What Is Inside Gene’s Toe?

GenesLegsMy Border Collie, Gene, has been battling some kind of leg or foot problem off and on for several months. It caused her to not use her right front leg at all. Though she gets around famously on three legs- she can really cruise! The issue didn’t seem to be causing her any distress or discomfort, she went about her business like she wasn’t even aware that she was only working with three  legs!

At first I thought this was caused by a thorn or other sharp object in her foot, as originally I could see a little hole in her pad (or maybe even an insect bite or sting?). I could massage and palpate her whole leg and foot, and hyper-extend it in all directions, with no complaint from her- just a little sensitivity right on the pad was all I could find. I tried digging around in there with a needle and squeezing it, but could never produce anything large enough to explain the problem-just sand grains would come out of the hole (hmm). I tried a couple of different homeopathic remedies, and soaking in Epsom salts, thought the problem was gone, but then it came back. So, I finally sought the help of a vet to figure it out.

I’ve started going to a new vet office, that’s holistically-minded and close by-Evergreen Holistic Veterinary Care, owned and operated by Drs. Brad and Hannah Evergreen. Dr. Brad is the small animal vet, and Dr. Hannah does horses, and acupuncture/chiropractic. Dr. Brad couldn’t feel anything wrong with her leg or foot either, so wanted to start with an herbal anti-inflammatory and crate rest for a week. Ugh, anyone with a Border Collie knows crate rest is a curse! I did my best, though she did find several opportunities to sprint around or leap over baby gates during the week, so it was probably only 80% restful. The experiment had no affect on her bum foot, however, she still wasn’t using it at all. You can see here, even when standing still, she was keeping it “kicked out,” presumably to avoid putting any pressure on that toe.  Much of the time, she kept it hung in the air.


So, next Dr. Brad x-rayed her whole foot, leg and shoulder assembly, looking for some hairline fracture or other clue. Nothing, her bones all looked fine. But, what we did see was indeed a very fat toe pad, with the original hole location lighting up. Isn’t it fun that vets have electronic x-rays now, that they can email to you! And, you can blow these images up really big, and see things that you might miss on an old-fashioned film.


Here are little bright spots inside the pad:


What are those? Sand? Dr. Brad wasn’t sure- he didn’t think they were bone fragments, because it didn’t look like any of the bones had damage. We also weren’t sure what to do about it. We considered antibiotics, but though the toe was fat, it didn’t seem like a raging infection was happening in there. We considered anesthetizing her, or doing a local anesthetic on the foot, and trying to find and extract the tidbits. But weren’t sure if the tiny foreign bodies would be visible enough to locate them and get them all out.

Dr. Hannah happened to be in and out of the room, and she suggested trying to draw the objects out using Miracle Clay (apparently she’s had good luck with it before). They had some on hand, so I opted to try that next. Twice a day, I’d have her lie down on the couch next to me, I’d dab on the clay using a plastic straw, and then require her to lay there until it dried. I worked on my laptop with one hand, and petted her with the other, to minimize her squirming. Waiting for clay to dry, after all, is very trying to the patience of a Border Collie! Here is a picture of the goop drying on her toe (and you can see the rest of her toes are sandy from being in the yard!):


I think it worked! After about a week of using the clay twice a day, Gene is now using the foot again, still with a slight limp, but it is much better. A big fissure opened up in the side of her pad, and I think the original hole has migrated in that direction as well. I imagine it’ll take her a while to recover, she probably has muscle atrophy from not using the leg for more than a month.


I suspect what happened was that she did originally have something bigger in there, a thorn or sliver of glass or something, that worked its way out. Or maybe it was an insect bite/sting that created an irritated cavity. The hole left behind was a trap for sand, and our yard is sandy, like a beach. The way Gene fence-runs outside, she was probably jamming sand in that hole a thousand times a day. And though the skin can normally work objects out, I think the foot can be different, because the pressure of stepping on it is working against the skin’s efforts. Especially Gene’s style of stomping about all day, leaping at poultry, and spinning around. So, I think sand grains ended up migrating around inside her toe, and causing a lot of irritation and sensitivity.

I’m hoping the problem is resolved- I had my share of vet bills last week! I actually had back-to-back appointments for Gene and the shipping fever sheep, at different hospitals, and both of them in the van at the same time (Gene crated, of course)!

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