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Luna: A Cat Given a Second Chance to Breathe

We all know the myth that cats have nine lives, but some cats seemed to start off with a shorter straw. Luna, a 2 year old gorgeous but homeless black cat, was one of those cats that started off with the odds stacked against her. First Luna had to find a home out of the shelter, but after landing a great place with her new owner Chris Vincent it was noticed that she was often breathing rapidly. X-rays with her regular veterinarian revealed the next hurdle Luna had to face: a diaphragmatic hernia.The diaphragm is the large muscle that separates an animal’s chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It also is a very important muscle used in breathing. A diaphragmatic hernia is a hole in the diaphragm that allows the contents of the abdomen (stomach, liver, spleen, and other organs) to get up in to the chest cavity. These extra organs put more pressure on the lungs and make it harder for a patient to breathe and fully expand their lungs.

The most common cause of a diaphragmatic hernia is trauma. When an animal sustains trauma by being hit by a car, attacked by a dog, or falling from a height the diaphragm muscle can tear, often requiring emergency surgery to repair the diaphragm. But some animals are just born with a defect in the diaphragm, meaning the muscle never formed right in development. Sometimes animals live their whole life without a problem from this, but when the defect causes trouble breathing intervention is often required.

This is an example of an x-ray of a cat with a diaphragmatic hernia: the intestines are abnormally placed over the heart and lungs.

Unless Luna learns to talk we will never know if she was born with the hernia or had it caused by a prior trauma, but with her chronic trouble breathing Luna needed an intervention. Of course, the surgery does not come without risks. Moving the abdominal contents back in to the abdomen, giving the lungs more room to re-expand, and tinkering in the area around major blood vessels and the heart can be tricky. Most patients do well with the surgery, but it is also not unheard of for them to die post-operatively despite the veterinary team’s best effort.

Luna went to surgery with Dr. Tallant on a Friday afternoon and appeared to be doing well throughout most of the procedure. Then as the diaphragm was being sutured back in to place her blood pressure dropped. She was taken out of the OR and brought to VESCNM’s critical care unit where she needed one on one care with a technician to manage her blood pressure and other vital signs, as well as provide her supplemental oxygen to help her breathe. Dr. Tallant and the emergency and critical care team called in extra staff to be side by side with Luna to help her through this rocky recovery. When patients do poorly after surgery sometimes they can develop multiple organ failure. All efforts were poured in to Luna to prevent that from happening.

After 24 hours of one on one intensive care, Luna’s blood pressure started to improve, and the various medications the doctors had her on to help maintain her blood pressure were weaned off. Thirty-six hours after surgery Luna didn’t need a technician sitting with her one on one, and she started to eat. Three and a half days after surgery Luna went home a happy, healthy cat. While she still has to recover as her lungs re-expand in her roomier chest cavity, she is doing well at home. We expect her to have a long, happy, easy-breathing life even if she used up a couple of her nine lives making that happen. VESCNM and all the staff that poured their hearts in to helping her recover look forward to getting updates and pictures of her in her new home, finally getting the chance at life she deserves.