
cats have a sore throat, and are gulping and retching because
of the discomfort.
We tend to see an increase in cat flu cases in the Autumn
(maybe the cats feel "low" as the impending cold
weather approaches, so are more vulnerable!). Even cats
who have regular booster vaccinations can still get mild
doses of flu but they are unlikely to get the more severe
and debilitating disease seen when unvaccinated cats are
Mrs Watt, like most owners, was sure Rupert had something
lodged in his throat. In most cases we would reassure the
owner that this was unlikely and treat for a possible infection.
However, in this case Mr Dunne did feel that Mrs Watt's
fears may be justified as Rupert did seem particularly distressed.
As a precaution Rupert was admitted and I sedated him so
that a more thorough examination of his throat could be
To our surprise, we discovered that Rupert had a 14cm long
blade of very coarse grass stuck in his throat! It had become
hooked around his larynx (voice box) so that part of it
was in his oesophagus (food pipe) and half had been inhaled
and was down his trachea (windpipe). Rupert had obviously
been trying to chew and eat the grass but some had gone
down the wrong way! The grass was a variety with tiny little
barbs on it so, once stuck, the barbs "gripped"
onto his tracheal lining, preventing him from being able
to cough it up! The grass was removed with forceps and Rupert
immediately felt more comfortable.
Although I have seen this problem a few times before I
will still not be rushing to sedate and examine the throats
of every gulping cat I see. The majority of such cases will
undoubtedly still be infections. As my lecturers at University
would so often remind me - Common things are common!
Young BVSc CertSAM MRCVS
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