Stitch in time for birdlife

Neat stitching . . . Wildlife Hospital vets stitch a deep laceration on the foot of a hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin. The row of sutures is in the "simple interrupted" style, made using monofilament 3-0 suture. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Getting stitches for a minor wound is probably a pretty common experience, and perhaps even a rite of passage in some circles.

And while it’s unlikely that Wildlife Hospital patients are comparing stitch counts in the wards, they would certainly have plenty to talk about if they were.

“It’s not as simple as just taking a needle and some catgut thread and whipping something closed,” Wildlife Hospital director Dr Lisa Argilla said.

“That’s Hollywood stuff. And no-one uses catgut anymore.”

In reality, wildlife vets face a dizzying array of options when it comes to patching up their native patients.

For starters, they will choose a thread size which ranges from something thinner than a human hair all the way up to a thick filament that’s used for cow sutures.

Next, the vet will decide if the suture should be absorbable or non-absorbable.

“Absorbable is definitely the way to go for internal sutures,” Dr Argilla said.

“You really don’t want to be trying to remove anything from the intestines or heart 7-10 days after surgery.

“For this type of work, I generally choose a synthetic filament, as enzymes in the body break it down and produce very little if any inflammatory response in the body.”

The Wildlife Hospital uses absorbable sutures in most of its patients because the extra stress of handling wildlife to remove sutures is not generally worth any potential benefits.

‘We then choose between monofilament or multifilament, which as the names suggest is either a single strand or multiple strands braided or twisted together,” Dr Argilla said.

“I like working with multifilament because it’s a bit more flexible, and it’s great for small patients.

“But there’s an increased risk of bacteria hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the braid.

“For example, I’d avoid using multifilament to stitch an intestine.”

If that wasn’t enough, the vets also need to analyse what type of suture style to use to close a wound, which will depend on the location of the wound, the size/depth and the patient itself, among other things.

“I’d use a pattern calle “simple interrupted” on a penguin with a deep laceration on its leg, for example,” Argilla said.

“Every stitch has a knot, so if one fails while the penguin is moving around, it doesn’t compromise the others.”

With all the needle and thread work, one has to wonder if veterinary stitching is a skill transferable to traditional sewing.

“Not for me”, Dr Argilla laughed.

“I’m much better at patching up birds. I’ll stick with that.”