D. E. Larsen, DVM
I could see Willow sitting in the reception area. As always, she was aloft to all that was happening around her. Willow was a natural hunting dog, a Drahthear, a German wirehaired pointer. She was getting older now and had mellowed with age. She was very self-confident, like all the larger dogs who had a mission in life.
Today she was holding up her right front foot, which must be why she was here. I stepped out to the reception door and motioned Howard to come on back. I took him to the treatment room, bypassing the backlog and the reception desk. Willow followed on three legs.
“Thanks, Doc,” Howard said. “I thought we would be hung up there for an hour, and Willow here has a pretty sore foot.”
“I could see her hold it up,” I said. “What has she done to it?”
“I don’t rightly know, Doc,” Howard said. “She has been gone for a couple of days and just came home this afternoon carrying that foot.”
“A couple of days sounds like a long time, Howard,” I said. “Were you looking for her?”
“No, that is not unusual for her,” Howard said. “I someone is going to take her hunting, she just goes herself.”
I lifted Willow onto the treatment table and laid her down on her left side. I grabbed her sore foot, and Willow just sort of looked away. She was either trusting me or maybe just resigned to her fate.
Looking at the foot, there was a significant wound on the top and bottom of her two central toes. I could see some bone exposed. I leaned down and took a whiff.
“Wow! This is a rotten wound,” I said. “It looks like Willow was caught in a foothold trap.”
“I was wondering about that,” Howard said. “But how would she have gotten loose?”
“Anyone setting traps is supposed to check them every 24 hours,” I said. “It is likely she was released by the trapper.”
“What do you think is going to happen to her foot?” Howard asked.
“I think she will lose at one of these two toes,” I said. “It is going to take a few days before we will know for sure. I think we will clean this wound and put it in a wrap for a few days. We will have Willow on some antibiotics, but we are going to allow nature to decide what stays and what goes.”
“You mean you are going to let these toes rot off?” Howard asked with a bit of concern in his voice.
“No, not rot off, but we are going to give enough time for nature to show us what would rot off if we did nothing,” I said. “If I take this foot to surgery today, I will be making decisions about what tissue stays and what tissue goes based on several factors. If we wait a couple of days, it will be obvious what tissue is alive and what is dead. Then, when I go to surgery, I can easily save as much tissue as possible. Either way, Willow will lose one or two toes, but when everything is healed, it won’t slow her down much.”
“Okay, that makes me feel better,” Howard said. “What do we do now?”
“Let’s leave her for a few hours,” I said. “I will sedate her, get this wound cleaned up, and trim some obviously dead tissue. Then we will send her home with a wrap on that foot and with antibiotics. We will schedule her for surgery on Friday. At that time, I will do the final removal of all dead tissue and probably a toe or toe. We will keep this foot wrapped for a couple of weeks.”
We put Willow in a kennel and took care of the backup in the reception area. As soon as I could squeeze in a few minutes, we sedated Willow and started cleaning the wound.
The main thing about cleaning an animal’s wounds is getting all the hair away from the injury. On this foot, that was a challenge. The new clippers do a pretty good job, but I found that using a straight-edge razor was necessary.
When I removed the hair and some of the rotten tissue, it was obvious that the timeline I discussed with Howard was not going to be necessary. There was no way I could save either one of the two central toes.
“Ruth, would you have Sandy call Howard and tell him that I am going to remove these two toes today,” I said. “Tell him the toes are beyond saving, and removing them now will speed up the healing process and be more comfortable for Willow.”
While Ruth was gone for a few minutes, I finished removing a few bits of dead tissue from the wound.
“Sandy can’t get Howard on the phone,” Ruth said. “What are you going to do now?”
“I will go ahead and take the toes,” I said. “Howard will understand. We will still put a wrap on this foot and bring Willow back on Friday and see if we can do a delayed closure. Willow will be better off this way.”
I removed the two central toes, digits III and IV, by disarticulating their joints with the metacarpal bones. There was no bleeding. I packed the wound with nitrofurantoin ointment and placed a well-padded wrap on the foot. I gave a large dose of cephalosporin by intramuscular injection. Then we moved Willow to a kennel for recovery.
Willow was bouncing around the kennel when Howard returned later in the afternoon.
“She looks a lot better,” Howard said as we let Willow out of the kennel.
“Yes, this wound cleaned up pretty well,” I said. “I did go ahead and remove those two middle toes. There was no saving them, and this foot will be more comfortable for Willow without them. We will still need to bring her back on Friday. I will do a final wound cleaning and remove any dead tissue. I think there will be ample skin surviving, so I can do a complete closure on this wound.”
Willow came through the clinic door on Friday morning with a smile on her face. There were a few dogs, not many, who seemed to be able to equate a clinic visit with their feeling better. Willow was one of those few. She was walking on the wrapped foot, almost normally.
We sedated Willow and removed the wrap from her foot. The wound looked great. I had to trim very little tissue, and I removed the skin edge to make a fresh edge to suture.
The wound closed up better than I expected. I did go ahead and applied a light wrap to the foot. I figured Howard would be unable to keep Willow in the house through the healing process.
“You need to bring Willow in on Wednesday next week, and we will change the wrap,” I said when Howard came to pick her up. “And one thing I forgot to mention, I have to report this wound to the Dean of the Vet School at Oregon State. It’s a new state law. I doubt they do anything with the information, but just so you know if they give you a call someday.”
“Are you just trying to run up the bill, Doc, or does she really need the wrap?” Howard asked.
“Howard, you should know by now that I don’t charge for surgical follow-ups,” I said. “If you could keep her in the house for the entire healing process, we could probably get by without a wrap. This wound closed up pretty well. But, the wrap is just insurance. This wound will heal much nicer if the sutures hold, and the wrap helps that happen.”
“I was just pulling your leg a little, Doc,” Howard said as he and Willow headed out the door.
I watched as Willow followed behind Howard. She was walking on the wrapped foot. I could see a slight limp, but I’m not sure that Howard’s neighbor would be able to notice the limp.
Willow’s foot healed, and she walked normally on that foot. It probably did slow her down a bit when she was hunting and working hard, but she let anyone know.
The one thing that changed with her was summed up by Howard on a visit a year or two later.
“The one thing I have noticed, Doc,” Howard said. “Willow stays pretty close to home these days. She has given up on those hunting trips by herself.”
If only people could learn from experience like a good hunting dog.
Image by EM80 from Pixabay