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Set On Attaching A Severed Toe

In my experience, most people are not aware that animals have health concerns similar to people’s. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer – all are conditions that we regularly diagnose in the pet population. Then, every so often, you run into a person who maybe knows a little too much.

Enter Mr. Park and his cute little cockatiel Cracker.

“Doc, I feel so guilty about what I did to Cracker,” started Mr. Park. “I’m usually very careful, but I was a little distracted by my cat Willie. Every time I pay special attention to Cracker, Willie gets jealous and starts to rub his body against my legs. This time, I messed up real bad, Doc.”

As Mr. Park lamented, I looked over at the traveling cage that held Cracker. He seemed OK. He munched on some seeds from his food bowl as he moved back and forth on his perch.

“Um … Mr. Park … Cracker looks fine to me. I haven’t done a physical exam on him yet, but he’s just munching away.”

“That’s what you think, Doc. Wait until you see this,” replied Mr. Park.

With that, he took out a plastic bag from a cooler and handed it to me. Peering into the bag, all I could see was a handful of melting ice.

“Don’t you see it, Doc?” asked Mr. Park. “Don’t you see the mutilation?” With that, Mr. Park turned to Cracker and said, “I’m so sorry, Cracker. Who’s my good boy?”

Gently sloshing the melted ice around, I caught a glimpse of something very small floating in the water. I reached in and slowly pulled out what looked like a bird’s toenail with a piece of tissue attached to it.

“I did that to him, Doc. I cut off Cracker’s toe.” With a disgusted look, Mr. Park continued on, “When I get my hands on Willie …”

Looking into the cage, I noticed a small amount of dried blood at the tip of one of Cracker’s toes on his right claw. I slowly realized what Mr. Park wanted.

“While I was cutting Cracker’s nails, Willie distracted me and I accidentally cut too far. As soon as I realized what had happened, I placed the tip of his toe on ice and made the appointment. Can you help him, Doc? Can you sew Cracker’s toe back?” pleaded Mr. Park.

There it was. The entertainment industry has done a wonderful job educating the public on what to do with a severed body part. Put it on ice and it can be easily reattached. While this may be possible with a human finger, the tiny tip of a bird’s toe that has been floating in ice water is highly unlikely to be reattached with surgery.

As I explained this to Mr. Park, I also reassured him that Cracker will be just fine. The bleeding caused by the nail trimmer had stopped, and Cracker has adapted well to the shortened appendage. There was no need to feel guilty and no need to punish Willie for Cracker’s predicament. Accidents happen.

Sew the iced tip of a toe back on to a little bird? Now that would have been cool.

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.