Florida Vets, Dentist Fix Cat’s Palate Injury

The University of Florida Small Animal Hospital for the first time used a metal prosthesis during oral surgery.

Dr. Fong Wong, right, and Dr. Amy Stone, center, affixed a metal prosthesis to close a hole between a cat’s oral and nasal cavities.

Mindy Cherisse Miller

A cat is eating normally again after University of Florida doctors installed a metal prosthesis to close a hole in his palate.

The procedure is commonly performed in people to correct cleft palates or repair cancer damage, but it was the first time for the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital.

“Usually, medical procedures are first tried in animals, and then, when successful, used in human patients,” said Fong Wong, an associate professor in the College of Dentistry, who conducted the surgery. “In this case, it was the animal that benefited from a procedure that is routine in humans but has not been part of routine veterinary medicine.”

The Siamese-mix cat, Darryl, already had a large hole between his oral and nasal cavities when he arrived at an Alachua County animal shelter. The condition make him unfit for adoption, so he went home with Julie Levy, DVM, Ph.D., a professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida.

“Every bite of food he took was painful, and he had constant nasal infections,” Dr. Levy said. “Despite struggling to eat and being extremely messy with his food, he was always affectionate.”

Transferred to the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, Darryl had a feeding tube inserted to help him gain weight and avoid the aggravation caused by eating and drinking.

Levy took him home again to nurse him back to health while investigating what else could be done. After she contacted the College of Dentistry, Wong proposed a prosthodontic solution.

In August, Wong made a cast of Darryl’s mouth and crafted an acrylic appliance to cover the defect, the university reported. The appliance was sutured into place to check its effectiveness, and the positive results led to the permanent metal prosthesis being installed Oct. 29.

A feeding tube was removed two days later, giving Darryl the freedom to eat normally again.

Amy Stone, DVM, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, assisted Wong with the operation.

“This was a different approach than has ever been done before,” Dr. Stone said. “Darryl’s problem was one likely caused, or at least exacerbated, by injury. There were also other complications, so his situation required something a bit different.”

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