This has certainly been an eventful month. Where to begin?
Well, some of you will no doubt remember that Sid has been having bouts of back pain and cramping, and has been finding it hard to get about at times. Recently, this has been getting more frequent. I kept taking him to the vets, and they kept prescribing more painkillers because they couldn’t find anything to account for the level of pain he was in.
He is a senior citizen, and vets do not get to see a lot of tripods who have survived six years with a leg missing. It was thought that maybe
a) He was getting cramps along his back and maybe in his single hind leg as a result of ‘walking funny’
b) He has a certain amount of arthritis in his hip, and/or
c) He may have phantom limb pain
And so I bought an electric massager for him, and began to take him swimming.
We also restricted his exercise to a little less than he thought he could manage, and made sure to keep his weight down to a sensible level. All this seemed to help quite a lot, but just in the last few weeks, he began to go downhill rapidly. I couldn’t rid myself of the thought that it was a foot problem because .. well, not only did he prefer to walk on grass, but it just looked as if it was his foot that hurt.
I went to the vet, several times. Nobody could see anything wrong with his foot. One vet found muscle spasms along his spine, and another found a sore gastrocnemius*. They agreed and disagreed between them about the state of his spine and his hip, but the consensus was that they were not his primary problem, that he was merely an aging, long-term tripod whose gait was odd and causing him problems. One vet offered to refer us to Cambridge vet school’s Queens Veterinary Hospital, but added that he didn’t know what he would be referring him for.
After his swim one day I looked at his back paw for the zillionth time and saw something. A tiny but distinct round area on the pad of his third toe. It looked vaguely shiny, though that was simply the fact that the rest of his pad had softened and this area had not. Ross, Sid’s hydrotherapist, took a look too. I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we said ‘that looks like a corn!’ It had a tiny dot in the centre, and just to be sure, I took a large needle and very gently prised at the edges of the area. Two or three layers of keratin lifted out in a scale-like way, totally unlike the normal pad tissue, but I could see nothing in there, or any sign of infection. I took him to the vet and asked him to look, and he very carefully did look but could see nothing much – and now that it was dry, nor could I.
But despite Sid’s ‘junkie’ status – taking three different painkillers every day – things got worse and eventually I took him back and requested that referral. The vet rang through and fixed him up with an orthopaedic vet, thinking that it was the most likely place to start and OH had the brilliant idea of making a video to show him managing really quite well on grass, and almost falling over on tarmac.
And we went down a couple of weeks ago, taking the video on OH’s iPad.
I was very, very nervous. I don’t need to tell any of the sighthound owners reading this blog that there was a small and very dark thought hidden away at the back of my mind that we might not be bringing him home again.
The first vet to take a look was a final stage student by the name of Josh. He was a lovely guy, very thorough and very gentle. He took a full history, examined Sid from head to tail, asked myriad questions and answered all of ours, and I told him my thoughts on feet and corns. He then went off and collected the orthopod, an equally lovely and very gentle guy called Jon Hall. Jon examined Sid very thoroughly too, including a very, very thorough examination of his long leg bones and his shoulders. He watched our video, which he found very interesting, and shared various theories with me, which fortunately did not include osteosarcoma. It did include lumbo-sacral pain, and he agreed that the toe looked very suspicious. He was a tad concerned because Sid was unwilling to right his hind foot when it was folded over, and so he and Josh took him off to see a neurologist. They took the video, too. I waited.
When Jon the ortho came back with Sid, he had good news. The neuro had not been able to replicate the back pain when Sid was lying down, and he found good reflexes in his leg and foot. And so, the thinking had come around to the toe, in which all three of our experts had found a pain response and Sid very soon found himself booked in for corn surgery. Again, Jon laid out our options but it was felt that with a tripod already having severe mobility problems, we shouldn’t waste time trying more conservative treatments.
