What is Amputation?
Amputation in cats is a surgical treatment performed by a veterinarian, usually used as a last resort, to remove a limb or the tail that cannot be saved due to excessive damage. Examples of situations that may require amputation of the affected limb include severe trauma from an accident, genetic defect, or cancerous tumors that cannot be safely removed without removing the limb. Front or back legs can be removed and cats, due to their agility and adaptability, generally adjust well to one leg being removed. If more than one leg is removed your cat will require a specialized cart for mobility.
Amputation Procedure in Cats
If it is determined that a limb requires amputation surgically, your veterinarian will perform a urinalysis, blood chemistry and blood count to determine overall health of your pet and, if amputation is not urgent, treat or address any conditions required prior to surgery.
If cancer is present, biopsies of any tumors will be performed prior to limb amputation to determine the type of cancer and the risk of metastasizing. In addition to biopsies, X-rays may be taken to determine if tumors have spread to other parts of the body.
You will be required to have your pet fast and restrict fluid the night before the surgery. When you arrive at the veterinarian they will use intravenous anesthesia to put your cat into a deep sleep prior to inserting a tracheal tube that will be used to maintain the anesthesia with gas. The area to be treated surgically will be shaved and cleaned and surgical drapes used to maintain the sterile area for surgery.
Your veterinarian will perform surgery to remove the limb and ensure that all vascularization is attended to. Most foreleg amputations involve the entire limb up to the shoulder (scapulothoracic disarticulation) . If a hind leg is being removed it may either be performed at the hip joint or the upper part of the femur (high femur) which will leave a short stump.
The surgical area will be sutured and the wound bandaged. Antibiotics may be administered prior to surgery and post surgery to prevent infection, if deemed necessary. Your cat will be required to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent them licking or biting the wound or sutures.
Efficacy of Amputation in Cats
Amputation is used when a limb cannot be treated by other less invasive means. Removal of the limb is effective in resolving the condition, providing infection or cancer has not spread to other parts of your cat’s body. Usually the whole leg is amputated so that movement is not interfered with, and most cats adjust well within a few days to weeks, as removal of the limb is usually preferable to the pain and immobility present in the limb prior to amputation. Cats do not usually use prosthetic devices, as other animals may, as they are not widely available for cats and are usually not necessary for your cat to be sufficiently mobile, provided they have three functioning legs remaining.
Amputation Recovery in Cats
After amputation surgery, your cat will require hospitalization for a few days so medical staff can check on wound healing and check for infection. Your cat will be prescribed a strong pain killer immediately after surgery, restricted to cage rest, and fitted with an Elizabethan collar to prevent interference with the wound. Your cat may show signs of bruising due to localized bleeding under the skin at the site of surgery, this bruising is not painful. Many cats start walking on three legs within 12-24 hours after surgery. When your cat is sent home for recovery they will continue to be prescribed painkillers, usually non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, and possibly antibiotics. Owners are advised to check the surgical wound for symptoms of pain, inflammation, redness and discharge. If any symptoms of infection appear you should address them with your veterinarian immediately. You should restrict your pet's movement for several days after surgery and limit exercise for a few weeks post surgery. Your cat should be kept inside while recovering and you may need to modify their environment, for example putting a ramp in place so they can access a favorite perch or moving bedding to a lower location to prevent exertion. Because cats are agile naturally, they usually do well with only three legs and adapt so they regain much of their mobility. Cats do not usually show signs of emotional distress as removal of the leg is usually less traumatic than the condition that precipitated the removal. Phantom pain in the missing limb is rare in cats. Your cat will need a follow up with your veterinarian for wound inspection and removal of stitches. Any concerns you have should be followed up with your veterinarian. Cats usually recover within a few weeks of surgery.
Cost of Amputation in Cats
Surgical amputation ranges in price from $800-$2,000 dollars depending on the cost of living in your area. This generally includes initial visit, tests, including x-rays, and the surgical procedure. In some cases amputation may be a more cost-effective option than alternatives for complicated, extensive treatment of the condition.
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Cat Amputation Considerations
Usually surgical amputation of a limb is less traumatic and painful then the condition that the amputation is treating and recovery is complete.
Cats that have spinal problems may not be good candidates for amputation. Cats with arthritis may also have more trouble adjusting to life with three legs, but the condition does not preclude amputation, it may require extra attention and adaptation to the cat's environment to manage it.
Also cats with diabetes and obese cats are at higher risk; diet to manage weight or diet and treatment to manage diabetes are factors in recovery.
There is a risk of hemorrhage and infections as with any surgery, but this can be mitigated with careful monitoring by the veterinarian and the pet owner as well as antibiotic treatment.
Amputation Prevention in Cats
Many condition requiring amputation are unavoidable, for example cancer or birth defects. Severe trauma caused by accidents or fights with other animals, however, can be avoided by keeping your cat indoors and cat-proofing your home. Cat-proofing includes ensuring that hazards in your home, such as heavy items that could be pulled over on your cat or unstable elevated areas that your cat could access and then fall from, are removed or made inaccessible to your pet.