Barn cat brain surgery highlights hospital’s emergency mettle
When a Good Samaritan brought a cat hit by a car to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, no one knew the cat was one of our own. Bleeding and shocky from a powerful blow, the cat began a journey through some of the most advanced emergency techniques and intensive care the Hospital has to offer.
“We had no idea who he was but we had to act fast,” said Dr. Jenefer Stillion, resident in the Emergency and Critical Care service (ECC). “He had severe head trauma and a ruptured lung leaking air into his chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe. We stabilized him and tapped his chest periodically to remove the air leaking around the lungs.”
The next morning they discovered the cat was Cooper, the Large Animal Hospital’s resident barn cat. “When we learned this cat was found on Route 366 near our hospital, we asked Large Animal staff if they were missing any barn cats. They came over and quickly identified him,” Stillion said.
Cooper was worsening; air continued leaking into his chest and he was growing less responsive, indicating a significant ongoing brain injury. The ECC doctors eased his breathing with a chest tube and took a CT scan of his head. . “We found an upper jaw fracture, blood in his nasal passages, evidence of a skull fracture, and several areas where he was bleeding into his brain,” said Dr. Gretchen Schoeffler, ECC specialist.
“With injuries that bad the only way to relieve increasing intracranial pressure and stop ongoing damage is intensive surgery to the skull,” said Schoeffler.
Brain surgery is no light task, but neurosurgeon Dr. Curtis Dewey from Clinical Sciences was up to the challenge. On Friday evening, February 11th, he performed a successful craniotomy, removing part of Cooper’s skull. The ECC team and Intensive Care Unit technicians are managing Cooper through recovery.
“He’s shown improvement every day. It’s amazing how cats can recover,” said Stillion, with Cooper purring happily in her lap. “He responds to bright lights and sounds, and purrs or chirps when he’s handled. He can even walk around a little. It will take time to know if he’ll return to normal kitty life, but his chances are strong. With months of therapy, many head trauma survivors make full recoveries.”
Survival is unusual for animals with trauma as bad as Cooper’s. “Many owners decide not to operate on cases with head injuries this severe,” said Schoeffler. “It’s invasive and requires a big commitment to helping an animal through recovery. Knowing we have the resources to do that, we decided to go forward.”
“We need to care for our own,” said Hospital Director Dr. Bill Horne, who made that call. “This cat is a pet of the hospital, and it is our obligation to care for him.”
Back in the barn, the Large Animal staff feel Cooper’s absence. “He was a useful mouser and a good friend,” said Wendy English, Client Service Manager for CUHA, whom Cooper greeted every morning.
Stillion recalled a story in which Cooper befriended a recovering horse that had to be walked every day. “Cooper would run ahead and wait, the horse would walk toward him. They would sniff, and Cooper would run ahead again, encouraging the horse to follow.”
Cooper won’t be returning to the barn while on the mend, but in the meantime he has found a good home. Large animal surgery technician Katie Howard agreed to take Cooper as a foster kitty. He spends evenings with her and returns to the Intensive Care Unit during the day for nursing care.