Case of the Month 'Ripley'

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Willunga Vet Services
37 Main Rd
SA 5172

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8556 2075
8556 2654

Aldinga Vet Services
16 Heathersay Ave
Aldinga Beach
SA 5173

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8556 5498


Her claws were ripped up with the effort of scrabbling to get away and a large gash over her back leg exposed raw muscle and sinew. Blood covered everything and she was in a state of utter shock. Ripley was rushed straight down to our Aldinga clinic.

Our first priority for Ripley was to counter her shock and pain and stabilise her condition. It was important that her vital organ function was assessed to give us an idea of her prognosis for survival. In many dog attack situations, large dogs grasp their victims over the back and chest and their teeth puncture deeply into the abdomen, often piercing organs and intestines, or into the chest and piercing the lungs. Luckily for Ripley, her injuries were all confined to the back end, around her pelvis and left back-leg. Never the less, we had serious worries about her survival.

After aggressive fluid therapy via an intravenous drip line (fluids given into a vein), oxygen therapy and pain relief, Ripley was stable. At this point, we began investigating her injuries. The mobility in her left back-leg was completely altered, with no ability to stand on it and intense pain on movement. The automatic suspicion was a fracture in her leg or pelvis or a dislocated hip. It was with utter amazement that on x-rays we found her bone structure was completely intact. All her sustained injuries were soft tissue related.

Once under anaesthetic, it became very obvious as to why she was in so much pain and why leg use was so non-existent. There were half a dozen puncture wounds over the inside of her thigh and a similar number on the outside of her leg. There was a large flap of skin hanging off the outside and tears through complete muscle layers, extending deep into the leg and exposing major arteries, nerves and the knee joint. The joint didn’t appear to have been punctured, but there were worries about infection.

Our initial discussions with Ripley’s family had been about a leg amputation in the event of a fracture. With no fracture or dislocation, we proceeded to cleaning up all her wounds and repairing the skin and muscle. This was still a massive job and no guarantee – infection and tissue (muscle/skin) death are a big risk in these situations. The tatters and shreds of skin and muscle were trimmed away; the wounds thoroughly flushed with anti-septic and then a drain placed through the wounds before the skin was stitched up. This was Ripley’s only chance of saving her leg.

This was only half the job – Ripley’s owners had the un-enviable job of keeping her strictly confined and rested at home. A difficult job to fulfill – especially for a cat as young and active as Ripley!

Things started to heal and the swelling began to abate – our spirits lifted. Ripley appeared to be on the right track. Her owners were doing a fantastic job.

That was until day 7 after her attack.

Despite her owners excellent care and Ripley’s awesome behaviour, her wounds had begun to ooze pus and break open. Large areas of muscle and skin had died away and sloughed (fallen off), exposing more of the knee joint and blood vessels and nerves. And this was despite powerful anti-biotics. The infection and damage was just too deep and widespread - there was no way around it. The only thing left was to amputate Ripley’s left back-leg.

After some heart to heart discussions, the green light was given for a leg amputation. This surgery seems drastic but it can sometimes be the choice with the smallest risk of complications. Once a fracture, tumour - or in this case infected, damaged tissue – has been removed, the leg heals quite quickly and it doesn’t take long for most pets to learn how to walk on three legs. Most times, the problem requiring a leg amputation is quite painful and having it simply removed often means recovery from the surgery itself is much easier.

Ripley’s amputation was a little trickier than normal due to the level of infection in the leg. It was super important that the infection did not compromise the bony stump left behind or any muscle or skin in the surgical zone. The surgery went well but a small puncture wound remained above the amputation level – it was just too high to remove with the rest of the damaged leg. This spot did cause some worries during the healing phase after the amputation surgery, but with some more cleaning and extra anti-biotics, this spot healed well.

Ripley’s recovery has been wonderful. The care provided by her owners has been top-notch and she is already running around, climbing and playing like a normal cat, pain-free.

So, after a stressful and heart-wrenching start, Ripley now begins life with three legs. She won’t have learnt to stay inside – cats never do. They have no idea that the snake bite nearly killed them, or that the dog bite caused the leg damage, or that the car driving past was the reason they had a broken bone – there is just no realization or learning after experiences like this. Instinctive behaviour is just too over-powering! Ripley’s family will have to be on their toes! Hopefully she’ll be a tad less capable of being so sneaky with only three legs!

A big well done to Ripley and her loving, patient family!

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