Feline Limb Amputation


Our feline friends are lucky, their four legs allow them a range of motion and activity out of the realm of our ability. Our two legs can’t keep up!  Case in point, you find the cat on top of the book case behind your favorite vase and stand amazed at how he got there. Just as their legs can be an asset they can also be a hindrance when medical problems arise.

Disease and injury are common causes for cats to have a limb surgically amputated. For example, limb tumors arising from bone or soft issue (osteosarcoma or fibrosarcoma) often necessitate treatment by removal. Osteosarcoma is a cancer arising from bone and fibrosarcoma is a cancer arising from soft tissues. Fibrosarcoma is infiltrative, locally aggressive and often difficult to remove in its entirety while keeping muscles, tendons and connective tissue intact, making surgical removal a wise option.

Fibrosarcoma in cat’s paw

Other times animals heal better with amputation after severe traumatic injury, rather than implementing a extensive and costly treatment regime.  Most commonly only one limb is removed, while less so, multiple limbs. Cats actually adjust reasonably well to life on three legs; walking, running and playing without pain or discomfort. They also do not suffer the psychological toll of limb amputation as humans do. The primary role of their legs is movement, lacking tactile and technical function so important to humans, so the loss is not quite as devastating.

The most common location for removing a damaged or diseased limb in dogs and cats is up high where the limb meets the body.  This is so that any remaining portion of the leg does not become a problem for the pet.  Any portion of a limb that remains may become traumatized during daily activities or interfere with movement.

For the front leg, the most successful and cosmetic amputation is by “scapular disarticulation”; this means that the entire limb is removed from the toes to the scapula (shoulder blade).  Since the normal anatomy of the front leg only has muscles that attach the front leg to the chest wall, it is straightforward to remove the limb by cutting these muscles and sewing the area closed.  This complete removal creates a smooth, well padded amputation site on the side of the chest that will not get pressure sores or interfere with movement in anyway.

For the rear leg, there are two techniques that are commonly used.  The first is a “high femur” amputation that results in a short, well padded stump at the level of the rump/thigh.  The muscles of the mid-thigh are cut and the femur (thigh bone) is cut close to the hip.  When the tissues are sewn together, this provides good padding for the pelvis when the pet is lying down and offers a cosmetic appearance by maintaining symmetry of the rump area.  The second technique is often used when the disease of the rearleg is in the thigh area; the leg is removed by “coxofemoral (hip) disarticulation”.  This means that the leg is removed at the hip joint; only the pelvis and the surrounding muscles remain.  This amputation technique is very successful as well, with slightly less padding over the amputation site and a less symmetrical appearance.

People are often interested in saving more of the leg if the injury or disease is low on the leg.  In cases where multiple legs are compromised and preserving leg function is preferred or required, there have been some successful cases of prosthetic limbs being created for and used by pets. Oscar the cat is a prime example of a successful prosthetic limb case. A combine harvester ran over Oscar while he napped in a field, and subsequently had the bottom portion of his rear limbs severed. Oscar became a good candidate for cutting edge surgery with intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (ITAPs) drilled into what was left of the bone. They protrude down as stumps and the skin grows tight around the end providing a sterile seal. Once healed prosthetic paws can be attached.

Advanced veterinary and surgical techniques provide numerous possibilities for the health and well being of our pets!

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Posted on June 26, 2010, in Vet Medicine and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Mom / Debbie

    I had no idea this was possible for animals. It is great cats (and dogs) can be treated so successfully but I still can’t help but think “poor kitties:(:

    BTW – love the first cat photo – makes me miss Sweets, Dusty and Artemus all the more.

  2. Hello, I found your site from mixx. This isn’t not something I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thanks for making a blog post worth reading!

  3. Hello, just stumbled on your site from digg. This isn’t not an article I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thanks for making an article worth reading!

  4. Hey – I am really delighted to find this. cool job!

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