Q: I'm a skeptic and my friend is religious. She claims her cat had a gaping wound on its neck, which they cleaned and observed closely and then prayed it would heal. The next day the wound was gone. I Googled this and all I found was more accounts of people praying that cat wounds would heal and they did so, gaping bloody holes just disappearing. Is there a scientific explanation for this?
A: There’s no doubt abut it … faith is an amazing thing! Nonetheless, there are plenty of valid, science-based reasons why this wound might have healed [almost-but-not-quite] miraculously on its own. Here’s why:
The most common feline injury is the result of a puncture wound sustained in a cat fight. The most typical feline infection post-puncture wound is referred to as an abscess, which is a pocket of pus that forms when the body’s immune system is unable to readily clear a site of infection. Pus is a liquid collection of inflammatory cells, bacteria and damaged tissue.
These wounds can form in any part of the body but often result from bacterial infections in bite wounds, tooth roots and anal glands and therefore occur in highly visible locations. Bite wounds are especially predisposed to abscess formation due to the bacterial populations associated with teeth.
An abscess usually manifests as a painful, fluid-filled lump under the skin but often isn’t noticed until it breaks through the skin and pus oozes from the site. Occasionally fever, reduced appetite or decreased activity level are initially detected by highly observant owners.
Unfortunately, these wounds are often a day or more old before they become apparent to their owners, usually after they’ve become infected. Consequently, they’re often already well on their way toward healing once observed, if observed at all. Cats are, after all, amazingly good at hiding any signs of illness or injury.
Which is why most feline skin injuries resolve on their own without any medical intervention. Those that don’t, however, suggest that prayer is an insufficient remedy, one that doesn’t fully take into consideration the pain or risk of systemic infection these injuries pose.
I would never claim that prayer doesn’t help us humans, and I would certainly support any attempt to improve a patient’s well being (as long as no harm is done), but there’s scant evidence to suggest prayer helps pets in cases like these.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.