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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tiny Surgery

Last week I had a very unusual case.  A young bearded dragon had somehow gotten its leg stuck on an artificial rock in its enclosure.  In trying to free itself, it had ended up twisting its left hind leg around several times, ending up with a complete spiral in the leg.  The tissues were obviously damaged beyond healing and the only choice was amputation.

However, this was a very tiny patient.  Its entire body was no longer than the length of my palm and it weighed only about 2 grams.  I've done surgeries on exotic pets before, but never on one this small.  I knew that he wouldn't survive without the surgery, but I also worried whether or not he would survive the surgery itself.  On such a small patient we can't take standard precautions of using monitoring equipment, intravenous catheters, tracheal intubation, and so on. It's also difficult to do surgery on reptiles because their body temperature affects their metabolism and cardiovascular system.  Under anesthesia the temperature naturally drops, which can suppress breathing and other vital functions in these animals.  A small pet like this only compounds the problem.

So knowing the risks, we did the surgery.  I amputated his leg in the middle of the femur and closed the wound with a few small sutures.  I worried for a while as it recovered, because its breathing was so shallow.  But he slowly did wake up, and after a few hours was standing well on its own.  With the first hurdle passed (surviving the surgery itself) I knew that the next step was the most crucial.  Would it begin to eat by itself?  Would it heal properly?

Yesterday I check on the little beardie's progress and found that it was eating mealworms on its own.  Success!  I was so happy and excited to hear this news, as its survival at this point was beyond my ability to manage.  The tiny little thing isn't out of the woods yet, but if things continue to go well for another week, we'll likely have a healthy but three-legged lizard that can live to grow up normally.