Gus is a 9 week old kitten who was found by one of our clients as a two week old stray and subsequently adopted by one of our staff members who bottle fed him for a month until he was able to eat solid food. At about 7 weeks of age, Gus began to exhibit labored breathing throughout the day. Upon examination, we found him to be active and alert, however he did have persistent labored shallow breathing. Listening to his lungs, the sounds were harsh but not moist. Palpating his chest, one could feel a dent in the sternum.

Given the fact that he had been bottle feeding for 4 weeks, our initial rule-out was that Gus had aspiration pneumonia. We took radiographs of Gus and found that his lungs were clear, that is to say there was no evidence of pneumonia. On the films, we could see that the sternum was grossly deformed and compromising the size of the chest cavity. Because the lungs did not have the normal area to expand in, Gus was unable to get enough oxygen for his growing body’s needs, hence, he was always breathing more rapidly and with more effort than a normal kitten.

Pre operative radiographs. Notice the V shaped sternum.

Pre-operative radiographs. Notice the lungs are all clear of fluid.

Based on the radiographs, we diagnosed Gus with a congenital abnormality know as Pectus Excavatum which is a deformity of the sternum and ribs which causes a flattening of the chest cavity. Because Gus is young, his sternum and ribs are soft enough to be manipulated and hopefully, they can be trained to grow in the right direction. In order to do this, we fashioned an external brace out of a heat-moldable plastic. Then we anesthetized Gus and placed sutures around the sternum and attached them to the external brace in order to bring them outwards similar to how orthodontic braces work. Once we recovered Gus from anesthesia, he was breathing much more normally despite having to wear the cumbersome chest brace.

Intra-operative photo with brace fitted to chest

Intra-operative photos notice the sutures tied over the brace holding the sternum out to the brace.

Thermoplast Brace fitted for Gus’s Chest

Gus in incubator post op

Post-operative radiographs. Notice that the sternum has been straightened out (circled).

Post operative radiographs show the sternum straightened out and the chest cavity expanded to normal. We will leave the brace in place for 3 weeks and then remove it and re-radiograph the chest to see if the chest cavity has been adequately enlarged. Gus has a good prognosis for a normal life because we were able to intervene while he was young enough to re-train the sternum to grow more normally.