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What is Hemilaminectomy?

As a result of various types of injury and health conditions, cats can sometimes suffer from spinal compression, whereby the bones and cartilage of the spine begin to squeeze together and put pressure on the spinal cord itself. As a result of the pinching of these nerves, the cat will suffer from a range of symptoms, including muscular weakness, pain, and even paralysis. To relieve this pressure, the vet may opt to perform a surgical procedure known as a 'hemilaminectomy', which involves removing a segment of one side of a vertebra in order to free up space.

Hemilaminectomy Procedure in Cats

Prior to operating, the surgeon will place the cat under general anesthetic before shaving and cleaning an area of its back over the affected vertebra. The next step is to make an incision along the spine, pulling the skin back to reveal the structure beneath. The muscles and ligaments attached to the side of the vertebra being operated on will have to be carefully detached before the surgeon uses a drill to cut away the targeted portion of bone. Afterwards, the muscles and ligaments may be altered before being reattached, so that they are the appropriate length. In the case of a herniated disk, it is common to remove much of the protruding material, as this will help prevent a future prolapse of the disk. Finally, the vet will close up the incision with sutures and apply antiseptic to the wound.

Efficacy of Hemilaminectomy in Cats

Immediately after the operation has been completed, the cat will start to regain motor functions that had previously been impaired by the pressure being put on the nerves of the spinal cord. Whilst the hemilaminectomy is very effective, there are alternative treatments that some cat owners may wish to consider. Radiotherapy can be used to kill tumors in a fairly non-invasive manner, though if they are impairing the cat's quality of life, they will still require manual removal. A similar procedure to the hemilaminectomy is the 'laminotomy', which removes material from both sides of the vertebrae instead of one, improving the stability of the joint at the cost of a more complex operation that is harder to recover from.

Hemilaminectomy Recovery in Cats

Following surgery, it is imperative that the cat gets plenty of rest and does not disturb the wound. To accomplish this, the vet will usually recommend restricting the cat's movements for upwards of a month in order to ensure no unnecessary strain is put on the spine, after which gradual resumption of normal activity levels can begin. The cat will also need to have painkillers and antibiotics administered on a regular basis in order to avoid undue discomfort or an infection. The cat will also require several follow-up visits to the vet to make sure it is healing correctly and that its condition is not deteriorating. In all, the recovery period will last for about two months; one of very little activity and lots of rest, followed by a month of gradually increasing exercise.

Cost of Hemilaminectomy in Cats

A hemilaminectomy in a cat is an extremely delicate operation that requires significant time and concentration as well as an extremely well-practiced skill set to perform correctly. Because of this, the bill for the procedure can run very high, with most owners expecting to pay between $3,000 and $4,000 depending on factors such as the age and general health of the cat or the availability of surgeons in a given area. A laminotomy meanwhile, will typically be even more expensive, due to the extra time and fine detail work required of the surgeon.

Cat Hemilaminectomy Considerations

Whilst the hemilaminectomy is a very effective means of relieving pressure on the spinal cord, it also poses some degree of risk to the cat in question. The first of these risk factors is the chance of the animal's spine not healing correctly, due to improper aftercare or the cat performing intense exercise too soon after the surgery. Really, the only thing that can be done to prevent this is to keep a close eye on the cat throughout the healing process, making sure that it is well looked-after. Secondly, there is a minor risk that damage to the spinal cord might happen during the surgery, causing permanent damage to the cat. Though there is always a possibility of error, most competent veterinary surgeons can avoid this outcome by properly planning the procedure beforehand.

Hemilaminectomy Prevention in Cats

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to anticipate or stop the conditions that result in a hemilaminectomy needing to be performed. Many forms of bone or connective tissue cancers are hereditary, making it hard to determine if they will appear in an animal's lifetime or simply skip a generation or two. Herniated disks are typically a consequence of old age or straining the spine, meaning that the only real preventative measure that can be taken is to make sure that a cat gets plenty of exercise, thereby strengthening their spine and reducing the chances of serious injury.