Animals with Catastrophic Injuries
What is the current status and prognosis for companion animals overcoming catastrophic injuries and their disabilities?
In veterinary medicine this almost invariably means the loss of a limb for your dog or cat. There are a myriad of reasons this can happen. Certainly the most common are cats and dogs being hit by an automobile, gunshot wounds, claw traps, fan belt injuries to cats seeking warmth in the winter, etc. Cancer is the most common reason medically that can result in the loss of a limb. In human medicine, diabetes and circulatory problems are slightly more prevalent. The survival rate for these animals and the quality of life has increased dramatically. This is due to many different factors, including: newer surgically advanced techniques, more efficacious pain control, readily accessible emergency clinics staffed by board-certified trauma surgeons, and better-equipped private practices. Many years ago when I was in veterinary school, we were taught that large and giant breed dogs surviving and leading a relatively normal life was rather problematic. Because 60% of the weight is borne on the front limbs, we thought these animals were not able to exist with three legs with any quality of life. Medical advances and a great faith in Mother Nature's capacity to heal has made this not necessarily so. Also, the pet owner of the new millennium is better educated about their pets and more compliant to follow up with long rehabilitation. Recently, a very large Labrador Retriever lost a rear leg below the knee and had almost severed all the digits on the other rear leg. After eight hours of reconstructive surgery and re-amputation at mid-thigh, this wonderful animal is not only walking and running but had a very successful hunting season! The analogies to humans are remarkable and striking: anguish, guilt, frustration, and pain a family endures over the accident. Massive surgical intervention and a competent supportive staff is needed. The recuperative process can be and usually is slow and arduous; physical therapy is imperative. Love and devotion is required to overcome such devastation. It is very important that the entire family participate and support what usually are Herculean efforts. Each case is different, though. A veterinarian must "read" his or her clients and honor their wishes. The psychological and financial considerations of the owners must be considered. Even in such a potentially tragic situation, it doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence. It is possible that the animal can lead a healthy remainder of his or her life.