Small cat vet


+/Just had my first morning at the vets I’m at this week. I saw a few consultations. The first was for a cat that needed a new bandage. He had got a nasty gash in the hind leg but now it was healing well. Unfortunately we couldn’t do it without a sedative so the vets took him in to do it later. This worked really well and hopefully he’ll feel much better now. He was given a cone collar to stop him picking at it.

I also saw an elderly cat (17ys) who probably had kidney problems due to her clinical signs such as being thirsty quite a lot. It could also be due to hyperthyroidism. Taking bloods would be able to tell the vet but as the cat seemed to be coping fine and the owner didn’t want to investigate no bloods were taken. She also needed her claws clipping which she really didn’t enjoy.

I saw a cat in for his booster, the booster cats get depends on the cat and things such as whether they go outside regularly in which case they need the feline leukaemia virus vaccine.

I saw 2 kitten spays which were really good to see because I hadn’t seen any since my first vet work experience! The kittens are given a combination of drugs used by cats protection which the vet divides it into 2 because it’s quite stingy. This effectively gives them a sedative premed and anesthetic and they also get an analgesic. Then the operation was quick enough that no gas is needed, although we did use it for the 2nd kitten. The left flank is clipped and made sterile. The skin is incised then the subcutaneous tissue, some fat was removed, then there are 3 layers of muscle the vet incised then the peritoneum. After that the uterine horn is found which can be followed up to find the ovary. A ligature is made above the ovaries tying off the vessels (ovarian pedicle) and just above the cervix to remove the ovaries and uterus. The ligament can be broken with the vets fingers. The vet said some like to remove the cervix e.g. in dogs because of the risk of cancers. One of the kittens had an ovarian cyst which was quite large! I could see the ovaries clearly and the follicles. This was great to see having just done a practical at uni looking at mice and cow ovaries. She was also in season so everything looked slightly bigger and the blood vessels supplying the ovaries and uterus were bigger.

I also posted a blood test for a pedigree cat to be tested by an ELISA test for feline leukaemia antigens or feline calicivirus (FCV).

I also saw the vet deal with a couple who were quite upset as their cat was very elderly and deteriorating. The cat had a growth by it’s colon and was being given corticosteroid drugs as the lump was a suspected lymphoma which sometimes responds to corticosteroids in t

he same way that leukocyte inflammatory reactions can be targeted by them. If the cat hadn’t improved by next week they were going to put the cat down.

Many cases were geriatric cats, for which common problems are chronic kidney disease, hypertension, arthritis and hyperthyroidism. Also many kittens who were in for vaccinations, neutering and microchipping.

I learnt that for worming cats can be given tablets or panacur granules.

The vet told me about a diabetic cat who was getting twice daily insulin injections. They had taken a blood test and it showed that fructosamine was elavated outside the reference range. This showed a blood sugar level average over the past few weeks which was better than using glucose which was much more variable.

I also spoke to one of the vets who had spent 6 months in mauricious volunteering to neuter dogs to tackle the problem of the stray dog population. She said the project was well funded to begin with and had a few vets and it was good to experience a different culture and learn about the differences in animal ownership. It sounds similar to Malawi in that it’s a developing country and dogs are not the first priority. But she said it can be depressing trying to tackle such a big problem and especially now as the project had less support and funding so it felt like their hard work was being undone. Sadly she had to put down many animals because owners couldn’t afford the treatment.

On Tuesday 

I got to see another cat spay this time on a 10 month old cat. There was a possibility she could be pregnant because although she was normally a house cat she had got out a few times recently. The vet thought she might not be because she couldn’t palpate anything but she could be very early in pregnancy. The vet decided to operate via the left flank. She incised the skin subcutaneous tissue and muscle and then the peritoneum. There was quite a lot of fat which is found in all layers (subdermal, in the abdominal cavity) and the operations wasn’t as easy as the previous ones because a vessel in the fat kept oozing. Also the vet had operated slightly further down/the cats uterine horns were very long which made exteriorising the ovaries tricky. 

I also saw a consult with a cat with diabetes type 1. She was doing really well and looking good and just in for her 3 monthly blood fructosamine check up. 


Vet nurses role is also to take phone calls for drug/med prescriptions


Saw another cat come in unable to urine that had an obstruction somewhere in his ureter. This could be due to spasm, mucous plug or little crystals. Luckily it was an easy catheterisation he actually emptied some of his bladder when given the anaesthetic. Also did anaesthetic screening test on him. The condition can be managed well by ensuring they drink enough water, putting them on a special diet also reducing stress if the cause is cystitis. I got to see his urine under the microscope and it contained tiny crystals so a carefully managed diet should help. 


On Wednesday

I got to see a few different procedures downstairs. I saw my first thyroidectomy on a torty cat. The area around the neck is shaved and made sterile. The vet incised the skin and subcutaneous tissue but doesn’t actually cut through muscle bands -because they run up in the neck there’s no need to cut through muscle. This is the same in the abdominal cat spay where you cut through the ct the linea alba and unlike in the flank spay where the vet cuts through muscle (3 bands). It was a unilateral thyroidectomy and before  the op I could feel her enlarged thyroid gland by running my thumb and finger on either side of her windpipe. The vet removed the thyroid and couldn’t find the parathyroid so it may be underneath or became part of the thyroid. 


