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What is Cryosurgery?

Cryosurgery is sometimes referred to as cryotherapy, because it does not involve actual cutting like traditional surgery. This type of surgical therapy involves freezing unwanted tissue, usually with liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide. Because cells are mostly water, freezing tissue cells causes cells to rupture and targeted tissues to be destroyed or dissolve. The destroyed tissue usually falls off in three to four weeks. This is an effective treatment for the removal of cysts, tumors, lesions and skin tags that are located in the outer layer of skin (dermally), or just below the skin (subdermally). The procedure causes little discomfort or complications and is less invasive than traditional surgical techniques.

Cryosurgery Procedure in Cats

Prior to cryosurgery, the need for anesthesia will be determined. With many cryosurgery procedures anesthesia is not required, and discomfort to your pet is minimal. Removal of some skin conditions such as tumors or cysts on the eyelid, oral cavity, ear or anus, which are particularly sensitive areas that are not always easily accessible or that require immobilization of your cat, may require sedation or anesthesia.

If sedation or anesthesia is required it will be administered prior to the procedure.

Your veterinarian will shave the hair near the tissue to be removed. If a cancerous tumor is suspected, a biopsy will be taken and sent for analysis prior to removal.

Freezing of unwanted tissue may be performed using a spray, probe, or by manual application of liquid nitrogen using a swab. Alternately, argon gas may be used and very thin (17 gauge) needles. Freezing may be reapplied two or three times during the procedure after allowing the tissue to thaw between applications.

For tumors occurring under the skin, needles or a probe will be used to conduct the freezing. An ultrasound of the tumor and surrounding area will guide your veterinarian in locating the targeted tissue below the skin.

The freezing process takes from 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on the size and type of skin lesions being treated. If a tumor is cancerous, the tumor and an area of healthy tissue around the tumor will be treated to ensure that any spreading of the tissue to surrounding tissues is destroyed.

With cryosurgery there should be no need for sutures.

Repeated cryosurgery treatments over several weeks may be required, depending on the condition being treated.

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Efficacy of Cryosurgery in Cats

Cryosurgery is very effective for the removal of small tumors, lesions, and cysts. Removal of cancer is more effective when tumors are caught early. Small warts, tumors and cysts can often be cured in one treatment. Sometimes, stubborn tissue will require multiple treatments and occasionally unwanted tissue may recur requiring further treatment. Side effects and discomfort to your cat are minimal. Traditional surgery can also be used for treatment of these conditions, however, it is more invasive and costly.

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Cryosurgery Recovery in Cats

Recovery is more straightforward than with traditional surgery because cryosurgery is less invasive, anesthesia is usually not required, and a wound with sutures is not created. 

Frozen tissue may ooze, and may even look infected, but usually, antibiotics are not required and the discharge can be addressed by bathing it off. Your pet will not usually require follow-up medication or painkillers, as discomfort and swelling are minimal. Scabs usually fall off in three to four weeks, leaving a hairless spot. Pet owners should monitor the treated tissue for signs of complication and follow up with their veterinarian as required or directed.

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Cost of Cryosurgery in Cats

Cryosurgery is less expensive than traditional surgery. If anesthesia is not required treatment may range from $50-$75. In cases which anesthesia is required, the cost of cryosurgery is more expensive, usually in the $150 to $200 range. If more than one lesion requires treating there may be a flat rate for the first lesion, for example, $50, then a charge for each additional lesion treated, usually $10-$15 per additional lesion. 

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Cat Cryosurgery Considerations

Cryosurgery is a simple, effective procedure that can easily remove small tumors before they become malignant or skin lesions before they become infected. Complications are minimal because germs and bacteria at the treatment site are destroyed along with the tissue, minimizing the risk of infections. Because freezing is instantaneous, nerve endings are also frozen immediately and there is little or no pain as a result of the procedure.

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Cryosurgery Prevention in Cats

Pet owners should be vigilant for skin abnormalities that can be easily treated with cryosurgery if caught early and not require more invasive surgery at a later date. The chances of acquiring some of the conditions treated with cryosurgery can be mitigated.

Cats can get skin damage from UV light and sunburns the same as other animals. Cats with light skin or thin skin may be more prone to damage from UV light and develop skin cancers. Cats should be kept indoors if possible, or given shade and shelter if outside, especially on hot, sunny days. Sunscreen appropriate for cats can be applied to tissues that are especially prone to sun damage such as the tips of ear. Be sure to use sunscreen specifically formulated for cats as human sunscreen may contain ingredients that are harmful to your cat. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with information on appropriate products.

Lesions and cysts can also occur at the site of vaccinations or injections. Be aware of any abnormal lumps that present at an injection site and address with your veterinarian, as early treatment is least invasive and most effective.

Skin disorders can also occur from repeated injury or scratching at the site of an allergic reaction or parasitic infection. Controlling allergies and parasites and treating itchy skin with medicated baths may be effective at reducing the incidence of injury from repeated scratching. 

Feline leukemia virus may contribute to skin cancer and lesions, FeLV vaccination is widely available and effective at preventing this disease.

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Cryosurgery Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Salem

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Short hair domestic

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9-10

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Some Difficulty Eating And Grooming

My cat was diagnosed with mouth cancer 7 months ago. Vet gave him 4-6 months. Have done no surgery or chemo. Vet does not do cryosurgery and did not mention it. I just found out about cryosurgery last week and just found out another vet in the area does it. I plan on getting my cat in to see that vet early next week. From what I've read, the cryosurgery works best if done soon after an early diagnosis. However, my cat has been nearly symptom free since diagnosis. He has been eating well, hasn't lost weight, etc. So, while I am sure the growth(s) have probably increased in size at least a little, I am hopeful it's not too late to do the cryosurgery since he's been doing so well. He's had a little difficulty eating the past 24 hours but still managed to eat the proper amount of food. I know more meloxidyl would help right now but he isnt supposed to have another dose for several days due to its potential side effects. So, my question is this: since my cat has been doing so well, is cryosurgery still an option even tho the diagnosis was seven months ago? The growths are in the corner(s) of his mouth outside the teeth. Thanks.

Nov. 11, 2017

Salem's Owner

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Suitability for cryosurgery is done on a case by case basis, the new Veterinarian will examine Salem and will determine if the masses found can be treated with cryosurgery. Cryosurgery isn’t suitable for all cases, whether used early or not; but the Veterinarian will discuss all this with you during the consultation. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 11, 2017

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