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Skin Reconstruction in Cats

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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Reconstructive skin surgery or plastic surgery is sometimes needed to repair large wounds. Burn wounds and those caused by vehicular accidents, gunshots, bites or the removal of large tumors may be candidates for reconstructive surgery. Reconstructive surgery encompasses a large variety of surgical techniques, including special suturing or stitching techniques, skin grafts and skin flaps. Surgeons may use special patterns of suture placement to relieve tension on the closed wound edges.

An area of skin may be removed from one part of the body, such as the animal's side, and sutured to another area where there has been skin loss. This is called a skin graft and is most commonly used to replace skin that has been lost on the paws or lower limbs.

Flaps of skin that remain attached at one end can be raised from the body and rotated to cover an adjacent area that has an open wound. This is only possible if there is enough loose skin available adjacent to the wound to be able to close the area from where the flap was raised. If there is not enough loose skin available, then the skin may be stretched. Skin can be stretched either by using expanding devices placed under the skin or by placing stretching bands on the surface of the skin. Skin has natural elastic properties, the most common example of which is the ability of the abdominal skin to stretch during pregnancy.

It may be particularly difficult to get wounds that occur over a joint to heal because of the joint motion. Sometimes, the surgeon may make an incision on the opposite side of the joint to release the skin, allowing the wound to be closed over the joint. The open wound on the opposite side where there is less motion is then left to heal on its own.

Sometimes the goal of the surgeon is to close the wound only partially, allowing the remaining wound to heal on its own. The body has a great capacity for healing many skin wounds without surgery.

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