Like their cousins the domestic cat, big cats use their claws to balance themselves, run, and grasp.
Dr. Conrad explains how large cats use their paws and claws, noting how their size and heft can make the animal
susceptible to extreme trauma and disastrous health effects after having their toes amputated.
It can be too painful for cats that have been declawed to bear weight on their toes normally.
Arthritis and permanent lameness are common after-effects of declaw surgery.
They may develop "paddle-feet" and walk on their wrists or elbows, like Naala (shown lower left),
or they may stop walking altogether, like Aspen (shown right).
Although Dr. Wendelburg has performed many rehabilitative surgeries to repair the maimed feet of big cats,
he was mortified at what he saw in the pre-op X-ray of a tiger named Drifter.
Regrowth of bone and numerous bone fragments scattered all around the amputated toes
was responsible for causing excruciating pain in Drifter's foot.
Dr. Conrad preps the tiger for a surgery that will last five to six hours. Repair surgeries on front and back paws
usually are done in two separate operations, because being under anesthesia for much longer than six hours is risky.
Dr. Wendelburg makes an incision that reveals not a mere "pebble in the shoe,"
but a good-sized "rock" growing inside the paw.