Elmer in recovery a day after being kicked by a doe
Everyone meet little Elmer. Last Tuesday, Elmer and his big brother were having their morning walk with dad when they picked up an interesting scent in a nearby meadow. Intrigued, the pair let their noses lead them into some brush at the meadow's edge. There they found a nesting fawn. Startled by the two canines that had entered his sanctuary, the fawn rushed out into the meadow, naturally pursued by Elmer and his brother. Alerted by the commotion, the fawn's mother leapt out of the woods that surround the meadow determined to defend her offspring. She proceeded to pummel poor little Elmer repeatedly with the hooves of her forelegs as the little dog cried out in terror and pain!. Elmer's bigger brother and dad managed to chase the doe away from poor Elmer and his dad rushed him to the DMVC.
Upon initial examination, I found Elmer to be to be dyspnic (breathing heavy) and very painful. So painful and out of breath that he could barely stand. With each breath, an area of skin on the left side of his chest inflated and deflated like a balloon. This finding suggested that he had sustained chest wall trauma and perhaps had broken one or more ribs. It also was likely that he had punctured his left lung causing air to leak out under the skin. An intravenous catheter was placed, intravenous fluids were started to counteract the shock and he was given some injectable pain medicine and antibiotic. Radiographs (xrays) were taken which confirmed that the deer had kicked an opening between Elmer's left 6th and 7th rib, surprisingly, without having broken the skin. Fortunately, none of the ribs were broken.
Elmer's X-ray showing the trauma sustained on the left side of the chest
At this point, Elmer was anesthetized and taken to surgery. The skin of the "bubble" was incised, revealing a 6-centimeter long opening to the chest cavity between the 6th and 7th rib. I proceeded to close it by placing heavy nylon stitches around the two ribs and tightening them together. Happily the wound came together beautifully! After the surgery, Elmer woke up quickly and uneventfully. For the first couple of hours post-op, he was watched very carefully to make sure that his breathing pattern returned to normal. Fortunately, his breathing did normalize, this indicating that the trauma to his left lung was not severe enough to result in permanent lung collapse.
By late afternoon, Elmer was sitting up, wagging his tail weakly in response to being petted and ate a hardy meal of canned dog food. The next day he was well enough to go home. After a 4-week period of rest he should do quite well!
There are currently no firm statistics that tell us how often deer attacks occur; but according to Maine State Deer Biologist Kyle Ravani, attacks by does happen much more frequently in early June through early July. "Most fawns are born in the first week of June", says Ravani. "for the first two to four weeks after birth, the fawns spend 20 to 22 hours a day lying still in a thicket. The mothers stay nearby but only enter the thicket to nurse their fawns for about 2 hours in any given day. During this first month of a fawn's life, does can be quite territorial and protective. After the first four weeks, the fawn is able to run and keep up with their does. Once their fawns can run, does are much more likely to run away from a threat than to attack it"
For me the moral of the story is simple: if one finds a fawn alone in the woods in late spring and early sumer, don't jump to the conclusion that it has been abandoned. Instead keep a safe distance and make sure pets and children stay clear as well. If after several hours you conclude that it has indeed been abandoned, it is probably better to contact a Maine Game Warden for advice on how to proceed than to take matters into your own hands.
Thanks to Elmer and his family for allowing me to share his story on our Blog. Also thanks to Kyle Ravani for taking the time to fill me in on doe behavior.
-Mike Bukowski DVM 7/8/2014