Is this my vet's fault? Help!
July 12, 2013 7:02 PM   Subscribe

I think my vet made a mistake changing the splint on my kitten's leg - how do I handle this? Details inside!

About a month ago I found a stray kitten that had been run over by a mowing machine. I ended up adopting him and paying for the amputation of his rear right leg. His front left leg had a greenstick fracture and nerve damage so it has been in a splint for the past 3 weeks or so. At first, the splint consisted of a tongue depressor, quite a bit of gauze padding, and a tape wrapping and it was fine. Bulky, but no other problems. On Tuesday, I took the kitten back for his first splint change. I dropped him off, went to get some groceries, and returned to find that a different vet (one I knew, but not his original vet) had done a completely different type of splint. All she had done was basically tape a tongue depressor to his leg without any padding. I thought this was fine because he is one active kitten and it would be less of a hassle to deal with. She explained that it looked tight because the tape was compressing his fur, making the paw look larger than the leg. I paid for the service ($15 half-price charge), and headed home.

Last (Thursday) night I noticed he had some type of sticky substance on his paw and it looked a bit spread out but figured it was something he had gotten into in the floor that was stuck between his toes and he would clean it off. I decided to keep an eye on it today to make sure there wasn't a problem with the splint. Tonight it looked quite a bit worse so I completely removed the splint and found that his paw was swollen and the bottom of it (between the pads) was covered in a dried brown discharge. I immediately called the vet (the original vet who did his surgery and the first splint) and she told me to leave the splint off, soak the paw in warm saltwater, and bring him in tomorrow to look at it.

I had to leave for work so I left the kitten with my cousin who has been helping with his care. She soaked his paw and said she possibly felt something sharp in it (I saw no cuts or wounds when I was wiping it off, however). I'm functioning on the hope that something has simply cut his paw and it has gotten an infection, but I am thinking that the vet who did his splint change could also have wrapped it too tightly and not recognized it. I did some research and swelling/oozing is on the "watch for this" list on a lot of pet splint care sheets online. Assuming this is the case, what should my reaction be? Do I refuse to pay for services tomorrow? If an infection has set up because of a careless vet, the cost for me is going to easily be over $100 - $66 "sick or injured pet" visit fee, $25 for antibiotics, and I would assume another $15 or $30 for a splint change. I've already spent over $700 on this kitten and this is just another blow. The drive to the vet is also 45 minutes one way and as a college student that plus the bill is a pretty big chunk of my income.

PS - any insight on what could be wrong with his paw is appreciated! I'm terrified that if the splint was too tight it's going to go necrotic and have to be amputated as well. :(
posted by sarahgrace to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
The splint might have been too tight. Or, it might have been fine, and then some swelling/growth/edema set in and then it was too tight. Or it might be a secondary infection from the original injury, or as you mention an infection from another injury.

It can be really difficult to sort out which is which, or even worse a combination of them.

The cat is what the cat is. Shit happens and this wasn't obvious malpractice from your description. I agree that it is arguable, but I don't think it is.

(in that splints should be firm, but not tight and I've had splints that needed adjustment every few hours because swelling, activity, sunspots, etc.)

What I would do, is:

1. Don't freak out. Animals are remarkably, amazingly resilient.

2. explain to the vet your situation. They may give you a discount, or work out some other plan. Make a bit of a fuss, if necessary, but don't be an ass.

3. Ask to learn how to prevent these problems in the future. Have them show you how to (re)set a splint and change bandages. What signs should you look for ? That sort of knowledge. You don't need a vet degree, just knowing a bit more can save you some money, and time, and all that.

4. A lack of pictures makes it hard, but I imagine from your description that the splint was a little too tight and a secondary infection or other edema set in. I don't know that the vet was to blame as if it was very much too tight, it wouldn't have taken days. Who knows, though. Anyway, it should be pretty treatable going forward, but that depends on the severity of the insult. In my mind, the important thing is what do you do going forward.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 PM on July 12, 2013

Don't panic. One of my cats has lost most of her claws and got terrible foot infections twice and she is fine now. It's surprising how well they heal up. We had to soak her feet twice a day in a solution from the vet, that was tough but we did it. She got bandages sometimes but they never stayed on for long. I wish she didn't have such a strong sense of misadventure, she is an indoors cat but the sort of cat that crawls through a tiny space and gets stuck behind your water heater).
posted by meepmeow at 9:07 PM on July 12, 2013

I can't address your medical questions, but realize that your vet isn't responsible for the fact that you're a not-rich college student who lives 45 minutes away. Neither is he in complete control of your pet's condition; he can only do his well-educated best, and complications are normal. Nothing you've described sounds like obvious malpractice.

