Act Fast or Lose


Second in a series

Gucci wasn’t just having another routine bout of vomiting. Her 104.2 degree fever spoke major inflammation. It wasn’t too late; her immune system was fighting hard. A normal or low temperature would have meant that she was failing. I had time but only a little. We snapped a couple of abdominal x-rays and found trouble.

Intestinal loops should appear in sharp focus, with a few small gas pockets. Gucci’s were blurred with lots of gas free in her abdomen. I took a small fluid sample, did a quick gram stain, and had a look under the microscope. Bacteria in prodigious quantities shouted the game plan: exploratory surgery – right now.

Rather than making a quick “exam room” decision I had stuck to my training. The time spent gathering diagnostic information had already paid off. We were facing a leaky gut; septic peritonitis was already underway. Generous doses of antibiotics were added to Gucci’s IV fluids. Several more liters of saline (in glass bottles back then) were warmed for abdominal irrigation. It was going to be a long afternoon. I’d wash and wax the Triumph the next Saturday.

Gucci was a high risk kitty but our heart and respiratory monitors gave comforting reports throughout her anesthesia. My experienced assistant, Hazen, was ready with suction as I carefully opened our 8 pound patient. We were greeted by a veritable sewer. No lecture in veterinary school and no text book prepared me for free-floating feces among angry red loops of bowel.

I remember briefly wondering how this cat could possibly survive such severe contamination. We worked fast, suctioning and rinsing, using moist lap sponges to pack off intestinal segments, some with holes big enough to pass a 25 cent piece through. Each of Gucci’s ragged intestinal tears had to be trimmed of dead tissue, sutured closed, and then covered with omentum. Mother Nature has mercifully equipped us all with this protective tissue, bless her little heart. I only hoped I could find enough of it to help prevent leaks.
Next week: Nip and tuck.
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Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.