On February 19, 2013 “Mew”, a less than one pound Chinchilla with big brown eyes and large round ears and the softest fur, presented with a midshaft tibial fracture of his left leg. His owners were an equally adorable but worried family of seven, four of whom came with Mew that day, and now looked back at me with 8 more big brown eyes and very worried expressions on their faces.
Mew had presumably caught his leg on the edge of the cage while they were out, and apparently had struggled enough to cause the injury. We weren’t sure what could be done but after taking an xray and confirming the fracture, we decided to try a stabilizing splint known as a Thomas Schroeder splint to help his fracture heal. I had used them before on birds, dogs, cats, but not yet a chinchilla.
|Photo Source: http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/saortho/chapter_15/15F8.jpg|
Mew’s family was determined to try to save the leg if possible, and so we began. Mew was anesthetized to allow us to place the splint which we had fashioned from a thick wire coat hanger, and tape. The fracture site had to be immobilized at the joints above and below the fracture for it to heal. In this case, that would be Mew’s knee and his ankle. After securing the splint, the question remained as to whether he would chew it off, and/or hurt his other leg or pelvis due to the weight and awkward nature of the splint. If only we could explain to him that it was for his own good!
Mew’s family was wonderful and did a great job making sure he would eat, giving him a chance to have a limited dust bath with supervision, purchasing and feeding critical care food to syringe feed him to supplement calories during recover, and redesigning his customized “Elizabethan collar” several times to give him the more comfort while still protecting the wrap during the expected 6 week recovery period. He had to come in weekly for bandage changes as well.
At first it wasn’t clear that he would adapt to the whole ordeal but he was a real team player and pulled his weight. He tolerated all we did to him and didn’t seem to complain although we all knew it wasn’t his nature to be limited in such a way. The 5th week of recovery, so close to the finish line, something terrible happened. We had started using a lighter splint for the leg once a good healing callous on the bone could be felt, but somehow, the wrap slipped and he ended up breaking his femur. This is the bone above the knee, above the tibia, and while the original fracture was nearly healed, this new one was potentially much harder to repair. Not only that, but Mew had just gone through a difficult 5 weeks. Could we really ask him to do that again even if a new splint could be created?
After discussion of the pros and cons, it was decided that we would amputate Mew’s leg and hope that he would be happier as a three legged Chinchilla than a splinted Chinchilla. He did amazingly well with surgery and seemed to be much happier even in the immediate recovery period post op. He came in a few weeks ago to have his stitches out and he had gained weight, was looking much brighter, and seemed to have his big brown shiny eyes back!