Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A chance to cut is a chance to cure.

Another happy ending !

A friendly, very chill cat presented to us several months ago with a broken leg.  She was quite obese, and otherwise had relatively few other injuries. Her biggest problem was that she had arrived to us with a good-samaratin, who had found her outside and brought her to us for care.

She wiggled her way into our hearts with her affectionate, friendly attitude, so rarely seen from cats in the hospital.  She was nearly 20lbs of purring, friendly feline love.

So, our hospital took on her care, of course, hoping to find her owner (as clearly she had not been wanting for food!), but also realizing that if they could not be located, we could save her life and find her a new family.  Her leg was splinted, and we monitored healing of her fracture over the following weeks.  (Ideally, surgical repair of the fracture would provide for the best outcome, however this was not feasible due to a variety of factors, including her status as a stray kitty and the unknown whereabouts of her original family).

Despite our best efforts, her leg did not heal.  Nevertheless, she remained friendly, happy, and never grouchy.  She purred and kneaded during her bandage changes, rolling on to her back and begging for belly rubs.  She loved anyone who was willing to stop by for a few minutes and pet her.  She was truly the ideal feline companion.  With a soul as precious as hers, we marched forward providing the best we could for her, although still, no family had come forward to claim her.  Our hospital absorbed the cost of her care, and honestly, even in these tough economic times, we were happy to do it.  This kitty reminded us why we continue to pour our blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into this profession -- to save pets.

About 10 weeks after her initial injury, it was determined that without surgical intervention, her leg would not be functional and would be a constant source of pain.  Amputation of the broken, non healing leg was a means to provide her with comfort and an excellent quality of life.  Three-legged animals are happy, ambulate well, and have no long term problems associated with the loss of their limb (regardless if the affected limb is either a forelimb or a hindlimb).

With our sweet kitty's best interests in mind, I prepared to remove her broken leg.  I reviewed my anatomy, brushed up on the extrinsic muscles of the forelimb, and noted pertinent vessels and nervous structures in the path of surgery.  Interestingly, the cat's forelimb is only attached to their body by muscles, ligaments, and tendons.  Many cats actually have a clavicle, however it is considered "floating" and a non-functional vestige of a previous evolutionary structure.   Amputation surgery requires careful pain control, balanced anesthesia, ligation of large vessels, and blocking nerve pain with local anesthetic while in surgery.

She was anesthetized, given pain medications, and her vitals monitored carefully.  My staff watched eagerly as I removed her entire limb, including the scapula, and handed off the offending leg. The surgery was uneventful, and our sweet friend woke up and recovered routinely.  Her scar is currently prominent, but as the incision heals and her hair grows back, it will be completely hidden from the untrained eye. She's already a pro at walking on her three limbs (she's been mostly unable to use the injured limb for the majority of the last 10 weeks, so that's actually no surprise).

Unfortunately, we have not yet located our tripod's original family.  Despite this, she is on her way to being a normal kitty, and will most definitely find a new, loving household to share in her chubby happiness!

As an aside: if your pet ever has a condition requiring them to lose a limb, fear not.  In the hands of a skilled surgeon, with aggressive pain control, amputation is a chance to provide pain relief, a good quality of life, and in cases like this one, a cure.


  1. You didn't mention that she was 20#. Holy cow, that's a big kitteh!!!!

    Good for you on the amputation. I hate them personally - meatball surgery! Also, the last one I did on a rear limb, I didn't do a good job blocking the femoral nerve (I don't think I blocked it all, being really inexperienced), and the cat has had chronic pain ever since. I'm happy to leave those surgeries to the GPs and orthopods!

  2. Dogs and cats are 3 legged animals with a spare - as one vet told me years ago. It has stuck with me since and I repeat it to clients facing amputations like this. Good job!

  3. We adopted "Simon" from a Vet who someone had brought in to her (she was sure it was the owner). He was in terrible condition having been badly abused. She spent two months trying to save his front leg but ended up having to take it off. We adopted him a week later. He gets along purrfectly... He has added so much to our lives. All thanks to a Vet who chose to try and save him.