March 15, 2013 at 12:19 PM ET
A 13-year-old tiger in northern Texas is resting peacefully after undergoing delicate hip surgery.
Tacoma, a tiger at In-Sync Exotics in Wylie, Texas, with joint pain had an operation Thursday to cut nerves that signal pain from his hip.
"This tiger has a condition known as hip dysplasia, and so that's where there's an abnormal shape to the ball and socket joint of the hips," Dr. Doug Whiteside said. "And, as a result of that, it developed quite severe arthritis in both hips, and so the surgery that we did today was to help to take away the pain associated with that arthritis."
Two veterinarians from Calgary, Alberta, worked as a team to cut one of Tacoma's sensory nerves at a doctor's office in Wylie.
"He doesn't lose the feeling in his toes or anything like that," said Vicky Keahey, In-Sync Exotics founder. "I mean, if he's walking and he puts his foot on a rock, he's still going to feel that -- he's just not going to feel the pain in his hip."
It was the first time the surgery was performed on a big cat in Texas.
"We're hoping that, based on our past experience with this surgery, that he's got a good prognosis for getting improved function in his hip," Whiteside said.
In-Sync Exotics, a wildlife rescue for big cats, rescued Tacoma when he was less than a year old.
He has had pain and a slight limp for the last two years. Before the surgery, veterinarians said he should be up and moving a week after the surgery.
Keahey said she is thankful to finally find a solution to Tacoma's painful problem. She said in an interview Wednesday that she will be excited to see him play again.
"He'll be able to get back up on his platforms again, be able to play with his ball and do all the things that he used to like to do," she said.
Keahey said In-Sync Exotics has had a rough year, but the surgery has been a welcome bit of good news.
In-Sync Exotics is a nonprofit wildlife rescue that cares for big cats -- including lions, tigers, cougars and leopards -- that have been abused or abandoned.
Keahey rescued her first cougar in 1991. She added tigers in 1998 and established a nonprofit by 2000.
"This is my life's heart," she told NBC 5 in an interview in 2012.
She said her animals arrive after being rescued from breeding operations or even from drug dealers who use the animals for protection.
Keahey said she is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has a permit from Collin County and is registered with the state of Texas. She is also accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the Animal Sanctuaries Association.
In-Sync Exotics has several fundraisers through the year to pay for the animals' care, including an Easter egg hunt scheduled for March 30.