After undergoing a kind of brain surgery rarely performed on cats at Washington State University, HoneyBee, a 10-year-old Maine Coon and former show cat, is already showing signs of returning to her former self.

Molly and Brian Mansfield, HoneyBee’s owners, said she was initially being treated for “raging, uncontrolled diabetes,” at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital, near Olympia. HoneyBee started out receiving four units of insulin twice a day to combat her diabetes, which was later progressed to seven and then nine units.

Molly said HoneyBee began losing her hair and her legs started to become weak with what she suspected was neuropathy when their veterinarian at Tumwater, Dr. Maggie Spath, found another option. HoneyBee’s diabetes was being caused by a small tumor on her pituitary gland, and Spath found a WSU team led by Dr. Tina Owen that specializes in removing these tumors in pets.

Owen said one of the reasons the surgery is rare in the U.S. is because it requires a large financial and emotional investment on behalf of the owners. The Mansfields didn’t balk.

“We just wanted to do anything we could to save HoneyBee’s life, was what it really was,” Molly Mansfield said. “She’s such a wonderful kitty and we were afraid she wasn’t going to make it to her 10th birthday.”

Owen said it is much more common for the procedure to be performed on cats in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, but only a handful of places will do it in the U.S. Beyond the financial and emotional investment, Owen said the surgery is also risky. She said in order to access the pituitary gland, her team makes a small incision in the soft palate toward the back of the cat’s mouth and drills through the base of the skull. This region is encircled by arteries, meaning a small slip could result in a devastating complication.

Because HoneyBee is a Maine Coon, the largest domestic cat breed in the world, Owen said her skull was much larger than a typical house cat, so her team had to take extra care to be precise.

She said she usually performs the procedure on dogs, but was glad to have the chance to work on the so-called “gentle giant” of the feline species.

“We were excited, because cats with this problem, they’re pretty amenable to surgery,” Owen said. “If you can remove the tumor, they tend to do quite well with this surgery and typically, if all goes well with the surgery, the owners are very happy with the outcome in trying to treat their cats and control their diabetes.”

After hours of surgery and ‘round-the-clock care, HoneyBee was returned to the Mansfields already well along the road to recovery. Molly said she forged a particularly strong bond with one of her neurology residents, Hilary Wright, and appeared to have grown accustomed to being waited on hand and paw.

Now back home in Olympia, Molly said HoneyBee is down to two units of insulin at breakfast and two at dinner. Molly said she and Brian are deeply grateful to the WSU team for bringing HoneyBee back from the brink.

“She looks wonderful — she and us are thanking this group every day,” Molly said. “Her wonderful fur is soft and silky and growing back well, her face looks good, her eyes are sparkly … and her legs, which were really weak with probably a neuropathy, are getting so much stronger.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

Recommended for you