Poppy, a 10 year old West Highland White Terrier, was referred to VetCare from a local practice after initially thought to have been yet another case of Kennel Cough. She had not responded to their initial treatment and continued to retch and refuse food. After being examined further and x-rayed, she had later been found to have a knuckle of a bone lodged firmly in the oesophagus!

It had been 4 days since Poppy had been given a ‘pet – safe’ bone from a local pet store and it had been 4 days since Poppy had been able to eat and hold food down. Her situation was life threatening and her local vet couldn’t tackle this problem alone so she was referred to VetCare.

VetCare is the only practice in the Tauranga to have an endoscope to pass a camera down the oesophagus to obtain an image inside the oesophagus to see obstructions and what damage may have occurred to the oesophageal tissue. In some cases a ‘foreign body’ may be able to be hooked with a circular wire (….much like fishing!), grabbed, then pulled or pushed out of the oesophagus. In this case, due to the position of the bone and the surrounding oesophageal tissue already being compromised by the bones presence, even if the bone could be ‘hooked’ pulling the bone would have caused the delicate, compromised tissue of the oesophagus to tear, a likely fatal mistake. Surgical removal would be the only option.

The longer a bone is left in place, the less the chance of surgical success and hence survival…….. For wee Poppy, it had been 5 days since the bone was swallowed before surgery could take place. Her prognosis was guarded. The chance of surgery being completely successful was ~50%, but Poppy’s hopeful owners felt they had to try for their beloved family pet.

A procedure called a thoracotomy was required to enter the chest of Poppy through the side of the rib cage to reach the oesophagus and the bone. When the chest is entered the vacuum of pressure within the chest that allows us to breathe through our lungs is disrupted. So, whilst under anaesthetic, a nurse breathed for Poppy by squeezing a gas filled bag pumping oxygen and anaesthetic gas as close to Poppy’s natural breathing into her lungs. This ensured Poppy got all the oxygen her organs needed to make it through the surgery. In addition to this, inside the chest cavity, there are vital organs such as the heart and lungs, major vessels and nerves all of which must be avoided by the surgical team. To make the surgery all the more tricky for the surgeons……the bone was lodged in the oesophagus just above the heart. There could be no room for error.

At VetCare we proudly call ourselves a team because in surgeries such as this, there isn’t just one hero. For just over an hour one nurse breathed for Poppy, another nurse monitored Poppy’s anaesthetic and tended to the surgeons and two surgeons opened the chest, located and removed the bone. They are all hero’s. For just over an hour there was almost stoney silence in the surgery as each member of the team kept complete concentration on their role to play.

…….And then there is Poppy herself. A brave, ….plucky, …..spunky little dog who was a little sad and sore for about half a day after the surgery but then shook herself off and trotted around the clinic as if she owned the place! Poppy stayed in hospital for 4 days while her oesophagus healed and the team could monitor any changes in her behaviour and pain level. Slowly water was introduced and food could be finally be offered slowly too. She went from strength to strength! Showing no signs of infection, wound breakdown or stricture (all common complications of oesophageal foreign bodies) she was on her way to a full recovery! Today it was ten days since the surgery and Poppy visited VetCare for her sutures to be removed. Her delighted owners report she is well on her way to a full recovery.

A success like Poppy makes us all proud to be a member of the VetCare ……..team!