A Rocky Road

BY TRACY FASCIANA, Abayomi Abyssinians

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This is the story of a kitten named Rocky... and the difficult challenge that he faced.

NOTE: The accompanying photos may seem extreme, but we encourage you to see how something can look so overwhelmingly serious, yet through excellent care and the power of the body to heal, can result in a happy and healthy kitten.

It all started one September evening. One of our Abyssinian queens was going into labor. As always, I am present for every birth just in case any complications should arise.

Nialah delivered her first two kittens with ease, while the third kitten took some time.

As Nialah was contracting and pushing her last kitten out, she reached over and pulled her other two newborns closer to her. Within minutes the third kitten was delivered and all was well. I settled them in and left Nialah to quietly relax with her precious babies all latched on and contentedly nursing.

As was my routine, each morning and evening I weigh and document each kitten's weight.

All proceeded normally for the first few days.

Day 3

On day three, I noticed one of the kittens had stopped gaining weight. Contacting my veterinarian, Dr. Leah Montgomery, she suggested I start him on a drop of Clavamox right away. 

By the end of the day I knew this little one needed to be supplemented or we were going to loose him. He just wasn't nursing enough off of mom.

I tried getting him to take a bottle, then a syringe, but he just didn't want to take the formula. With him fighting the nipple I was worried he was going to aspirate some into his lungs thus causing more complications. I decided it was best to Tube Feed him. I am very experienced with tube feeding kittens and have also tube fed many squirrels, raccoons and opossums throughout the years while working with Wildlife Rescue. I measured and marked the tube, then inserted it with ease, within seconds I placed him back in the nesting box with a nicely rounded tummy.  

A couple of minutes later I turned to check on the kittens and noticed a MASSIVE SWELLING around the neck of this three day old baby!

I stayed up all evening with the kitten,concerned he might have complications with his breathing or that  Nialah might reject him if she sensed something wrong with him.

He just quietly lay all cuddled up resting with his furry family.

Day 4

The next morning his swelling had gone down, although he still showed  little interest in nursing. He was still not gaining weight.

I knew if the Clavamox was going to work, it would take at least 36 to 48 hours before I would notice any improvements. The kitten needed another feeding but I was concerned about tubing him again thinking he possibly had experienced an allergic reaction to the glop formula I had mixed up. I tried the bottle and syringe again with no luck. This baby needed food!

I decided to open a container of Pro Biolac Veterinary Kitten Formula in hopes we wouldn't see another reaction. Once again, ever so gently, I inserted the tube with no problems and placed him back within the nesting box . . . instantly his neck swelled up AGAIN! If he had, had an allergic reaction to either the tube or the formula, my vet said we would see "internal swelling" as well, that would affect his breathing. The swelling was only on the outside around his neck and his breathing remained normal.

This had both myself and my vet very confused as to what had caused this freak reaction.

Within 36 hours of starting the Clavamox, we noticed an improvement. His weight increased and he was quickly gaining strength.

Day 5

On the morning of day five I was startled to see the skin around the neck of the kitten was turning yellow.

I knew right away the pressure from the massive swelling had traumatized the skin. The skin was dying and it was going to completely peel off.

 

Day 6

The seriously damaged skin extended under the chin, chest and around the right side of the kitten's neck to behind its right ear..

After turning yellowish,I knew that the skin had began to die as it turned dark.

It first started in a spot at the base of his ear where it appeared he had a small puncture wound, possibly from his mother's tooth during birth or shortly after.

Looking closer I could see pus where it looked like an abscess had been forming.

A small area behind the kitten's ear was the first to appear as an open wound.

You can see in this photo how small the kitten is relative to the human hand.

Day 7/8

The skin began to slough off behind the kitten's ear.

Thankfully we had started the Clavamox right away as it seemed to have helped clear up the infection, though there was no hope of saving the skin that was dying. 

I was very concerned about how this would affect him. What pain he would have to go through, "if" he could even survive such a traumatic experience? Would Nialah reject him or even worse, kill him?

My vet and I talked about all our options and what lay ahead. With a breaking heart and tears running down my face, I asked her if she thought it was best we put him down? Was it fair to continue? How would he grow? Would the pain cause him to stop nursing? Was his body able to handle such an ordeal? How would we keep this kitten safely bandaged as he grew? Would Nialah or the other kittens pick on him? We even talked about the possibility of hand raising him.

So many things were racing through my mind as his life lay in my hands. What was I to do? I only wanted what was best for him. If he could survive, I was committed to do whatever it took, to make that happen!  After discussing all our options, we agreed to take each day one at a time, and evaluate things as they came. We knew it would be a rocky road . . .

I watched the kitten 24/7 with many sleepless nights and Nialah never once treated him any differently or showed any signs of being bothered by the bulky bandage that was wrapped around his neck.  

