The cat's meow

The cat’s meow

UF dentist performs unique damaged palate repair in 8-year-old Siamese cat.

By Michelle Champalanne

Darryl 1843

After years of being handicapped, Darryl can finally be just another cat. And by the sounds of his purring, he couldn’t be any happier.

The 8-year-old Siamese-mix suffers from a large defect in his palate — a quarter-sized hole on the roof of his mouth that made every bite of food a painful experience and resulted in recurrent nasal infections.

“He’s such a sweet, friendly cat that’s so sociable and brave with all the things happening to him,” said Julie Levy, D.V.M., Ph.D., Darryl’s new owner.

Darryl and Levy, a professor of shelter medicine at the UF Small Animal Hospital, first met in September 2013 when she was working with the Alachua County Humane Society. When she discovered the following April that he hadn’t been adopted yet, she decided to foster him so veterinarians at the college could evaluate his palate problem.

Prior to being rescued by the Humane Society, Darryl had been at a different shelter and was scheduled to be euthanized due to the defect to his palate. Darryl’s condition makes simple tasks, such as eating, difficult. His challenges also kept potential adopters away. Fostering isn’t out of the ordinary for Levy; she regularly volunteers to take care of cats that need extra medical care, either for a few weeks or a few months.

“I find it extremely rewarding to be able to apply my vet skills to the care of homeless animals,” Levy said.

After a failed reconstruction attempt in July, Darryl was still suffering so Levy turned to the UF Craniofacial Center because of their expertise in treating cleft palate defects.

However, the surgeons agreed Darryl’s situation was too severe for surgery and prosthetics might work better. That’s when Fong Wong, D.D.S., an associate professor in the College of Dentistry with specialty training in prosthodontics and maxillofacial prosthetics, stepped in. Wong works regularly at UF Health Shands Hospital to fix cleft lips and palates in children and adults, but never animals.

Amy Stone, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of small animal clinical sciences, prepared Darryl for the procedure by extracting a few unhealthy teeth. Stone coordinated with various teams at the College of Veterinary Medicine to prepare for Wong’s surgery. From the beginning, Stone knew someone who corrects children’s cleft palates would be the answer to Darryl’s problem.

“I appreciate Dr. Wong’s interest, and I’m glad she’s giving this a shot,” she said.

Wong found it interesting that she could apply her skills to help an animal. Working on a small animal like a cat required her to improvise, she said. She created a cast of his upper jaw from which she made a temporary, custom-made prosthetic appliance for Darryl’s mouth that was sutured in place.

It was a success.

“I wanted to see whether my expertise would help the cat so he could have a better quality of life,” Wong said.

After surgery, Darryl was immediately purring and back to socializing with Levy’s three other cats. Darryl was able to eat, purr and lick his fur normally like all other cats that same night, she said.

In October, Wong replaced the acrylic appliance with  a custom-cast metal appliance for a more permanent solution on the roof of Darryl’s mouth. All of his previous and future care and expenses are paid for by a local cat lover, Martha Cade.

Now, just six short months after Levy took him in, Darryl is happy at home.

“He is very happy,” she said. “He is doing great and eating normally for the first time in over a year. He can be a normal cat now.”