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About Operations

[Skin Disorders]  [Concerning Fleas and Other Pests]  [Diseases of the Eyes]  [Diseases of the Ears]  [About Operations]  [The Importance of Nursing]  [On Neutering Cats]  [Dangers That Await Our Cats]  [When Cats Grow Old]  [More Cat Articles] 

( Originally Published 1936 )

Speaking about operations on cats," said a man who had lost an old cat greatly beloved by his wife and himself, "there is only one thing to be said. They can't stand them." Happy had a cancer, and his owners refused to subject him to the knife. They kept him with them so long as his life did not belie his name, and when he began to suffer they put him to death. I believe most people who have much to do with sick animals would agree with Dr. Hamilton Kirk, who said, "When any tumor is definitely diagnosed as cancerous, the most humane course is to destroy the victim."

It is not always easy. When Mimi the Secondmine since she was an orphaned one-day-old kitten seventeen years before-developed a limp that we thought was rheumatism till we found a little lump under the groin, and the veterinarian, after anesthetizing her and examining the growth, said, "It is cancerous," there was only one thing to tell him.

"Then don't let her wake up." So I know it is not easy.

But the saddest eyes I ever saw were the eyes of a gentle old cat who was dying of cancer in a hospital cage. He had been operated on twice, and each time the growth returned. Now he was too weak for anesthetics, and the merciful doctor would have ended his pain, but his owners said they were so fond of him that they could not have him killed before his time. So he lay there, looking up with those despairing eyes when someone stopped at his cage, then tucking his head silently down again.

I think the second operation on this cat was a cruel mistake. But in many cases operations are a good thing, and it is by no means true that cats cannot stand them. Undoubtedly they are more susceptible to shock and more easily overcome by anesthetics than dogs are, but many cats have survived major operations and lived happily ever after.

I asked Dr. Alfred W. Meyer, who has performed operations almost daily for many years at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals in New York, to give me some statistics on the comparative ability of dogs and cats to withstand operations.

"Impossible," he said. "We have figures showing how many cats are operated on, how many dogs, how many survive and how many die, but conditions differ in every case. For example, the owner of one cat takes it home after the operation and brings it back daily, if necessary, for treatment. The owner of another prefers or is obliged to leave it in the surgical ward. Now, cats do not stand hospitalization very well. They fret in a cage, in a strange place, and their chances of recovery are better at home.

"The age of an animal, its disposition, its general condition, the nature of its complaint, all these are factors in its reaction to an operation. So, statistics tell little, and we can only say that cats are more sensitive than dogs."

From one sort of operation the cat's native caution makes it almost immune. Dogs will bolt the queerest, most indigestible things; the Speyer Hospital charts record successful operations on several canine knife-swallowers, a collie that swallowed the twisted-wire handle of a stove-lifter, dogs that had dined off tennis balls, silver dollars, and rubber mice, and three police pups that between them had eaten several hundred wire nails. But cats rarely have intestinal obstructions, except indeed hair balls and needles. They love to play with strings and threads, and when a thread with a needle at the end gets into a cat's throat the needle is pretty sure to follow.

I have not heard of many operations for hair balls. When they are present in the intestines, veterinarians as a rule prefer to work on them with enemas, emetics, and stomach pumps. An operation is the last resort. But the right instrument for hair balls is a good stiff brush in the owner's hands, used daily on the cat's coat before, not after, the ball forms.

Cats have been operated on for abnormal growths of many kinds, in the internal organs, on the body, in the throat, the ears, the eyes. Tumors are the most frequent, and if there are no serious complications they can be removed with a fair chance of their not recurring. Hernia, or rupture of the intestines, is not so common, but does happen; and it has been successfully operated on. But I have known a small hernia to be let alone and never give any trouble.

It is not well to rush into an operation except in an emergency. When Mimi the Second was quite young she developed a large unsightly swelling under her silken ruff. An operation was advised, but one day I marched in a Votes for Women parade, and my partner in line and I got to talking cats, and I told her of Mimi's goiter.

"That's my husband's specialty," she said. "Take her to him." The husband was Dr. John Rogers, a physician of note; he could not have examined his human patients more carefully than he examined my little cat, advising against an operation, and prescribing treatment that in a short time caused the swelling to be absorbed. The cure was simple; massaging and tablets to reduce the glands.

Injuries, of course, bulk large in the surgical records of animal hospitals, and cats have their share of accidents. Fewer cats than dogs are hurt by automobiles, but they make up for that by falling from high windows and fracturing their legs and backs-or they are maimed by dogs-or they get into fights. It is amazing what mayhem two angry toms can commit upon each other. In my youth we would stick a bleeding warrior into a large stocking, binding down his claws, and tie up his wounds with strips torn from an old petticoat, but now they have modern methods. I met a cat in a hospital the other day whose torn ear, incurred in a duel, was costing his owner quite a penny.

Many of the animal hospitals today, both the large ones maintained by humane societies and the smaller ones owned by veterinaries, have excellent operating rooms., The operating room in the Speyer Hospital, for example, is quite as up-to-date as are the operating rooms in good hospitals for human beings. The operating table, the shadowless lamp, the sterilizing machines, the devices for electrical treatment, the dressing tables, the instruments-all the equipment is of the sort used for man, and the white walls, tiled from floor to ceiling, and the drainage arrangements insure safety from infection.

The Angell Animal Hospital in Boston is very fine too, and there are splendid ones on the Pacific coast. I believe that England and France, despite their love of cats and dogs, have no great public animal hospitals like those in the United States. They have, however, some fine private hospitals maintained by veterinarians.

It is of great importance to have a cat in proper shape when it is to be operated on. It should not, as a rule, be fed for eighteen hours before going under the knife. I believe in the use of a general anesthetic whenever pain is to be inflicted. Some veterinarians dispense with this in the smaller operations, but these men are not truly careful or truly kind. Work with the knife can be done better when the subject is perfectly still, and even the most expert handling cannot guard against sudden movements on the part of a conscious cat that is being hurt. And why impose unnecessary torture on a helpless animail?