Animals

By Alex Matthews


This reindeer is facing a mad DASH to be fit again for Christmas – after being side-lined with a leg injury.

Dasher, usually the fastest of all Santa’s steeds, was spotted limping by while grazing in the fields and was discovered to have suffered nerve and tendon damage.

Michael McGurk / Caters News

But desperate to be back in formation, the reindeer is being treated to physiotherapy in his carer’s living room.

Veterinary physiotherapist Lara Kats, based near Kilmarnock, Scotland, received the urgent call to treat the stricken animal after a he could not put any weight on his hind leg.

Paul and Leanne Gibson, who look after Dasher at the Ayrshire Reindeer Centre when he is not with Santa, even allowed him to be treated in the comfort of their living room to get him ready in time.

Lara, originally from the Netherlands said: “It sounds daunting treating a reindeer, but Dasher is one of the easiest patients I’ve ever had.

“The first time I saw Dasher was on November 3.  He’d sustained an injury to his hind limb the previous month, we’re not sure how.

“He’d damaged his sciatic nerve which meant he’d lost the use of many of the muscles in that leg.

“He was unable to bear weight on the limb and developed contractures in the lower tendons, so he was dragging the limb, and knuckling. 

“To help prevent further damage to the foot and reverse the contractures the vet had started to apply a slit cast. 

Michael McGurk / Caters News

“When I started seeing him the priority was to start weight bearing exercises, increasing the range in the joint above the foot and then to start working on re-educating the muscles. 

“After a week he was clearly improving but I had to use an electric muscle stimulator to get Dasher’s digital extensors working.  These are the muscles that lift the foot up.”

 “He was always very calm and never seemed fazed by any of the exercises, although his antlers sometimes knocked into the dining table.”

Thanks to Lara’s hard work Dasher is beginning to make a good recovery.

She is hoping to save the dining table from further harm by moving him into a larger space so the pair have more space to work on strengthening his leg.

Lara said: “Dasher now alternates between the splint and a simple horse exercise bandage, depending on how well he is moving. 

“He is now able to walk slowly without either for very short periods of time. 

“We are hoping to get him started in my horse arena, where there is more space than owners’ living room.”

However, Santa may still have to do without Dasher for Christmas this year, as the injury he sustained can take up to a year to heal.

But after initially being concerned he might never be back, Lara is now confident he can go back into training with the other reindeer in the spring.

She said: “Recovery from nerve injury can take a very long time, and it’s impossible to say when and to what extent he will be back to his former self. 

Michael McGurk / Caters News

“I’m much happier now that he will be able to have a normal life. If we can get him functional enough so he can be turned out with the other reindeer in the field in spring I’ll be delighted. 

“Splints and bandages don’t work in wet Ayrshire fields. A month ago I really wasn’t sure whether it would end up being a euthanasia case or a happy ending, but I’ve been very encouraged by the progress he’s made in such a short time.”

Dasher is an unusual patient for vet physiotherapist Lara, who is more used to treating people’s dogs in their homes.

But once the novelty of having a patient with huge antlers in the living room wore off, she got down to business after decided to treat Dasher as a small horse.

She said: “The vet, Colin Greer at Abbey Veterinary Group, advised me to treat Dasher like a tiny horse.  Apart from the size, funny feet and antlers, anatomically reindeer are pretty similar. 

“So after the initial feeling of amusement at treating a reindeer in the owners’ living room, to be honest, I just went into work mode. 

“I love treating neuro cases, and all too often they are referred far too late, if at all.  I was really pleased this case had been referred early enough for me to be able to have an impact.

“I treat mostly dogs nowadays, though when I started treating animals I was primarily interested in horses.  I gradually became more interested in the canines as the caseload is far more varied.

“Also, most dogs come to my clinics, whereas treating horses often involves lots of travel time which can be hard to fit in around kids.I have also treated cats, a few goats, cows, sheep, and a swan.”