Snowy, like most Irish cats, is allowed to come and go from his own home as he pleases. A few weeks ago, Snowy was unlucky enough to encounter a danger that took everyone by surprise – she was attacked by human beings. Snowy is a friendly creature who likes attention. He likes to be petted behind her ears, and he purrs loudly. Nobody saw exactly what happened that day, but the consequences were very serious.
One morning, Ciara’s mother heard a commotion of some kind, with the sound of raised voices. She went out into the street, and she saw a group of three youths running away from her, which immediately raised her suspicion that they might have been up to something. At the same time, Snowy rushed into the house from the same direction. He was obviously distressed, and he looked soaking wet.
At first, the O’Connells thought that the youths had thrown a bucket of water at their cat. They coaxed Snowy out of the corner where he had hidden, and it was only then that they realised that something much more sinister had happened. Snowy had been drenched not in water, but in diesel fuel. It seemed that something horrific had almost happened that morning: the youths had thrown fuel onto him, then had tried to set him alight.
Snowy had been very lucky. Diesel fuel is not as inflammable as many people believe, and he had not suffered the awful fate of being burnt alive. Instead, he had simply been terrified, and he was now coated with dark brown, greasy, foul-smelling diesel. The O’Connells tried to remove the oil by giving him a bath, but Snowy was agitated and upset, and it was not an easy job. And the diesel proved to be very difficult to remove. Even after the best shampooing they could manage, Snowy’s coat seemed to be as oily as ever. It was at this stage that Snowy was brought up to our clinic for further assessment.
When I examined him, the rear half of his body was still dripping with thick brown oil. This was much more than just a cosmetic problem: oil is highly toxic to cats, and Snowy’s life was in danger. The poisonous compounds in the oil would be getting into his system in two ways: firstly, by direct absorption through his skin, and secondly, by ingestion. If a cat has a dirty coat, his first instinct is to remove the dirt by grooming himself. Snowy had already been licking his coat in an effort to clean himself up. By doing this, he would have been at risk of swallowing large quantities of poisonous oil. Snowy needed urgent treatment, so he was admitted to our veterinary clinic for the day.
My first job was to give him a sedative, to prevent him from becoming too distressed. I then gave him a series of carefully planned baths. As the O’Connells had discovered, simply shampooing is not enough to remove thick oil from a pet’s coat. Instead, there is a special sequence of actions that need to be taken.
Firstly, we poured a bottle of vegetable oil over him, rubbing it thoroughly into his dirty greasy fur. We used sunflower oil, just like cooking oil from the supermarket. This had the effect of dissolving the fuel oil, and assisting the release of sticky, toxic residues from the hair and the surface of the skin.
The next stage of the procedure was to pour several cups of washing-up liquid over Snowy, and to massage this thoroughly into his contaminated fur. The detergents in the washing up liquid emulsify the combination of vegetable oil and fuel oil, so that they can then be easily dissolved in hot water. As a result, when we finally used a stream of warm, fresh water to rinse Snowy’s coat, a white, thick, greasy sludge drained off his body. This sludge was a combination of fuel oil, vegetable oil and washing up liquid.
We had to repeat this process time after time. After half a dozen applications of sunflower oil and washing up liquid, Snowy’s coat finally began to regain its normal clean, white colour.
Snowy stayed in our veterinary clinic for a few days to make sure that he had not been seriously poisoned by the oil. He was kept in a cosy cage, with a hot water bottle. He had to wear an Elizabethan Collar around his neck to stop him licking any small amount of chemical which might still remain on his coat.
Two days later, Snowy was out of danger, and he was fully back to himself. His coat was shiny and white, and he was a contented, purring cat. Ciara was delighted to take him home with her. Snowy has been a very lucky cat. If he had run away after the attack, instead of rushing back home, he might not have been found for some time, and he could easily have died from poisoning by the oil.
The youths who poured oil on Snowy were never identified, but people in the neighbourhood have been alerted to the risk to their own cats. The perpetrators won’t be allowed to get away with such animal abuse next time.
- If possible, never allow cats to come into contact with oil
- If your cat does get a lot of oil on his coat, find a vet as soon as possible – it is a genuine emergency
- he correct, oil-removing treatment can save a cat’s life