When the 5-month-old Chihuahua puppy was brought to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center’s emergency room on August 3, the veterinary team was stunned. Few of them had ever seen such extensive wounds. The skin on the left side of the puppy’s body was almost completely torn off, the wounds so bad that the dog’s joints were visible, recalled surgery resident Dr. Jeff MacLellan.
The puppy’s owners thought he must have been hit by a car, but weren’t sure. It had been one of those sickening experiences that pet owners dread: The puppy’s owner went to the door to let him in, along with the other family dogs, but the puppy was nowhere to be seen. She searched the fenced-in yard; no puppy. The tiny dog must have found an opening in the fence and gotten out.
Panicking, she and her husband searched neighboring yards and the nearby street. On the next block, they saw something lying on the side of the road. It was the color of their puppy, but it wasn’t moving. Horrified, they ran to examine the little heap of brown fur and saw that it was their dog, mangled and motionless. They thought the puppy was dead. But, to their joy and amazement, the little guy began to move, then to walk. He was still alive.
The puppy’s owners had named him Ragnar after a character in the “Vikings” TV series. It’s a Norse name meaning “warrior from the gods,” and the little dog would need a Viking’s strength and courage in the days and weeks ahead.
After Ragnar was stabilized in the emergency room, MacLellan was brought in to do a surgery consult and spoke with the owners. Fortunately, the puppy didn’t have any fractures or major internal injuries. But he would need surgery and extensive wound management, MacLellan explained. It would require weeks, perhaps months, of regular care, both at the VMC and at home. The family knew the care would be time-consuming and expensive, but decided to do what was needed to save their dog’s life.
For the next six weeks, Ragnar was MacLellan’s patient. The puppy was hospitalized for four days, undergoing necrotic wound management and two surgeries to clean his wounds. MacLellan painstakingly removed dead tissue and used a special skin stretching technique to cover Ragnar’s exposed bone. The puppy received pain medication for two weeks, and for six weeks, he returned to the VMC for bandage changes once or twice a week. Ragnar’s owners worked during the day, so they dropped off the puppy in the morning and picked him up after work in the evening.
MacLellan used special calcium alginate wound dressings designed for wounds that have exudate and for deep gashes that have to be packed. The biodegradable properties of the alginate reduce pain and help to keep tissues moist during the healing process. Combined with the VMC’s professional care, MacLellan thinks that Ragnar’s young age and spunky personality contributed to his ability to heal. He might not have been as optimistic about saving an older dog with such extensive injuries, which could have succumbed to infection.
Today, Ragnar is healed and returning to a normal life as a growing puppy. When his owner brought the little dog in for a visit in November, MacLellan could barely contain his pride. He carried Ragnar around the hospital, showing him off to the many colleagues who had been involved in the case of the little dog that had its skin torn off.
In the treatment room, MacLellen found Dr. Austin Luskin, the intern who had first seen Ragnar in the emergency room. Luskin had been so afraid Ragnar wouldn’t make it; he knew how much treatment the puppy would need.
Then MacLellen stopped by the anesthesia prep and surgery areas, where a small crowd of technicians gathered and took time to give the puppy a hug. He flagged down veteran surgeon and professor Dr. Betty Kramek outside the surgery conference room. Ragnar brought gasps and smiles from everyone who saw him.
“Remember the dog that had its skin torn off?” MacLellan asked, holding Ragnar for them to admire. “This is him.”
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