Cika is a 4 month old Maine Coon kitten who was born with a deformed sternum (called pectus excavatum). This is a congenital malformation of the sternum and rib cage (meaning that affected animals are born with the condition). It causes narrowing of the chest in a top to bottom direction, which reduces the volume of the chest cavity. Unfortunately, this compression may result in reduced heart and lung function.

Although we do see a number of these congenital malformations, it is not a common condition. In some kittens, if they are only mildly affected, it is purely a cosmetic issue and does not require any intervention.

In more severely affected kittens, the reduced space for the heart and lungs can cause problems with breathing and higher blood pressure in the lung blood circuit.  If we see them early enough, when the bones are still pliable, an external splint can be fitted to the sternum to apply downward traction as the kitten grows and this reduces the severity of the abnormality.  In older kittens, it may be necessary to perform open surgery to correct the abnormality.

There are only a small number of reports relating to success rates but splint application does usually improve the situation.

In Cika’s case, an external splint was placed to try and reposition her sternum to a more appropriate shape as she grows. The splint was left in place for 4 weeks and on the evening before we had planned to remove it, Cika removed it all by herself!  Luckily this was not an issue as although the splint had not completely resolved the deformity, it had improved enough to allow enough room for her heart and lungs.  We hope Cika will now be able to lead a normal life, no doubt getting into all kinds of mischief.