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"Rupert Watt " - Retching Russian Blue Cat

When "Rupert" Watt, a Russian Blue cat from Stoney Stanton, was presented to my colleague Terry Dunne his initial thought was that Rupert's problem was likely to be a relatively minor one. Rupert had been gulping, retching and gagging throughout the previous night as if trying to "bring something up".

We are commonly presented with cats showing these symptoms. Owners are often concerned that the cat has something lodged in its throat - a fish, bird or mouse bone, for example. This is almost invariably not the case!

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 infected.

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 performed.

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!

By Geraldine Young BVSc CertSAM MRCVS

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