Kittens that get run over by mowing machines are inherently expensive to keep alive, at least at first. This is what you signed up for when you decided to rescue the poor thing. If your vet has done major surgery and related followup care AND treated a fracture for somewhere in the ballpark of $700 then I think you're getting off cheap. I've paid about half that for a single emergency vet visit, which entailed one x-ray, at which the doc shrugged because she didn't know what was wrong with my dog.
posted by jon1270 at 2:59 AM on July 13, 2013

That does sound like a wonky splint gone wrong. I would have thought that these days a proper padded splint (rigid plastic & neoprene/foam) would have been used, not a tongue depressor, especially if it was wooden (wooden ones can split and break the skin with splinters you can barely see, they can also be an big infection risk)

Don't be too quick to blame the vet, kittens are remarkably good at wriggling around and mangling splints. Twisted splints can cause swelling over a couple of days, oedema doesn't always happen within hours. The priority is to get his leg sorted.

He's lost a leg, he's adapting his balance to being a tripod and has a broken leg, he's a prime candidate for wrecking a splint, even a purpose made one. Ask the vet about limiting the kitten's range for a bit, he needs to be able to move about, but sometimes a one room limit is very useful.

Keep an eye on him regarding activity, eating, drinking, eliminating, smell the paw/leg - it might be stinky if there's infection, it might not. Warm salt water is good. If you suspect he's running a fever = inactive, not eating/drinking/panting/very subdued/worrying at the splint/leg - then get to the vet straight away.

When you take him back in, see the original vet and ask for a padded splint that is made for purpose. If they don't have any, ask for protective padding on the new one. If the vet only has the home made variety, then go with that, but with more padding.

It might be a good idea to ask the vet to show you how to splint the kitten's leg yourself and ask for a pack of supplies to do this. Get the vet to show you, then you do it too. I am in no way suggesting that you abandon the vets once you get the spare splinting kit, but it's handy to have to hand should this issue arise again out of hours. Be honest with yourself about your own confidence to do this, the vet may say no and it will be with good reason, if they do say no, accept it.

Nerve damage might mean that the splint needs to stay on longer than usual. The kitten is still healing from the amputation (internally) and nerves take ages to heal. The splinting of the break is not just to heal the break it's to help prevent any more nerve damage.

Don't go in with guns a blazing, make sure kitty gets a new splint first, listen to what the original vet thinks and then discuss your concerns regarding the wonky splint and his condition now. Keep the discussion to the splint not the vet who you think who got it wrong. The vet may offer to waive the fee for this visit and treatment, but don't bank on it. Vets have bills to pay too and $700 for an amputation sounds fair to me (I am in the UK though) If the original vet thinks the other vet got it wrong, a quiet word may be had with them, but not in front of you.

Yes, kittens are tough, but infection can be tougher. This little one has already gone through epic trauma and an amputation. He needs prompt care for this issue.

If you are still dissatisfied, then ask to speak to the practice owner to discuss your concerns, but definitely get the kitten treated first.

It's always a good idea to stay with your animal whilst the vet treats it. Being there to ask for clarification about things that concern you is easier than dealing with it on your own and via the phone. Don't ever just drop kitty off and leave to get groceries, staying during the consult and learning will give you more confidence in your own caring abilities and also provide you with the opportunity to ask questions if there is anything that concerns you.

It's sensible not to fall out with the practice, because this kitten has really been through it, you are likely to need their services again, and again for a while. If you go in with a no blame approach, then you are more likely to get what you hope for.

Try and put some money aside each month into a kitten account. It will ease the shock if there are anymore emergencies.

You did the right thing in taking in this little one. It's the kind and right thing to do. Unfortunately, injured animals cost money to fix.

Best of luck to you and your kitten :)
posted by Arqa at 6:11 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please post an update! I have no advice, only lots of cat-related sympathy.
posted by Frowner at 11:21 AM on July 13, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I took the kitten in this morning and my original vet confirmed that he had some type of infection in his paw probably due to his splint being too tight. She fitted him for an appropriate foam/plastic splint and prescribed amoxicillin and he will be going back in on Wednesday for a check-up. Luckily I didn't have to make any type of fuss because my original vet (the one I truly prefer) didn't charge me a consult fee, only for the supplies for the splint and the amoxicillin (completely reasonable, in my mind).

Thank you all for your responses!
posted by sarahgrace at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older SDCC doesn't love me anymore   |   Quiet beaches for a day trip from Baltimore? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.