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A Sad Story with a Happy Ending
Author: Morelia Candia
On a beautiful late fall day, the anxiously anticipated cria was about to be born.
Healthy and gorgeous, the dam was one of our favorite female. With an experienced dam and this being our eleventh birthing season on the farm, we expected the day to turn out perfectly. The dam had been bred to one of our top males so we knew that the baby would be beautiful.
Certainly other alpaca breeders can understand that we awaited this cria with high expectations.
It did not take too long for Azafran to deliver a long legged cria that stood up and tried to walk in no time. The first thing we did was to ascertain his sex and to notice that the little male bore a lovely medium fawn fleece.
We started drying the baby while we waited for the delivery of the placenta, and as we did, our hearts sunk. This cria was not normal! His front feet had not set properly, the toes folded under, and when he stepped, he put his weight on the backs of his toes instead of on his toe pads.
To the dam’s alarm, I quickly gathered the cria to drive him to the vet clinic. We locked up the desperate dam to stop her from running out to the truck. It really made me cry to think that the baby would not return to her, so sure was I that the veterinarian would advise euthanizing the cria!
Sitting in the waiting room, I kept trying to extend both feet and had success with one, but the other did not budge. Clearly, the tendons that kept that foot flexed had shortened and become so hard that I could not see how the foot could ever get better.
Dr Barbara Perkins had been our veterinarian since we entered the alpaca farming business and our friend since for almost as long. Much to my surprise, after a thorough examination, she told me that she did not think euthanasia was necessary in this case. Her impression was that because the cria was large and had such long legs, the womb did not provide enough room to accommodate the legs for their proper development.
Barbara advised us to let him walk, and that with use, the feet would correct themselves.
You should have seen Azafran when we brought her son back to her. What a happy moment! After the initial excitement she just settled in, nursing the baby, humming softly as if to say that all would be well and that her cria’s feet did not worry her at all.
We left mother and son in a pen for the night, with plenty of hay so the cria would have a soft floor on which to walk.
However, the following morning when I went to see them, I saw that the baby had developed an erosion on the skin on top of his left foot, which had remained flexed. Since he stood tall enough, the awkward foot position did not stop him from nursing but obviously would lead to other problems. If he kept walking on it like this, there would be not a chance for the foot to correct itself, and the cria would run the additional risk of developing an infection due to the wearing of the skin as it rubbed on the ground. At least the right foot had already extended well enough that most of the time he used it correctly.
Now the question loomed: what to do? Obviously the left foot could not be used in the bent position and needed some protection. We thought that if we could manage to provide some mechanical support, bracing the toes in a more natural position, the flexor tendons might gradually relax allowing the foot to become normal. Then we remembered the case of a friend who had a baby alpaca with very long legs, which was born with both front legs bent at elbow level. Our friend made a splint with a couple of pieces of cardboard and Vet Wrap that little by little, forced the legs to extend. Every few days she took the splint off for about half hour to massage the muscles.
After about 15 days she noticed some degree of legs muscle atrophy due to lack of use.
By this time she was confident that the baby had improved so much that the natural development and use of the extremities would take care of the rest.
The remarkable recovery makes it difficult to remember today that the baby was in so much trouble after birth.
We decided to try this approach. After gathering some cardboard and purchasing enough Vet Wrap to make a mummy of the cria, we sat down to develop a splint suitable for our purpose.
Because of the nature of the contracture, we decided it best to make two boards, one for each side of the foot, in the rough shape of the lower leg.
Each board ended up in the shape of tiny Christmas stockings.
Using two pieces of cardboard ensured that the splint would not be too stiff but could still provide enough support for the Vet Wrap to be able to maintain a certain force on the toes
We padded the insides of the boards and then wrapped them in the elastic bandages. Satisfied that we had done a pretty good job, my husband and I worked to attach it to the baby’s leg. First we gently pulled the toes up (getting them more close to a normal position) and we secured them with a bandage that went from behind the ankle to under the toes, crossing in front of the ankle, (see picture). Then the boards were attached to the leg and foot in a manner that the whole foot was covered in enough wrap to keep the splints in place and would not fall off
rain or shine, but being careful that the elastic bandages were not so tight as to cut off the blood circulation.
Our little cria was now walking with the foot protected.
He still could not step on the sole of his foot, but on the tip of it. Soon, he forgot about the splint, walking and playing with the other babies. Pict #6
Two days later, we took the splint off and massaged the foot, trying to extend the tendons some more, but we could not attain a normal position for the foot. We reapplied the cardboard and Vet Wrap and we let him go. For about a week we repeated the process every other day. In the meantime we noticed great improvements in the extension of the toes. By the end of the first week he could walk on the foot without the splint, but the foot rotated outward abnormally.
We replaced the splint to keep the foot from deviating outward until around day twelve when we took everything off and let him walk free. The leg was almost normal now, but clearly the foot lacked some feeling; upon standing up, he would touch the ground with the foot, and then lift it again. He did this a couple of times before he started walking, as he was uncertain about the surface on which he stood. We assumed that the nerves stretched too quickly when we straightened the foot, causing the loss of feeling. However, because of the remarkable capacity to heal that babies and youngsters possess, we knew our boy would recover from his sensory deficits.
After four months, it was impossible to notice anything wrong with the foot. The issue of lack of sensation seems to have resolved, and he is developing very quickly and nicely.
And this is the happy ending to this story.
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