Stranger Than Fiction: "There Are Teeth Marks on It!"

February 20, 2017
Aggie Kiefer, LVT

A day off before a holiday weekend turns out to be a real lifesaver for one curious canine and his technician owner.

It was Easter weekend 2015, and I had family and friends coming to stay. With a hectic schedule that involves frequent travel, my house was a mess. My employer had given us Friday off, which felt like a lifesaver with all I needed to do to prepare for guests. Little did I know, spending that Friday at home literally would become lifesaving.

When my dog Clay, a standard schnauzer, was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome at age 10, treatment included placement of a pacemaker. His surgery went amazingly well, and Clay immediately started acting like his old self again. Unfortunately, 3 years after surgery he developed an infection around the power unit located under the skin of his neck just below the left side of his jaw. The infected area became resistant to antibiotics, and a draining, open wound developed.

Luckily, I’m a veterinary technician and Clay is an excellent patient who doesn’t mind being fussed with or having new bandages placed daily. His cardiologist recommended general nursing care due to Clay’s age and told me that another surgery was likely to be necessary if the situation became worse. Little did I know how much worse the situation would become.

Slurp, Slurp, Bump, Bump

While cleaning the house that fateful Friday afternoon, I heard a strange noise. Like most pet owners, I’m in tune to unusual sounds involving my furry companions. The “slurp, slurp, bump, bump” noise I was hearing was new, though, so it didn’t take long to draw my attention. Clay was lying down behind me in the kitchen, so I turned and headed toward him. To my great surprise and horror, I discovered that the pacemaker’s power unit had fallen through the wound in the Clay’s skin and past the bandage. The unit was dangling from the lead wire and Clay was chewing on it!

Have you ever tried to get something from your dog that he really wants? My heart raced. Here was Clay’s life literally dangling on the line—at any second he could destroy the very thing that was keeping him alive! I needed to use all my skills to keep the situation from going from bad to worse. Clay, of course, was more interested in playing a game. “You want this?” he taunted me. “Come and chase me for it.”

Realizing how dangerous the situation would be if he were to damage the unit badly enough, I remained calm. I called to him, gently but insistently, telling him what a good boy he was until I could creep close enough to get to him, remove the chewed unit from his mouth, and tuck it back into his bandage.

At this point my panic eased, and my emergency nursing skills and 30 years of experience kicked in. Being a retired show dog, Clay is easily handled. I placed him on his grooming table, assessed the situation, and was able to secure the power unit to his neck using a jugular catheter placement technique. After applying another bandage and making a quick phone call to let the veterinary hospital know what had happened, we headed off to see the cardiologist through the emergency service.

At the clinic we were greeted with many astounded looks and comments. It seemed no one could quite understand how Clay had “chewed out” his power unit. I tried to explain that he hadn’t chewed it out but instead had chewed on it! Finally, after whisking Clay off to treatment, the admitting clinician came back into the room and exclaimed, “It has teeth marks on it and in it!” Needless to say, the cardiologist was amazed the pacemaker was still working. They had never had a case quite like Clay’s.

Happy Endings

The end of my story is a happy one. The chewed battery unit was replaced with a new one, the leads seemed to be working fine, and Clay made a full recovery. My house never did get fully cleaned that day, but my family and friends still came for Easter dinner and Clay was well enough to be released from the hospital to join us. It’s been 2 years since that fateful day. Clay is lying at my feet as I write this. He lives each day as it comes without a thought of how my day off saved his life or how he inadvertently tried to commit “doggie suicide.”

Aggie Kiefer is a licensed veterinary technician whose passion is helping to strengthen the human—animal bond through health care. She is the former editor-in-chief of Veterinary Technician magazine and has worked both in veterinary practice and in industry for 30 years. Aggie currently works as a key accounts manager for Virbac Animal Health.