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What is Forequarter Amputation?

'Forequarter amputation' refers to the removal of one of a cat's front legs at the shoulder. Instead of a regular amputation, in which the limb will be severed at a specific point below the shoulder joint, forequarter amputation ensures the complete removal of the limb and some of its supporting structures from the body. Although the procedure is relatively rare, vets may resort to its use if the limb and shoulder joint have become damaged to the point that a permanent loss of function will occur. Furthermore, due to the radical nature of the surgery, extensive aftercare will be required to allow the cat to properly recover. 

Forequarter Amputation Procedure in Cats

Prior to the operation, the vet will have used a series of imaging scans and biopsy analyses to determine the extent of the injury, infection or cancer. This information will allow them to judge how much (if any) of the clavicle and scapula will have to be removed during the operation. To prepare the animal, the surgeon will anesthetize it before shaving its shoulder and applying an antiseptic solution. The next step is to make a series of incisions around the joint and peel back the skin so that it may be used later to close up the wound. After this, the surgeon will cut through the shoulder joint and remove the limb before removing any excess tissue left in the joint. They will then sever the clavicle where necessary before fixing the bones back in place (usually with metal plates). Additional incisions will be made to remove the scapula if necessary. Finally, the vet will use the excess skin around the shoulder to close up the wound before suturing the incisions shut. In all, the procedure will take roughly three hours from start to finish.

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Efficacy of Forequarter Amputation in Cats

In most cases, removal of a diseased or destroyed limb will result in a rapid improvement of the cat's health, as blood loss and the risk of infection will no longer be an issue. Furthermore, the significant pain caused by bone cancer will immediately cease to exist, though additional treatment may still be necessary to fully rid the cat of the disease. Some owners may often want to pursue alternative methods of treatment instead of resorting to such a major surgery, though it should be known that when a limb is sufficiently damaged or riddled with cancer, it becomes almost impossible to save the appendage via less invasive means such as casting or radiotherapy.

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Forequarter Amputation Recovery in Cats

Following the procedure, the cat will need regular doses of antibiotics and painkillers in order to prevent infection and reduce its level of discomfort. The surgical incisions will heal within three to four weeks, though the vet will commonly want to see the cat at least once a week in order to monitor its progress. Limited physiotherapy sessions will also be needed, in order for the cat to get used to moving around without the use of both of its forelimbs. Additional testing will be required if the surgery was to treat cancer, as it may be necessary to start the cat on additional treatment (i.e. chemotherapy or radiotherapy) as soon as it is healthy enough.

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Cost of Forequarter Amputation in Cats

The vast majority of amputations will be quite expensive, not just due to the long and grueling duration of the surgery, but also because of the specialist skills that will be required to complete the operation. Because of this, cat owners can expect a forequarter amputation to cost from $2,000 to $3,000. Of course, this price is inclusive of aftercare such as drugs and follow-up visits to the vet. Alternative treatments can cost much less, such as radiotherapy (over six hundred dollars) and chemotherapy (over one thousand dollars), though these can be much less effective in combating virulent diseases such as cancer.

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Cat Forequarter Amputation Considerations

It should be borne in mind that whilst the amputation procedure has a high success rate, the operation is not without any attendant risks. Chief amongst these is the chance for the cat to pick up a secondary infection in the weeks after the procedure, which can rapidly spread into the chest cavity and impact vital organs. That said, keeping the cat's living environment clean for the duration of its recovery period and supplying it with antibiotics will substantially reduce the chance of this occurring. Phantom pain is a common consequence of improper limb removal, whereby the nerve endings in the shoulder continue to simulate pain as if the missing leg was still attached. Though uncomfortable, the condition is easily treatable by deadening certain nerve endings once the cat's symptoms have been identified.

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Forequarter Amputation Prevention in Cats

Unfortunately, the conditions associated with forequarter amputation are almost impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. The massive injuries associated with vehicular collisions are simply down to luck and the traffic within the cat's local area (unless it is confined to the house), whilst many cancers are hereditary and impossible to predict unless the medical history of the parents is available. Infections and the associated necrosis, however, can be prevented by responding quickly to injuries the cat incurs. Taking the animal to a vet as soon as a wound begins to appear infected can often mean the difference between life and death for a cat.

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Forequarter Amputation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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