PETS AND PEOPLE: A Diagnostic Challenge and A Lesson in The Value of Innocent Life


A veterinarian in general practice has a myriad of experiences.  One of the most interesting aspects of the profession is being a detective who must analyze scientific diagnostic data, use available medical or surgical methods, and be able to utilize experience and apply intuition.  The following case was unusual in several ways and left an indelible impression.  There are elements of this diagnostic challenge that resembled an episode of CSI: (Crime Scene Investigation).   

Aquarii was presented to the Manchester Animal Hospital as a relatively young Bengal Tiger Cat with profuse bleeding from his left nostril.  He had a hard time breathing and was in pain.  There was a round wound on the bridge of his nose which appeared to be an animal bite, or a puncture wound.

The first consideration in his treatment was to alleviate his pain and then go about assessing his condition and determining what was causing these distressing symptoms.  He was examined under anesthesia, and I discovered a wound in the soft palate in his upper mouth and a deep laceration on the back of his tongue.

X-rays of his head delineated a great deal of trauma in his nasal passages, however, no foreign bodies like sticks or metal were seen.  These symptoms made little sense as a bite from another animal could not cause them.  Next, an x-ray of his body provided a clue.  A Bullet was in his abdomen!

Aquarii was a butterball of a cat, who melted into my body when I held him.  Given any opportunity, he would slide up to me and gently press his face against my hand or face.  As he slowly improved under supportive care, I became more and more attached to his personality and spirit.  When we were performing repeated treatments, he disliked being restrained and complained with a weak meow and drew his ears back, however there was a silent communication between him, and I and I could trust he would never unsheathe his claws.  Once a procedure was completed, he returned to his wonderfully affectionate persona.

The next assumption was the bullet caused the head wound, however, if it traveled thru his head to his abdomen, it would have killed him.  If the bullet had hit his skull in any other location, that wound would have been fatal.  The fact that Aquarii was still alive was somewhat of a miracle.

Our best hope was that somehow the bullet’s path had been slowed by the head wound and was then swallowed.  That was unlikely but a possibility.  The x-ray indicated the 22 was possibly residing in his intestinal tract.  The advantage to that would be that other organs were not damaged and blood tests verified that.  The disadvantage to that is that the intestinal tract creates an acidic environment that could cause the lead to leach into his blood stream. We hoped we would see it move thru the intestinal tract and that an exploratory surgery could be avoided.

After several days of supportive care, he started to eat and have bowel movements.  Unfortunately, a daily x-ray indicated the bullet was not moving through his intestinal tract with the food he was ingesting and eliminating.  This created a doubt that it was in fact in the intestinal tract.

After a week, Aquarii was sent home for several days and he was scheduled to have barium x-rays and an ultrasound to determine its exact location prior to surgery.  The result was fascinating, as it was no longer in his abdomen. 

The only logical explanation was that the trajectory of the bullet was such that its path ended in Aquarii’s throat and was swallowed.  It then became lodged in his intestinal tract because of a jagged edge and was eventually dislodged and eliminated.  Aquarii had used 8 of his nine lives and we were overjoyed at the outcome.

No one will know if this was a haphazard accident or a mean-spirited act.  I do know that that he was a very lucky cat and we who continue to share his world are the better for it.  This incident is another delineation of the importance of the great care and respect that must go into the use of firearms.  Hopefully, we will provide the type of education that ensures their proper use and most importantly, instill in our youth the value of innocent life.

Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.

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