A life-saving high chair for Buck the poorly Labrador

The heart-breaking story of a young dog who can’t swallow properly and was in danger of starving to death has had a happy ending thanks to a creative intervention by University of Nottingham vets and a product design lecturer from De Montfort University in Leicester.

17-month-old Buck the Labrador was taken in by the East-Midlands based charity Team Edward Labrador Rescue as he suffers from a rare condition called ‘mega-oesophagus’. It means he struggles to swallow enough food. Weighing just half what he should at his age, the experts caring for him feared he would not live to see his second birthday unless a way could be found to help him get more food down.

Specially-made chairs can help dogs like Buck by sitting them upright, but none could be sourced quickly enough. So, seeing a social media post and recognising the danger Buck was in, University of Nottingham vet and teaching associate, Emma Drinkall and her fiancé Nick Rowan, a senior lecturer in product design and engineering from DMU, rose to the challenge. They designed and custom-built a new high chair perfectly fitting Buck, in just one day and in less than 48 hours from first hearing the cry for help.

Buck’s chair has been built and designed ‘for life and not just for Christmas’ so that Emma and Nick can continue to adapt the chair to Buck as he hopefully gains weight and grows in the future. Since starting to use the chair a few days ago, Buck has managed to keep all of his food down.

Nottingham-trained vet, Laura Pearce from the Lawrence Veterinary Centre in Eastwood, has been Buck’s vet since he was rescued by the charity. She explained: “I am actually surprised that Buck has lived as long as he has with this condition. His oesophagus is abnormal in that it’s enlarged and has lost its tube-like state that pushes food through to the stomach. It means little of the food he eats actually makes it into his stomach for digestion, most gets stuck in pouches in the oesophagus or is regurgitated again.”

Emma Drinkall from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science said: “We saw Buck’s story on social media, and I knew we just had to do something if he was going to have a chance. Luckily Nick and I have the combined expertise and experience to build the chair quickly. There is currently no surgery available for dogs with this condition, and as Buck is already receiving the medications that can help, the one other thing that could help him keep his food down is gravity itself. Being upright while feeding will help the food drip through the sphincter that controls access to his stomach.”

Nick added: “I’m just so pleased with how it fits, how comfortably he sits in it and how happy he is to be fed like this. He is the same width in his shoulders as our own 5 kilo Jack Russell, so without meeting Buck ourselves, we had to double check his measurements during the build - it just didn’t seem right for a big dog like a Labrador.”

Wendy Hopewell, who runs Team Edward in Nottingham, said: “It was just the most fabulous sight to see Buck eating in the chair and happy to be in it. To see how he sat in it straight away and get stuck in was incredible, it just pulls at your heartstrings.”

Emma Drinkall added: “Dogs with mega-oesophagus are at risk of developing very serious chest infections which can prove fatal, because they can accidentally breathe in food particles when they regurgitate their food. We hope that by feeding Buck this way and stopping him from regurgitating we will minimise the risk of this additional complication developing. Wendy, Team Edward Labrador Rescue, David, Bucks’ foster dad, and Laura, Buck’s vet, have all done an amazing job with Buck so far.”

Happily, Buck has not regurgitated since using the chair and his carers have put him on a high calorie puppy food diet to help him put on weight and gain strength in the days and weeks to come.

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