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May 21, 2010

Porcupine Strikes Again!

This poor dog had a too-close encounter with a porcupine -- one of the more common reasons to see a dog at the clinic... (this and upset tummies). I thought we'd just share a few photos to show you what happens when you drop your dog off for quill removal.

After examination to assure us that the dog is in good enough health for anesthesia, we usually give the dog pre-anesthetic sedative and painkillers. A few minutes later, after the pre-anesthetics have taken affect, we will put your dog under general anesthesia.

As you can see in the above photo, there are often quills sticking all the way through the lip or tongue.... ouch!

Sometimes there are even quills so far back in the mouth that removal is a bit difficult.

Once your dog is fully anesthetized, here is how we remove the quills.... grab the shaft of the quill firmly with forceps, as close to the skin as possible, and PULL! Sometimes a dog will have so many quills that it will take 2-3 people working 20-30 minutes to pull all the quills. On quills that have broken off under the skin, we usually do not go in after (cut into the skin with a scalpel) because of the amount of trauma that would cause. Sometimes these quills will fester and become abscesses, sometimes they will just gradually disappear as the dog's body works to break them down.

Many quills later, and a bloody mess -- this dog is ready to wake up. We usually trim toe-nails and check the ears for foreign objects as well while the dog is still asleep. We usually send your dog home on oral antibiotics (and sometimes painkillers as well) because as you can imagine, those little quills are not the most sterile things in the world. You can expect the swelling in your dog's mouth and tongue to decrease quickly over the next couple of days.

Some questions we often get concerning porcupine quills:

  1. Is a case of porcupine quills an emergency? Yes and no. How's that for an answer? Yes, we would recommend you bring your dog in as soon as possible if your dog's mouth/face is full of quills. The sooner the quills are pulled, the better: less infection, less broken quills, and less chance the quills will end up in the dog's paws or in your hands as well. If your dog has just a few quills not located in it's mouth, then it is not such an emergency and you do not need to call in the middle of the night for quill removal (hint hint).
  2. I've always heard that porcupines throw their quills. Is this true? No, absolutely not. However, a porcupine is very good at flipping its tail around and when the tail makes contact, quills are left behind in the unsuspecting dog nose. Ouch!
  3. Do you have to cut the end off a quill to let the air out before you pull it? No. That is an old wives tale. It is not necessary to deflate the quills before removal. However, you could cut the ends off after removal if you wanted to make a quill necklace. We'll give you the quills back -- no charge.
  4. Can quills travel under the skin and through muscles? Yes. This can be especially troubling in cats as they tend to have pretty loose subcutaneous tissue. Luckily, cats and porcupines don't tend to have many interactions. We have seen the odd quill travel through tissues in the dog, especially so in quills that have lodged in the lower neck or shoulder (where the skin is loose). If there is a broken off quill in this area, we sometimes will incise over the quill and remove it just to lessen the chance of this.

I hope that answers some of your questions and provides you with a look behind the scenes of what happens when you bring your dog in for quill removal.

March 03, 2010

Sedating Feral Cats

This the time of year for feral cats to be roaming around. We have had some wander into our little farm out in the country. As the weather warms, last year's kittens (especially the males) get kicked out into the cruel world to find their own way. Also, it seems that it is also when the tom cats start prowling around, expanding their territory. We occasionally get in feral cats that have been live-trapped for spaying or neutering. Here is the way that we usually sedate these wild cats.

Example A: a young feral cat brought in by caring clients.
This young male is pretty scared to be caught in the live trap and transported to a strange smelling place.

Here the live trap is turned on end, and the cat is trying to find a way of escape.

Once on end, the top trap door is opened and bedding is firmly stuffed in on top of the cat, taking care not to smother the cat.
The goal here is to position the cat up against the side of the cage so that it cannot move around.

Here, the rump of the cat is positioned perfectly for intramuscular injection of the sedative/anesthetic combination.

Once the intramuscular injection is administered, then the bedding "restraint" is removed.

And once the cat is feeling the effects of the sedative, it can be removed for preparation of neutering or spaying -- in this case, neutering.

