/Fixing bird wings with sheep bones

Fixing bird wings with sheep bones

Currently, fixing a broken wing bone requires two intrusive operations. A recent study, however, concludes that using dog and sheep bone might reduce the number of surgeries and enhance recovery.

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A new study in pigeons describes a better way to fix broken wings.

Although veterinary science has advanced in leaps and bounds over recent decades, there has been little progress in the treatment of broken bones in birds.

Fractures in birds most often occur in their wings. A bird that cannot fly will struggle to source food, and they run the risk of becoming food for another animal.

Currently, the most common way to fix a bird’s broken bone is to implant metal pins. Although effective, this technique is not ideal.

Because bird bones are light, using a relatively heavy material is problematic. Veterinary scientists have noticed that after such a repair, the bird is unbalanced while taking off and landing.

Once the injury has healed, the bird must undergo another surgery to remove the pin; this is costly, time consuming, potentially dangerous, and, of course, stressful for the animal.

Recently, researchers — most of whom are from the Shiraz University School of Veterinary Medicine, in Iran — set out to identify a lighter material that would not need to be removed from the animal after healing. They published their findings in the journal Heliyon.

Sheep and dog bones

The scientists decided to test pins made from animal bones. Specifically, they sanded dog and sheep bones into small pins and used them to treat pigeons with broken wings.

The team treated the dog and sheep bones to minimize the risk of rejection or infection. They used hydrogen peroxide to remove grease from the bones and ethylene oxide to sterilize them.

The researchers assigned a total of 40 pigeons to one of four groups:

  • Control group: The pigeon’s wing was simply bandaged to its body.
  • Metal pin group: The pigeon received a standard metal pin.
  • Ovine bone group: The pigeon received a pin made of sheep bone.
  • Canine bone group: The pigeon received a pin made of dog bone.

For the next 32 weeks, the scientists observed the birds’ recoveries; they evaluated the surgical sites and assessed how the birds held their wings and how well they could fly.

Over the 32-week follow up, the scientists took 10 radiographs of each wing that had received treatment. Using these images, they examined how the pins were performing and integrating with the pigeons’ other bones and how well the wings were healing.

What did they find?

The researchers found that both bone groups had recovered faster than either the control or metal pin groups.

By week 10, 85% of the bone group birds could fly normally again. At this point, none of the control birds could fly, and in the metal pin group, 90% had uncontrollable flight, and 10% could not fly at all.

At 32 weeks, all of the bone group birds had regained full flight. Meanwhile, none of the control or metal pin group birds had managed normal flight.

Importantly, as the first author of the study, Prof. Seifollah Dehghani Nazhvani, explains, “There was no rejection of any of the implanted bones at all.”

Overall, the sheep bone appeared to perform best. The authors write, the “ovine bone pin group, with the highest radiographic scores over the study time, started to heal significantly at the second week and continued this optimal status [until] the 20th week; this showed that ovine bone pins could induce the bone healing better and sooner than the other studied implants.”

Overall, the sheep bone, dog bone, and metal implants performed well. But as the authors explain, “The important point here is the weight of the metal pins, which creates a state of imbalance in flight or non-flight position.”

The birds with bone implants did not have this problem, and because their bodies gradually absorbed the bones, there was no need for surgical removal.

The authors of the study have begun using this technique on birds brought to their clinic. They hope that the method will catch on more widely.