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What Is a Limb Amputation in Cats?

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Limb amputation is the surgical removal of one of the legs. Front legs and rear legs can be removed.

What Are the Indications for Performing a Limb Amputation?

Surgical removal of a limb is indicated in cases of severe damage, gangrene or a bone tumor. In some fracture situations, finances do not allow for surgical repair and amputation may be the only alternative.

What Preoperative Examinations or Tests Are Needed?

Preoperative tests depend in part on the age and general health of the animal as well as the cause of the limb amputation. If removal is in place of more costly fracture repair, simple blood tests, such as a packed cell volume or blood count, may be done prior to anesthesia. For most situations, radiographs, blood count, serum biochemical tests, urinalysis, and possibly an EKG may be necessary.

What Type of Anesthesia is Needed For a Limb Amputation?

The procedure requires general anesthesia to induce complete unconsciousness and relaxation. In the usual case, the pet will receive a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help him relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual surgery.

How Is the Limb Amputation Operation Done?

Following anesthesia, the pet is placed on a surgical table, with the leg in question exposed. The hair is clipped around the shoulder or hip area, depending on the leg to be removed. The skin is scrubbed with surgical soap to disinfect the area and a sterile drape is placed over the surgical site. A scalpel is used to incise the skin around the area of the shoulder or hip. In the foreleg removal, the leg can be removed at the level of the shoulder or the leg and shoulder blade can be removed. This will vary depending on the reason for leg removal and cosmetics. For the rear leg, removal is commonly done at the upper 2/3 of the femur, leaving a stump of the leg. In some situations, the leg is removed at the hip joint.

After determining the site of leg removal, the skin is incised. The muscles, nerves and blood vessels are also incised, after being ligated (tied off) if necessary. In the case of the foreleg, the leg is either removed at the shoulder joint or the leg and shoulder blade are removed together. In the case of the rear leg, the humerus is cut with bone wire or a bone saw. Muscle is used to fold over the rough edge of the bone.

Sutures (stitches) that dissolve over time are used to close the muscles and deeper tissue layers. The outer layer of skin is closed with sutures or surgical staples; these need to be removed in about 10 to 14 days.

How Long Does the Limb Amputation Take to Perform?

The procedure takes about 45 minutes to an hour to perform in most cases, including the needed time for preparation and anesthesia. In the case of tumor removal, the procedure can take longer and may require the expertise of a board certified surgeon.

What Are the Risks and Complications?

The overall risk of this surgery is low. The major risks and are those of general anesthesia, bleeding (hemorrhage), postoperative infection and wound breakdown (dehiscence) over the incision. Overall complication rate is low, but serious complications can result in death or the need for additional surgery.

What Is the Typical Postoperative Care For Limb Amputation?

Postoperative medication should be given to relieve pain, which is judged in most cases to be moderate and can be effectively eliminated with safe and effective pain medicines. The home care requires reduced activity until the stitches are removed in 10 to 14 days. The suture line should be inspected daily by the pet owner for signs of redness, discharge, swelling or pain. It will take the pet several days to weeks to learn to walk on three legs. Bandages are typically placed and these need to be kept clean and dry until removed.

How Long Is the Hospital Stay?

The typical stay for limb amputation is one to two days but will vary depending on overall health of the pet.

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