Sonya knew that there was something amiss with Tycho. First, he was squinting with his left eye, as if in pain, and second, he refused to eat his breakfast. She brought him in to see me.
A trip to the vet was needed
As I checked him, she mentioned that she had noticed him holding his head gingerly to one side when he had been eating the previous evening. When I opened his mouth, I could see that there was a painful-looking area on the roof of his mouth, far back on the left hand side (the same side as his sore eye). I had to discover what was causing this, so I admitted him to our hospital for the day.
Under anaesthesia, I used a fine needle to probe the sore area: I thought that it might be an abscess caused by infection around a minor cut in his mouth. I collected a biopsy sample which I sent off to the laboratory for analysis. While he was asleep, I took an x-ray of his skull and chest, looking for other signs of an accident, but everything was normal.
The biopsy results
The biopsy results arrived the following morning: they confirmed that the painful area was caused by infection, but there was uncertainty over what had started the problem. Cats don’t normally develop random painful infections in the roof of the mouth. In a older cat, a type of cancer could be a concern, but this would be rare in a two year old. A foreign body reaction, such as a splinter of wood, was a possibility, but I had searched for this type of complication the previous day under anaesthesia, and had not been able to find anything.
We decided to treat him with pain relief and antibiotics: if this was a simple infection, he would make a full recovery. If there was underlying cause that was still present, he might get better at first, but he’d get worse again at some stage. And if this happened, we would then need to go to the next level of investigation: an MRI scan. Sonya was relieved that her cat was insured: she had already spend several hundred euro on him, and an MRI work-up would add another thousand euro to the costs.
Tycho recovered well on the antibiotics at first: his eye returned to normal and he started to eat well. But a week later, Sonya noticed that his left eye looked sore again. And when she looked closely, she saw a drip of blood oozing from a scab above it. She brought him back to the vet and this time, the final diagnosis became clear. A pair of fine forceps was used to tug at the “scab”, and to everyone’s surprise, the “scab” turned out to be the tip of a 3cm long tuft of grass which came out when pulled with the forceps, like a rabbit being lifted out of a conjurer’s hat
Tycho must have been chewing grass (as cats often do), and a sharp ended piece had penetrated the roof of his mouth. It had then been hidden from view under the surface while it caused pain and infection. The MRI scan would have found the grass in due course, but luckily for Tycho (and the insurance company), nature had taken its own course, and the grass had worked its way out on its own.
Tycho made a full and permanent recovery this time. He’ll carry on chewing grass from time to time (as many cats do), but this was almost certainly one of those random, one-off happenings. Whoever would have thought that grass chewing could be so dangerous?
- Grass seems harmless but it can cause problems
- The sharp ends of grass can puncture the skin and the lining digestive tract
- Migrating grass blades and grass seeds under the skin can be difficult to identify