LSU Veterinary School gives cats born without eyelids new ones built from their lips; prevents blindness, chronic pain, and homelessness

For Immediate Release: August 10, 2020

Drs. Chris Alling and Pilar Camacho-Luna holding cats who had the eyelid surgery

Dr. Chris Alling and Dr. Pilar Camacho-Luna, ophthalmology residents, holding two cats who underwent the eyelid surgery.
LSU School of Veterinary Medicine

Written by Sandra Sarr, Communications Coordinator

BATON ROUGE, LA— A surgical procedure performed by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine ophthalmology team gives cats born without eyelids a chance to retain eyesight and live a pain-free life. Last year, the team improved the lives of two shelter cats, Sasha and Bobbles, who were born without eyelids.

The young cats were homeless and living at CARA’s House, an animal shelter in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Although otherwise healthy and only six months old, Sasha and Bobbles were considered unadoptable due to their medical condition.

“You couldn’t even see their eyes. We first took the kittens to our regular veterinarian, Dr. Cavalier, who recommended LSU. They were wonderful,” said Raegan Daniel, director of Ascension Parish Animal Shelter.

According to Jenna Cavalier, DVM (LSU SVM 2017), MS, CVA, of Ascension Parish Animal Hospital in Prairieville, Louisiana, Sasha and Bobbles had chronic eye ulcers, infections, and pain due to what’s known as bilateral eyelid agenesis.

“They were both at risk for losing their eyes until we contacted the LSU SVM ophthalmology service. Eyeless kittens and cats usually have a much more difficult time finding permanent homes,” Dr. Cavalier said.

Dr. Cavalier, who volunteers at CARA’s House, told the SVM ophthalmology team the cats’ story. The team agreed to donate services and perform the surgical procedure involving utilizing an area of the mouth which contains a mucous membrane surface to form the area where the upper and lower eyelids meet.

“The technical skill, knowledge, and experience required to perform a surgical procedure like this is why I referred these kittens to the ophthalmology specialty service as they are a valuable resource to our community veterinarians. I'm thankful to them for taking on these two little shelter kittens. Their lives are completely normal now compared to the alternative of losing their vision,” she said.

Because both cats were both missing most of their upper eyelids, they were in constant pain from hair rubbing on the surface of their eyes. Prior to surgery, the cats needed medicated eye drops two-to-three times daily. They often kept their eyes closed because they were sensitive to light. This condition mostly afflicts cats and can cause blindness if not treated appropriately.

The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine ophthalmology House Officers Chris Alling, DVM, and Pilar Camacho, DVM, examined the cats and determined they would benefit from a new procedure called Lip-to-Lid Skin Transposition. This procedure takes normal lip skin from the mouth up to the part of the eye missing the eyelid and does not impact the health of the mouth or the cat’s ability to eat. The newly built eyelids prevent hair from rubbing on the eye and eliminate persistent pain and risk of blindness.

Dr. Alling and Dr. Camacho donated their services and performed the surgery at Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge. Sasha and Bobbles were anesthetized, and the surgeons worked for more than three hours to complete the process on each cat.

“Performing the surgery requires a significant degree of skill,” said LSU Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology Andrew Lewin, BVM&S, DACVO. Dr. Lewin works closely with his fellow LSU Ophthalmologist and Clinical Service Chief Renee Carter, DVM (LSU SVM 2000), DACVO, to supervise a robust clinical training program as well as provide eye care services to animals in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area

The young cats’ lives were changed with the successful surgeries. They are now pain-free and no longer at risk of losing their sight. Sasha and Bobbles can now blink normally, and no longer have any eye issues. They left the shelter for their forever home when Desiree Plaisance of Prairieville, Louisiana, adopted them having fostered them before and after surgery.

“After they healed, we took Sasha and Bobbles to Petco to place them up for adoption as planned with the shelter. We walked inside Petco with them, and I looked at my husband and said, ‘I can’t do it.’ We left and brought them home permanently,” said Plaisance, who said she understands Bobbles’ sensory needs and knows how to calm him as she does a family member.

“I love bringing together the LSU SVM and the shelter/rescue community to help out the less fortunate. The LSU SVM provides the much-needed specialized care that shelter animals must have in order to be adopted while providing supervised training for veterinarians in a variety of specialties,” said Brandy Duhon, DVM (LSU SVM 2013), instructor of Clinical Skills and Surgery Labs at the SVM.

Three weeks later, Plaisance brought Bobbles and Sasha back to the LSU SVM for a checkup by the ophthalmology team.

“We were thrilled to see how well they were both doing! After receiving some love and attention from the whole team, they went back to their new forever home, where they are both doing really well,” Dr. Lewin said.

While the condition is relatively rare, the team has successfully performed the surgery on four cats and eight eyes within the past year. LSU SVM students assisted with anesthesiology and surgery.

The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is one of only 30 veterinary schools in the U.S. and the only one in Louisiana. The LSU SVM is dedicated to improving the lives of people and animals through education, research and service. We teach. We heal. We discover. We protect.


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