I would like to let cat owners know of a great new way to provide medication free long term pain relief for cats in chronic pain from hip dysplasia or spinal degeneration.  

gargamel_backWe have 6 rescue cats but two of our rescue cats Gargamel (domestic short hair male aged 6) and Kali (domestic short hair female aged 7) have just benefited from an operation to implant gold rods by our veterinary surgeon for pain relief and they have been pain free without medication for three weeks. Gargamel has hip dysplasia in both hips and Kali has degeneration of the spine at the discs at the tail end of her spine. If you have a cat with long term pain from spinal or joint issues please read this as this new treatment could benefit your kitty.

The insertion of gold rods is a rare procedure as it is very new. It has been used mainly in mainland Europe in dogs to remove pain from hip dysplasia that were resistant to pain medications but to our vet’s knowledge no-one had tried it in cats. It involves inserting tiny pure gold rods that have been sterilised into the acupressure points under a general anaesthetic. The procedure is quick so only a light anaesthetic is needed and the rods remain inside the cat for life. They can provide pain relief for 18-24 months and after that time new gold rods can be inserted. The old rods do not need to be removed when the new rods are put in. As the rods are 100% gold they are very safe and won’t prevent cats or dogs from having MRI’s in the future if they need to. It does not cure the problem causing the pain but does provide relief from chronic pain that is not helped by painkillers. The operation is a very small one. X-rays are taken before and afterwards whilst the cats are still under the anaesthetic. The fur is shaved completely in the area the rods need to be implanted and then the vet marks the right points with a marker. You can see from the photos how our cats were shaved and the marker points. The rods are injected with a needle and the only marks are the needle marks and the marker! The gold rods can’t be purchased as medical supplies. They have to be made by a jeweller. Luckily our vet has a client and cat owner who is a jeweller and a cat owner and he agreed to make the rods to the exact measurements required and to round them off as they need any sharp edges removed.

Gargamel’s hip dysplasia in both hips was confirmed by x-rays (CT and MRI scans showed no other problems). Metacam and Rimadyl painkillers had no effect on him. Tramadol was better but he was still in pain. If we increased the dose he became completely stoned and could not move! He had a very odd gait. His back legs were bowed inwards so that the knees were very close together whenever he stood up or walked. He started to hop like a rabbit with his back legs when he ran. He eventually stopped running and stopped climbing up his cat trees or any furniture that was not low to the ground. He dragged his tail on the floor rather than hold it up when he walked or ran. Despite being only 6 years old he became very sedentary. He is a lovely cat and did not cry in pain at all or try to bite you if you touch his hips. We had to cut holes in our garden fences for him as he could no longer jump the fence.

Before Gargamel’s operation one day a Jack Russell terrier which was off the lead  chased Gargamel through the cat hole in the back fence into our garden  and Gargamel scrabbled up our garden fence by our kitchen window but in doing so Gargamel pulled some of his claws out because he just could not climb. Luckily we were at home and my husband picked up the excited dog and shoved it into its owner’s arms. If the dog could have cornered Gargamel it would have bitten him as it was so excited so Gargamel had every incentive to get up that fence but he still struggled to do it! The dog got stuck in the cat hole in the fence long enough to give Gargamel a head start. Gargamel needed emergency treatment at the vet for the bleeding from where his claws were ripped out as he tried to climb. This made us realise that even when his life depended on it climbing for him was very difficult.

After Gargamel had the operation to insert the gold rods he was immediately pain free and he has not needed any painkillers since. He can run fast like a normal cat. His gait is straight. He can climb the 7ft high garden cat tree with ease. He’s been climbing all the ceiling cat trees in our house. He can jump from the floor to the kitchen worktop easily. He holds his tail up now al the time when he walks. He runs all the time and he now has no fear of using the cat flap. It used to hurt his back legs to do it so he used to wait for us to open the back door for him. Now he happily uses the cat flap! He can even chase his laser pointer toy again and zooms after it.

