Paws For Thought: Pioneering Surgery Puts Cat Back On His Feet

Nine months ago he was fighting for his life after an horrific accident cost him both his back paws. Now Oscar is a bionic cat after pioneering surgery to give him prosthetic back paws.

"Without this surgery he wouldn't be here, it's as simple as that," Kate Allan, whose cat Oscar is recovering from an operation at the vet, said. Photo: BBC

Nine months ago he was fighting for his life after an horrific accident cost him both his back paws. Oscar may not be better than he was before – not faster or stronger – but he is a bionic cat now after pioneering surgery to give him prosthetic back paws.

The two year-old cat is understood to be the world’s first to have the operation to attach new feet. Oscar was operated on by groundbreaking veterinary surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick. Healing with prosthetics, titanium and other metals – he sounds like the stuff of science fiction.

But actually he is the modern answer to ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and now he with Oscar are set to be the stars of new BBC show “The Bionic Vet.” The series follows Noel Fitzpatrick, 40, as he tries to save animals using cutting edge technology, while Oscar is the star of the first episode.

But actually he is the modern answer to 'All Creatures Great and Small' and now he with Oscar are set to be the stars of new BBC show "The Bionic Vet." Photo: BBC

While snoozing in a maize field in Jersey, Oscar had his back paws sliced off by a combine harvester. Oscar’s other owner, Mike Nolan, was at home when a passer-by knocked on his door to ask if he owned a black cat.

Mr Nolan said it was horrible: “Complete panic at that point, [Oscar was] covered in blood, bits of flesh, it was very gruesome. It was very traumatic, I was convinced we were going to have to put him down at this point.” Both his back paws were severed, and while cats can survive with good quality of life with three legs, they cannot with two.

Peter Haworth was the vet Mr Nolan saw at New Era Veterinary Hospital in Jersey, he was able to clean and dress Oscar’s wounds. Mr Nolan said: “Peter was able to stabilise him, got painkillers going and he was comfortable within minutes of getting into the vets, on a strong painkiller I imagine.”

While snoozing in a maize field in Jersey, Oscar had his back paws sliced off by a combine harvester. Oscar's other owner, Mike Nolan, was at home when a passer-by knocked on his door to ask if he owned a black cat. Photo: BBC

The vet then suggested Oscar’s owners approach Noel Fitzpatrick, a veterinary surgeon from Surrey, who had been doing pioneering work on prosthetics.

The next stage in Oscar’s road to fame then involved a lot of communication between Britain and Jersey with x-rays and pictures being sent back and forth.Mr Nolan said: “Peter e-mailed Noel, they had a lot of communication, Noel then contacted us to let us know what his processes would be.

“It was very much a three way communication time, a lot of e-mails, pictures and x-rays flying around and Noel pretty quickly decided Oscar was a good patient. We will have to put new feet on him or put him to sleep. The procedure has never been done before,” said Peter Haworth.

The groundbreaking new paws are similar to the style of Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius’s ‘blade runner’ style prosthesis. Photo: BBC

Two weeks later Oscar was flown to the UK where he was measured for the implants and finally to have surgery. The new feet are cutting edge implants – known as an ITAP and developed by University College London – attaches to the bone at the point of amputation.

It sticks out of the skin enabling a prosthetic paws to be attached. These have been specially made with a degree of wobble to enable Oscar to walk, climb and run. The groundbreaking new paws are similar to the style of Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius’s ‘blade runner’ style prosthesis. But Oscar will now have to be a house cat because the false limbs are not suitable for outdoor life.

Ms Allan said: "We really believe he has had such amazing medical care throughout, both at New Era here and at Fitzpatrick referrals in England they treat him really well." Photo: BBC

Ms Allan said the chances of her cat surviving without this operation would have been nil. Ms Allan said: “The fact that Oscar was such a young cat, he was only two and a half when it happened made him an ideal patient for this surgery. Oscar is a very chilled cat, he is very laid back, he takes things well which led to the surgeons in Surrey describing him as a very suitable candidate for this kind of surgery.”

And for his owners one of the worst parts of the process was the uncertainty as it had never been done before. Ms Allan said: “It was the uncertainty, nobody knew what the outcome would be because it had never been done before, we were in the hands of the surgeons.

They were both really impressed with the quality of care Oscar has been given. Ms Allan said: “We really believe he has had such amazing medical care throughout, both at New Era here and at Fitzpatrick referrals in England they treat him really well. For instance he has three of his own rooms, he goes for walks on the lead, they treat him as part of the family, he goes out and about and so on.”

"The Bionic Vet" is on BBC 1 at 2245 BST on Wednesday 30 June 2010. Photo: BBC

After everything that has happened, his owners wanted to thank the passer by who found Oscar in the field and everyone else involved. Ms Allan said: “We would like to thank the passer by on her bicycle, we still don’t know who she was. Without her coming to knock on our door he wouldn’t be here. There have been a lucky series of events in this story so we would like to thank everybody involved.”

The first episode of the BBC’s show also follows Mayo – an eight year old Labrador – crippled by arthritis who faces being put down. “The Bionic Vet” is on BBC 1 at 2245 BST on Wednesday 30 June 2010. [via Guardian and Daily Mail (UK)]

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