Cougar cub is recovering after surgery to correct birth defect

August 23, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Veterinary nurses Tina Branham (left) and Katie Mazuti with Tasha in the center, move about the operating room prior to the cougar’s surgery. Contributed

After undergoing surgery at a clinic in Kirkland, Issaquah’s Tasha, a 3-month-old baby cougar, is back home at the Cougar Mountain Zoo and, according to zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot, is doing very well.

Tasha underwent surgery Aug. 17 to repair a congenital defect that was preventing her from eating solid foods.

“She’s running around and purring,” Barfoot said just two days after the surgery. “Actually, she’s purring an awful lot … She doesn’t seem fazed by any of this at all.”

Veterinarian Michael Mison led Tasha’s surgery at Seattle Veterinary Specialists.

“There were no complications during surgery,” Mison said. “I’m happy to report that Tasha is recovering nicely. We expect her to have a long and healthy life.”

SVS veterinarians diagnosed Tasha with what’s termed a vascular ring anomaly or defect on Aug. 10. Barfoot said keepers had noticed Tasha wasn’t keeping down much food, but at first attributed her vomiting to rough play. Normally, Tasha lives with two other cougar cubs. When Tasha’s problem persisted, Barfoot said zoo officials took her for tests at SVS where vets diagnosed the vascular defect.

According to information released by the clinic, vascular ring anomalies form before an animal is born when embryonic blood vessels develop abnormally.

Instead of disappearing as they usually would, in some cases, the defective blood vessels persist after birth as a tough band of tissue. SVS reports that is what happened in Tasha’s case. The ring of vessels can entrap important structures, often near the base of the heart.

“One structure commonly affected by vascular ring defects is the esophagus, which is soft and collapsible,” Mison said. “This means that when Tasha started to eat solid foods, the food was not able to pass normally into the stomach due to the encircling band of tissue.”

The ring resulted in the regurgitation noticed by keepers, as well weight loss, Mison said. Tasha was becoming smaller than other animals her age, Mison added.

In what was called a group effort by the SVS medical team, an inflatable balloon was inserted into Tasha’s esophagus via her mouth and inflated. The balloon helped Mison identify the band of troublesome tissue that was causing all of Tasha’s troubles.

Once he located the problem area, Mison lifted the tissue from around the heart and esophagus and tied it with surgical string. He then cut away the offending tissue completely. The surgical team continued to dilate Tasha’s esophagus with a balloon to help stretch out the area that had been entrapped since the cougar’s birth.

While the surgery appears to have been a success, for now, Tasha will be kept isolated and out of the public eye. In order to protect her incision, Tasha is wearing what Barfoot called an e-collar, basically one of those cones put around the necks of animals so they can’t bite or clean themselves.

“She looks a little silly,” Barfoot said, adding Tasha is also essentially bald on one side where vets shaved her for surgery.

“We’re telling her it’s a good look for her,” Barfoot said.

Though it may take up to a month for her fur to grow back completely, Barfoot believes Tasha will back in front of the public in about two weeks.

“We’re very happy everything worked out so well,” Barfoot said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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