When pigeons need surgery too…

Pigeon intramedullary pin fracture fixation surgery

Being a vet student brings great diversity in my daily patients which is one of the reasons I love it so much, today I assisted in surgery on a pigeon. Now this is one of those things that is not always taught in vet school – there simply is not enough time with everything else that we must learn.

A lot of my knowledge on the less common animals come from a lot of self study (if you are interested in pigeons check out the BSAVA Pigeon Manual here) when really I should probably be learning about the common things on dogs and cats… However sometimes like today the extra study pays off.

Now birds are different to other animals because they need to extremely light to be able to fly. One of the main weight savings is made by the bones being pneumatised – this means that they are hollow and join the lungs in the respiratory system in helping the bird breathe. This also helps the birds respiratory system be more efficient than in other animals – it is one of the reasons they can fly at such heights where other animals would suffer from a lack of oxygen.

Another important difference for when we consider surgery is that bird bones are a lot more mineralised than in other animals. This means that they are more likely to splinter than to “break” – an important thing to remember.

Before we started the surgery we did radiography, one of the goals is to return function and this allows us to check that the important ligaments of the wing are intact. It also allows us to see the damage and plan the surgery – in this case because the fracture was near the end of the bone where there was muscle attachment we needed to fix this into the proper position before we could then insert a intramedullary pin into the bone to fix it.

I am extremely lucky here that I have some very talented vets to learn from, and I was allowed to assist in this procedure. For me it was the most delicate orthopaedic surgery that I have assisted on so far, and in this case I was amazed at just how we could work with bones barely wider than a matchstick. However the surgery went very well, we fixed the end of the bone into the correct position and then inserted a long pin through the middle cavity of the bone to fix the two pieces together. Now something important to remember is that this long pin would act like a hinge for the two pieces of bone to rotate around so we inserted a second pin into the bone and the other end so we could fix them together to prevent rotation.

Hopefully this pigeon will make a full recovery, and be the first of many different species that I will be able to help when I finally qualify!