Ask Laura: to amputate or not to amputate the cat's toe, that is the question

Stephannie asked about her cat's toe in the comments to my post Toe Amputations in Cats and Dogs so I thought it worth separating out into its own post:

Question from Stephannie:
I just took my 10 year old cat to the vet for a swollen toe. I had taken her two weeks before to my groomer so we could look to see if she had a bite or a cut which had caused the swelling. We saw nothing and I took Katie Maru to the vet. The doctor said it was a tumor. He did not specifically say that it was cancerous but said that we should amputate the toe anyway since the 3rd toe was now involved in the swollen area. I asked if this could be cancerous and they said it's possible. I asked if the removal of the tumor would hasten her demise, and they hedged on that one. They said once they had removed the tumor, a biopsy would tell us if she had cancer or not. My question is: Why not do a biopsy first to determine if this is cancerous? Why subject her to general anesthesia and put her life in jeopardy anyway, if the prognosis can be done prior via a biopsy. I can understand from a financial point that an operation is financially a benefit for them, but what about for Katie?

Answer from Dr. Riggs, Best Friends Veterinary Hospital Powell, Ohio BFVH.org:
Toe tumors can be aggressive so, as early as you can deal with them the better. You should talk to your vet about what he/she think about doing a biopsy vs. the surgery. I am sure there were things that the doctor saw that made him/her advise the amputation. I am sure that the financial benefit of doing the amputation over the biopsy, was not a factor at all. To do a biopsy, he/she would still need to use general anesthesia. Once the toe is removed or the biopsy taken, he/she can send it off to see what it is and then the doctor will tell you what the prognosis is.

Have you been through this situation yourself? What has your experience been?

Follow up question from Stephannie:

Question from Stephannie:
Thanks for the reply. I did a little more research on the topic of cancer in cats and it is possible that the toe tumor is simply a manifestation of a possible cancerous condition somewhere internally in the cat. I am most concerned that if she has this operation and there is cancer elsewhere in her, that this will speed up the dying process. I believe every life is sacred. She has been my best bud and door person for many, many years, but I do not want her to move that quickly towards her end. I also, however, do not want her to suffer. I want quality of life for Katie, not a prolonged and horrid death. Isn't there something less that can be done without the use of general anesthesia? Could an x-ray or ultrasound tell if the bone and toe are involved? You know, the "dark shadow"?

Dr. Riggs' answer:
I don't agree that there is obvious cancer elsewhere. I would take X-rays of the foot and also of the lungs before surgery. It is unlikely to have a tumor somewhere else in the body to spread to the foot. You can have spread of the tumor from the toe elsewhere. There is a good chance that the growth is able to be taken care of by the surgery. Again I would talk to the veterinarian and ask him/her these same questions. He/she would not do anything that would not be in Katie Maru's best interest. I always tell my clients that "there is no editor on the internet", so be careful what you read on the internet. There is just as much misinformation as good information. Good luck.

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