Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Trauma of Ratites


Thomas N. Tully, Jr.

, DVM, DABVP, DECZM, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2021 | Modified Oct 2022

Wing luxations and fractures can result from hauling or breeding accidents. Most cases of wing luxation are actually a radial paralysis rather than a true luxation of the joint. However, a true humeral luxation from the shoulder can occur. Treatment for both injuries is the same and involves taping the wings up over the back. Maintaining the wings in this position for 1–2 weeks generally resolves the problem. Fractured wings, depending on the location of the fracture, can be repaired with a half-Kirschner apparatus or splints (or both). Occasionally, intramedullary pinning is required. With minor wing fractures in emus, taping may be sufficient to treat the injury.

Lacerations of the neck skin and musculature may involve the trachea and esophagus of ratites that are injured because of contact with fences. Primary closure of the trachea and esophagus in acute injuries is recommended. If the esophageal injury is old, the esophagus will often heal through secondary intention. With severe neck injuries, an esophagotomy tube, placed in the distal third of the cervical portion of the esophagus, may be required for alimentation.

Lower leg injuries commonly occur in ratites that contact cable fencing at a high rate of speed. Standard principles of wound management Wound Management in Small Animals should be applied, including debriding and bandaging the wound. If bone is exposed in a lower leg injury, radiographic imaging of the affected area, at weekly intervals, is recommended because stress fractures and sequestra can occur. Often, the soft-tissue injury shows normal healing 3 weeks after trauma; however, the bird may still have a fracture of the tarsometatarsus. Luxation of the phalanges is common, especially if the bird's enclosure has icy or muddy areas. If the luxation is not treated promptly, casting the foot in a normal flexed position for 5–6 weeks generally allows enough soft-tissue fibrosis and repair to maintain the luxated joint in place. If casting alone is unsuccessful, arthrodesis of the joint according to standard equine procedures can be performed.

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