KaliKali has degeneration of the spine which was resistant to even Tramadol as a pain relief so she was given vetergesic sub cute injections twice daily which we did at home. That did not remove all the pain and it did affect her quality of life. She also became addicted to the vetergesic as it is very addictive. It is liquid morphine. She would know when her injection was due and started asking for it an hour or two before it was due. We tried cutting down the dose by injecting her with saline injections that the vet prepared for us instead of vetergesic as some cats get a placebo effect but that didn’t fool her so she had to be on vetergesic twice a day. Kali has an unusually fast metabolism even for a cat so pain relief in her is really difficult. She could walk normally and run normally but she would growl if you touched her back and didn’t like to be picked up. She also had extreme problems in jumping. Instead of jumping she would use her front paws to climb up furniture as if they were ice picks and she would leave her back legs dangling uselessly behind her. When she jumped down she would land very close to the ground and would remain there for a few seconds before moving. She became very growly all the time and just wanted to sleep all day. Her x-rays showed a spinal degeneration and this was confirmed by an MRI scan. It is too risky to operate on her spine because it is too close to her tail and the area is too small. There is a great risk of paralysing her if we tried to operate.  She could not stay on vetergesic long term as long term use of opiates is not considered a good option and no doubt it was part of the reason for being growly and sleeping all the time.

After the operation she is now able to climb properly and jump surfaces she could not manage before. She is very happy and far more active. She now happily sleeps with our other cats and has become a lap cat again.

gargamel_with_witbyThe operations did change our cat hierarchy and we did have a week of fights whilst they settled down. Gargamel and Kali now felt better and wanted to climb higher up the ladder and the other cats were not happy about that! However no-one was hurt in the squabbles and they are now settled into a new structure with Gargamel and Kali both higher in authority than they were before. We have Feliway plug-ins but that didn’t stop the fights – they just needed to agree what position they were all in now that Kali and Gargamel were happy and part of the colony again.

The gold rod implants are not a cure as they do not remove the underlying medical problem but they have given back our cats a great lease of life which is pain free. Kali had no other surgical options. As both of Gargamel’s hips are bad he could have surgery to remove the femoral head but it’s a big operation and as soon as he recovered from one hip operation we would have to do the other.

If you have a cat or dog that is in pain from hip dysplasia or spinal problems that are difficult to fix or which isn’t helped by painkillers it might be worth considering gold rod implants for them. The cost depends on the gold rods and the x-rays needed. Kali had fewer rods so her operation cost just over £600. Gargamel needed many more rods so his cost £1,000 but from our vet we believe that his was the top end of the scale for this procedure. It has worked so well our vet has asked the jeweller to make more gold rods for our eldest recue cats as they have arthritis and it might help them. She has also asked him to make gold rods for other cat owners who are interested and he is happy to continue to make more even thought they are so small they are very time consuming to make (hence the price of the gold rods being quite high).

Please feel free to contact our vet for further information on the implantation of gold rods for pain relief. The vet that performed the surgery is our usual vet – Rosario Gutierrez VM, MRCVS of Horsebridge Veterinary Practice, Horsebridge, Hailsham, East Sussex BN27 4DH Tel: 01323 442250

Website: www.horsebridgetvet.co.uk

E-mail: vet@rgbvet.co.uk

Rosario specialises in surgery and procedures that other local vets don’t do. I know everyone thinks their vet is the greatest but she really goes the extra mile in looking into new procedures and treatments to offer her clients’ pets.

She is very keen to offer the gold rods to other cats and dogs now that she has had such a good result from our two cats. At the moment we do not know how long it will last in cats but there is no reason to think it won’t last less than in dogs which is 18-24 months when it can be repeated with new gold rods.

If you want to talk to Horsebridge vets about the gold rod implants then feel free to mention “Gargamel and Kali” when enquiring and the reception staff and nurses will know what operation you mean. I can’t sing the praises enough of this new operation. Even our neighbours can’t believe what our cats can now do when they see them outside. It made my husband and I smile so much to see our cats enjoying climbing and being pain free. It really is an incredible treatment and we understand that in dogs it has a very high success rate so it should be able to benefit other suitable cats. I’m happy to answer any questions from cat owners so e-mail me at rebecca@blossomwalk.co.uk




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