Newton’s Purrspective – Bionic Cats
Although it was before my time, some of you humans may remember the $6 Million Dollar Man (Steve Austin) and the Bionic Woman (Jaime Sommers) on TV. Both these characters had serious injuries and science turned them into super heroes. In the real world, however, people who lose arms or legs may get prosthetics which, at most, restore their independence. Until recently cats have not been so lucky. If we lose one leg in an accident we can still get by quite well with three. The loss of two legs is much more challenging, but some cats do adapt to wheelchairs. http://www.lifewithcats.tv/tag/wheeled-cart/
Cats have a terrific sense of balance so kittens born without front or even back legs can adapt to the disability. But could their lives be improved by prosthetic limbs?
Learning to use a prosthetic is not easy for a person, so imagine trying to explain to Kitty why you are strapping on a set of mechanical legs. When Oscar the cat lost both back feet in a 2009 farming accident his family feared there was no hope for him. Fortunately, a vet in England was willing to try a pioneering surgery. Oscar became famous as the first animal in the world to receive surgically implanted prosthetic feet. Titanium rods were inserted into his bones and are kept in place by the tissue growing around them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqUEraHGHvI The feet can be detached (they wear out since he is very active) and over the years have been modified to achieve more natural mobility. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUhOKRKksCU
More recently a similar surgery was done on a cat in Iowa. Vincent, who was likely born without complete hind legs, was rescued by a shelter worker. Staff at Iowa State University Veterinary Hospital did implant surgery similar to Oscar’s. http://amestrib.com/news/cat-walking-prosthetic-legs-after-isu-veterinary-hospital-treatment Despite the risk of infection inherent in the surgery his prognosis is good.
The procedure is still uncommon, partially due to the cost. However, the success with animals is paving the way for US approval of bone anchored prosthetics for humans.
And this brings me back to the TV science fiction bionics. Did you know there was a bionic dog on the show? His experimental bionic surgery was the basis for using the techniques on Steve and Jaime! When Max becomes ill Jaime saves his life and adopts him. I love happy endings, don’t you?