Ronda and the Very Bad Paw

It was late in the day when the Animal Control Officer from the City of Merced Police Department brought us a stray cat that was in trouble. This service is provided to injured stray animals in the City, and it is up to us to determine if they can be helped or, sometimes, to help end their suffering. This little grey cat weighed in at 7 pounds and had a left front paw mildly swollen from what appeared to be a bite wound. She was running a fever, almost 104 degrees F, but was purring and in general seemed very happy to have been found. We shaved her wound; the paw didn’t look too bad. We could help her.

Under anesthesia I opened the abscess so that the pus could drain out, using a sterilized rubber band to act as a seton or drain to keep the tiny wound open for healing; otherwise it might close up too quickly, sealing bacteria inside and the abscess would not resolve. The cat was temporarily named “Ronda” by the staff, given an antibiotic injection and some subcutaneous fluids for her fever and placed in a cage with her own comfy blanket.

End of story, yes? I moved on to other patients, leaving the daily nursing to our extremely capable nursing staff. When no one claimed Ronda after several days, we approached the local Rescue Group, New Beginnings For Merced County Animals, to ask if they might be able to find a home for her. They agreed to take her in. New Beginnings was founded over 11 years ago by a remarkable local woman, Sharon Lohman. The non-profit organization works with over 70 volunteers and pet Foster parents to find homes and care for well over 5,000 dogs and cats each year. It is estimated that they have saved the lives of up to 75% of the dogs who enter our local shelters.

Well, Ronda’s story didn’t end with that first minor surgery. Her swollen paw didn’t respond to treatment. Irritating. Abscesses like this just aren’t that medically challenging. I threw a second, high powered antibiotic at her, and added twice daily foot soaks in antibacterial wash. Kindergarten medicine! Open an abscess up, drain it, and voila, they practically heal themselves! Ronda, however, hadn’t read that medical bulletin. Pus was leaking around the drain, but her paw wasn’t healing. We tested her for the feline leukemia/FELV and feline aids/ FIV viruses, in case Ronda was immunosuppressed. She tested negative for both (and people CANNOT get HIV or AIDs from cats).

Eight days after she had been admitted, Ronda was still there, her paw enormous! We took x-rays, looking for signs of abnormal bone tissue, maybe a sliver of metal acting as a foreign object. Zilch. Normal. I was worried that Rescue wouldn’t take her. (They do a lot of fundraisers, but sometimes it comes down to “do you want THIS animal, or will helping 5 others be better?”). Now we were discussing amputating her front leg to save her life. I was furious with that paw. Because of the progression, I was certain that I was dealing with an anaerobic bacteria, one that didn’t require oxygen to grow. These bacteria can be difficult to kill. I asked for the weekend, and told Ronda she had one last chance.

I took her to surgery again. Knowing that I had to expose all possible tissue to oxygen, leaving no place for bacteria to hide, I literally dug through each toe, around each pad. I placed two ¼ inch penrose drains (don’t ask me how) in that tiny paw. I added on an antibiotic better known for fighting anaerobic infections and we all sat back and held our breath. In 48 hours her paw was fine. Ronda kept her leg, healed quickly from that point on and went to her new home. Lesson re-learned: Never assume.

Christine B. McFadden, DVM

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