Reporting Jamie Yuccas
VERNDALE, Minn. (WCCO) — Cats and dogs can get heart problems just like people and while it’s fairly easy to implant pacemakers in dogs, it’s very tricky and dangerous in cats.
Last month the University of Minnesota performed its first-ever pacemaker surgery on a cat — and it worked.
Inside Michele Buer’s home, it may look like a typical office — full of gadgets, there’s a computer, a fax, a mouse and then there’s Mousey.
“There’s my printer and then there’s Mousey’s printer,” Buer said.
His favorite perch is always plugged in, and in a way, so is he.
“Mousey’s printer used to be my main printer that I could print from, but then when it broke down, they couldn’t get that flat top on the printer, so we have my printer that works and Mousey’s printer that doesn’t work,” Buer said.
Originally a barn cat, Mousey got his name pretty easily.
“He was just a little tiny gray thing with little, tiny gray ears and looked like a mouse when he was born,” she said.
But the 6-year-old cat eventually made his way inside “Endeavor Place,” getting a full run of the house he shares with teen boys battling alcohol and drug addiction.
“You can have the worst of days and he’ll come in and just make you forget about your problems,” Buer said. “What our thought is, is never give up, we didn’t give up on Mousey, we don’t give up on the guys, don’t give up on yourselves.”
His family noticed Mousey not acting like his mellow self, last summer.
“First indication was, when he was on his printer and he fell off and fell flat on the ground and my thought was, he must have been sleeping really hard that he couldn’t catch himself and then he did it again,” Buer said.
That’s when she started recording his symptoms on home video. She could see his heart stopping and then re-starting.
“I didn’t know when I’d go home. I wouldn’t know if I came back the next morning, if he’d be alive or not,” Buer said.
At that point, her veterinarian recommended a trip to the University of Minnesota.
“We’re the only place in the state that offers these types of procedures,” says Christopher Stauthammer, a veterinary cardiologist for the University of Minnesota.
After a three-hour drive from their home in Verndale, veterinary cardiologists got to see how serious the situation was.
“His heart was, is beating here, contracting, contracting, contracting and then his heart is just stopping, all flat line,” said Maxi Kruger, a resident cardiologist for the University of Minnesota.
Meds weren’t going to work.
“I think my heart stopped when they told me he’d need a pacemaker,” Buer said.
Without it, Kruger didn’t think he’d live much longer.
“Putting pacemakers into dogs is almost a standard procedure but doing it in a cat, not a lot of owners want to do that, and most cats weren’t as symptomatic as Mousey was,” he said.
“It’s extremely rare, it’s the first time that it’s been done in Minnesota and it’s the first time that we’ve done it in this office,” added Stauthammer.
That’s because unlike a dog or even a human, where the pacemaker can be easily inserted, cats are much more tricky.
“The tip of the lead will be sutured to the heart and it will sit on top of the heart,” Kruger said.
It’s also very expensive, a point Buer didn’t want to discuss.
“I don’t tell anybody,” she said.
After a few hours of surgery, and his pacemaker programed to kick in.
Mousey was able to go back home the next day.
His family in recovery was now ready to take care of their cat who would also begin his.
“They had all kinds of questions about what the pacemaker looked like what it was how often it kicked in how long it would last in him,” Buer said.
Four months later, Mousey’s hair is growing back — his mere presence a topic in therapy.
“Don’t give up on yourself, if Mousey can do it, you can do it in your program and your recovery,” says Buer.
He’s also rediscovered his favorite spot, the printer.
He’s the latest electronic fixture. His owner just can’t live without.
Veterinarians believe Mousey could now live at least another 10 years.
The University of Minnesota says companies, including Medtronic, donate pacemakers to be used in dogs and cats. That keeps costs to around $4,000.
If they didn’t get the donated device, it would cost a pet owner tens of thousands of dollars, because this procedure is not covered by pet insurance.