Franklin Vets Blog

Wilbur gets unhooked

October 27, 2021

Wilbur is an 11-year-old cat who came to the Pukekohe clinic with a history of a poor appetite for a few days and walking with the tail hanging loosely.

Examination showed Wilbur’s tail to be completely paralysed, with no pain sensation present at all. There was a very slight dip felt in the base of the tail, where it joined on to the spine.
Cats will sometimes suffer “tail-pull” injuries, where the root of the tail is dislocated or fractured off the spine. The nerves damaged will sometimes include not just the tail, but those controlling the anus, the hindlegs, and even the bladder.

There is a school of thought that says that the hanging weight of a paralysed tail can cause further damage to the spinal nerves, which suggests the tails should be amputated early, but then of course you miss the possibility of tail function returning. As usual, a decision needs to be made for which there is often no “right” answer, it’s a judgement call.

Wilbur was x-rayed, and the dislocation in the tail base was found. Not easy to see on this view, unless you look very closely.

Dislocation of tail base

Dislocation of Wilbur’s tail base

So let’s look at the other view, and this time let’s forget to “cone-down” the x-ray beam like I should have done, and include most of the body instead…

Well, that’s a bit easier to see.

Dislocation of tail

Another view of the dislocation

But didn’t I say the whole body was in the image?

cat x-ray showing fish hook

Spot the fish hook

This is what the whole image showed: Now, don’t worry about the alien spacecraft that looks like it’s about to land on Wilbur’s spine, that’s just an x-ray calibrating tool.

Check out the fish hook in the front of the abdomen.

That’s weird, we thought. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t been eating too well. Must have swallowed a hook, we thought. Better open him up and take it out as that’s a big hook and is likely to have a length of line attached to it…we thought.

So off to surgery we go. The tail came off, no problem. Open the abdomen, problem. The fish hook was not in the stomach, it was impaled through two lobes of the liver. And it had been there long enough for the liver to be growing around it and to have discoloured like a rusty old nail.
No line attached to it.

We got the hook out of the liver, a challenging task given where it was located, and involving cutting the hook into three parts first. This is not the easiest part of a cat to get to, and that’s putting it mildly. We then looked for a hole that it had gone through in order to get there, but without success. No marks on the stomach at all. It must have been swallowed, then penetrated through the stomach wall and into the liver, but the stomach sealed up behind it and did not leak.



I have never seen a case like this in 32 years of operating. Not once. I’ve heard of cases like it but never seen one.

Wilbur woke up a completely new cat. Ate his dinner like he hadn’t seen food before, and returned to normal behaviour almost immediately.

I for one am very glad I opened up the x-ray beam to include the whole abdomen, otherwise, we would certainly have missed this and Wilbur would still be walking around with a rusty old fish hook stuck in his liver.

Paul Eason BVM&S (Surgery; Emergency and Critical Care Medicine)