Monday, May 31, 2010


Although I'm usually writing about lessons learned on the farm, today's lesson is something that we always knew when we lived in the suburbs, but somehow we forgot it after eight years out here. Even when I was a little girl, my mother always said that if I ever saw a dog or cat that looked ill or injured, I should leave it alone. But after years of dealing with our own veterinary problems on the farm, seeing an injured, sick cat does not seem like big deal. It is.

Last night after finishing our milk test at 9-something, Katherine was checking out a cat that looked injured and sick. Suddenly it whipped its head around and bit her arm. The first thing that went through my head was that the cat was not vaccinated for rabies, so we took Katherine to the emergency room. The doctor asked about the cat that bit her, and as Mike and I described the cat's condition, the doctor's demeanor became more serious, and we felt dumber and dumber.

He had mustard-like diarrhea and was incontinent. He was dragging his tail, and had visible injuries. The doctor asked how he was walking. I said, "Slowly."

"Was he staggering?" she asked.

"I don't think so."

It was obvious the cat had recently been in a fight. It could have been fighting with another cat, or it could have been fighting with a rabid bat or skunk.

The doctor began to describe the prognosis for rabies. There is no cure for rabies. She said she was aware of one person who survived rabies, and it was after several months in a coma. Based upon the cat's condition, we should start rabies treatment immediately, especially since there was a chance that we might never find the cat and be able to have it tested for rabies.

Katherine looked nervous. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she nodded, saying "Go for it."

I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too."

 The good news is that the rabies vaccine is no longer the painful, sickening series of injections into the abdomen that it was 40 years ago. The bad news is that treatment involves more than the vaccine. Katherine received her first rabies vaccine in her left arm, and she said, "Oh, that wasn't bad."

The nurse said she would be back with the immune globulin. She returned with four little bottles. Each one contained two ccs. The contents of one bottle was injected in multiple pokes around the first puncture wound. I lost count of the pokes, but it was more than a dozen. Katherine began to tear up around the sixth or seventh poke, which was when I forgot about counting. The nurse told her she was tough and apologized for having to poke her so many times. After the first bottle was emptied around the first puncture, the nurse filled the syringe with the contents of another bottle for the second puncture wound. She repeated the injections around that wound, while I rubbed Katherine's back and held her hand and tried to take her mind off of it by making jokes.

"Hey, when you go to Wyoming on the biology trip this summer, you'll be able to fight off the wild bears and wolves, since you're vaccinated for rabies now!"

Katherine chuckled through her tears. The nurse said, "Oh, you're going to Wyoming? Where are you going?"

Our efforts to take her mind off the injections were futile. After responding, "Grand Tetons," which was only a partial answer, she complained about how much the injections hurt.

After emptying the second bottle, the nurse said the rest -- 4 ccs -- needed to go in Katherine's hip.

Finally, at 1:30 a.m., we were headed home. We talked about all the cats that are around farms because people dump them in the country when they no longer want them. We have become comfortable with animals that would have sent us scurrying in the other directions eight or nine years ago. Although we only have six or seven cats that come around here regularly, the neighbor has more than 20. I'm sure they feel just as comfortable with stray cats as we do.

It never occurred to us that any of the cats would bite one of us. They don't seem mean. But when an animal is injured or sick, its personality can change drastically -- as everyone's mother has preached. Even I used to say that when we lived in the suburbs! But in the burbs, how often did we see a stray cat? And they certainly did not hang around or come and go for months. There is one cat who sticks around for a few days and disappears for weeks. No one out here gets the cats fixed or vaccinated, because you could spend hundreds of dollars a year on them, and most don't survive a year. They're usually eaten by coyotes or raccoons as soon as they reach sexual maturity and start wandering, looking for a mate. Unfixed males fight viscously with each other.

It seemed that the humane thing to do was feed them, since it didn't cost much, and it kept them out of the woods hunting for wild birds, squirrels, voles, and other little animals to eat. But doing more than that seemed like a foolish waste of money. Now it seems that we only have two responsible choices -- either vaccinate every cat around here for rabies, or call Animal Control and have them picked up.


melanie said...

So sorry to hear about what you and your daughter have to go through. Was that awful series of shots last night the entire treatment? (Fingers crossed you are going to say yes...)

