Titanium-alloy legs keep disabled cat mobile

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Vincent with Dr. Mary Sarah Bergh, who surgically implanted the titanium-alloy prostheses(Credit: Iowa State University)

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When Vincent was found abandoned as a kitten, he had no hind legs below what would be considered his shinbones. But thanks to the kindness of strangers, some titanium implants and the skills of a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, Vincent can now walk on all fours ... albeit not with the grace of a normal feline.

Vincent was found in a campground and eventually ended up in an animal shelter in Iowa. Cindy Jones, a volunteer at the shelter, brought him to Iowa State University's Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, where Dr. Mary Sarah Bergh initially tried physical therapy to help the cat learn to cope without the use of his back legs. Realizing that wasn't working, she decided that surgically implanting prosthetic legs was the next-best option.

Only a couple of dozen such surgeries have been done on animals to date, so Dr. Bergh and her team had little information to go by regarding what to expect in rehab. The surgery itself involved implanting a titanium alloy prosthetic into the femur bone of each leg, allowing the skin to grow around it.

The implants are designed to allow Vincent's bone to grow onto the titanium shafts to support his weight. The shaft is also exposed to the environment, however, which means Vincent is at constant risk of infection. Both cat and owner have learned to deal with this challenge, partially through twice-daily applications of an antibiotic spray.

Vincent's first surgery was in 2014 and a second was in February of this year, with subsequent procedures gradually lengthening his prosthetic legs. Dr. Bergh said that the latter simply involves sliding a longer attachment onto the implanted post, so no anesthesia is necessary. Starting with a short leg and transitioning to a longer one has allowed Vincent to build muscle and bone strength, in order to tolerate the extra forces that come with having the longer limbs.

All surgeries and treatments were done at ISU with the custom-designed titanium-alloy prostheses donated by BioMedtrix, a company that specializes in hip and joint replacement products for a variety of animals. The costs of the surgery and treatment have been paid for by Vincent's owners, the Jones family.

No one is sure how Vincent's back legs ended up the way they were, but Dr. Bergh said his case may help make implants a more practical solution in the future for animals in similar situations.

Late last year, a veterinarian caring for a dog with deformed front legs and no paws used 3D printing to create strap-on prosthetics that allowed the animal to be able to run and walk more normally.

For the time being, Vincent remains with the Jones family and is evidently doing his best to live the life of a normal cat – titanium legs and all.

Watch the video below to see Vincent in action.

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