B.C. kitten to receive 'fancy new bionic legs'

An eight-month-old kitten from B.C. is one step closer to receiving a new pair of high-tech prothetic legs, after a medical procedure in Vancouver on Wednesday.

The eight-month-old kitten — born without his lower hind legs — received Botox injections for upcoming surgery

Shelly Roche's kitten, Cassidy, is missing his rear legs. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

An eight-month-old kitten is one step closer to receiving a new pair of high-tech prosthetic legs that will make him the 'Blade Runner of cats.'

Cassidy was found in a colony of more than 200 feral cats on a rural property in Aldergrove last year. He was missing the lower section of each rear leg, just below the knee.

On Wednesday, he received a Botox injection to the muscles in its rear legs. 

"This will be the first cat in the world to be fitted with prosthetic blades, so our hope today was just the final step before that surgery can be performed," said veterinarian specialist Mike Higgins.

Internet famous

Videos of Cassidy walking with a custom kitten wheelchair and riding a Roomba have become online hits.

But when Shelly Roche first took Cassidy in, the kitten was emaciated and had infections on his leg stumps. 

"[The property owner] saw Cassidy walking around kind of like a reverse velociraptor with his little bum up in the air," said Roche, who runs a Fort Langley cat rescue organization, Tiny Kittens

"He was walking basically on his front legs and his little stumps hurt so badly that he was holding his whole back end up in the air to keep them from hitting rocks and sticks in the forest."

Roche spent the next few months nursing the kitten back to health.

"He'd used up eight-and-a-half of his nine lives by the time we got him. So he was in really rough shape."

"Now that his stumps don't hurt, he uses them to kind of propel him — kind of like flippers — and he uses his front legs," said Roche.

"Now he has started riding my Roomba around to get over to some of his favourite spots, which is pretty cute," she said. "He kind of enjoys the ride."

Botox procedure

Dr. Mike Higgins, a neurologist with Canada West Veterinary Specialists, administered Botox to the muscles in the cat's rear legs on Wednesday.

Dr. Mike Higgins inspects Cassidy's rear legs after administering Botox injections on Wednesday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We used a specialized piece of machinery called an E.M.G., standing for Electromyogram, and that helped us localize which muscles were most contracted and which ones we thought would benefit most from the Botox injection."

The goal, he said, is to preserve as much of Cassidy's legs before the cat goes to North Carolina for the prosthetic implants in a few weeks. 

Higgins and staff give Cassidy Botox injections to relax the muscles in his rear legs. (Monica Thomas/Canada West Veterinary Specialists)

High-tech bionic legs

Neither Higgins nor Roche know exactly what the prosthetic legs will ultimately look like, as that's up to experts at the NC State Veterinary Medicine School

While Higgins said this is the first example of blade prostheses for cats, it has been done for dogs.

"I'm not sure if they use titanium or carbon fibre. I'm not sure what the end-point will be," said Roche. "I tell people he's going to get fancy new bionic legs."

Roche isn't sure what the final cost will be, either. She said so far, around $10,000 has been spent on Cassidy. Roche said another implant procedure at NC State that she's aware of added up to $20,000 per leg to replace knee joints. 

She's also not sure what sort of mobility to expect from the new blades.

"I'm sure that he'll be able to pounce. I'm sure he'll be trying that before he's supposed to," she said. "He doesn't really follow our medical instructions very well."

"He'll be pouncing and jumping and stalking. The sky's the limit with this guy."

Roche said that if people want to help cats like Cassidy, the best thing they can do is to get their pets spayed or neutered. 


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