A Harris hawk which had been left in a flap after being bitten by a squirrel is flying high again after undergoing complex surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in her foot. Phoenix underwent the intricate operation at Linnaeus-owned Sandhole Vets in Snodland, Kent, with specialist vet Daniel Calvo Carrasco carrying out the rare surgery.
Daniel was assisted by vet nurse Debbie Addison who, in a quirky parallel, had recently ruptured her own tendon and was in theatre wearing a protective boot.
Following the complex surgery at Sandhole Vets, Phoenix was grounded for two weeks, undergoing post-operative treatment including physiotherapy, and has now gone from sore to soaring as she has made a strong recovery.
Daniel, a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons specialist in zoo and wildlife medicine and European veterinary specialist in avian medicine and surgery at Sandhole Vets, said: “Birds have very little soft tissue covering their wings and legs, so damage to different tendons is not uncommon.
“Phoenix was a more unusual case as she was bitten by a squirrel and one of her toes got infected, with the infection eventually causing more widespread damage and rupturing the tendon. Normally, a ruptured tendon in the foot of a Harris hawk would result in an amputation rather than tendon repair, as it is a very complex injury.
“Suturing a tendon is very tricky as they are so small and once the case is chronic, the ends of the tendon tend to get attached to the surrounding structures, so you need to identify them and debride them, then suture them together.
“We decided to try to save the foot in this case, though, and used a Three-Loop Pulley Suture, a technique which is commonly used in larger animals such as dogs and cats. It worked well and surgery was successfully completed with Phoenix making a positive recovery.”
Sandhole vet nurse Debbie was recovering from surgery to repair her own ruptured tendon and said: “I had a very similar surgery in January, with a synthetic ligament used to repair my tendon, and it certainly helped me have even more empathy to her healing progress!
“Phoenix recovered very rapidly. I held her in cast (a light towel restraint) until she regained consciousness and then placed her into her travel box. Within five minutes she was weight bearing on her protective ball bandage and able to turn about on her perch.
“One week after the op, it was apparent she still had good mobility in the joint as we tried to examine her foot. She held very tightly onto the bandage making its removal difficult.
“The protective bandage was permanently removed a week later and Phoenix still had some swelling in the joint, which will continue for some time. However, each day she trusts the foot a little more and can now often be seen grasping prey with that toe in order to eat.
“Her owner has also been conducting daily active and passive physio on the joint and that’s helped Phoenix regain full use of her toe.”
Sandhole Veterinary Centre is owned by Linnaeus and its highly experienced team delivers gold-standard surgical and clinical expertise for pets. For more information, visit their website.