Monday, October 3, 2011

Bobcat under the boat!

A little more than 2-weeks ago, the Tucson Wildlife Center responded to a call regarding a bobcat under a boat (Fox News report). Unfortunately, the bobcat had been stealing chickens from the homeowner and was subsequently trapped with leghold traps attached to both hindlimbs and dragged him over a wall and then underneath a boat to sit there for a full day.  The Tucson Wildlife Center was called to the property and carefully rescued the animal.  There are many other ways that the homeowner could have gone about removing/relocating the bobcat from the property humanely.  Calling the Tucson Wildlife Center (520-290-WILD or 520-290-9453) is one of the easiest ways to get information on how to deal with the humane removal and relocation of our wild friends.

Lou Rae called me at 9pm concerned about the damage done to the bobcat's feet and his level of dehydration.  The bobcat was sitting under a boat without any access to water for over 10 hours and the leghold traps remained in place.  I met her at Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (SAVSEC) to stabilize him, address his pain, and do some diagnostic tests before bringing him to the center.

Stabilizing an animal requires quick assessment of the ABC's which stands for airway, breathing, and circulation.  The bobcat appeared to be breathing rapidly (called tachypnea or tachypneic) which could have been a result of pain associated with the traps/trauma or could mean some sort of chest injury.  His respiratory effort, however, was normal and his lung sounds were normal bilaterally.  His blood pressure was low (systolic-60mmHg) so we bolused him fluids intravenously while we finished his physical examination.  Blood pressure is measured as systolic (sis-TOL-ik) and diastolic (di-a-STOL-ik) pressures. "Systolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. "Diastolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

Once we were able to bring the bobcat's blood pressure to normal limits, we carefully removed the traps from his legs and continued with the physical examation.  He had a lot of swelling noticed along his back feet and some puncture wounds acquired from the traps.  On palpation of his back paws, no crepitus was appreciated along his metatarsals.  

Canine skeleton showing location of metatarsals

This physical exam finding (no crepitus), strongly suggests that the bobcat may have been lucky - despite being trapped for over 10 hours - and have escaped without any fractures to his hindlimbs!  To further investigate this hypothesis, we decided to take radiographs.

Despite the absence of fractures to his hindlimbs, he still suffered from severe soft-tissue injury and required pain medications and wound cleaning.  Upon further examination, the right-side of his jaw appeared very unstable.  Concerned that he may have a jaw fracture, we decided to concentrate the rest of the radiographic study to his skull.

Right lateral oblique

Right lateral oblique labeled

And even a more dramatic view of the mandible fracture....

Left lateral

left lateral labeled
The fracture was to the right mandible (lower part of the jaw) and can by classified as a comminuted fracture. A comminuted fracture simply means a fracture in which the bone has broken into a number of pieces (seen within the green segment highlighted above).  Repair of a fracture like this is very challenging, as the surgeon does not have a lot of places to help stabilize the rest of the jaw.  It also suggests that the bobcat experienced a very high-powered blow (hit) to the face.  Coupled with possible metal fragments (the bright little dots scattered along the face on the radiographs), we were initially concerned with a gun shot but no entry wounds to the face were observed on physical examination.  The jury is still out; but we know for sure that this poor guy was hit, and hit real hard in the face.

After we addressed pain management, stabilized him with fluids, and took the radiographs; Lou Rae then ventured back in the middle of the night back to the wildlife center to let him rest quietly...

The next morning, Lou Rae, Dr. Ted Berghausen and myself  prepared for our bobcat for surgery.  We all knew it was going to be very challenging but wanted to try and give this guy a chance.  The bobcat was pre-medicated with pain medications and light sedatives to make him tractable to work with (great care and respect was taken to ensure the bobcat and surrounding personnel were safe).  We carefully placed an intravenous catheter in a back leg to supply the patient with fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication throughout the entire procedure.  He was then given stronger sedatives to allow us to place an endotracheal tube to keep him under general anesthesia.  Then we got started and found exactly how many pieces his jaw was in....

In this picture, the bobcat is laying on his
back and the tip of his chin is towards the
top of the photo.  The exposed bone is a few
of the many pieces we actually found during
the surgery, making fixation very difficult.
We then decided that since there were
so many pieces, what we needed to do
was to stabilize the larger pieces of the jaw
by drilling pins into the bone and connecting
the pins together to make an external fixator.

Two pins in place along mandible

Pins were reinforced using an epoxy

In an ideal world, we would have placed the pins on the side of the bobcat's jaw but we were concerned that if he were able to see it, he would paw at it and remove it himself.  By placing it underneath his jaw, we risk drilling through some tooth roots, but it was absolutely necessary to help repair his jaw.

Before we recovered him from anesthesia, we tested the stability of his jaw and found that the fixator (pins and epoxy) was very strong and that his "smile" was now straight.  Lou Rae and I came up with strict treatment plans for the bobcat over the next few weeks and we woke him up.  He recovered uneventfully from anesthesia and his pain appears very well under control.

It initially took him a few days until he started eating but now has consistently accepted his morning and evening meals (not chickens).  The ultimate plan is to keep him at the center over the next 6-8 weeks until we can sedate him and take additional radiographs of his jaw to assess healing.  Once his jaw bones appear fused, we will then remove his fixator (pins and epoxy) and be able to release him.  We will keep you updated with his progress!

Just is because of your donations that this bobcat will someday be out in the wild again, keeping nature in balance....

Notes to readers/case discussion:
We are very fortunate in Southern Arizona to have wildlife at our doorstep.  We have to respect our unique environment and make a conscious effort to not harm or threaten any that may visit our backyards.  We also have to remember that they were here first.  If you are ever concerns about any wildlife that may be getting "too close" for comfort or interfering with your life, please contact the Tucson Wildlife Center for ideas or recommendations.  It is not appropriate, regardless of the law, to put these animals through needless suffering when we have answers just a phone call away.  Rescue, Rehab, and Release....

Special thanks to Dr. Stephanie Szabo, VMD, Diplomate ACVS for all of her help discussing possible surgical approaches...


  1. You have the most amazing blog. I love reading it. Thank you

  2. Thank you so much for working on this little critter. I like to think that for every mean or ignorant human being there are several kind and wise humans helping to clean up the messes. You and the employees and volunteers at the Center keep that thought alive for me!

  3. Your blogs are amazing, keep up the good work! I am so thankful for you and the Wildlife Center for all you do. This cat would have never had a chance if it weren't for you. It's quite unbelievable there are people like this man willing to destroy this beautiful animal and not think twice about leaving it to suffer and die a slow death.