Napoleon an adult male Martial Eagle was presented to AVS earlier in the year with an extremely swollen hind toe.
These stunning eagles are the largest in Africa with females weighing over 6 kg with a wingspan of up to 9 feet!!
The hind toe or ‘hallux’ is essential for the grasping of food/prey and perching and so this really was a big problem for a VERY big bird. Napoleon was admitted immediately for investigation.
Thankfully X-rays demonstrated there was, at this point, no evidence of a fracture, dislocation or bone loss due to infection or bone tumour but under the microscope a sample of joint fluid appeared to be literally ‘hooching’ with bacteria and white blood cells.
This was a severe joint infection and unless addressed swiftly and aggressively could result in permanent damage with infection travelling up the foot via lubricating tendon sheaths, ensuing arthritis or worse loss of the digit due to gangrene.
Such cases are actually potentially life threatening either from septicaemia in the short term or, unlike cats and dogs who can spread their body weight over 4 limbs, a chronic lameness resulting in shifting of weight onto the one remaining good foot causing what is essentially a bed sore or ‘bumblefoot’ with rapid deterioration of tissue on the ball of the foot, further infection and sadly in many cases euthanasia on humane grounds.
A sample of joint fluid was submitted to the lab for culture (so we could positively identify the bacteria in question and therefore use the most effective antibiotic) and with a catheter inserted both sides of the toe almost a litre of fluid was flushed through the joint to remove as much debris/infection as possible. In severe joint infections, with so much pus present, antibiotics alone are generally ineffective as they are unable to reach the site in high enough concentrations.
To this day we still do not know where the infection came from, but with what turned out to be staph. aureus (a bacteria normally present on both bird and human skin), a seemingly insignificant puncture from a talon or thorn, for example, can result in this bug being introduced into deeper tissues where it can then cause real problems.
Thankfully following multiple joint flushing, dressings, 4 weeks of appropriate antibiotics/anti-inflammatories and careful management/nursing from his owner, a repeat sample demonstrated no further evidence of bacteria or active inflammation. Swelling had reduced significantly and so the decision was made to introduce him to his new ‘wife’ Josephine.
Although introducing 2 eagles is always a nerve racking experience when both are armed with such weapons on their toes (it has been reported that an eagle can exert pressures of up to 750 pounds per square inch via its talons compared to a human grip strength of 20!) they immediately got on like a house on fire and have even been seen copulating already so fingers crossed for some little Bonapartes this coming year!!