By: Staff  Date: 01/7/2012 Category: | Uncategorized |

ollowing graduation from veterinary school, and my "coerced" entry on active duty with the Air Force (there was something in those days called the Draft), my first assignment was at a research laboratory in Fairbanks, Alaska. Since there was only a single private veterinary practitioner in Fairbanks at that time (the mid-1960s), I received permission to moonlight with him on my own time. I was also very active in the local dog mushers association and had made it clear to the mushers that I could only provide verbal advice on their animals' illnesses unless I was working at the local vet's hospital.

At one of the weekly mushers meetings, Mac approached me and said that he had a problem with one of his dogs. Now Mac was a conscientious musher and took good care of his dogs but he also was somewhat of a hypochondriac regarding his dogs' health. Thus, he almost always had a problem with one of his dogs but they were usually easily resolved with some hand holding and verbal advice.

However, this night when I half-heartedly asked what the problem was, Mac threw me a real curve ball when he said, "I had the team out on the practice trail today and Martha blew up!"

Well! My first mental picture was pieces of dog flying in all directions and my first thought was, "What in h___ was Mac feeding his dogs?" I then asked Mac what he meant when he said the dog "blew up?" He responded that, as they were running along the trail, "Martha got bigger and bigger and bigger!" Follow up questions revealed that after putting the dog in the sled, returning it to the kennel, and feeding it, the dog was behaving normally but looked like a bloated pig.

Coincidentally, I was on leave and working for the local veterinarian when Mac had this problem so I suggested that he check on Martha when he got home and, if she was still normal except for the bloating, that he bring her to the hospital the next morning for me to examine (if she was in any obvious distress, he was to call me immediately since stomach bloat due to torsion of the intestine may be rapidly fatal in dogs).

The first thing the next morning, Mac was waiting for me at the hospital. Initial examination of Martha revealed a happy, apparently healthy, tail-wagging dog that resembled a fat, pot-bellied pig. The technical term for the only abnormality I observed is crepitious, which means gas bubbles under the skin. The most common cause of such a sign is infection with one of Clostridium family of bacteria; however, these diseases usually result in rapid death and Martha was obviously not in any distress and in no danger of dying!

Fortunately, a few neurons began clicking and I recalled a rather weird case I had seen in vet school. I asked Mac to help me put the dog on the examination table and I took the animal's front end and let Mac have the rear end. As we put the dog on the table, without further examination, I asked Mac when Martha had jumped over the fence around his dog yard? [Background note - In the 1960s Most mushers kept their dogs on a chain inside of a fenced kennel area or dog yard, with each dog having its own house.] I thought that his chin would bounce off the floor as he astonishingly asked, "How did you know she jumped over the fence?" After I repeated my question, he responded, "The night before last, but how did you know she jumped over the fence?"

I then rolled the dog over on her back and showed Mac how I knew (actually, guessed, based on my knowledge of the fact that the top of the fence around Mac's dog yard was somewhat jagged) what the problem was. In jumping over the fence the dog had cut through the skin under its left front leg (the area we refer to as underarm in humans). Once the skin in this area is cut, it opens a space between the leg and the chest wall. With four-legged animals, when their front leg goes forward, if the skin has been cut it opens the space and fills it with air. When the leg went back as Martha was running, the space closed and the air in the space was pumped under the skin (similar to how a bellows works). As the practice run went on, more and more air was pumped up under Martha's skin, resulting in the progressive bloating.

The trick that I played on Mac was that I was feeling with my fingers under the dog's front legs as we were lifting it onto the table and I felt the cut. After I explained to Mac what had happed and the physics of the problem, he was amazed. Treatment of conditions like this consists of flushing the space with an antiseptic solution to remove any debris that might have entered the space, suturing of the skin, and a seven day course of antibiotics to prevent any infection from any contamination forced up under the skin with the air. The air bubbles are left alone and are eventually absorbed leaving no permanent problem. From that day until I left Fairbanks about two years later, Mac told the story about Martha's problem and my incredible diagnostic abilities almost every time I was in his presence.

Oh, by the way, the case that I had seen in vet school was a horse that had run head-long into the end of a loose fence rail and had impaled its shoulder opening the space under its front leg resulting in the same crepitious signs that were observed in Martha.

Dr Simmonds’ article was originally published in the Virginia City Register, 15 June 2001, Virginia City, Nevada; reprinted in Tech Talk, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, Vol. 6, No. 4, 4th Quarter 2001; reprinted here with permission of both publishers.

About The Author

Staff's photo
Staff -

All Authors Of This Article: | Richard Simmonds, DVM, MS |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us