Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.amazon.com).
Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.
Socks, a six month old cat, arrived at the emergency service with quite an unusual and scary problem. Socks had been shot by an arrow! The owners had frantically called the ER, trying to describe to the receptionist what had happened. All they knew was that their poor cat had returned to their front porch, crying in pain. That’s when they saw the arrow shot clear through his body.
Socks goes to the emergency room
The arrow was all the way through Socks’ chest. Our poor kitty was quickly triaged. Triage is a process used in emergency clinics to sort out the most critical patients from those who are stable and able to wait a little longer to be seen. As soon as the triage nurse saw Socks, she rushed him to the treatment area to be seen by the ER veterinarian. Socks was immediately given a pain medication to help comfort him. After a brief discussion with the guardians, X-rays were taken to access the damage caused by the arrow.
The X-rays revealed that, amazingly, the arrow missed the vital organs: the heart, the great vessels (mainly the aorta) and the esophagus! It was a true miracle that the only obvious organ damaged was the lung. Unfortunately, after the arrow went through the chest, it ended up in the bone of the arm or humerus, which was shattered. The ER service transferred Socks to the surgical service. Meanwhile, Socks calmly sat in his cage — purring.
The surgeons evaluated Socks’ situation very carefully in order to discuss several options and anticipate possible situations. Then a plan was presented to the guardians. They decided, along with the surgeon, that the best choice would be to amputate the front leg. Sure, there was a possibility of repairing the shattered bone, but given the difficulty of the repair and the risk of infection (since an arrow is covered in bacteria), there was a risk of failure they weren’t prepared to take.
Socks goes into surgery
After Socks was put under general anesthesia, the chest was opened up. We confirmed that the arrow did not go through any vital organs — only part of the lungs. The arrow was carefully moved out, millimeter by millimeter. We then removed the perforated lung, rinsed the chest with sterile saline and placed a “chest tube.” This device would allow removal of air and discharge from the chest.
After the leg was amputated, Socks recovered smoothly from anesthesia. He spent the next two days in the hospital. The chest tube was removed the day after surgery. He steadily improved and went home, walking on three legs.
Two weeks after surgery, Socks returned to the hospital to have his staples removed. He was doing great, was very comfortable and was walking very well.
How can you protect your cat?
The moral of the story is this: it’s a dangerous world out there.
When cat guardians tell me they let their cat go outside, because they can't bear the idea of an indoor-only cat, I always cringe. Socks was lucky, but many other cats weren’t. Over the years, I have seen outdoor cats get hurt in many, many ways:
- Hit by car
- Fan belt injuries
- The neighbor’s kids
- Poisonous plants
- Toxic products
- Fights with cats, dogs and wild animals
If your cat is lucky enough to survive all of these dangers, there are still risks of infection from viruses (e.g., feline leukemia [FeLV] and feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]) and parasites (e.g., Toxoplasma).
Remember, cats can be happy indoors. Just, make sure your cat is stimulated regularly by providing indoor climbing and exploring opportunities. And play with your cat daily, it’s good for both of you!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.