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Chinchilla Almost Loses a Foot

July 29, 2012

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silver grey chinchilla with stiff straight long whiskers jutting out the sides of his face

Chinchilla Under Anesthesia Effects

2-Year-Old Chinchilla Faces Amputation

Doc Truli could barely understand Franny’s dad.

Something about a Chinchilla…a leg…a broken paw…4 days…(4 days?!)…bone sticking out.

“A break with a bone sticking out is an emergency.  Please bring her in right away,” said Doc Truli.

A broken leg with the bone visible, or even just with the skin ripped through and through is a compound fracture by definition.  Bacteria and infection can easily infiltrate the bone and then the bloodstream and the body. Immediate medical help is required or a life can be lost.

Franny was a sweet little Chinchilla.  She appeared unafraid, calm, and peaceful about her physical exam.  Normally hyper little opinionated and affectionate critters, Chinchillas are not big fans of car rides and the veterinary examination room. Doc Truli was surprised that Franny’s leg was severely broken and yet Franny did not act frightened or angry.

The right front paw of this chinchills juts out at almost a 45 degree angle from the wrist. The skin is red and purple.

Broken leg in a chinchilla

“This is a compound fracture,” said Doc Truli.  That means the bone is sticking through a hole in the skin.  Since it has been four days, there has been plenty of time for a nasty infection to get into the bone.

“On the plus side, she is eating and drinking and her vital signs are good.  In other words, Franny does not look sick,” said Doc.

We know Chinchillas are prey animals.  Prey animals hide their pain so they will not be discovered, caught and eaten by preying animals.

“I’m going to have to amputate her paw in order to remove the infection and save her life,” said Doc Truli.

“I really wish you could save her paw,” said Franny’s dad.

With the Chinchilla Under Anesthesia, Doc Tried an Experiment

Franny needed general anesthesia is order to have the leg assessed and probably amputated.  In order to better understand the break and the exact location and bones involved, Doc Truli pulled on Franny’s toes while she was under anesthesia.  Franny’s leg clicked in place!

“There was an audible and palpable click and then the leg looked lined up and solid.  The foot and toes started turning pink from restored blood supply,” said Doc Truli. “The paw looked so good, it seemed a shame not to try and save it.”

The risk of keeping that paw was sepsis.  If the infection overwhelmed her, the little Chinchilla could lose her life, not just her paw.

“It seemed worth the risk given how healthy she seemed, how enthusiastic her dad was to save the paw, and how important a paw is to a Chinchilla who grooms and hold her food all day,” said Doc Truli.

There was another problem looming…Chinchillas will not leave a bandage on their body.  Franny needed internal fixation.

Internal fixation means the doctor places a device, usually a bone marrow pin, a metal plate, or wires and screws inside the leg to hold the bone physically together while it heals.

How Do You Internally Fix a 1/8 inch (about 4 mm) Chinchilla Leg Bone?

Veterinarians have b0ne marrow pins for dogs and cats.  There are about 6-18 inches long and thick as a nail.  They are cut to the length needed and inserted into the bone marrow. Then the end of the bone is pulled out and snapped over the top of the pin, effectively seating it in the bone marrow.  In cats and dogs, often two or more bone pins are placed in order to provide some rotational stability (one pin can become a central axis point for the broken leg to spin on the metal pin.)

This x-ray shows the fractured leg straightened out and set with a tiny sterile needle for a bone pin.

The distal radius is set with a 22g sterile needle cut from the hub.

We can also set larger bones with metal plates attached to the sides of the bones and screws.  External fixation devices run pins  (like nails) side to side through the bone and then hold the ends sticking out in a plate or an arcrylic device so everything is held together.  Chinchillas are too small, and frankly, would rather die than wear a contraption like that!

Doc Truli looked at Franny laying under anesthesia on the surgery table and thought,”What can I use in a tiny Chinchilla leg?  Well, a needle is a tiny metal stick.  Maybe I have a needle small enough.”

With a sterile nail trimmer, Doc cut the 24 gauge needle off the hub.  The piece of metal looked about right, but when she placed it in the open end of the exposed bone marrow, it slid easily.  Probably too loose. So next, Doc cut the metal from a 22 gauge needle.  The slightly larger metal slid nicely into the central marrow cavity of the bone.

Now all that remained was getting the paw to click back into place.  The skin held the paw tightly.  Doc stretched the skin (just enough, not too much!) until the distal end (far end away from the body) of the radius clicked into place over the tiny end of the metal.

The paw was stable, pink, and aligned normally.

Good News

Doc Truli presented a fully functional Chinchilla to her dad just 30 minutes later.  Franny set in Doc’s arms and reached up to wash her face with both paws! She was only slightly hesitant to press her face to her whiskers and then she commenced a normal body check.

She risked infection, non-union of the break, and death(especially because it was 4 days since the accident.) But she had a normal life to gain.

Two months after the accident, Franny is alive and well.  She especially appreciated Doc Truli’s apple-flavored antibiotics.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013 3:55 pm

    I was linked to your blog after sharing a story about how my boss got creative and figured out how to do an internal fixation on a busted chicken femur. This story is amazing! I had a chinchilla and there’s no way he would have been this calm and sweet in such a time of distress. Awesome story 🙂

  2. July 29, 2012 12:57 pm

    Wow! Love the creative problem-solving! Very cool.
    Also, I knew nothing about chinchillas, but from this article I have learned that they are 1. adorable, 2. very small, 3. very into using their paws to clean themselves. Also, did I mention adorable? (Looks like a member of the rabbit family. Must google.)


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