All shapes and sizes

One of the delights about working at Robson and Prescott is the enormous variety of animals that we see.

I am one of a small team of senior surgeons at the Whorral Bank hospital, and while my interest is in orthopaedic surgery, we perform all sorts of operations, ranging from microscopic eye surgery by visiting specialists to caesarean sections in cattle.

The principles of orthopaedic surgery are the same irrespective of the size of bone, but size, big and small, does present its unique challenges.

At the larger end of the scale was an alpaca with a nasty fracture of a front leg. Ordinarily, this would have been dealt with by using a large splint and cast due to the risks of anaesthesia, the logistics of getting the animal to an operating theatre and the fact that this alpaca was young and ought to heal quickly.

Sadly, another approach was needed. The main problem was that the bone wasn’t healing properly. Added to this was the fact that you can’t advise an alpaca to put its feet up for a couple of months.

Fortunately, we are equipped both with the anaesthesia expertise to ensure our patient slept safely and soundly, as well as the facilities to look after her before and after surgery.

The solution was a bone graft, taken from her own hip, placed in the site of the fracture, and then a strong surgical steel plate screwed to the bone. More than eight weeks on, x-rays show that healing is well advanced.

Later in the week, I saw a five-month-old guinea pig with a broken back leg. Again this would need surgery because there is no way to fit a splint or cast on a guinea pig’s thigh.

This little chap presented quite the opposite problem to the alpaca – he really was very small. Anaesthesia is as challenging in very small patients as it is in very large ones.

The solution was a tiny pin, about the same diameter as a paperclip, inserted down the centre of the bone. It was incredibly fiddly, but the good news is that the little chap is now scurrying about as if nothing had happened.

I’ve run out of space to make proper mention of the emergency ovarectomy (ovary removal) I had the privilege to assist Leanne, one of our exotics vets, with. Nearly half of our patient’s body weight was eggs, nearly 80 of them. And the patient – a veiled chameleon. Or the albino wallaby with a broken leg that needed an external fixator frame.

‘All creatures great and small’ doesn’t quite cover it.

By Chris Green, Director and Senior Vet