Hermione arrived in the Tufts veterinary emergency room on Thanksgiving evening after having been in a house fire that had destroyed her home and tragically claimed the life of the other cat in the household, Luna. Hermione had burns covering the bottoms of all four feet, her tail, the tips of her ears, and the skin on her nose and cheeks. She also had a cough secondary to smoke inhalation. Hermione was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and treated aggressively for her injuries.
Dr. Amanda Abelson, a Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care Specialist at Tufts, and one of the doctor’s overseeing Hermione’s care remembers that while in the hospital, it could be difficult to examine Hermione because when you went to see her, she would roll on her back for belly rubs and purr and purr. “I remember thinking to myself, here is this wonderful cat, she smells of smoke, she has terrible burns, she has been through a fire, she is away from her family, and yet she is always so happy for human company.” That is pretty rare for any cat in the hospital, let alone a cat that has survived a fire.
After a few days of hospitalization, Hermione was well enough to go home, however her burn injuries still required daily care. The difficult thing about burns is that it can be very hard to tell how severe the injury really is. You need to give the body a chance to heal on its own, and while you do that, you give it the tools it needs, like pain medications, good nutrition and hydration, and you protect the injured areas from further damage and infection with protective bandages.
“With Hermione, the burns on her feet were quite extensive, and we just couldn’t tell if she was going to be able to heal, or how long it would take for her feet to recover. I spoke with her owner and said it might be a bit of a rollercoaster ride while we wait for Hermione to heal, one day we might say things look really good, and the next we might say, we are not sure we can save her feet. But I told the family, if they were willing to give it a try we would do our best to save her feet.”
The other complicated thing about burn injuries that makes them unique is that often a family has been devastated by a fire and they have lost everything, making finances very complicated. In Hermione’s case, we were fortunate that a client of the small animal hospital heard about Hermione and her family, and asked to give anonymous financial assistance, taking some of the burden off of the family.
Given the seriousness of Hermione’s burns, and the anticipated duration of her recovery, a team of doctors was assembled to manage her case. This would assure that even though there were different doctors seeing Hermione, everyone would be working together and communicating on Hermione and her treatment. The team consisted of 7 critical care doctors, two surgeons and a dermatologist. The team was spear headed by 3rd year critical care resident Dr. Yuki Tse who organized Hermione’s visits to the hospital and kept individual team members up to date on Hermione’s status. Photographs were taken of Hermione’s feet so that members of the team could monitor her progress and these were emailed daily to the team members.
The team elected to treat Hermione’s feet conservatively with protective bandages. In the beginning non-pasteurized honey was put on the soles of her feet under the bandages. Honey has healing and antibacterial properties and is gaining popularity in the treatment burn wounds in people. The bandages were changed daily for the first two weeks but progressed to every other day bandage changes and then every third day. Hermione also had to have her tail amputated due to the severity of the burns along it. After two and a half months of bandages, Hermione’s feet have healed and she is doing very well at home.