Thursday 22 August 2019

Amazing the injuries pets can pick up in the garden

IF YOU thought that your back garden was a safe place for your pet, think again. In recent times, I've seen a number of animals that have suffered unexpected injuries when doing nothing more adventurous than ambling around the enclosed, lawned area at the back of the house.

When Chalkie was called in for his evening meal, his owner noticed that there was a peculiar bristly object protruding from above his left eye. On closer examination, it was obvious that he'd somehow managed to impale himself on a sharp piece of stick, which had broken off at the skin surface. He was brought down to see me.

After sedating him, I placed forceps on the end of the "bristle" and tugged gently. I was astonished to find that it was a huge splinter of wood, measuring over 4cm (nearly two inches long).

Chalkie made a full recovery, but if the splinter had entered just half an inch lower, it would have penetrated his eye. We have still not worked out how this incident happened. There are no obviously protruding spikes of sharp wood in the garden. Did he run his head along the side of a wooden fence or a garden shed? Dogs can't talk, so we'll never know.

Tiny's story was even more dramatic. He is a little Yorkshire Terrier who was out in the back garden, playing with his housemate, a large Dobermann. When Tiny didn't come in as usual, his owner went out to look for him. He was shocked to find the small dog lying motionless in a pool of blood. Everyone assumed that he'd been attacked by the bigger dog, even though there had never been any aggression between the two animals.

The unconscious Yorkie was rushed to my clinic, where he was given emergency treatment. The back of his skull was swollen, so I took an x-ray. This showed that Tiny had suffered a fractured skull, caused by a sharp blow to the back of his head which had also caused bleeding at the back of his throat. Rather than an attack, the little dog must have been simply bowled over by the overenthusiastic Doberman.

The back of his head had hit a hard surface, and the damage was done. Tiny had to stay in intensive care for several days, followed by weeks of careful rehabilitation, but he eventually made a full recovery. Sometimes, the dangers of back gardens can happen in a more subtle way.

Max the cat lives a quiet life, ambling between his favourite sleeping spot in the living room and the back garden, and not going any further. He was sleeping in the armchair in the living room when he suddenly sat up, looking disturbed, then he started to sneeze. He then began to paw at his nose, as if there was something uncomfortable going on. His owner brought him down to our vet clinic immediately, and when I looked at the cat, I could see something strange.

A small green object was protruding from Max's left nostril: it was the end of a piece of grass. I sedated Max, then used forceps to pull out a 5cm (2 inch) long blade of grass that had been lodged inside his nose. No wonder Max had been sneezing: it must have been very uncomfortable.

This time, I knew exactly what had happened: Max had been chewing on grass in the back garden (as many cats do), then he had retched. Instead of the piece of grass being regurgitated, it had gone the wrong way at the back of Max's throat, entering his nasal chamber instead of his mouth.

It had then become lodged inside his nose, which is why the poor cat had been sneezing so violently. Once the grass had been removed, Max returned to normal. It's not just blades of grass that cause problems; grass seeds are notorious for the damage that they can do.

A mature seed often has a sharp bristly end, and in some circumstances, this can be sharp enough to penetrate the surface of an animal's body. I've seen two examples of this in the past month. The first case was a West Highland White Terrier called Sam, who had started to limp on his right front leg. His foot was sore, and he was licking it. I could see that there was a small hole, like an old cut, in between his toes. I used a pair of fine-tipped forceps to "fish" in the centre of that opening, and I found what I was looking for: a small grass seed. It must have punctured the sole of his foot when he was out in the garden, becoming embedded under the surface of the skin. Once I'd removed it, Sam's sore paw made a rapid recovery.

The other case involved a Collie cross, who had started to yelp when he was eating his dinner. When I lifted his lip to look at the side of his mouth that was sore, I could see a small hole in the gum above one of his back teeth. I gave him a general anaesthetic, and again, I used my trusty forceps to probe inside the hole. As before, I was lucky enough to find the cause of the problem: another grass seed. This time, the dog must have been chewing grass, and the sharp seed had managed to puncture the surface of his gums, like a splinter. Again, once I'd removed the seed, the problem was solved. Nothing in life is utterly safe, not even the calm quietness of a suburban back garden.

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