David E. Larsen, DVM
It was a bright sunny afternoon in early June when I pulled up to the gate of the McCubbins’ farm. Frank had a llama with a vaginal prolapse and was close to her delivery date. When I got out to open the gate, I noticed a feral momma cat with a litter of 4 kittens. The kittens looked to be about five to six weeks old. The remarkable thing about the litter was one Siamese cross kitten with long hair. My kids would love that kitten, but the whole group scattered when I tried to approach them.
I continued on to the barn after closing the gate. Frank and his ten-year-old grandson were waiting for me at the barn.
“I tried to catch a wild siamese kitten down at your gate,” I said. “There was a mamma cat with a litter of five kittens, but they were pretty wild.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” Frank said. “We have too many cats around this place as it is.”
Frank’s grandson disappeared without a word.
“The girls tell me you have a llama with a vaginal prolapse,” I said. “That is pretty unusual. I have seen a few of them after delivery, but I haven’t seen one in a pregnant llama. When they occur in sheep before delivery, it is usually due to triplets, where there just isn’t enough room in the belly. Vaginal prolapses are always difficult to manage before delivery.”
“Why is that?” Frank asked. “I would think it would be pretty much the same.”
“Yes, it is pretty much the same, except after delivery, you can just sew things up for a few days,” I said. “Before delivery, if you do that, there is a chance of losing the baby. Most people can’t watch these mammas around the clock.”
“So, how do we solve that problem?” Frank asked. “This isn’t a four hundred dollar calf.”
“Today, I will try a trick not taught in school. It was relayed to me over dinner at a local veterinary association meeting by an old veterinarian over twice my age,” I said. “I was fresh out of school, and he latched onto me when I came through the door. I think he was seventy-two and mostly retired, but he bent my ear all night.”
“I’m not sure I like the word, try,” Frank said.
“That’s why they call this veterinary business a practice,” I said. “Most of what I know and do, comes from trusted practitioners, either in school or practice. We end up standing on the shoulders of many people who have come before us. You just have to trust someone who has spent his life doing the same thing you are doing. I have every confidence that this procedure will work. I probably used the wrong word when I said trick.”
“Okay, I trust your judgment,” Frank said. “And I’m not interested in sleeping in the barn for the next week.”
After carefully washing the prolapsed tissue, I lubricated the mass and carefully pushed it back in place. She did some straining, and it was evident that she would push things out again.
Now for the trick, I washed a wine bottle one last time, rinsed it with Betadine, and lubricated it with KY jelly. I carefully inserted the bottle into the vagina, blunt end first. It would serve as a pessary, preventing the vagina from prolapsing again. When the cervix dilated and the baby entered the birth canal, the bottle would be easily pushed out and followed by the baby. This trick was from the 1930s, but the results were expected to be far better than any modern method.
Once I had the bottle in position, the llama relaxed, and she quit straining.
“What do I have to do with her now? “Frank asked.
“I think you can expect her to birth in the next few days,” I said. “So, you want to keep a close eye on her. There is always a possibility of a uterine prolapse after delivery. In the llama, that doesn’t happen often, and I don’t know if having a vaginal prolapse before delivery increases the chances of a prolapse following delivery or not.”
“I think I hear you saying that if it happens after delivery, it is easier to handle,” Frank said.
“Yes, if you find it right away,” I said. “But it also can affect her future fertility.”
“I am intrigued about how different generations of veterinarians share information,” Frank said as I cleaned things up and started putting my equipment back in the truck. “How often does that happen?”
“Frank, it is the backbone of the profession,” I said. “Young veterinarians come out of school with the basics but need some direction in applying them. They usually go to work for older veterinarians. Those employers and older colleagues hand down information and skills that never make it to the textbooks.”
“I sort of find that interesting,” Frank said. “I thought it was all book learning from school.”
“The veterinary profession, maybe more than other professions, has a generation gap that is hard to bridge,” I said. “Over the last hundred and some years, the profession has had multiple upheavals. Before the Model T put the automobile in the hands of the working man, veterinarians were horse doctors. There was a horse in every household. Those guys went the way of the bicycle repairmen almost overnight. So the profession became a profession of cow doctors. Horses, dogs, and cats were just sidelines. Then in the 1960s, pets started becoming more of a thing, and horses, dogs, cats, and pocket pets soon became the mainstay of the profession.”
Frank and I were still talking when Frank’s grandson returned carrying the Siamese cross kitten in his hands.
“I went down to the gate, and they were still there,” the grandson said. “The mamma cat was wild, but the kittens hung around. I just called this one, and he waited around long enough that I could catch him.”
“Let me look at him,” I said as I took the kitten from the grandson’s hands. It didn’t take much looking to realize that he was covered with ringworm.
“What are you going to do with him?” I asked.
“I’m going to keep him.” the boy replied.
“That will be fine,” I said. “He will grow up to be a good cat for you. Especially since he was raised by a feral momma cat. She was out there teaching them how to hunt. But, just as a warning, this kitten is covered with ringworm. You want to get that cleared up before you handle him much.”
“What should we do for treatment?” Frank asked.
“If you stop by the clinic, I can give you some shampoo and a couple of pills that you can chop up and give him a piece every day for a few weeks. And if you change your mind about the kitten, I will take him off your hands.”
It was probably 2 weeks later when Frank called the office.
“Are you still interested in taking that kitten?” he asked. “I have a grandson who is covered with ringworm. And, by the way, that llama gave birth a couple of days after you worked on her. When I came out to the barn early in the morning, the baby was up and around, and the wine bottle was lying in the middle of the pen. Pretty good trick, I would say.”
Frank was happy to deliver the kitten to the clinic. We named him Charlie, and he was an irresistible kitten.
We started with an anti-fungal bath and topical treatment of Charlie’s ringworm. Even with careful treatment and stern warnings, our kids developed a few ringworm lesions before Charlie’s skin was clear.
Charlie proved to be a super cat. He grew large, measuring nearly 3 feet from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He was a ferocious hunter. There was nothing safe in the back of our property.
We had many molehills when Charlie arrived. Before the beginning of his second summer, he had eliminated the entire mole population.
Charlie was very much my cat. I would leave the bedroom window open and unscreened during the night, and Charlie came and went as desired.
It was common for him to bring his trophies and leave them at the foot of our bed. Mice and bats were standard. One night I heard him come through the window, and he jumped up on the bed. This was something that he seldom did. The next thing I knew, he dropped a mouse on my neck. Thankfully it was dead.
During Charlie’s fifth year, he went hunting one evening and never returned. We could only guess at his demise, but it was likely by a wily coyote or a much bigger cat than he, both of which were common on our hill. Charlie’s loss was sad for the whole family, but maybe the most painful thing was watching the return of the molehills the following spring.
I have always held out for the chance that Charlie had found his old hunting grounds on Frank’s side of the hill. Maybe he preferred hunting with his mother.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.