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Mini TightRope® Implant Gets Ring-Tailed Lemur Back into Forest Habitat

A nine-year-old ring-tailed lemur named Sarsaparilla (or Sassy, for short) is back on her feet after dislocating her hip and being treated with the innovative Arthrex Vet Systems Mini TightRope® implant system.

Sassy lives in a five-acre forest habitat at the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF) in Myakka City, Florida. On the morning of March 25, 2020, staff members arrived to find her lethargic and not using her left leg.

“She’s usually so active,” said LCF Curator of Primates Caitlin Kenney. “We knew something was really wrong when she was laying down most of the day.”

X-rays revealed that Sassy’s left hip had been dislocated, most likely due to a fall from a tree.

Dr. David Holifield tried valiantly to get Sassy’s leg back into place, but when it wasn’t staying, he referred us to Dr. Rose,” said Caitlin.

“Not all hip luxation [dislocation] will require surgery, but Sassy’s injury was pretty severe and we determined that she would need it to get her quality of life back,” said Scott Rose, DVM, chief of surgery at Veterinary Surgery Center of Sarasota.

Significant hip luxation injuries are sometimes treated by performing a femoral head osteotomy (FHO), which means removing the head of the femur (the “ball” of the hip’s ball-and-socket joint) and creating a new joint. This procedure can limit the normal use of the limb in dogs and cats, so Dr. Rose was concerned that this would be even more difficult for a lemur that needs to leap between branches or occasionally walk on its hind limbs.

Dr. Rose opted to repair the hip by using a Mini Tightrope as a replacement for the torn ligament, connecting the femur head inside the socket. Arthrex Vet Systems happily donated the Mini TightRope implant system, which is made up of several strands of strong, flexible suture material and two low-profile buttons to hold the repair in place. This mini version of the implant is designed specifically for small animals weighing about 10 kilograms or less.

Dr. Rose repaired Sassy’s luxation by securing the joint with the strong but flexible suture implant, which aims to keep her femur secure in the joint when running, jumping and climbing. Sassy did well under anesthesia and recovered with a caregiver from the LCF.

After surgery, Sassy spent four days in a small enclosure designed for a large dog to ensure she was resting. Then, she graduated to an indoor shelter where she could walk around freely, but not yet climb or jump.

“Lemurs are extremely social, so we brought in her male partner, Molson, to spend a few days with her in the enclosure,” said Caitlin.

Molson’s presence seemed to help Sassy relax, and as of about April 30, the staff reported that they couldn’t see her limping or favoring her left leg while walking anymore.

“She’s standing up normally and walking just fine,” said Caitlin. “Now we can start working back toward climbing!”

After a week indoors with Molson, Sassy was able to move back outdoors to a smaller enclosure than the full forest habitat until she makes a full recovery. The rest of Sassy’s five-member family has been moved next door so they can see, hear and smell each other, which is comforting to them all. Plus, Sassy’s “roommates” in the smaller enclosure are switched every so often so she doesn’t get lonely.

“She’s doing fantastic,” said Caitlin. “We plan to start adding low branches to the enclosure [the first week of May] and then higher branching, reaching up to seven feet, in the weeks following.”

Sassy is expected to be moved back into her five-acre forest habitat to run freely with her family by June 2020.

“The hip joint sustains tremendous forces when an animal jumps, especially from branch to branch, or darts through an enclosure,” said Dr. Rose. “Any surgical implant to hold the hip in the socket needs to be very strong to cope with these forces while the tissues heal. The strength of the TightRope implant for its size made it the perfect implant for Sassy’s injury.”

Learn more about the TightRope® fixation system here or explore all of the innovative products and procedures offered by Arthrex Vet Systems.