So I’ve already established that I like to remove bits of animals. If it ain’t workin’ for ‘em, get rid of it! That is often my motto.
Today’s animal bit I like to remove? LIMBS. Considering I have two 3-legged cats, this is probably not a surprise.
Tristan’s amputation was actually the first amputation I ever assisted in, as well as the first surgery I ever scrubbed in for. So maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for amputee animals, and enjoy the surgery.
Another reason I enjoy the surgery? It’s one of the most forgiving surgeries. Like with enucleation, it’s kind of hard to mess up removing something – did you separate the leg from the body? SUCCESS! With enucleation you need to be careful you don’t leave behind any tear ducts. In this regard limb amputation is even easier – it’s pretty darn obvious if you’ve left behind part of the leg you don’t want to. (okay, it’s maybe a bit more than that. . . did you separate the leg from the body and keep the animal from bleeding to death? Is the stump you’re leaving behind going to be awkward or painful? Do you have enough skin left behind to close the hole? All very important… but pretty straightforward to attend to in an amputation, true story.)
Some people are hesitant to put their animal through amputation. One of my professors was known to say that dogs and cats are four legged animals with a spare, and I’ve often found it to be true. I’m not saying every dog could get by with only three legs (a bulldog would probably find it difficult to balance his disproportionate body on only three legs…), but people should be open to the possibility. When my clients are considering it for a cat, it helps that I have one cat missing a forelimb and one cat missing a hindlimb and can personally assure them of how well 3 legged cats get on.
So why do we remove limbs? Well, let’s revisit some amputations I’ve assisted in or performed myself…
-Severe injury, as in Tristan’s case. Limb was beyond saving, so take it off!
-Broken leg, where fixing it doesn’t make sense – my first dog amputation had Horner’s syndrome, and didn’t use the leg at all, so when it got broke there was no point in trying to fix it .
-Degloving injury – this is when the skin is torn clean off. Pretty gruesome. Had a pregnant cat come in with the skin gone from the bottom third of her leg. She was better off without.
-Mystery injury – this is what Patrick was. We have no idea what was going on with his leg, and in trying to support it and give him a chance to keep it, we made it worse. So as an iddy biddy kitten, he couldn’t go on with that leg. Off it came!
-Financial reasons – goes along with severe injury and degloving injury. Sometimes there is a chance you can save the leg, but only with once or even twice daily bandage change for weeks, which ultimately will be much more costly than amputation, and may not be successful and end in amputation anyway. So sometimes people decide they can’t afford the risk of trying to fix it, failing and amputating in the end.
-Cancer – the big bad. Bone cancer is a big reason for considering limb amputation. This is kind of a salvage procedure – remove the painful, cancer ridden limb, to improve comfort for the animal’s remaining days. You try to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread beyond that limb before you go to surgery, though it’s sometimes an imperfect science.
Those are the reasons I’ve removed limbs. I’ve done more hind limbs than forelimbs, but I think I like forelimbs best. Tends to be a messy surgery, at least when I do it. I like making messes. But the animals look best kind when I’m done!