My Bengal kitty Lotje unfortunately had pectus excavatum. At first it just looked like a not quite correctly shaped chest. And although smaller and more fragile than her siblings, Lotje seemed a healthy and rambunctious kitten.
At 15 weeks though, I had to rush Lotje to the vet because of laboured breathing and lethargy. In the back of my mind I knew there had to be a correlation between her flat, somewhat inverted chest and her sudden bad physical state.
The vet on duty diagnosed her with inverted chest syndrome for which the official term is “pectus excavatum”. He explained to me that there hadn’t been any symptoms yet because of Lotje’s young age. But now that she was growing bigger, her heart and lungs couldn’t keep up because these organs didn’t have enough room to grow. The vet thought her chances of surviving this were extremely slim and advised us to put her down for humane reasons.
Completely distraught and caught off guard by all this I didn’t know what to do because Lotje was not in extreme suffering at that point and I wanted to collect my thoughts. The vet offered to give her a prednison shot to help her feel better, we could think about it and come back in the morning. We opted for this temporary solution and took Lotje home.
As soon as I was home I started searching the internet for more information on Lotje’s condition and possible treatments. I found a few English articles describing surgical procedures. I assumed I had to take Lotje to the Faculty for Veterinary Studies in Utrecht, the authority on all veterinary issues in The Netherlands, for such a treatment. I called the veterinary clinic again that evening to ask if they could refer me to Utrecht. I talked to a different vet this time. She was unfamiliar with Lotje´s condition first hand and thought my chances of successful treatment for Lotje in the weekend in Utrecht were slim because specialists are difficult to call on out of business hours. We agreed that I would contact her in the morning to see about putting her to sleep or for a referral.
The following morning I did not call the clinic I had been to the previous day, but instead called my regular vet because I wanted to hear her opinion. After explaining the situation she said that surgery would mean opening her rib cage and a long and hard recovery, if at all. We decided we didn´t want to put an animal through such torture and set an appointment for 11.30 to put Lotje down.
At 11 o´clock, I was just getting ready to leave, I received a call from the vet I talked to on the phone the night before. She called to say she had investigated Lotje´s condition and possible treatments, and found a relatively simple surgical procedure that she was willing to perform. There was no need to open the rib cage and the whole thing could be done from the outside. I immediately called off the appointment to euthanise her.
That same day, Lotje was operated upon and received a splint to the chest by which the vet was able to pull out the sternum and ribs into a normal position using stay sutures. The operation went well and Lotje was eating and feeling generally great soon after. We took her home the next day on Sunday.
The change in Lotje was basically instant. She breathed normal, played and ate and we were so happy and hopeful. The vet expected the splint could be removed after 3-5 weeks. After that time her rib cage should stay in the correct position. Many other kittens treated for pectus excavatum with this surgery were happy and healthy ever after.
Unfortunately, after a few days Lotje relapsed and started breathing heavily again. She stopped eating and was lethargic. We took her to the clinic and together with the vet concluded that she must have some underlying condition, probably heart disease, that we could not fix… We made the very hard decision to put her down and stop her suffering.
Although the outcome in Lotje’s case was tragic, we are very grateful to veterinarian Suzanne van Dijck at the veterinary clinic Dap Horst in Horst, The Netherlands. I write this so others can learn that there IS a treatment for pectus excavatum and that there is hope for kittens or puppies with this condition.