Once the neutering was completed, the cat was put safely back in the trap to recover. In this way, it will be easy to transport the cat back to where he came from for release -- with minimal trauma to any people or the cat. Controlling the feral cat population is a good thing.

Happy trails,

January 20, 2010

Calving and Dystocia: When to call the Vet

"They didn't say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back.
I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow, my feet scrabbling for a toe hold between the stones. I was stripped to the waist and the snow mingled with the dirt and the dried blood on my body. I could see nothing outside the circle of flickering light thrown by the smoky oil lamp which the farmer held over me.
No, there wasn't a word in the books about searching for your ropes and instruments in the shadows; about trying to keep clean in a half bucket of tepid water; about the cobbles digging into your chest. Nor about the slow numbing of the arms, the creeping paralysis of the muscles as the fingers tried to work against the cow's powerful expulsive efforts.
My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless parturition overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling. There was no dirt or blood or sweat anywhere."
So begins James Herriot's book All Creatures Great and Small. If you have never read his books, you really should. From the first paragraph you are hooked. But this post isn't about James Herriot, rather it is about cow calving and when you should call your veterinarian for assistance. We are just starting into spring calving season here on the Palouse. I had my first middle-of-the-night calving call just a few weeks ago. It is sometimes all I can do to drag myself from my warm bed and venture into the cold blustery dark, but when a new, live calf is the result of my labors (no pun intended), it does make it all worthwhile.

Before we go into the particulars about when to call the vet, let's talk about the normal stages of parturition (labor and delivery). The first stage of labor, which is the dilation of the cervix, often goes unnoticed. You may notice the cow looking uncomfortable, getting up and down, looking around at her sides. The first stage can take up to 8 hrs or more. The second stage commences when the cervix is fully dilated and the calf can begin it's journey through the birth canal. You may see the cow behaving oddly, laying down to push a little, getting up and pacing around. Usually, the bag of fluids that surrounds the calf will rupture in a gush and "strings" from the amniotic sac will hang from the vulva. Soon afterwards, you should see the front feet appear and the nose not far behind. The second stage ends with the delivery of the calf. The second stage should not exceed 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The third stage is the delivery of the placenta and usually takes 4-8 hours.

Dystocia is what we call a difficult and/or prolonged parturition (labor and delivery). Dystocia can occur for many different reasons that fall into two generalized categories: 1) something wrong with the cow, and 2) something wrong with the calf and/or it's position. Things that can go wrong with the cow include weakness due to poor health or nutrition, uterine torsion, scar tissue adhesions, or hormonal imbalances. Problems with the calf include malpositions, deformities, multiple calves, or being too large to be pushed through the pelvis.

So, the question still is "When do I call the veterinarian to check the cow?" Well... there is no set answer, but here are some guidelines I suggest. Call your veterinarian if: 1) You think the cow should have calved and she hasn't. I regularly hear, "I thought she wanted to calve two days ago, but she hasn't shown anything yet." 2) Part of the placenta has been hanging out or you have seen fluid drainage for 1 1/2 hours. 3) Part of the calf has been out for 30 minutes and it still isn't on the ground. 4) The fluid, placenta, or calf is stained yellow. 5) The toes are pointed down instead of up. (This usually occurs with a backward calf.) I feel you will save more calves and cows (and thus more money) if you assist earlier as apposed to waiting too long.

This old diagram shows a backward calf that
will need assistance to be delivered alive.

Notice the toes pointing down with the backward calf.
If these were front feet they would be pointing up.

This is a nightmare that usually occurs at 2 AM,
with 20 degrees and 20 mph winds up my back...
and she has been this way for 2 days.

This presentation usually occurs when
the calf is dead during stage one of parturition.
It is the calf's job to get it's feet up into the vagina.

So, this has been a brief overview of calving and dystocia. Hopefully I have helped you to make decisions about when to call your veterinarian out to check your laboring cow.

PS Always go back inside the cow's uterus and check for another calf if you have had to assist her with calving. Just a tip.