Jasper the little kitten, who was a bit short of breath

It was just before Christmas when a group of teenagers entered the consult room of our vet clinic with a tiny tabby and white kitten. They had found it by the side of the road, and my colleague William saw it was having some difficulty breathing. The heart sounds were a bit muffled, which gave him a clue of what could be wrong: a hernia in its diaphragm. In many cases a homeless kitten with a serious problem like this (none of the kids was able to adopt the kitten) would be put to sleep. But William had a good look at the little cat, about 5 weeks old, and thought that it wouldn’t be too hard to find him a home once he was his normal self again. Besides, he felt up to a little challenge...

We took an x-ray and the diagnosis was confirmed: the diaphragm, a ‘sheet’ of muscular tissue, which separates the chest organs from the abdominal organs, had a tear. This is caused when considerable force is applied to the body and chest, like in a car accident. In this kitten’s case some intestinal loops had gone into the chest, which made him short of breath.

We decided not to postpone the surgery. It was a bit tricky: we usually don’t do surgery on 600-gram patients! But Jasper (we got attached to him already and Jasper just seemed a good name for him) went ‘under’ beautifully after he had given us a serious look as if to say: “Okay guys, I trust you. Don’t mess this up, all right?” William performed the surgery and my task, once the chest was opened, was to manually inflate his lungs, as Jasper wouldn’t be able to breathe on his own. And what did we find? In a short period of time most of the abdominal organs had decided to snuggle up in the chest as well; the abdomen was practically empty! Fortunately, everything looked viable and we managed to gently put everything back in place and stitch up the diaphragm. After we’d finished, Jasper had a neat stitch running almost over the entire length of his chest and tummy! That night I didn’t sleep well. Would he make it? He was such a little kitten…

The next morning, Jasper was sitting bolt upright, softly meowing for his breakfast! The whole team quickly took a great liking to Jasper, the miracle kitten. Over the next few days he made a remarkable recovery and we had to try hard to keep him quiet! As any normal young cat he wanted to monkey about and didn’t like his confinement at all. As soon as you opened the cage door, he would climb up onto your shoulder, purring with contentment. From then onwards you could usually find Jasper around one of us; he was such a little charmer! The day our new clinic car arrived and we decided to take it for a test drive, Jasper happened to sit on William’s shoulder, so naturally he had to come. Jasper sat in the space above the glove compartment.

After 14 days we removed Jasper’s stitches. Now it was just a matter of growing a bit bigger and stronger before he could be adopted. We all found Jasper couldn’t just go to any new home, but then we heard that a home for the elderly close by was looking for a new cat to keep the residents company. It sounded just right for him. Here, Jasper would get plenty of attention. The day he left the vet clinic (after he had another thorough check up and I had given him his second vaccination) there were a few tears, but we soon heard that he adjusted to his new environment in no time. Jasper adopted an elderly lady called Evelyn as his new roommate and he slept on her bed most nights. During the day he spent a lot of time in the common room and patrolling the hallways. At night he had the important task to accompany the nurse on her rounds

A few months after he moved into his new home I visited the kitten. It was just after dinnertime and some residents were getting seated in front of the television. I saw a lady coming through the hall towards us, pushing her walker in front of her. And who was sitting, lordly majestic, on top of the walker: Jasper, looking perfectly in control of the whole situation. He jumped into someone’s lap to have a little nap, after he had greeted me: “Oh good, you’re here. This is where I live now, and these are my people!” I felt very happy when I left.

Jasper’s chest x-ray is shown below: tummy on the left, chest on the right. The black ‘bubbles’ in the chest is gas in the intestines, which have migrated into the chest. The lungs are being pushed up. Next to that, Jasper’s new friends and his favourite way of transport.