Radical Surgery Saves Cat From Multiple Brain Tumors

January 22, 2019
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

Thanks to a skilled neurosurgery team at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, a very lucky cat will be able to take advantage of all 9 of his lives.

By the time 8-year-old Linus was brought to the Washington State University (WSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital, his owner Holly Freifeld already knew the cat’s diagnosis was grim. Three marble-sized meningiomas on the cat’s brain were causing significant pressure and pain.

The veterinary neurologist who made the diagnosis advised Freifeld against surgical tumor removal due to the high associated risk. Although these types of tumors are not uncommon in cats, the fact that there were 3 diminished the chance for a positive outcome. Thankfully for Linus and Freifeld, Annie Chen-Allen, DVM, MS, DACVIM, had another plan.

Risky Surgery

Dr. Chen-Allen, a WSU associate professor and neurologist, planned for a single operation that would remove all 3 of the tumors and reconstruct Linus’ skull. When a portion of his skull was removed during surgery, however, the cat’s brain bled and swelled to the point that it began to protrude through the opening, making it difficult to proceed as planned. It was decided that the best thing to do was cease the surgery having only removed 2 of the tumors and without replacing the removed piece of skull.

“I actually…told the owner I was worried that he may not wake up from the anesthesia because of the swelling I was seeing in surgery and because there was a lot of blood loss,” Dr. Chen- Allen told the university’s news outlet. “But within 20 minutes from anesthesia being turned off, he woke up—so he surprised us.”

3D Technology to the Rescue

Two weeks later, Linus underwent a second surgery to remove the third tumor and replace the removed portion of his skull as originally planned. This time, 3D replicas of Linus’ skull and brain were created and used as templates to form a new acrylic skull. The second surgery was a success and the 3D skull replacement worked as planned.

“[It’s] incredibly surprising…given the fact that we had 3 tumors to remove,” Dr. Chen-Allen, said. “Not that no one’s done that before, but I think most people try to shy away from doing that because it is so extensive.”

Looking to the Future

Still, Dr. Chen-Allen said it is unlikely that the surgery completely eliminated the disease and radiation therapy will be used to prevent further growth. For now, follow-up visits show no signs of new tumors and Linus’ family said he has returned to his playful self.

For more on veterinary neurosurgery at WSU, click here.