It was incredible to watch as Nialah would pull him close, clean him proudly like the others and make sure he was latched on nursing contentedly. She knew we were doing everything we could to help him and allowed us to attend to him each day.

Now nick-named Rocky, the kitten's strength and patience throughout the treatment time would prove to be truly inspirational.

Day 11

By day 11, the entire area of skin under his chin and chest was dead and was starting to peel off in one great big section leaving his raw skin completely exposed.

I had to cut the larger flap off as it was pulling on the smaller area on his chest.

 

The skin has already fallen off immediately under the chin and around the right side of the neck to just behind the right ear.

The circle of skin on the upper chest is dying and is almost ready to peel off.

It was such a massive open wound to see on such a young kitten whose eyes hadn't even opened yet.

Day 12

Day 12 his wound was at its worst. By the time all the damaged skin had died and fallen off, the sight and size of the open wound was almost overwhelming.

It extended from behind Rocky's ear, around under his chin and down onto his upper chest area.

Twice a day I would clean the wound, removing the sloughing, dead skin to keep the area clean. I would apply antibiotic ointment and then put on a fresh bandage.

The Healing Process

There are two methods by which a skin wound heals:  Second Intention and Contraction. 

With Second Intention, new epithelium (skin) forms at the edges and grows across the wound bed. 

But most wounds heal by Contraction.  The edges of larger wound beds pull in to the center. There is a limit to how much contraction will occur on a wound, however, partially limited by how much extra loose skin is available in the region.

When the edges have pulled in as much as they can, the new epithelium continues to grow and hopefully it all meets in the middle.  That's what forms the shiny hairless scars.  That new skin is really thin but eventually the body remodels it and it becomes tougher, but it's never quite the same quality as the original.

Day 13

You can see the yellow scab-like ring that formed around the edge of the area as it healed.

Day 19

The shiny "fresh" looking skin on the edge of the wound is new epithelium, formed by Second Intention.

At the same time the wound is healing so quickly by contraction that his skin is puckering! 

Day 21 (3 Weeks Old)

Healing is progressing nicely although the contraction of the healing process has pulled his right ear down on the side of his head.

Each day I would stretch the skin and twist and turn his neck to reduce the contraction as much as possible and to avoid any loss to his ability to move his neck freely.   

Hopefully, as healing continues, the skin will be able to relax and allow his ear to assume a more normal position.

Day 27

Rocky never once fought as I changed his bandage twice a day or when my vet came over to monitor his progress.

Keeping his bandage on was MOST challenging once his two siblings started running around and playing — but we managed to tape it around as much as possible to avoid any claws becoming stuck in the gauze.

By the time Rocky was approaching his one month birthday, he was totally accustomed to wearing his neck bandage and waited patiently while I put a new one on each day.

Day 28 (4 weeks old)

Perhaps the one silver lining in this episode was that it happened while Rocky was so young.

Young kittens grow fast, increasing in size and weight daily. This mean that his healing process also progressed quickly.

In the first few weeks I was amazed at how quickly the wound shrank.

Day 36 (6 weeks old)

As the "contraction healing" reached its limit, progress slowed. Indeed, after the initial progress, it seemed to take forever for the last small part of the wound to close.

10 Weeks Old

Almost completely healed!

There is a significant area of shiny, hairless scarring.

As Rocky grows, however, and the scars will remodel, flattening out and eventually the hairless scars should be almost undetectable. 

Although less pronounced than it was initially, the right ear will probably remain slightly asymmetric.

I think it just adds character to his look :-).

It in no way affects Rocky's health or hearing.

He has normal range of motion in his head and neck and experiences no problems eating (or purring!!!)

By three months of age, Rocky's recovery was virtually complete.

He had grown into a happy, healthy and perfectly normal kitten except for a little scarring and the rakish angle of his right ear.

We thought he was going to be the smallest kitten initially, but that changed. He actually caught up and has passed his two siblings in size.

Throughout everything, Rocky was always a little trooper. He has an amazing personality.

Rocky's story is a perfect example of just how much our precious little kittens can go through and still survive and thrive. The lesson is not to give up on them! Hard work and perseverance pays off BIG TIME!

It was so hard to let him go as we were so bonded with him and wanted to keep him forever. But we had to think of what was best for Rocky. We wanted him to go somewhere he would get all the love and attention he deserved — somewhere very special!

We waited and waited for the perfect home!!  We had SO MANY people wanting to take him. His story won their hearts.

When Darlene emailed me and we talked, I knew right away she was the one! Her love and dedication to her pets was clear.

Just before Christmas, Rocky joined Darlene and her family, including two parrots and a rescued Beagle named Lola.

Darlene says Rocky is a star and has "rocktitude" (attitude). She just adores him.

Rocky cleans the Beagle's face everyday and sleeps with her at night. Lola and Rocky are best of friends.

Such a "Happy Ending!" at the end of a very "Rocky Road".

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