The summer is when kitten season is in full swing. Because cats are such prolific reproducers, animal shelters tend to become overrun with kittens during the summer months (or, more accurately, most of the year in California animal shelters). With such a high influx of kittens, it is often hard for shelters to keep up with them and the care they require.
Many shelters euthanize kittens under two pounds upon entering the shelter, even if they are healthy. You can imagine what the fate is for kittens that are not healthy. The San Jose Animal Care Center (SJACC) does not follow this practice. Rather, the SJACC has worked hard to save a higher percentage of kittens each and every year and has gradually decreased the weight at which the shelter’s veterinarians feel it is safe to perform surgery (using special protocols for these fragile mini-kitties) and adopt out kittens. As of 2014, the minimum weight kittens must be for surgery to be performed at SJACC is 1.3 pounds.
One morning at the shelter I saw a dog that was written on the vet board for “drinking excessively, needed second water bowl.”
The vet board is a way for shelter staff and volunteers to communicate to the veterinarians that an animal may need medical attention. Drinking excessively is referred to as polydipsia in the veterinary field and can be associated with a plethora of medical issues such as urinary tract infections, pyometra, kidney disease, Cushing’s, Diabetes and more!
Without knowing anything more, these diseases and their manifestations started flowing through my head as I walked to the kennel where the dog was being housed.
As I walked up to meet Atticus, I smiled.
I was so happy to see that the dog that needed a second water bowl was nothing smaller than a Great Dane. His large stature made his kennel seem small and cramped, which was exaggerated by the comparative small stature of the 5-pound chihuahua next door.
The scruffy, out-of-control hairdo on this 10-pound female pooch was perhaps the first thing you would have noticed. The second thing you would likely have noticed is that she walked strangely. Her left hind leg didn’t do much. It mostly just dangled.
Veterinarians were alerted to her unusual gait and she was examined. Her leg was palpated and manipulated in various ways to evaluate whether there were broken bones, disrupted ligaments, pain, or nerve damage.
It was quickly determined that the issue was with her knee. Small dogs tend to have patellas (kneecaps) that luxate, known as MPL for Medial Patellar Luxation, which means that the patellas move out of their normal place and cause the dog to have an awkward and possibly uncomfortable gait. MPLs are graded on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the most severe.
This dog’s leg was very strange. While the patella was indeed severely luxated – a grade 4 – there was also another component. Her leg felt very flaccid. Dr. Ostermann performed a drawer test on the dog and determined that she had ruptured one of her cruciate ligaments in her knee (analogous to an ACL tear in humans).
With such a severely affected leg, there was a question as to whether the leg would even be worth saving. To answer that question, the veterinarians at the San Jose Animal Care Center (SJACC) contacted specialty practice veterinarians at SAGE Centers and asked for their recommendation.
In June we had a Poodle Mix in our care at the San Jose Animal Care Center that had a peg leg. Essentially the dog’s right hind leg was not able to bend in a normal way so it just stuck out and got in the way and impeded her mobility.
Although there is no way to know this dog’s history, we believed that this dog had fractured the femur on the right hind leg and it was not given swift and proper care, resulting in what is known as quadriceps contracture.
The following is what the Merck Veterinary Manual has to say about the condition:
“Quadriceps Contracture (Quadriceps Tie-Down, Stiff Stifle Disease)
This serious fibrosis and contracture of the quadriceps muscles develops secondary to distal femoral fractures, inadequate surgical repair, and excessive dissection in young dogs. Adhesions develop between the bone, periosteal tissue, and quadriceps muscles, which lead to limb extension, disuse, osteoporosis, degenerative joint disease, and bone and joint deformations. Clinical signs include hyperextension and cranial displacement of the affected limb. Surgery is usually required to resect fibrous tissues and increase motion of the stifle joint. Bone and soft-tissue reconstructions along with postoperative flexion bandages and physical therapy are required to recover limb function. Prognosis is guarded. Prevention of the condition by accurate, biologic stable repairs of bone fractures is preferred.
While there are options available to treat animals with femur fractures so as to minimize or eliminate the risk of quadriceps contracture, it can happen fast (within a day) and be permanent! Fast surgical correction of the fracture paired with rehabilitation is often the key to preventing it from happening. If you are looking for a rehabilitation facility in your area, please visit the Canine Rehab Institute’s page and select Find a Therapist.
Unfortunately, this dog was not so lucky and had been living with this leg for who knows how long.
The only option for this dog was surgery to amputate the burdensome leg.
In the following two photos you can see abnormal positioning of the dog’s right hind leg. This is particularly evident when the leg is manipulated in the second photo but does not bend in a normal way, but rather remains locked.
Jonah – Puppy Surrendered by Owner for Euthanasia, Shelter Vets Reach Out to Specialty Practice for Life-Saving Surgery
One morning, a two-month old pit bull puppy was brought to me in the clinic. The front desk staff indicated that the owners claimed he was hit by a car and had a broken leg. The owners surrendered him to the shelter for euthanasia.
As if that wasn’t sad enough, I was also told that while the owners were waiting, they were on the phone with a dog breeder, arranging to get another puppy.
My heart sank.
I must give the owners credit for at least taking the dog to a veterinarian before bringing it to the shelter. However, paying a large sum of money for a pure-bred “special” breed of pit bull only to not be able to afford the care that it requires is irresponsible.
One of the things I love about shelter medicine is the ability of a shelter and its staff to take an animal that would easily be overlooked or considered for euthanasia and give them a chance to heal and get a second shot at life.
There are many animals that come into the shelter broken, malnourished or with various medical concerns that need to be addressed. Oftentimes we become so enveloped in caring for the animal that we forget to recognize how far the animal has come in its recovery. We often think back to the grainy image stored in our memory of the animal when it first arrived in our care but have no actual image to reflect back on to remind us and show others how much of a difference we made. That is why I am going to make a concerted effort to take photographs of animals early on in their treatment so that I can share with you the many success stories that we see in animal shelters.
To start off the Before & After series, it is only appropriate that I share the story of Vinnie.