The tale of a coughing cat

We all know cats love to eat grass and handsome Seve is no exception!  One day Seve’s owners noticed that he was retching violently and in doing so brought up several pieces of grass. Following this incident, Seve developed a harsh cough so his owners booked an appointment for us to check him over. 

Despite a relatively normal clinical examination, we were immediately concerned as coughing is always considered an abnormality in cats. It’s not unusual for grass-eating cats like Seve to get a piece stuck at the back of their throat and this was certainly our initial suspicion. We anaesthetised Seve expecting to find a nice blade of grass which we could remove however none could be seen, so the mystery continued!

Whilst under anaesthetic we took some x-rays of Seve’s chest to assess his airways. These radiographs revealed only minor changes to the lungs but our team were convinced that something more serious was going on, so they performed a procedure called a Broncho Alveolar Lavage or ‘BAL’ for short. This test involves placing some liquid into the lungs to mix with any abnormal cells and/or bacteria, and then it’s immediately suctioned back out for analysis. Our vets are always keen to do as much as they can in the clinic to try and deliver immediate answers so they had a look at the sample under the microscope. A normal BAL sample should be pretty unexciting with maybe just a few epithelial cells but Seve’s sample was anything but boring! We could immediately identify the presence of many bacteria and inflammatory cells, poor Seve had pneumonia, but why?

It was reasonable to consider that during his retching fit, Seve had maybe inhaled some of his vomit and this had set up what is known as aspiration pneumonia. However, our team kept wondering, what if Seve had inhaled a piece of grass and it was now stuck in his airways? Either way he had a severe infection, so the first step was to send samples to the lab for culture and immediately start him on antibiotics.

Whilst we all anxiously waited for his results, Seve’s owners did a wonderful job of nursing him and documenting his progress. Despite his strong course of antibiotics Seve’s cough just wasn’t improving. We repeated his radiographs to see if anything had changed to indicate the presence of a foreign body however they still only showed mild changes.

Plant material doesn’t show up on an x-ray, so the only way we could be certain there was no foreign body would be to check Seve’s airways with a camera, a procedure called ‘bronchoscopy’. Quite specialist equipment is needed to perform this procedure, especially for the tiny airways of a cat. Thankfully our wonderful colleagues at Dick White Referrals have such equipment and agreed that a blade of grass was a strong possibility, so booked him in to have a look.  During his bronchoscopy the team at Dick White were able to identify and confirm the presence of a foreign body in Seve’s airways. It was such a relief to finally have a diagnosis but we were all a little surprised by what they found. Instead of the anticipated blade of grass, the team at Dick White Referrals found a large piece of twig, measuring over 4cm! It was quite well lodged into his airways and proved a little tricky to remove but we’re delighted to report the procedure was a success!

Seve is now back home and recovering beautifully. He’s no longer coughing and is back to his usual cheeky self. We’re all hoping his little adventure has put him off twigs for life!

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