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Specialized Surgery For Fido

If your pet has a brain tumor, there's neurosurgery. If its kidneys don't work, your cat can get a kidney transplant. And if there's heart trouble, there's cardiac surgery.

And, says The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Debbye Turner, more and more Americans are opting for advanced surgery for their pets.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Americans have doubled what they are willing to spend on their four-legged family members, from $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $34 billion this year. And a significant portion of that is going toward high-tech care for their animals.

"It's a very exciting time to be a veterinarian," says Dr. Lila Miller of the AS{CA. "And it's probably the best time to be a pet owner, because we have options now."

Miller, an expert on veterinary ethics, says technological advances have opened new doors for the health of our pets. "We have carts for animals that are paralyzed," she notes. "We're doing kidney transplants. We're doing total hip replacements. We are doing all kinds of procedures that we only thought about or dreamt about 10 or 15 years ago."

Dr. Raymond Prata, a veterinary orthopedic surgeon at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, N.J., regularly repairs a knee injury that is common in human athletes -- and all types of dogs -- a torn ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament. "We do anywhere from 10-12 ACLs per week," he says, "ACL tears are very common" among our canine friends.

But, asks Turner, just because we can perform these marvels, should we?

"I think it's up to each individual person to look into their hearts and decide, 'Is this something that I'm doing for my pet, or is this something that I'm doing for myself?'" Miller says.

And, adds Turner, there's the question of cost. A kidney transplant can run up to $11,000.

Jim Anthony of New Jersey put $3,500 on his credit card for heart surgey for his beloved Yorkshire terrier, Belle. "If I get another 10 years with Belle, it's worth 10 times what I'm paying," he says. Belle made it through the operation beautifully, Turner reports.

What issues should pet owners consider before opting for an expensive, risky surgery?

Many things need to be discussed with the veterinarian, Turner observes, including all costs, the risks of the operation, the prognosis after surgery, and what would happen without the surgery. Also, advises Turner, always get a second opinion.

With regard to kidney transplants in animals, Turner says there are about six veterinary schools with kidney transplant programs for cats. Such transplants in dogs have been a little more difficult to refine, but there are attempts being made. There is a 70- to 80-percent success rate with the transplants in cats.

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