Skin Reconstruction in Cats

Overview of Feline Skin Reconstruction

Reconstructive surgery of the skin, also known as plastic surgery, is sometimes necessary to repair large wounds on a cat. Typical wounds are those created by trauma, such as being hit and dragged by a car, or those associated with burns, gunshots or animal bites. The wounds can also be created after the removal of a large tumor where there is insufficient skin to close the defect.

Any animal that has a large area of skin loss may be a candidate for reconstructive skin surgery. Wounds or defects that might require reconstructive surgery include:

Diagnosis for Possible Skin Reconstruction for Cats

If there is a tumor:

Skin reconstruction is major surgery that must be done under general anesthesia. Therefore, your veterinarian will want to determine your pet’s overall health to ascertain the risk associated with anesthetizing your pet and also to determine the best anesthetic regime to use. Your veterinarian will also perform a complete examination of your pet, including checking the body temperature and listening to the heart and lungs.
Blood will be drawn from your pet and submitted for analysis. Your veterinarian will want to determine if your pet is anemic or has an abnormal white cell count, which could indicate the presence of an infection. Blood tests can also identify abnormalities in kidney or liver function, which is important to know since these organs metabolize or help eliminate most anesthetic drugs.Your veterinarian will examine the wound closely to determine the optimal time to perform surgery. Some wounds are sufficiently healthy so that surgery can be done immediately, while others are best treated for a period of time, perhaps by bandaging, before surgery is done. He/she will also examine the skin adjacent to the wound or tumor to determine what reconstructive procedure would be best suited for your pet’s wound.

Treatment with Skin Reconstruction Surgery

The timing and type of reconstructive skin surgery varies depending on the type of wound and its appearance and location.

Some wounds need to be cleaned of dirt, hair and other contaminants before they can be closed. Other wounds may heal on their own over a long period of time and not require surgery. Complex wounds may require more than one surgery to completely close them.

Home Care and Prevention

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on wound and bandage care closely in order to obtain the best results. Be patient. Many wounds take months and may require numerous visits to your veterinarian before they heal completely.

It may be difficult to prevent your pet from becoming injured; however, many large wounds are caused by automobile accidents. To prevent these injuries keep your cat indoors.

Examine your pet regularly to identify tumors when they are small. Small tumors are more easily removed and the resulting wound is more readily closed than when large tumors are present.

Information In-depth on Skin Reconstruction for Cats

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.

Diagnosis In-Depth

Initially, your veterinarian will want to obtain a history and perform a physical examination. This initial examination may be followed by specific tests.

Therapy In-depth

The dirt, hair, and necrotic (dead) tissue are removed, or debrided, manually while the cat is anesthetized. Another very effective method is by using a wet-to-dry bandage, which sticks to the wound as it dries. As it is removed it pulls off the dirt and necrotic tissue with it. Pulling the bandage off is painful, so the patient needs to be heavily sedated or anesthetized during each bandage change. The bandage needs to be changed frequently, usually once or twice a day.

As the wound becomes cleaner it will appear red and a little bumpy. These tiny red bumps are the buds of new blood vessels that will supply the wound. This type of red tissue is called a granulation bed. When a granulation bed has formed, your veterinarian will stop using adherent wet-to-dry bandages and will apply non-adherent dressings to protect the wound. Once the wound is at this stage it can be closed using any number of reconstructive techniques.

Post-operative Care for Cats After Skin Reconstruction Surgery

Skin grafts are usually bandaged and the limb immobilized to allow the blood vessels in the granulation bed to penetrate and grow into the skin graft. Improper exercise restriction and bandage care can result in death of the delicate skin graft. With any type of reconstructive surgery, it is important that the patient not be allowed to lick or chew at the stitches or bandage. This can lead to infection or re-opening of the wound. The patient should wear an Elizabethan collar.

Follow-up Care fro Cats with Skin Reconstruction

Optimal treatment for your cat requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially, if your pet does not rapidly improve. Administer all prescribed medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for wound and bandage care explicitly. Reconstructive surgery can fail if your cat is allowed to do things he shouldn’t be doing like running, licking at the stitches and getting the bandage wet.

Have regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian as recommended. Healing is a dynamic process and the course of treatment can change as the wound changes.