A kitten born with an unusual eye defect is getting a chance at a new life after an innovative surgery rebuilt his eyelids.
Olaf, a 6-month-old, cross-eyed tabby, was rescued Jan. 8 during some of the coldest weather Toledo has ever seen. He was found lying on a sidewalk on the city’s north side. The little feline was sick, starving, and severely hypothermic when he was brought to Paws & Whiskers Cat Shelter.
“His temperature was really low, and he had a really bad upper-respiratory infection,” said Kim Ferguson, the shelter’s kennel supervisor. Olaf also weighed only about half of what he should have, she added.
Once his infection cleared up, his eyes still showed signs of trouble. The shelter thought he had entropion, a condition where the eyelids fold inward and the lashes rub painfully against the eye. But a visit to a specialist revealed something much more unusual.
Olaf was born with about two-thirds of his upper eyelids missing. He could not close his eyes or blink, leaving them constantly exposed and allowing his fur to irritate and scratch his eyes. Olaf’s corneas were already showing signs of scarring, and he needed surgery.
“He would have had lifelong issues with exposure and ongoing scarring,” said Dr. Gwen Sila of Blue Pearl Veterinary Hospital in Ann Arbor. “He’d be more prone to infections and ulcers. He would have had a lot of problems and could have gone blind eventually.”
On March 10, Dr. Sila performed a surgery that took grafts from the corners of Olaf’s mouth and stitched them to his eyelids. She said the lips have the same three layers — a mucus membrane, muscle, and skin — that the eyelids have.
“He’s got a good prognosis of being able to blink once he heals up,” Dr. Sila said. “The hope is that he shouldn’t need any ongoing treatment.”
Olaf’s mouth will also be virtually unaffected by the procedure. Dr. Sila said cats have some extra lip tissue and while Olaf's mouth may not open quite as wide as before, it will otherwise function as normal with very little difference.
“This particular technique has been around for a long time for treating bad eyelid tumors,” Dr. Sila said. “It’s maybe been in the last five to seven years it’s been used to treat kittens with this abnormality.”
The cat’s crossed eyes are a separate matter from his eyelid defect, and will likely remain with him for his lifetime.
The shelter was able to raise the $3,200 needed to pay for the surgery in less than a week.
“He’d already been through hell, and he deserved a chance,” Ms. Ferguson said.
Olaf is recovering in a foster home with Kristi Polus and her husband, Bruce Yunker.
The cat’s face and whiskers were shaved down for the surgery, and he can hardly see around the swelling and goop in his eyes.
“He’s just got these little slits he can see through and it’s got to be blurry,” Mr. Yunker said.
But Olaf hasn’t lost his charm.
“If we didn’t have our other cats, we’d keep him in a heartbeat,” Ms. Polus said. “He’s just got one of the best dispositions of any cat I’ve ever been around.”
The tabby has taken his medications, eye-cleanings, and restrictive collar cone in stride. He loves to be brushed and begs for belly rubs.
“He flips right over,” Mr. Yunker said. “It’s usually the first thing he does when someone walks in the room.”
He has also learned his cone is an advantage when it comes to his favorite fuzzy fake mice.
“He carries [the mice] around in his cone,” Ms. Polus said. “It’s the funniest thing.”
Olaf has plenty of energy to play, but will also relax and snuggle with his human companions. He’s shown a propensity for keeping clean, though he hasn’t actually been able to groom himself since the surgery because of his collar. Unable to reach his own fur, he instead licks the inside of his collar and the people who visit him.
And it appears Olaf won’t have to wait for a forever home once he’s fully healed.
“We’ve had a lot of people interested in adopting him. I have 15 or 20 applications, I think,” Ms. Ferguson said. “He’s really gotten into everyone’s hearts.”
Contact Alexandra Mester at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.