How Pumpkin the Kitten Almost Missed Halloween

Pumpkin is a 5-month-old orange kitty with a penchant for eating everything. He recently got into a whole lot of trouble, right before Halloween.

Pumpkin the kitten
Trick or treat… Gimme something good to eat.

This is the story of a kitten named Pumpkin.

Pumpkin is a 5-month-old orange boy kitty with a penchant for eating EVERYTHING. He commonly plays with hairbands, strings, paper, anything. Last week, we got a call from Pumpkin’s frantic young owner. She had seen Pumpkin eat her hair tie, ornament and all, and the kitty had been vomiting ever since.

Now, Pumpkin was not my patient. The owner had brought him straight to the emergency hospital because his vomiting was intensifying. The emergency hospital had done bloodwork, an ultrasound, given lots of medicine to try and control vomiting, but they hadn’t done one thing: They had not removed the foreign object from the kitten’s intestinal tract. And they had not taken a simple X-ray that would have confirmed he needed surgery.

Our young owner, Ms. Student With a Waitress Job, had now paid the emergency hospital $800 and was told that yes, indeed, her kitten needed surgery. The cost of surgery? Anywhere from two to three thousand dollars. We told Ms. Student Waitress to come on over with Pumpkin and we would see what we could do.

First Drama, Then Surgery

Hid your hair ties and ribbons! Here comes Pumpkin.

Pumpkin came in with his little IV in his front leg appearing quite sad indeed. His belly was hurting, and his head was hanging.

After some deliberations with Ms. Student, we were able to take Pumpkin to surgery, but not without some drama. Pumpkin’s owner and her roommate were arguing. Guilt trips leaving the station about hair ornaments being left on the floor; who was a slob and who wasn’t; sloppiness almost forcing someone to kill her kitten because she couldn’t afford the surgery… nasty chick talk.

Well, Two Broke Girls came to the right vet. I am the queen of sloppiness at home. Very organized at work; slob at home. I sympathized with them. There’s so much junk in my room, I’m lucky I can find my cats! My hair ties are lying somewhere beneath the summer clothes searching for some packing boxes and the winter clothes trying to find a place of their own. In other words, all my stuff is all over my floor. Sloppiness means your life is full of more exciting tasks than putting things away!

At surgery, I found the hair tie stuck in Pumpkin’s stomach, with lots of hair attached to it, traveling down his intestines and causing what we call a string obstruction. (See the “Ribbons and Bows” section of my post No Chocolate in This Stocking.) His intestines were bunched up into a knot, causing his pain and vomiting. (Ms. Student did have long, beautiful Pantene hair!)

After cutting into the stomach and  the intestine, I removed the yucky Paris Hilton hair bob, the Pantene hair (now looking more like that wad of hair you take out of the tub), and, shazam, Mr. Pump woke up feeling like a kitten again.

The Bag of Shame

Whenever we remove a foreign body from a pet (underwear, bones, panty hose, tinsel, play mice, real mice, pine cones, you name it), we try to clean up the item a bit so the owners won’t barf at the sight of it, and place it in a plastic bag for the owners to see what cost them hundreds of dollars to remove.

For 20 years, we have taped these little bags of gastronomic shame on the outside of the pet’s cage so we don’t forget to show the owner if they want to see it. It’s sort of like when the car mechanic shows you the old part he took out of your car. To me, these parts always look the same, like they came from the junkyard, and I want them out of my trunk. But most owners need to see what their animal ate!

Truly, Pumpkin was feeling great about four hours after surgery. It was the end of the day and I was doing my sweep of the hospital, checking the medical board, the patients, the computers. I check out Pump, and there’s a little plastic bag in the middle of his cage. He’s ignoring it. I’m staring at the empty bag and he’s looking at me as if to say, “What are you looking at, witch? I’m just sitting here minding my own business with this annoying IV in my arm.”

I figure one of the techs left a little bag on top of his cage and he began to play with it and then — it hit me. OMG. It was the bag with the hair tie and the big ugly ornament on it. And now the bag is EMPTY. Where the BLANK is the ugly hair tie???

I bomb over to the cage, and now Pumpkin looks at me like I really am nuts. I rummage through his blankets and little water bed and… THERE IT IS! Pumpkin had buried the hair tie, in its entirety, in his blanket. But at least he didn’t re-eat it!

“Who, Me? Little Ol’ Pumpkin?”

The Pump-man claimed innocence. The look on his face said that he couldn’t possibly have used his little paw to detach the baggie from the surgical tape holding it on the cage, pull the baggie through the cage bars, open said baggie, remove its contents, and, thank the Lord, NOT EAT THEM AGAIN! I removed Pumpkin’s hair accessory from his playpen, gave him some chicken and rice, and let him think about his evil doings in a time-out for a while.

I checked the kitty after my own chicken and rice dinner (Chinese takeout.) He was happy and sleeping, but his IV pump was beeping. Pump had become tired of the pump, his IV pump that is, so he removed it. By himself. No need to wait for Doctor’s orders.

But where was that little connector piece connecting the catheter to the line? Pumpkin, where is it? You didn’t eat it, did you? Another rummage through blankets and I found out Pump had just been playing hide and seek with the plastic connector, not making a happy meal out of it.

Pumpkin is one of those kittens that would, I’m afraid, eat just about anything. Before I could rest easy that night, I gave the kitten a chew proof cat bed, removed every bit of  IV line from him and his cage, and removed ALL OBJECTS within a paw’s reach of his bars. He was in chew-proof kitty jail until he went home the next day.

Pumpkin’s Back Home

Pumpkin is doing great, and his owner now realizes Pump is on a kitty suicide mission every time he sees or plays with something that could fit down his throat. We gave her her gastric-juice-soaked hair ornament as a memento, and we thanked Pumpkin for teaching us to never tape anything to the front of a cage again.

I am so happy Pumpkin is alive and well and can pose with the other, inanimate pumpkins in his house this Halloween!

If you find yourself in a similar situation at an emergency hospital with your pet, see if you can contact your own vet to discuss what is going on. Emergency hospitals are life-saving institutions, but they are not always streamlined when it comes to diagnostics. Nor are emergency visits  streamlined on your pocketbook.

In my expert opinion, Pumpkin’s GI obstruction was obvious from the history and symptoms (his owner saw him swallow the object and vomit continually), he needed a simple X-ray to diagnose (GI obstruction was obvious on the film) and he needed to be taken to surgery immediately. This would have saved the kitty a lot of pain, removed the risk of the obstruction causing further harm and saved his owner a lot of money!

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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