Jun 25, 2010 11:17 AM by Melissa Canone
LONDON (AP) - Oscar the cat may have lost one of his nine lives,
but his new prosthetic paws make him the world's first bionic cat.
After losing his two rear paws in a nasty encounter with a
combine harvester last October, the black cat with green eyes was
outfitted with metallic pegs that link the ankle to the foot and
mimic the way deer antlers grow through skin. Oscar is now back on
his feet and hopping over hurdles like tissue paper rolls.
After Oscar's farming accident, which happened when the 2
1/2-year-old-cat was lazing in the sun in the British Channel
Isles, his owners, Kate and Mike Nolan, took him to their local
veterinarian. In turn, the vet referred Oscar to Dr. Noel
Fitzpatrick, a neuro-orthopedic surgeon in Eashing, 35 miles
southwest of London.
Together with biomedical engineering experts, Fitzpatrick gave
Oscar two metal prosthetic implants that are a bit wobbly, to
imitate a cat's natural walk. But first, he covered the brown
implants with black tape to match Oscar's fur.
Fitzpatrick said he and biomedical engineers designed the
artificial paws so that they would be fused to the bone and skin.
"That allows this implant to work as a seesaw on the bottom of the
animal's limbs to give him (an) effectively normal gait," he said.
"Oscar can now run and jump about as cats should do."
The veterinarians then inserted the peg-like implants by
drilling them into Oscar's ankle bones in his rear legs. The metal
implants are attached to the bone where Oscar lost his paws and
were coated with a substance that helps bone cells grow directly
over them. The cat's own skin then grew over the end of the peg to
form a natural seal to prevent infections.
After rehabilitation training that taught Oscar how to walk
again, the cat was on all four feet in less than four months.
Oscar's owners said they hoped his new paws would also further the
technology for developing artificial limbs for humans.
"This is a pretty lucky cat," said Dr. Mark Johnston, a
veterinarian and spokesman for the British Small Animal Veterinary
Association. "Giving a cat artificial limbs is a very novel
solution." Johnston said that while there are many "perfectly
happy" three-legged cats and dogs, animals that lose two legs do
not usually fare as well.
Dogs might cope better with some sort of animal-wheelchair for
their back legs, but cats don't usually adapt to that because of
their freer lifestyle, he said. "If a cat has two legs that are
damaged beyond repair, it's very hard to keep him going," he said.
"We would generally euthanize a cat in that situation."
He doubted the technique would be widely available due to the
cost and said it was still relatively rare for animals to lose two
legs at once. Gordon Blunn, head of biomedical engineering at
University College London, who led the effort to make Oscar's fake
paws, said they cost about 2,000 pounds ($2,996) to make, not
including the cost for the operation itself.
In 2008, Fitzpatrick made an artificial knee for a cat named
Missy who was struck by a hit and run driver.
Johnston said the next six months to a year would be critical
for Oscar. He said veterinarians would have to closely monitor the
feline to make sure no infections, sores or other movement problems
"It may not last forever, but even if you provide the cat with
a few years of pain-free mobility, it may well be worth it," he