On the Tuesday, feeling like traitors, we packed Sid into the car with a supply of his favourite foods and dropped him off for his surgery. Jon had told us that they would keep him until he could get about, and they would keep us up to date with his progress. I had a call to say he was awake and looking bright that same afternoon, and the next day we were told we could collect him and bring him home because he was on his feet and walking! You could have knocked me down with a feather!
I think I went round several roundabouts twice on the way to pick him up, and got lost in a housing area, because my mind was not 100% with me that afternoon, but I fetched him and we got home safe and sound and he sank onto his own bed with a sigh of relief.
He did wonderfully well – much better than I expected. He was very sore, of course, and that night when he went out he did what he had to do and then lay down on the lawn for a rest which is something he never does normally, but he was managing, bless his heart. Of course, he did get his next few meals in bed, because I didn’t see the need to make him stand more than he absolutely had to.
The corn was a big one. All of it had developed below the pad surface, and it was somewhere between half a centimetre and a centimetre long. According to his surgeon, Sid’s corn had a core ‘like glass’, and he had to dig down almost as far as the toe bone to get it all out. The stitches were to stay in for a month, and during that time he’s not allowed to go walking. Luckily for us, greyhounds are such lazy dogs that asking a senior to lie around all day not doing anything much isn’t so hard on them as it would be on a different, more lively breed.
His dressing was changed three times with everyone being pleased with the progress of his wound. The vet who opened up the first bandage took one look and said ‘Magic!’ which was reassuring. The wound was clean and dry and seemed to be healing nicely. We took him off all but one of his painkillers.
And then with the last change, I saw that the skin on his poor foot was suffering. His skin was red and sore, and some of the fur had rubbed off. Unfortunately, I was not entirely happy with the re-wrap. The nurse, though very kind and nice, did not impress me with the hygiene of the procedure, but I though I was just being picky – that I was being over-protective of Sid and that he’d had ten days for the wound to seal itself and he would be fine. They do this sort of thing all the time, right? Anyway, what with one thing and another, the foot being a little raw already, I kept a very close eye on things. When he began having more trouble walking again over the next couple of days, I rang Cambridge to see if they would do his next change and take a look for us.
Sure enough, he had a very sore foot and an infected toe. Jon was not too unhappy with things, though, and said that we’d have been lucky to get away without any complications at all, and that they would leave the bandage off and give him some antibiotics. So we came home with Clavaseptin, which means OH has to give them, or I have to wear gloves, because I’m allergic to penicillin. And he was put back on Tramadol till this gets sorted out. We have some Woodrow Wear knitted dog socks and some Pawz boots to go over the top for waterproofing, and I can’t say enough about how useful these two items, used together, have been. The Pawz boots go over the top of bandages, too, if you order the next size up. All the vets who have seen them have been most impressed and made notes.
And a couple of days ago, I saw this:
OK, the toe is red because of the infection. It actually looks better than it did! But the scabby bit at the front of his pad worried me so I took photos and sent them down to Cambridge. A few emails later and we decided that they would consult with our vets and we would take him there to be looked at because we couldn’t get to Cambridge before the weekend so that’s what we did.
The consensus of opinion is that it’s largely surgical glue, but it may have been leaking underneath and formed rather a large lump which is difficult for Sid to walk on. They don’t yet know if it will slough off properly or not, but in the meantime, we’re bathing the foot with salt water and I’m drying it with a cool hairdryer and using manuka honey afterwards with a loose sock to keep it from picking up dirt while it’s sticky.
It’s hard watching him struggle just as much as before, when – after the first couple of difficult days – he’d been so much better since his surgery and walking with a straight back for the first time in .. well, it must be at least a year. Hopefully, once he’s all healed things will be good and pain free.
So there you have it. A mammoth tale which may not yet be finished, but a tale with a moral: Corns are sometimes very difficult to diagnose, especially in tripods.
I’ve actually been trying to post it for a while, too, but I’ve been having trouble with uploads to the blog. Thanks for reading all the way through. I hope that our experience may be useful one day to someone else and their tripod.
* A calf muscle. In dogs it’s quite small and is located at the back of the leg between the knee and hock joints.