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 a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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