Dog with heart pierced by stick saved by RVC team

Dog with heart pierced by stick saved by RVC team

Last updated 21 September 2016

RVC specialists have saved the life of a dog that had her heart pierced by a stick when out walking in woods. It is the first known case of an animal surviving such an injury.

Owner Louise Smith and her family were walking in woods near their home in Kent on June 2 when they heard horrendous screaming from Priscilla, a three-year-old whippet.

Priscilla, who had been off the path running in bushes, came limping out onto the path when the family went to find her. The family initially feared Priscilla had broken her leg but then saw a gaping wound in her chest. She then collapsed to the ground in front of them.

Louise rang her usual vet practice and was told she would have to go to their out-of-hours practice more than 20 miles away. Concerned that Priscilla would not make it that far, Louise instead took her to the nearest veterinary practice and started banging on the door, with no response. A passer-by suggested they take her to Meopham Veterinary Surgery, four miles away.

A Meopham vet saw that Priscilla had lost a lot of blood but needed to stabilise her before they could investigate further. Louise was sent home to wait and an hour later received a call from the vet saying that they believed that Priscilla had punctured a lung and that their two choices were euthanasia or to try to get her to the RVC's Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (QMHA).

Priscilla arrived at the QMHA at 12.30am and the emergency team met her in the car park with a trolley to admit her to the Emergency Room as quickly as possible. She was stabilised overnight ready for surgery the next morning. 

The following morning the surgical team realised that the stick had punctured the heart rather than her lungs. They discovered a tear in the wall of the heart, which was no longer bleeding, and repaired it.

Following surgery and a blood transfusion, Priscilla had turned a corner by the next morning but remained in intensive care.

On Friday June 7 Louise was set to collect Priscilla to take her home to recover but prior to discharge it was noticed that she had developed a heart murmur. The cardiology team performed an ultrasound scan of the heart which revealed that the stick had actually penetrated through the centre of the heart - through the right ventricle, and into the left ventricle, creating a hole in the heart. The RVC specialists were astounded as there is no record of another animal surviving such an injury.

Priscilla was given antibiotics and monitored closely and has gone on to make a remarkable recovery. The murmur has disappeared along with the hole in the heart, and the most recent scan shows the heart appears virtually back to normal. Priscilla's ribs are still healing from where they were opened to allow access to the heart during surgery but apart from this she is back to her old self - running, jumping and swimming with considerable energy.