Right bait but the wrong catch

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VET’S DIARY: HAVING made mention in last week’s diary of the common ailments suffered by dogs belonging to visitors to our area, it was almost inevitable that something unusual would crop up this week, and sure enough it did, writes Dominic Plumley.

The dog in question was Molly, a four-year-old black Labrador whose owners were from south of the River Tyne in County Durham. Though Labradors have many wonderfully appealing features, unfortunately Molly was firmly in possession of one of their less attractive attributes, a dustbin-like palate with an appetite to match.

To most of us, unless you share the dietary peculiarities of the early bird, the thought of tucking into a lugworm is enough to get the stomach churning – not so Molly.

A quick sniff and wallop it was down the hatch before you could say ‘gulp’ – and that doesn’t take very long to say.

Anyone familiar with the lifestyle of a lugworm will now be thinking, that’s odd, it’s not often that you find a lugworm roaming about the beach in a fashion that is likely to bring it face-to-face with a hungry Labrador – unless of course – and here comes the problem, said lugworm is not there out of choice but is actually attached to a hook.

You’re already ahead of me. Molly had been blissfully unaware of the large metallic object that apparently was skewering her tasty opportunistic snack, not to mention the length of nylon that was attached to it.

As the worm descended her gullet, the line following induced a gag reflex bringing the whole lot back up again. Only, as hooks are designed to do, the sharp barb lodged into the adjacent tissue and became stuck fast.

Poor Molly was now left retching but unable to shift the offending object.

Being presented with a gagging dog with nylon fishing line coming out of its mouth is enough to make every vet’s heart sink and Alnwick duty vet Adam Spiller was no different.

He knew there was a hook there somewhere, but also that it could be anywhere from the mouth to the stomach with any amount of respective problems associated with retrieving it.

With Molly awake, it was not possible to see the hook and sedation followed by a quick X-ray revealed that it was lodged somewhere around about the level of the larynx.

Now that she was asleep, Adam was able to get a better look at the back of Molly’s throat and using the fibre-optic endoscope he was horrified to see that the hook had snagged around the left laryngeal cartilage and vocal fold, perforating both oesophagus and trachea.

Like the model makers who assemble ships in bottles, Adam was faced with the near impossible task of trying to free the hook by accessing the larynx via the mouth.

Normally, the technique is to use strong wire cutters to remove the barbed end of the hook, allowing it to be pushed back though the tissue without causing further trauma.

Unfortunately, there was no way Adam could get any such tools anywhere near and he was left with no option but to grip the hook with extended long artery forceps and gently wiggle until the hook broke with metal fatigue.

The whole process took well in excess of two hours. The moment at which it finally gave way and Adam was able to remove the metal shaft and barb was greeted with a loud cheer.

Molly was hospitalised over night, with Adam concerned that she might suffer a laryngeal reaction which could potentially stop her from breathing.

Thankfully, there were no further surprises and the following morning she was fit as a lop and actually looking rather disgruntled that she hadn’t had any supper.

Adam was left in no doubt that faced with a similar ‘beach canapé’ in the future that she would befall the same fate.

Once a Labrador, always a Labrador.