Momo, a 22-pound domestic shorthair cat who wouldn’t have stopped growing will be cuddling his family for years to come following a rare brain surgery at Washington State University.
Due to a tumor on his pituitary gland – which affects the release of hormones critical to bodily function – Momo overproduced growth hormones that would have him growing his entire life and likely lead to fatal complications.
The condition is known as pituitary gigantism, a rare condition in cats. Growth hormone tumors are more common in older diabetic cats diagnosed with a condition called acromegaly surgery for cats with growth hormone tumors is a viable option. For younger cats like Momo without diabetes that continue to grow, surgery is the only viable option to arrest that growth to allow for a long and comfortable life.
“My wife and I don’t have any kids, our cats are our kids, so we treat our cats like they are really part of our family, and we will go to whatever extent to ensure the disease was detected, diagnosed, and treated,” said Abhay Patwa, Momo’s dad.
Referred to WSU by primary veterinarian Dr. Gretchen Humphries (at Patterson Veterinary Hospital in Mason, MI) and determined to do all they could, Momo’s parents scheduled a trip to WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital — one of the few places that perform the surgery in the United States.
WSU veterinarian Dr. Tina Owen, a member of WSU’s pituitary surgery team, was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. to successfully perform the procedure.
While Owen has completed the surgery about 100 times in dogs and cats, Momo was a first the first to have pituitary gigantism, as he grew very large from a young age.
Most dogs that have had the surgery are often diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is caused by a pituitary tumor that triggers excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Older cats develop a disease called hypersomatotropism or acromegaly in which the pituitary tumor overproduces growth hormone and typically manifests as uncontrollable diabetes mellitus.
Whatever the case, the surgery carries the same risks.
To remove the pituitary gland and tumor, Owen and her team of veterinary specialists must access the brain through the soft palate on the roof of the mouth.
“The risk is if the blood vessels that surround the pituitary and supply blood to the brain are torn or damaged and it starts bleeding, the animal would likely not survive,” Owen said.
And while that is the biggest risk, post-surgery infections, like meningitis and pneumonia, problems with healing of the soft palate and a lack of water regulation via the kidneys are others.
“Because we are taking out the pituitary and critical hormones that go with it, we are removing antidiuretic hormone, which tells the kidneys to conserve water,” Owen said. “Without the hormone, the kidneys produce great amounts of water, which can lead to low concentrates of electrolytes and to other neurological issues.
Because of this, Momo will require lifelong medication and steroids to ensure he receives the hormones he needs to regulate those water levels, stress hormones, and thyroid hormone.
Given the post-operative risks, Owen said these surgeries require highly trained and experienced teams. At WSU, the pituitary surgery team includes board-certified veterinary neurologist Annie Chen-Allen, veterinary internal medicine specialist Sarah Guess and veterinary emergency criticalist Linda Martin, as well as WSU’s other services.
“From reception staff to technicians and all of the different services, it takes a lot of people to pull this off,” Owen said.
Despite the extensive procedure, Momo began returning to his normal self the day after surgery.
“If he didn’t have attachments and cords, I wouldn’t be able to tell he just underwent a very invasive surgery,” Abhay said the day after the surgery. “He was walking around and exploring.”
Back at home, Momo, who is named after a warm, soft Nepali dumpling, is getting right back to his cuddling ways.
“Anytime during the day when my wife and are having our tea or coffee, Momo has a tendency to come sit in either of our laps.,” Abhay said. “He is already being his old self.”