Cat with severe breathing problems had 20cm grass blade stuck in throat

A rescue cat who was choking and gasping for breath turned out to have a 20cm blade of grass wedged solid in her throat.

The surprise diagnosis came after the owners of two-year-old rescue Willow used our new video vet pet emergency triage consultation service.

Vets Now Video Vet, launched at the beginning of lockdown to enable pet owners to speak to a vet from the comfort of their home, allows our highly-qualified emergency vets to check a pet’s symptoms via a live video consultation.

This helps our network of clinics and hospitals triage cases so the sickest pets can be prioritised.

In Willow’s case, owners Elaine and Neil Tomlinson, from Hillsborough in Sheffield, sent in footage of the distressing cough she had developed very suddenly and which was badly affecting her ability to breathe.

After studying the clip, our emergency vet, Orla Marron, suspected that something WIllow had eaten was stuck in her throat or nose. During the online consultation with her owners, Orla was then able to see and hear for herself how bad the cough was.

Orla explained to Elaine and Neil that Willow would need to be examined to establish where exactly the blockage was. With the cough getting worse all the time, they rushed her to our pet emergency clinic in Sheffield – where Orla’s colleague Dave Hollinshead set about examining her.

Even after x-rays were done, it was still not clear where or what was causing the problem until eagle-eyed Dave spotted a tiny speck of green almost invisible to the eye at the top of Willow’s throat.

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Carefully and delicately, and with Willow now sedated, he used a surgical instrument to prise the dot of green forward.

To his surprise, Dave discovered it was a blade of grass measuring 20cm. A couple of hours later, a slightly woozy Willow was well enough to go home — breathing without difficulty and with the cough gone.

Dave said: “I’ve been very involved in getting the video vet service up and running and I’m delighted we were able to put it to such good use to help Willow.

“Video vet gives us a whole new way of looking after pets – it’s about applying all the technology we now have at our disposal and updating the traditional vet consultation.

“The footage Willow’s owners sent in prior to the online consultation was particularly helpful in reaching a diagnosis. We were able to provide a seamless, coordinated response between the video vet service and our clinic team, which really demonstrates the value of the video vet service to worried pet owners.”

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Image of the blade of grass stuck in Willow's throat for article on Vets Now's online vet service
The blade of grass in Willow's throat was 20cm long ©Vets Now

Dave added: “In Willow’s case, at this time of year, cats like to have a good chew of grass – and it tastes a lot lusher to them than it would in winter.

“She literally bit off more than she could chew, and as she gagged we think the grass blade has got caught in the back of the throat and then ended up wedged behind the soft palate.

“It was quite barbed and took a fair bit of teasing out — I felt like a magician pulling out a string of handkerchiefs! Willow’s breathing was severely affected and would have become worse if Elaine and Neil hadn’t sought help when they did.”

Neil praised the service he received from Vets Now and said being able to speak to an emergency vet from his home was hugely valuable, especially in the current climate.

He said: “Video vet is a really good idea and works well. From an owner’s point of view, you can see a lot of thought has gone into it.

“We adopted Willow, her brother Barney and her sister Mabel from Barnsley Animal Rescue.

“We weren’t really thinking of getting three cats but it didn’t feel fair to adopt one or two and split the siblings up so we gave a home to all three.

“They’re all part of our daily life and it would have been awful if we couldn’t have got Willow treated. The cough she had was really upsetting to see and hear and you could tell straight away that something was quite badly wrong.

Image of Willow the cat and owner for article on Vets Now's online vet service
Thankfully, Willow was soon back to normal, much to owner Neil's relief ©Vets Now

“She was pretty much back to her normal self the day after she got home and we’re very grateful to Dave and the rest of the Vets Now team for all their help.

“It’s actually been a bit of a busy month for us. A couple of weeks ago Mabel disappeared and it turned out she’d got into our neighbour’s house and then got stuck in one of his cupboards. So we’re hoping for no more drama for quite a while!”

Vets Now Video Vet was launched as part of a drive during the coronavirus crisis to make veterinary advice available to everyone without having to leave their pet’s side.

If a pet needs to be seen at one of our clinics or hospitals, pet owners such as Neil and Elaine are refunded the £24 consultation fee.