Simba was presented to me late one evening by his very concerned owner who could not figure out why he was behaving the way he was. Simba is a young and robust, neutered male cat, who spends his time outdoors when his owner is away at work, then indoors in the evening.
This evening when his owner returned, he was having a hard time swallowing and was not overly interested in his dinner. Simba is a solid boy who normally eats well, so his loss of appetite was concerning to his Mum. She was becoming worried by his continued odd behaviour through the evening so brought him in to see us.
One of our first thoughts when we knew a gagging cat was coming in was that he might have an early sign of tick paralysis. We are seeing many cases of tick paralysis this winter and are preparing for a busy summer dealing with this affliction!
When I examined Simba, my first concern was that he may have a foreign object lodged in his oesophagus. While oesophageal foreign bodies are encountered from time to time in dogs, it is not a common issue with cats. They do tend to be a little more selective about what they eat, however, Simba’s signs did infer some oesophageal irritation. He was constantly trying to swallow and reacted with discomfort when palpated around his oesophagus and airway. We could not work out what might be causing this – he is not fed bones, and is not much of a hunter according to his owner. Apparently his sister does a better job of that and likes to keep the local mouse population under control!
To aid a diagnosis, we decided to take an x-ray. A clear chest x-ray in Simba’s case would help rule out the presence of a foreign object lodged in his oesophagus or airway. Well, Simba was not the most cooperative patient when it came to taking an x-ray, so a light dose of anaesthetic was administered to help him relax. The chest x-ray revealed no abnormalities and while he was sleepy, we had our chance to have a good look in his mouth. I have seen fish bones caught at the back of a cat’s mouth but these generally present with a lot more gagging/retching and coughing. I was a little surprised to see something else sitting above his larynx and managed to grasp a small piece of grass which unfortunately tore on retrieval. At least we had our diagnosis!
Fortunately, there was still a tiny thread poking around from the back of his soft palate, leading up into his nasal cavity. Before Simba managed to rouse from his light anaesthetic, a deeper level of anaesthesia was induced to allow us the time to gently retrieve the full blade of grass. This is not an easy feat! The grass was firmly wedged up in the caudal nasal passage and with gentle, gentle traction and patience, I managed to slowly remove it in one piece. All 9 centimetres!
A good flush of the nasal passages with sterile saline afterwards was done to help remove any small particles that remained. Some grasses have tiny hairs on them that help their lodging in soft fleshy areas, so it was possible that some material may remain behind despite the flush. There was quite a bit of bloody discharge afterwards also, indicating just how irritating grass up the nose can be.
So how did Simba get a piece of grass stuck up his nose? Cats like to eat grass occasionally, and many cat owners have “cat grass” or “cat nip” plants in their houses for this purpose. Grass eating seems to be a trait left over from their days as beasts of the wild, and is likely a dietary need. If Simba had vomited after eating the grass, which is what I suspect, the grass could have made its way to the back of the nasal passages instead of coming out of the mouth. Very irritating!
Simba was able to recover uneventfully from this episode and was comfortably eating before morning. Hopefully he is still doing well at home.