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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leeches In 21st Century Veterinary Medicine

I've known about medicinal leeching for a long time, but mostly on the human side.  Even so it still seems a little like something out of the Dark Ages and most people wouldn't expect it to be part of modern medicine.  In the latest issue of one of my journals there was a good article on the practice, and it really got me thinking.  I'm only going to touch on a few points from the article rather than repeating it, so if you want more details click on the link above.  And this article isn't from some left-field pseudo-doctor.  The author is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the article was published in collaboration with that speciality group. 
In human medicine leeches are most commonly used to reduce complication in microvascular or reconstructive surgeries, reduce postoperative swelling from damaged veins, and to reduce bruises or hematomas.  The leeches are beneficial because they feed on the accumulated blood, reducing pressure in the capillaries thus giving damaged veins time to recover.  In veterinary medicine we sometimes face similar problems and leeches may be a good solution.
Truthfully I haven't really thought about it much in my own practice.  But just today I saw a dog who had a tumor removed from its elbow three days previously.  The limb was swelling a little and there was a lot of redness around the surgery site.  I knew it was probably a disruption in the flow of blood in the veins as a complication from the surgery.  Medically there really isn't much we can do other than observe it and give the body time to heal.  But having just read the leech article I realized that this would be a perfect case for such treatment.  Here is a photo from that article showing how a leech would be used.
Unfortunately we don't keep a supply of leeches on hand, otherwise I may have given it a try.  Heck, I'm not even sure how to easily get ahold of them and how to store them for the rare circumstance in which I'd need them.  And I definitely don't know if the practice owners would be supportive of this form of treatment!  Even so, it's really interesting to consider and there are very valid medical reasons for using leeches.  These small creatures actually do a better job in these cases than the most advanced medicine and procedures we have available!