Pixie the cat had £1,449 of cancer treatment over a blade of grass

I heard on the radio that the vet’s bill for removing a blade of grass from Pixie’s nose was a staggering £1,449. The radio presenter was flabbergasted at the cost. I am not. We are used to free medical care in the UK at the point of delivery. This is the NHS. We don’t fully comprehend the cost of that care. So when a cat has to have exploratory surgery and CT scans etc. the cost becomes apparent. People tend to forget that vets are businesses and overheads are high.

Pixie a blue Brit SH had a fragment of grass in her nose. It cost a lot to remove it. Photo of Pixie: WoodGreen/BNPS WoodGreen/BNPS. Grass: copyright BNPS. Cartoon by PUGH

An interesting aspect of Pixie’s story is that she had a blade of grass stuck in her nose and the skin had grown over it as it had been there for so long. Perhaps it looked like a tumor and initially diagnosed as nose cancer. This is a “foreign object” in the cat as vets call it.

She’s blue British Shorthair (a purebred cat) and has a flattish face, which makes her nose short. This made it more tricky to diagnose her nose problem. There was a permanent discharge.

Perhaps the best lesson to come out of this story is that grass getting stuck in a cat’s nose is not that uncommon. Why is this?

I am going to have a stab at an answer. Cats like to eat grass. They will almost always have a chew on it when they go out. The first time Gabriel went out on a leash he instinctively ate some grass.

Either cats sniff the grass fragment into their nose or it backs up from the pharynx. There is a connection between the nose and the back of the mouth. Human anatomy and cat anatomy is similar in this area (and generally). A person can feel a nasal discharge running down the back of the mouth into the throat. The oral and nasal cavities merge at the area of the pharynx.

What appears to be happening with cats is that they chew on grass and swallow it. One piece gets stuck at the back of the mouth and works its way backwards up into the nasal cavity.

Grass

I’ll be bold and have a guess as to why this happens. Some grasses (perhaps all, I don’t know) have serrated surfaces with the serrations lying in one direction. These grab onto the surface of the pharynx and when the cat subsequently swallows, the grass moves upwards if the serrated edges are pointing downwards. The grass moves with the movement of swallowing.

I am not sure what can be done about this. Arguably something should be done if the sort of health problem encountered by Pixie is not rare or perhaps fairly common. There may be some grasses which don’t have serrated edges and if so they could be planted in the back garden or in a place where your cat likes to chew it.

A last point: the presenter said that vets must be rich. I disagree again. They don’t earn a lot compared to doctors or banking personnel for example. In the USA there are too many vets chasing not enough work. It’s tough for some. Perhaps this is why some resort to unethical practices. Vets have heavy overheads and responsibilities. I believe that people also don’t understand what it is like to run a business. A vet has to be a skilled medical person and a business person simultaneously – not easy.

Source: Radio (LBC 97.3 – Steve Allen) and Daily Mail Online. Thanks.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • An incredible amount of money for a fairly simple surgical procedure.
    It pays to "vet shop" the same as "doctor shop".
    Many, many of us have sent out alerts that no vet should be trusted on face value. Being kind and nice doesn't cut it. Second, third, fourth opinions keep us informed.
    I just had 3 cats with large nasopharyngeal polyps removed and the total cost was $45.00.
    If they had gone to a place like Banfield, the cost would have been astronomical.
    I had very little knowledge about these polyps until now. I assumed that I was dealing with an URI for a while. Now, I could write volumes.

  • This is a case, like many others, where we can learn something. Awareness is a key to noticing when behavior is different in our companion animals, and ourselves, for that matter.

    Health issues are a symptom of a root cause. A discharge in an animal is a sign that something's not right, especially if it continues without getting better. I've never heard of grass getting stuck in an animal's nose, but now I know it can happen. I give my cat "kitty grass", and I'm not sure if the edges are serrated. When I've watched her eat this grass, I've "noticed" that the long pointy stems could poke her in the eye or the ear. So, now I clip it down a bit.

    I've also tried to make my environment "cat safe" by really looking at what could be problematic. I don't burn candles or incense anymore. I remove breakable items that are within her jumping range. I would do the same if I had small children in my home.
    I view cats and dogs in much the same way, and feel a responsibility to create a safe
    environment by being aware of potential dangers.

    Being a pet "guardian" means to guard and protect.

    • I have short page on toxic to cats. There are so many potential hazards for a cat in and around the home. A cat guardian should be using their brain and be alert to them. Accidents don't have to happen.

  • Rudolph

    We just changed our pet health insurance policy to one that covers $10,000 a year for medical care- such as surgery, testing, etc. It doesn't cover dental care or wellness examinations, but if our cats need diagnostic testing to clinch a medical diagnosis it will cover that cost- with a reasonable co-pay and annual deduction.

    I was shocked that we qualified for that change since our cats are 14 and 15 years old- but since we had subscribed to this insurance company for many, many years we were able to switch over. As cats get older, as you know so many costly medical conditions can develop.

    I agree with Michael that the overhead of running an excelllent veterinary clinic is extremely high- but at the same time I sometimes am aghast at the huge profits that are made on medications that are so much cheaper in regular pharmacies and on some of the reliable and honest online pharmacies.

    It is a huge responsibility to be a kitty guardian- and one has to know that cats will get sick, or injured. Having to make a decision based on finances is just not right! Would that there would be far more resouces available to us to help defray to cost of necessary veterinary care.

  • 1,449 Pounds coverts to approx Indian Rs 1,40,.553( 1 pound =Rs 97 approx).Thats the difference between 1st World pet care and Developing world pet care as also cost of living and income.Is owning a cat or dog by a average Britisher possible if the "Veterinary Costs" are so steep ? Does the "PET INSURANCE COMPANY" compensate such high pet health care costs ? In Mumbai Veterinary costs have also skyrocketed compared to the 1970/80's when i owned dogs as pets.veterinary care in Mumbai is expensive compared to the average wages and hence "PET OWNERSHIP" a luxury.

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