Fionn’s owner: Sarah Hancox

Our greyhound Fionn developed a serious infection toward the end of February 2019. This progressed from a slight swelling, with no obvious mark or wound just above his stopper pad one evening, to a complete lack of weight-bearing and more extreme swelling toward his elbow by the morning.

My first thought was that he’d knocked it charging back onto the patio, so I iced it and kept an eye on him, but the progression of the swelling by morning indicated something else. My vet came out first thing, again could see no obvious indication of trauma and he went in for an X-ray that afternoon—he had to be carried as he was in too much pain to walk.

By late afternoon I was told that despite there being nothing on the radiographs, they were keeping him overnight on IV antibiotics and fluids as the skin on his lower leg was necrotic and sloughing off. He was allowed to home 24 hours later under strict observation. Had I known at the time what we were dealing with, I would have insisted he stayed at the practice.

Within 48 hours, Fionn’s leg progressed from a barely noticeable swollen area to the most horrible wound I have ever had to deal with. He was initially seen by three vets at the practice and none had any idea of the cause—at the time, they suspected an insect or an animal bite. There were no clues that he may have been bitten or stung—he hadn’t made a noise, there was no entry site or significant redness, but tests concluded it was thankfully not Alabama Rot. [Note: Images in slideshow may be disturbing to some.]

Since being discharged, his dressings were changed every 24 hours and initially, his vets were very pleased with his progress. The leg was much less swollen, and we hoped that only the superficial layers of skin were affected. However, with this reduction in swelling, two puncture wounds became clear when cleaning his leg and all factors considered, it has now been attributed to an adder bite.

It is likely that his leg was so swollen that all the vets missed the bite—he certainly gave no indication that he’s been hurt, and we saw no initial sign of a bite. It was February, in a wet and muddy English garden, the only place where Fionn is allowed off a lead—all timescales for anything happening to him anywhere else just didn’t add up, and I still can’t believe it happened to one of our dogs.

A couple of days later, it became clear that the wound was no longer superficial and the larger patch that we feared would come away was dying, surgically debriding to remove the dying skin was the only option and whilst another general anesthetic was extremely stressful, it gave is leg a clean slate to heal from.

Having been told that he may lose his leg, and wouldn’t manage on three, the weeks that followed left me swinging from being terrified and upset at the enormity of what he was having to go through, what was still in store and how upset he got at going to the vet every two days, and being happy at watching him still want to pounce on his toys and charge back up the garden. I muzzled him for every visit, but not once in five months of treatment did this amazing, gentle and stoic boy show any fear or aggression toward anyone at the practice.

Advice was sought from soft tissue specialists who confirmed that the loss was considerable and the initially-considered skin graft methods would be unlikely to be successful considering the size and location of his wound. All thoughts were leading to the grafting of skin from another part of his body which would require a stay of at least a week at the referral centre an hour away and then a minimum of one month’s confinement or immobilization.

The thought of confining my big brave boy to a crate he only used when we first rescued him made me feel sick—it was totally unmanageable, he was nearly 40kg and had to duck to get into his crate under normal conditions, he certainly wouldn’t be able to manage it following two simultaneous surgeries.

So, I stalled—took advice on healing by secondary intention and decided to give the wound a chance to granulate and not rush into anything highly-invasive. It was like a weight had been lifted, I no longer felt pressured into deciding on the timing and all our options would remain open. Despite everything that was happening to him, Fionn was, thankfully, as happy and goofy as ever, it was only me who was getting dragged through the wringer!

Dressings were still being changed at the vet every other day—caring for this wound was too important for me to handle—I just couldn’t do it, it also gave us the chance to record its progress photographically and to protect any new tissue cells desperately trying to develop.

As the weeks passed however, we just weren’t getting the speed of results we had hoped for; some granulation tissue was clearly developing but there was too far to go, however, a chance meeting with a different vet gave us a lifeline that would make the decision to undergo surgery a no-brainer.

The vet offered to do his surgery in-house using a lattice technique that allowed the wound to drain naturally without the need for further equipment or confinement—having seen photographs of the technique, knowing he’d only need to be at the vet overnight, which was only 10 minutes away; I know it was the process I wanted for Fionn—and it was arranged for the following week.

Black and white greyhound lays with front left leg extended out and wrapped in a black sling with orange vet wrap around the paw.Like any procedures involving the grafting of skin, there are never any givens—I soon realized that there was never going to be point where the vets or nurses would tell me we were out of the woods, but day by day, it took, developed its own blood supply and slowly filled in the gaps.

Fionn was finally on the mend, but it was the most scary and emotional time and we still had a long way to go before his leg healed completely and was re-covered in skin, however, I have some of the most amazingly supportive friends—who through the five months we were dealing with this, put up with me sending them gross pictures of his progress, day and night. I couldn’t have coped without them.

I spent three months sleeping downstairs with Fionn on camping mats and can honestly say that it was the most terrifying pet-related experience of my life. He was not insured, but animals have a lot to teach us about trust and getting on with things. My boy just accepted what was happening to him, every day and I just knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, get on with it and follow my vets’ instructions totally.

Our handsome boy is now totally recovered, the skin on the inside of his leg is particularly delicate and will always be vulnerable, so, my final point—I believe you can never be too cautious. Check your dogs over regularly; be vigilant with anything you notice, take photographs for reference and call your vet, they are not ‘just in it for the money’ or trying to rip you off, they are saving your dog’s life and I can never thank them enough for being there for me and my boy.