When Rosie Perrett's family cat suddenly became ill, she found herself confronting the condition as a vet student and coping with it as a pet owner.
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I was expecting to be telling you about the end of term and my two weeks of lambing work experience this month. However, the end of term didn't turn out quite as intended. Our timetables were quieter than usual, so a group of us took the opportunity to go and enjoy a film and dinner in Liverpool on the final Wednesday of term. It was exactly what we needed, time to relax and celebrate the end of term. During dinner I got a call from mum . . . our cat, Gracie, had been rushed to the vets with a saddle thrombus. Ultimately this had been the reason why we had had to have his half-brother Archie put down.
I already knew that a saddle thrombus is a clot in the lower portion of the aorta. I also knew that if it lodges where the aorta splits between the two hind legs it can cause paralysis, making the hind limbs feel cold because of the lack of blood. It causes excruciating pain that is often uncontrollable, which is why affected animals are often put down immediately. However, in Gracie's case, our vet believed that, as he still had a little colour and, providing he responded well to pain management, he could live a good quality life, despite being on medication for the rest of his life. This made mum's decision to treat him a lot easier - there was no question, we were going to treat the clot and hope he would make a full recovery.
Unfortunately, there were no tell-tale signs prior to the onset that gave any indication of the presence of a saddle thrombus. Mum had found him at the back of the house yowling and dragging his back legs, exactly how Archie presented, except that in Archie's case he was completely immobile. On closer inspection at the vets, Gracie did have a very small amount of blood reaching his hind legs and still had some colour in his lips, unlike Archie whose lips were blue and whose front leg had also become cold. Overall, there was a lot more hope for Gracie.
As a vet student it was a perfect example of how we run scenarios. We're presented with the clinical signs and then work our way, step by step, through the tests we would carry out and what medication we would prescribe. As a client and owner it was my worst nightmare, especially considering I was half way across the country with no clue what the ultimate outcome would be. However, one thing I knew for certain, as a student, future vet and owner, if the pain wasn't controllable he had to be put down. It is unfair to continue testing and treating when, ultimately, there is no positive outcome and you're just delaying the inevitable while continuing to keep an animal alive when it's in pain. I will do everything in my power to improve animals' quality of life, but when that's diminished I'm grateful that I will have the capability to end their suffering.
As for Gracie, after four days at the vets he came home and, three weeks later, you wouldn't think he had been immobile and very poorly – he's running, jumping, and doing everything a normal cat should do; and he's still evil, which is a good sign that everything is fine. He is on medication for the underlying congestive heart failure, and we haven't quite mastered giving the tablets just yet, but we're getting there.
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