Unfortunately, the people who need to see this and understand your experience are NOT the lunkheads who keep unneutered animals, or drop them off at other people's houses...

Claire the Shepherdess said...

What a scary experience, and one that won't soon be forgotten. Shame that they could not have given a quick anaesthetic shot in the arm area first, and given it a few minutes to work before all the subsequent jabs. That's what the dentist does! Best wishes to Katherine as she will no doubt have a sore arm (and hip!) for a while.

Spinners End said...

Deborah- So sorry your daughter had to endure the many injections. I am a wildlife professional and recently one of my colleagues was bit by a drugged canid in a trap (a bizarre accident). She too had to endure the round of injections around the puncture wound and had to return weekly for I think another six weeks for more injections.

One thing our management unit learned through this unfortunate situation is that there is a pre-rabies vaccine available. In our work environment we all handle wildlife of some sort or the other and have the potential to be bit. If you add on the creatures that hang around farms (the strays and other wild creatures) it makes sense to get the pre-vaccine.

It is a series of three shots and is good for several years. If you are bit, we were told they would still give you a shot or two, but since the shots are normally based on weight you could avoid the many many injections. I think it is pretty costly, mine is covered by work, but it might be good to check with your heath insurance to see if it is covered. It would be much cheaper for the insurance company in the long run, and less painful for you too.

Give Katherine a hug for me.


Michelle said...

Oh Deborah, how very sobering; scary. I'm glad you responded quickly and took her to the ER; just like when you got lye in your eyes. Will you keep your eyes open for the sick cat and shoot it when you see it? It has to be dead to be tested.... Perhaps she won't have to have more shots if it doesn't turn out to be positive.

Veterinarians like my husband are advised to be vaccinated for rabies because of the occupational hazard. Years ago at his first job in MN, he had to vaccinate an entire herd of dairy cows when a curious cow walked up to a strange-acting beaver in the middle of its pasture and was bitten; the beaver was rabid.

SkippyMom said...

Oh bless her heart - she was very brave.

This is scary and I wish people would think before dumping their beloved pets in the middle of nowhere - even the pound gives them a chance.

Sorry it happened but glad she is okay.

Tammy said...

Sorry to hear this happened. Stray animals are the norm as are coons, skunks, possums etc in the country. It is easy to become casual about it, since it is part of everyday life. I too would be curious if this is the entire shot series for the rabies or if this has to repeated? Sounds very painful. Just an FYI, if you have cats around that stay around, you can get the rabies vaccines from the vet and give your own. It's cheaper this way, the only thing is the vet can't/won't give their certification/tags. However you will know they are protected. Hopefully the injured cat was just that--injured. Sounds like it was in extreme pain as well.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks so much for all the information and thoughts. Last night was just the beginning of the treatment. The immune globulin is done -- and that was all the little injections around the puncture wounds. She will, however, need additional rabies vaccines at day 3, 7, and 14. I asked how long she will be immune to rabies, and they said that if she is bitten again, she would have to a couple of vaccine injections, but not the immune globulin.

Sally said...

I read your post earlier today and my heart went out to both your daughter and you. I can't even imagine.

However, I did take heed when I just a bit ago went out to our yard and after I heard my dog whining, found what seems to be a stray cat hiding under the cover on our grill. I only for a second wanted to stretch my hand out to see if it would allow petting...then I thought better of it.

Nancy K. said...


That poor girl deserves a medal of valor.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh. That is terrible! Please give Katherine my sincerest sympathy (or empathy since I was cringing like crazy when I was reading your post). Western medicine is good for some things... like car crash injuries... and now I can add rabies treatment to the mix. Ouch!

LindaG said...

I'm really sorry to hear about your daughter. I had always been told that if the animal hid in the dark, acted strangely or foamed at the mouth, that it was rabies.

I would not have thought about an injured animal having rabies. I need to remember that.

I hope everything goes well for your daughter.

Twwly said...

I hope Katherine is feeling better!

I joke with my husband we should catch all the strays people dump "way out in the middle of nowhere" (AKA my house) and release them in town.

We always have a handful of strays kicking around, which I don't feed.

One neighbour does feed them and has about 100 cats.

J. M. Strother said...

Wow, I'm really sorry for your daughter. That's a pretty scary situation you had on your hands. So glad you all decided to go with the shots.


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