How to Care for Your Cat After Limb Amputation Surgery
It can be devastating hearing from your veterinarian that your cat will need to undergo an amputation procedure. You might require some time to think about what this entails before deciding to go forward with the surgery. Unfortunately, there are conditions and situations where amputation is the best option for our cat’s welfare. What many pet parents are not aware of is cats can adjust pretty well after losing a leg, so much so that they often act and move normally after recovery. The first few weeks after the surgery can be critical for the cat’s journey to adjusting to a new way of moving around, and pet parents must know how to guide them through this re-learning process. Here are some of the things you need to know and can expect after your cat’s limb amputation surgery.
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Reasons for Limb Amputation Surgery in Cats
There are situations where amputating a limb is the best approach to manage certain conditions. Understanding why an amputation procedure is being recommended can help us better take care of our cats as they recover from this type of surgery.
Cancer of the bone, also known as osteosarcoma, is one of the most common reasons why your vet might recommend amputation as treatment. This type of cancer is very aggressive and painful for the cat. Unfortunately, osteosarcoma can’t effectively be controlled or treated with chemotherapy because of the minimal blood supply going to the bone. Limb amputation is indicated in osteosarcoma cases to help relieve the pain and decrease the chances of cancer spreading to other parts of the cat’s body.
Complicated fractures or injuries that result in extensive leg damage are often irreparable even with aggressive medical treatment. In such cases, sometimes amputating the limb might be the best option to help control the symptoms that go with these types of injuries and prevent any serious complications from happening.
Managing Your Cat’s Pain After Amputation Surgery
Pain management is arguably the most important component when it comes to taking care of a cat that has undergone an amputation surgery and is recovering. We must help them feel comfortable and pain-free during the healing process to avoid any complications that may arise from them trying to move or lick the surgical wound or losing appetite because they feel pain.
Cat patients are typically given pre-anesthetic medications and analgesics (pain medication) either injected intramuscularly (IM) or administered via constant rate infusion (CRI) through an IV line to manage pain during the surgery. The analgesia that these medications provide control pain during the surgery and usually lasts for up to a few hours after. Your vet may extend the administration of analgesic medications depending on how the cat recovers from the anesthesia.
Your vet will then shift to oral pain medications to be taken at home as the wound heals and the cat recovers from surgery. This typically includes oral analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and sometimes analgesic patches that can provide pain control for several days. There will be specific instructions on how to give pain medications to your cat, including the schedule for each medication, to make sure that pain is being managed effectively.
Caring for Your Cat’s Incision
Management of the surgical wound is another important component in taking care of your cat after surgery. The wound must be kept clean to prevent common wound complications such as suture failure and bacterial infections.
Infection of the incision will result in failure of the wound to heal properly and even cause the sutures and wound to open up. Your cat might need to take post-operative antibiotics to prevent infection of the surgical wound as it heals. The incision may also need dressing and cleaning with a topical antiseptic solution daily to further protect it against infection.
While mild inflammation is expected around the surgical wound, too much swelling can cause the incision to re-open. Oral NSAIDs for pain relief also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help prevent severe inflammation. An Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) is also recommended to prevent your cat from licking or chewing on the wound and causing more inflammation.
Restricting Your Cat’s Activity After Amputation Surgery
The edges of the wound need to be properly apposed and in contact with each other to facilitate healing. While sutures are effective in keeping the wound closed, the wound may not heal properly, or worse, it may open up, if the cat is too active.
Cat owners must limit their pet’s movement, usually for 10-14 days, following an amputation surgery to allow the wound to heal properly. This may entail keeping the cat inside a crate or in a confined space.
Adjusting to Life with Three Legs
Making sure the wound heals properly is just the first part of recovery from amputation surgery. The next part is to help your cat adjust to a new life with one less leg. As mentioned, many cat owners are surprised at how well their cat adjusts to moving around with only 3 legs.
Your cat may need support initially while they go to the bathroom or even when roaming around, and you can manually support their weight using your hands. Slings are usually not that effective because cats are not comfortable having something wrapped around their body - most would attempt to remove any sling you try to put on.
Thankfully, cats adapt to this new situation fairly quickly and most cat owners will be surprised at how fast cats that have undergone an amputation surgery go back to being their lively and playful selves.
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