A few weeks ago I was scheduled to perform a euthanasia on a feral cat that concerned neighbor was bringing in. When she arrived she told me that the cat had belonged to a man who had lived near her, but he had died, and his family members had decided that the best thing to do with his cats was to kick them outside and move away. She had been providing food for the cats, but this one was having some noticeable trouble breathing. She had given him antibiotics, but he was only getting worse. He seemed to be eating and drinking well and feeling otherwise normal, but the respiratory difficulty was becoming so pronounced that she was very concerned that he might suffocate and she didn’t want him to have a terrible demise.
She opened the carrier door, and instead of the snarling beast of a feral cat I was expecting , out popped "Domino". He strode confidently across the exam table toward me and reached his head up to give my chin a friendly bump before commencing to purr and parade back and forth in front of me, rubbing gleefully on my arm.
After a few seconds of mooching he paused to take a deep breath. GAAAK was the sound he made when he inhaled, like he was trying to breathe through the worst clogged nose in the world. Almost every inhalation involved a loud GAAAK, but he seemed fairly unperturbed by it.
The remainder of his physical exam was normal. He had no nasal discharge and no other signs of illness. He looked to be about six to ten years old. Of course by this point I was smitten, so rather than going ahead with the euthanasia I offered to take him on as a personal project to see if we could help him out.
Domino’s symptoms were consistent with some sort of obstruction in the nasal passages. Possibilities included a foreign object like a grass seed stuck in the nose, a rotten tooth breaking up into the nasal passages and filling it with pus, a fungal or bacterial infection, or a tumor. Most of these possibilities would likely have some sort of nasal discharge, however, and Domino had none. The degree to which his breathing was obstructed was also uncharacteristically severe for any of these problems.
The answer came when we anesthetized him to get a good look in his mouth. When I used a hook to pull the tissue in the very back of the roof of the mouth forward I saw a pink mass protruding in the back. After grabbing the visible end of the mass with a surgical instrument I pulled firmly but gently and out came a blob of tissue about the size of my thumb. From the moment he awoke Domino has been an entirely GAAAK free normal cat.
The problem Domino had is called a nasal polyp. These are blobs of inflammatory tissue that protrude into the nasal passages and can get so large that they start hanging in front of the airways, causing a difficult obstruction to breathe around. Pulling a polyp out relieves the symptoms immediately and sometimes cures the problem entirely. Sometimes polyps grow back, in which case they can be pulled out again or more aggressive surgical approaches can be made to resolve the problem on a more permanent basis.
Although the original plan was to farm him out to a home if we could make him better, we all were too charmed by Domino to send him off, so now he has become our clinic cat. He alternates between visiting the staff in the back as chief morale boosting officer and sleeping contentedly on his cat bed at his station between the telephone and the computer on the back counter. Not a bad life for a former feral cat.