Snap the Cat and the Broken Jaw

Dr Mc Blog

October 22, 2014
His name was Snap. He had some Siamese in there somewhere because he had huge blue eyes and a white body with orange fur on his ears, tail and feet, a color we call “flame point”. A stunning kitten, he was all male : big, rangy body with long legs, on the prowl to explore my exam room as soon as he was set free from his carrier. Outgoing, slightly aggressive, he was not a cat to take well to indoor confinement. Fortunately Snap’s owners had a large yard and felt their kitten could grow up there safely. No animal is bred to live a life totally indoors, never seeing the sunshine.

Snap grew quickly, losing his first kitten baby tooth as he approached 4 months of age. Most kittens gain about one pound a month as they grow, but Snap gained more – he was going to be BIG! His owners reported that Snap, who got his name when he ran to them every time someone  snapped their fingers, had added fetching to his repertoire. Green beans were a favorite for some odd reason. Snap never ate the beans himself, but his family hated to be wasteful and found themselves researching new green bean recipes as they tried to keep up with his passion. Thanksgiving was the only time of year they could look forward to without guilt (add canned mushroom soup and French fried onions for a traditional casserole).

When Snap was neutered at about 6 months of age he was just losing his baby fang (canine) teeth and looked quite adorable. Neutering helped to suppress his urge to wander and would markedly decrease the likelihood of fights with other cats, which in turn could expose him to diseases like feline leukemia, feline AIDS (FIV, the Feline immunodeficiency virus, NOT infectious to people) or problems like abscesses. “Tomcats”, an old fashioned expression for unaltered or intact male cats can also develop “stud tail” – you don’t want this folks, however manly the name may sound. It’s a greasy patch that dirties the hair of the upper tail. Yech! And the urine of an intact male cat has a unique smell that can only be called a “stench”. It’s hard to draw breath in the same room. The good news is that one surgery and the smell, the greasy tail, and all just go away and you are left to enjoy your cat.

If the average cat weighs 10 pounds, Snap was out to prove that he was anything but average. By 2 years he was 14 pounds of lean muscle, extremely athletic and he enjoyed accompanying his owners on their nightly neighborhood walks. He was a powerful hunter of toy mice. He could jump from a standstill straight up ten feet. He talked frequently, expressing his disapproval if they were a little slow serving him breakfast. Snap had scheduled petting times, also, and showed his displeasure if one was missed by turning his back to the family when they finally came home.

But one night it was Snap who didn’t come home.

The following day we received a phone call that he had been found and was being rushed down to the hospital. And oh, the look of him made our collective stomachs drop. The beautiful fur was wet from mud and blood. His jaw hung crookedly and his nostrils were plugged with clots of blood. He was able to stand and even walk, though there were long scratches abrading one side of his body. It was obvious that Snap had been hit by a car, thrown through the air, and slid hard coming down. The broken face had been the site of impact.

Animals suffer from concussion the same as people. Snap’s pupils were pinpoint (meiotic) but he was responsive and even in a daze he was able to follow visual cues to show us he could still see. We started him on IV fluids and shock therapy and under gentle sedation assessed and cleaned his wounds and took x-rays of his skull. It was pretty bad. He had fractured the center of his lower jaw, so the right side of the mandible was split from the left. Worse, his upper jaw or maxilla had broken and the pieces shifted so that part of the roof of his mouth, the hard palate, was shoved upwards on the right, crunching into his nasal passage and sinus. Oddly, the soft tissue of the hard palate, though bruised, was intact. We were able to wire the lower jaw together on the spot. There wasn’t much we could do about the roof of his mouth but wait and see. All the teeth still overlapped correctly, so he could close his mouth properly. We inserted a feeding tube down his esophagus to the stomach and threaded it out the side of his neck to facilitate eating during recovery. And what a recovery. By day 3 his pupils were normal and his attitude improving. By day 5 he was eating soft food on his own, so IV fluids and feeding tubes were removed. Snap went home, returning to have the wire in his lower jaw removed 6 weeks later. Snap lived to be 15 years old. He never liked to have his mouth examined after all that and his face was a little crooked, but we knew he’d made it when he left a green bean on his owner’s pillow one night.

Christine McFadden, DVM

Valley Animal Hospital

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