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Laser surgery leaves cat clawless

September 29, 1998

Laser declawingBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - At 6 months old, Blackie is a medical pioneer.

The black male kitten on Monday was stretched out on a gurney, anesthetized, his four legs held with rope constraints.

Veterinarian Roger Horst and Melanie Giorgini, his technician, garbed in safety glasses, face masks and surgical gowns, worked intently over Blackie, first neutering him then removing his front claws.

Veterinarians perform such routine surgeries daily with scalpels. Horst did it with a laser beam.

Laser technology has been around for 20 years in human surgery, but its use by animal doctors is new.

Horst, who shares his practice with Dr. David Burrows at 218 N. Main St., said he is the first veterinarian in Franklin County, Pa., to operate with lasers. He learned of the procedure at a veterinarians' convention, he said.

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Animal patients experience less pain with laser surgery because the laser seals nerve endings. It also seals small blood vessels.

"We would have to use tourniquets if we were using a scalpel," Giorgini said.

"Blood would be running down his legs," Horst said of Blackie.

Since there is so little blood with the laser, the kitten's legs didn't have to be wrapped in bandages, he said.

Horst used a medical glue to seal the holes in the kitten's paws left by the removal of his claws.

Laser surgery works equally well on small and large animals, Horst said.

Horst uses a carbon dioxide laser that produces an invisible beam. It vaporizes the water normally found in skin and other soft tissue.

Post-surgical recovery is also faster, he said. Cats brought in for declawing in the morning can usually go home that night.

There is less swelling. A laser beams does not crush, tear or bruise because there is no physical contact with surrounding healthy tissue, a big benefit when removing cancerous or benign tumors, Horst said.

Lasers make removing cysts, warts and other growths, especially in hard-to-reach places around eyes and in ears, easier. They also can be used in dental procedures, he said.

Laser surgery costs about $40 more per operation, he said.

Horst, who said his practice has been operating for 15 years, has been doing laser surgery for two weeks. Blackie was the second cat to be declawed using the procedure, he said.

His office will hold an open house on Oct. 9 and 10 to explain the new procedure.

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