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By John Donges

Though veterinarians at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital are well known for treating dogs and cats, members of the Exotic Companion Animal Service have saved the lives of many other small mammals, birds, and reptiles. A one-and-a-half-year-old Schneider's Skink named Tumbleweed is one such example.

Penn Vet, Tumbleweed, skinkDr. La'Toya Latney, head of the busy Exotics service, first met Tumbleweed when he was enrolled in her reptile pain study, a clinical trial run through Penn Vet's Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center. Dr. Latney is compiling data for the first-ever pain assessment scale for reptiles, which, through behavior observation, will allow veterinarians to quantify pain. In mid-September, a tragic accident turned Tumbleweed from a control subject to a test candidate for the pain scale, as well as a patient.

Tumbleweed was attacked by the family cat and rushed to Ryan Hospital’s emergency room, where he presented with two deep cuts along his ribs and back, a fractured toe, a lacerated eye, and a partially severed tail. Many clinicians from different services were Penn Vet, Tumbleweed, skinkinstrumental in triaging Tumbleweed’s wounds. Emergency room veterinarians cleaned his wounds and set his broken toe. The ophthalmology service examined his eye and discovered that the cornea was punctured and the lens was displaced. The Exotics service performed blood work, administered pain medications and antibiotics, and took X-rays. The most worrisome issue was Tumbleweed’s tail, which had an exposed bone and an open fracture. After discussing options with Tumbleweed’s owners, Dr. Latney amputated the tail. Following surgery, Tumbleweed was closely monitored and treated at home by his owners, who regularly irrigated and cleaned his wounds.

Before his tail amputation, Tumbleweed was lethargic and lacked an appetite. Following his amputation, however, his pain score improved, he became more active, and he started eating better. He even gained three grams, which is substantial considering that he is about the size of a pinky finger.

Seven weeks after his accident, Tumbleweed is doing very well. His broken toe has healed, new scales are forming over his cuts, the laceration on his eye is now only a Penn Vet, Tumbleweed, skinksmall scar, and he has not experienced any loss of vision. Surprisingly, a blastema (a mass of cells capable of growth and regeneration into organs or body parts) has formed, indicating that Tumbleweed’s tail may grow back. Dr. Latney is hopeful that this will happen, since the amputation was done in the middle of the coccygeal vertebrae, where stem cells are present to initiate tail regrowth.

“Dr. Latney continues to amaze me with her knowledge, determination, and love for her patients and their owners,” said Tumbleweed’s owner, Linda. “I am so thankful for Dr. Latney and the entire Penn Vet team. There is truly no other place in the region that could have saved Tumbleweed’s life.”  


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