Leg off – life with a three-legged cat

Most often vets amputate hind legs. They are injured more often, but also carry less weight than front legs. (Photo: ©WiSiTiA/Henrik Hofmann)

After an accident or (tumor) disease, it may be unavoidable to amputate a limb. If the veterinarian advises this, it often triggers a real state of shock in the pet owner. In this case the cat usually recovers very quickly. And is (almost) as fast on the road as before.

by Henrik Hofmann

Often a cat can only continue to live free of pain and discomfort with an amputation. This drastic procedure may be necessary when preservative surgery is no longer possible after severe orthopedic or neurological trauma. Inoperable tumors also force.
A frequent damage is the tear of the radial nerve: Then the cat can only drag the forelimb over the ground. Even with this only peripheral nerve damage, the solution for a further pain-free life is leg amputation.

Study: Amputate or euthanize

Cats could very well live on with an amputation. But sadly, animals are still euthanized too often. Veterinarian Lyn Forster, together with Sandra Corr of Nottingham Vet School, investigated (United Kingdom), How the loss of a limb affects the well-being of cats. Supported by the animal welfare organization "International Cat Care", they interviewed 230 owners whose cats live with an amputation.

"Three-legged" life is more exhausting

Some owners stated to Lyon Forster that their cat got tired faster. It is more exhausting to walk on three legs than on four, he says. But the quality of life was otherwise very good. Only ten percent rated their cat’s quality of life as lower after amputation.

Pain treatment important and often not sufficient

90 percent of cat owners treated their animals postoperatively with painkillers. Still, 36 percent felt medication dispensed was inadequate. Since pain is not only unpleasant, but also hinders healing, improved pain therapy could not only make the time of recovery more bearable, but also shorten it, the authors of "International Cat Care" conclude.

Most often vets amputate hind legs. They are injured more often, but also carry less weight than front legs. (Photo: ©WiSiTiA/Henrik Hofmann)

Leg amputation – the main reasons

  • 80 percent of the 230 cats in the British study belonged to the "European Shorthair" breed, i.e. were ordinary domestic cats.
  • Two thirds of affected cats were male – presumably males have a greater range of movement than cats and are therefore at greater risk of accidents.
  • Two thirds of the cats were younger than four years – younger cats are more inexperienced and less careful and therefore more likely to get into dangerous situations.
  • In contrast, the main reasons for amputation are the same for both sexes:
  • Bone fractures
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • severe muscle and skin injuries
  • the forelimb masses carry more weight than the hindlimb masses, therefore amputations of the forelimb masses are offered by veterinarians less often.
  • forelimb injuries often include chest and lung injuries, resulting in lower survival rates.
  • presumably the hind legs are generally more frequently affected by injuries.

What do the owners think?

"If you research on the Internet," writes colleague Dr. Gabi Rummelt from Niederau in the Swiss cat magazine, "so you come across many anxious and worried questions there, to which there are many unqualified comments. But as early as 199, a study by the Universities of Zurich and Berlin 1 showed that 95 percent of pet owners were very satisfied with amputation: Faced with the decision again, they would choose amputation again and again.

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