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WCVM Vets Save Dog Who Was Trapped in Well for 27 Days

Bruno, a Chocolate lab, had "refeeding syndrome" and needed specialized care from a number of veterinarians at Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon.


Bruno, a Chocolate Labrador retriever, was found after 27 days in a well.

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Left: Bruno in intensive care after he was admitted to the Veterinary Medical Centre. Right: Bruno’s front paws are still healing. 

A dog who spent 27 days trapped in a well is on the road to recovery thanks to veterinarians at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

His owners said that Bruno, a 7-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever was found thanks to one of their other dogs, who wouldn't leave a spot in the grass. When Bruno was retrieved from the well, he was barely alive and had lost half of his body weight. He was treated by the family veterinarian, before they recommended taking Bruno to the university. Alison Khoo, DVM, a small animal internal medicine resident, and Sue Taylor, DVM, an internal medicine specialist and professor of small animal medicine at the WCVM, both took over Bruno's case. 

From the get-go, Bruno wasn’t going to have an easy recovery. He had what is known as "refeeding syndrome." When an animal that hasn’t eaten for a very long time is suddenly given food, its body promptly releases a large amount of insulin. This causes a surge-like response and deficiencies in electrolytes, and without careful supplementation the body stops functioning properly. The patient dies. It’s a condition rarely seen in dogs. 

Due to this, the WCVM treatment team consisted of small animal internal medicine specialists, a clinical nutritionist, canine rehabilitation therapists, small animal surgeons and the intensive care unit (ICU). They drew on the expertise of clinical nutritionist Tammy Owens, DVM, from UC Davis,  to assist with carefully increasing the amount of food that Bruno could receive and properly supplementing his intake of essential electrolytes: phosphorous, magnesium and potassium.

Bruno’s electrolyte levels were constantly monitored and supplemented intravenously until they stabilized—a process that took two and a half weeks. His digestive system was also extremely sensitive to the new food being introduced.

“There is a multitude of reasons why, in those patients, you can’t just feed them normally and expect a good outcome. They’re not physiologically capable of absorbing and utilizing the food normally,” Owens said.

Taylor commends the close care provided by the ICU for monitoring Bruno 24 hours a day, providing three different continuous intravenous infusions, and for feeding him a precise amount of food several times per day.

“We could do this because we have 24-hour technical support,” Taylor said.

Bruno also had suffered injuries when he had tried to climb out of the well. He had also developed sores on his paws, after being in the water for so long. The veterinarians used cold-laser therapy, which proved effective in treating the wounds on his paws and his hindquarters. This technique stimulates the cells, speeds healing and reduces pain.

This treatment helped Bruno heal without having to undergo surgery, which would have been difficult due to his already delicate condition.

“The fact that we are able to pull from so many different resources—and everyone has been so willing to be involved in this case—obviously contributed to how quickly he recovered,” Khoo said.

Khoo, Taylor and Owens plan to collaborate on a scientific case report documenting Bruno’s remarkable recovery, and their work could help other veterinarians who need help dealing with refeeding syndrome in dogs.

“Because these cases are rare, it was exciting to make a good contribution to a case that’s going to have a good outcome,” Owens said. “I think the best cases are those that have a collaborative approach, because the patients get the best care.”

Right now, they’re happy to see Bruno going home.

“When he first came in, he still looked like he was in trouble,” Khoo said. “I don’t think many dogs would have survived this. To continue to see him improve has been so rewarding.”

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