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Star Patient - Sparky Johnston

‘Sparky has had a difficult 2019’

‘Sparky has had a difficult 2019’ was the comment from one of our vets last Wednesday when she saw him in the hospital. The vets and nurses in the hospital recognised Sparky because, just a few months ago he had been hospitalised with a nasty abscess after having been attacked by 2 dogs. He had stuck in our minds because he was such a lovely patient. The evening before this latest visit, Sparky had made the somewhat rash, split second decision to steal and swallow a whole piece of lamb bone and was now unfortunately paying the price for his actions.

Sparky’s owners had very wisely arranged to have him seen that very evening after he appeared to be retching and bringing up some froth. We were concerned that the bone may have got stuck in Sparky’s oesophagus and he was admitted immediately. The oesophagus is the ‘food pipe’ which transports food from the mouth, through the chest and diaphragm and into the stomach in the abdomen. It is quite elastic but not infinitely so and if relatively large items are swallowed there is a risk, they can get stuck in this pipe. This is a very serious condition and requires urgent treatment if you want a good chance of a successful outcome.

That night Naomi and Jonathan had taken x-rays and endoscoped Sparky which confirmed that the lamb bone was indeed stuck in this region- causing what we call an ‘oesophageal foreign body’. Using the endoscope (a fibre optic camera) they attempted to dislodge the lamb bone but to no avail. It wasn’t budging! They gave him medication to relax his oesophagus in the hope that the bone would pass on down to the stomach overnight but the Wednesday morning x-rays told us that unfortunately that had not happened, and our only choice was to surgically remove the offending item before its presence, just sitting there, did irreparable damage to Sparky’s oesophagus.

Oesophageal surgery is high risk. It requires opening the chest (between 2 ribs on the dog’s side) and cutting into the oesophagus (which can have poor healing due to its elastic nature). It is pretty much always a last resort because of these risks.

So, on that Wednesday morning, with some urgent reshuffling of the operation list to free up two vets, Rachel and Kirsten, spent 3 hours in theatre battling to save Sparky’s life. Also assisting the vets were two nurses, Jenni, who was in charge of monitoring the complicated anaesthetic and Amy, she had the job of ‘breathing’ for Sparky by rhythmically inflating his lungs, as once the chest is opened the outside air pressure collapses the lungs and they need forcibly inflating in order to keep the patient alive. Luckily Amy is a horse owner and has good strong arms for maintaining the job for several hours!

The surgery was especially difficult as the bone had got itself stuck in an awkward position for getting good access and it was also long, so proved reluctant to come out of the relatively short oesophagael incision (lots of other important things in the chest, like the lungs and heart rather inconveniently limit the access area for making any cuts!).

By lunchtime the operation was complete.  A chest drain was placed to remove any air/ fluids which may build up in the chest cavity post op.

Now it was just a nervous wait over the next few days. To check that the surgery had been successful, we carefully observed for any leaks at the surgery site on the oesophagus, by monitoring the output from the drain. As mentioned previously the oesophagus often doesn’t react well to trauma and can have poor healing. If the oesophagus had been leaking then Sparky would have been at high risk of dying.

Thankfully things went well. Sparky was (yet again) the dream inpatient. He tolerated his chest being drained, injections being given and tablets being administered and never complained once! He was very brave and amazed us all by how well he coped with such a big operation.

After 8 days in the hospital Sparky finally got to go home and be reunited with his family on Tuesday, much to everyone’s delight. Although he will be missed in the hospital, it is wonderful to see him trotting on home after such a big ordeal.

Mr and Mrs Johnston played a large part in the success of Sparky’s story by bringing him in so promptly when he became unwell and have been a pleasure to work with, patiently giving us the time we needed to get Sparky well again and, again most sensibly, having him well insured so that we could give and can continue to give Sparky the very best treatment possible.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the rest of 2019 is a bit more boring for poor Sparky?!

A note from Sparkys’ owners;

“Where do we even begin to say thank you, our 5 yr old Sparky gobbled a bone on Tuesday of last week and yep it got stuck. We rushed him straight to Ballyclare. We left feeling anxious but knew from past experience using Clare vets Sparky was in safe hands. Sparky got home today after 8 nights and a highly complex operation. Everyone we dealt with from vets, nurses and receptionist all put us at ease. Sparky received the best care ever and for that we are truly thankful.”

A bit about oesophageal foreign bodies…

** Oesophageal foreign bodies are thankfully quite rare. Another situation where a dog may ‘act like they have something stuck in their throat’ is KENNEL COUGH. Crucially, with kennel cough, there is an obvious bout of COUGHING before the dog may ‘hack’ or retch up a bit of phlegm. With the prevalence of dog walkers and doggie day-cares nowadays, the dog population intermingles far more than it did in years gone by and so we would recommend the additional kennel cough vaccine to all dogs, even those which never use those particular services, as they can still be infected if they meet a contagious dog or sniff a bit of contagious spittle (lovely thought!) whilst out walking.**