I also got to see a cat dental. A difference in cats is that they need their larynx anaesthatised for a tube to be inserted into their windpipe.

Then a chinchilla cat was dematted and her eyes were checked. I could feel her fur was incredibly matted. I wonder if it is right for breeds such as these to exist or if it would be better to discourage owners from breeding these cats whose fur is impossible to prevent matting. Is that really right? Or perhaps the best thing to do for now is to ensure owners are responsible and taking care of their cats.

I also got to see quite a sad case. The cat had been adopted at 10 and had developed a runny nose and sneezing all the time. The owners couldn’t afford to insure the cat at 10 and couldn’t afford the expensive diagnostic tests so they had been trying various treatments including antibiotics to clear an ongoing chronic infection in the cat’s eye. They now suspected he had a tumour in his nose and was on chemotherapy. The other vet I spoke to said she probably wouldn’t have started the cat on such heavy treatment without a definite diagnosis. She took a small sample and created a blood film. I could see the erythrocytes and WBCs which should be reduced in this cat, compared to the feverish cat we’d seen earlier that should have raised WBCs.

On Thursday

I got to see 2 kitten castrates. This was the same procedure that I had seen before at the other Scottish small animal vet. It is a very quick operation and the kittens were 4 and 5 months old. The skin of the scrotum is incised followed by the tunic the testes sit in. Then the vet separates the ligament revealing the spermatic cord and blood vessel. The vet uses the spermatic cord to tie off the blood vessel. This reduces chances of bleeding, there’s no risk of rejection as it’s the cats own tissue.

I have also seen 2 demats on a chinchilla cat and a persian. The vet told me more about the persian. This cat was a rescue and had come in in the past with large bladder stones (calcium oxalate ones). They were palpable on examination and the vet showed me the x-ray that had been taken. I could clearly see 3 stones. They had removed these and the cat’s health had really improved and she had been very healthy since then.

I saw the vet deal with problems such as owners not being able to pay for expensive diagnostic tests when things weren’t clear, trying to reach a diagnosis when it’s unclear.

On Friday

I got to see a sad consult in the morning. What had happened was the cat had come in last November and it was now about 1.5 kg lighter. On examination the vet could palpate a hard liver which felt abnormal. The cat had also done a very dark pee in her carrier box. She appeared a little jaundice. It appeared she may have a liver tumor in which case nothing can really be done. The vet made this clear but was very sensitive when telling the owners this and gave the owner tissues when she started to cry. He also said he was hopeful it was some kind of inflammatory condition and that she would improve with the antiinflammatory drug and antibiotics he was going to give her. She was going to be checked up next week. If there wasn’t improvement he said there’s nothing we can really do:(.

I saw a nose X-ray being done on a large 8kg cat called elvis. He had been increasingly snoring so the vet wondered if he might have a mucus obstruction or nasal tumour. The X-ray showed a very healthy nose. This is one that is very symmetrical.

I also just saw a consult with a cat that had a sore eye. She had entropion which was quite obvious in the left eye and slight irritation in her right eye. The vet would operate next week to remove a small bit of eyelid to correct both eyes then out stitches in. She’d need a collar afterwards. Apparently this condition is more common in dogs. The cat also had some old injuries and it felt like she had broken ribs

Also during the week I saw a cat with very strongly suspected herpes virus. The cat had been a very sneezy kitten and had an ongoing runny nose and sneezing. She was also a rescue. The cat had been vaccinated but most likely after becoming infected, and in these cases vaccination is ineffective.

Another really good week! 🙂


Small animal practice Scotland

D veterinary group comprises of 4 small animal clinics with D being the main one with most of the facilities. The other clinics do not have operating theatres, only consultation rooms. It sounds like an interesting set up because vets from the other clinics come to D during the morning to perform (their share of) surgeries. I got a quick tour when I first arrived and saw all the different rooms spread across a few floors, I’m starting to think that all small animal vets are a bit like rabbit warrens(!) I noted they have a separate kennel and cattery, which helps reduce stress levels for the cats. They have x-ray, ultrasound, ECG machine on trial, 2 dental tables and a pre op and op room. One of the vets said she would like to buy an endoscope for the practice!

I saw many consults and common problems seemed to be possible cystitis (irregular urinating everywhere, not quite being able to urinate then urinating) in cats, weight issues (often overweight), dog breed-related health problems, dog ear problems (otitis externa) and old age-related health problems. Routine vaccinations were common place (boosters) and also anal gland impaction too.

A cat came in and the clinical symptoms appeared to point towards cystitis (^) which means bladder infection and is quite common in older cats. It can be due to stress which means the urinary tract becomes inflamed making it difficult to urinate. It also had a bit of gingivitis. The vet gave metacam (the archetypal NSAID) and also a supplement to help with the lining of the bladder. The urine sampled did show high levels of white blood cells, bacteria and also blood and protein so it was likely an infection. The cat could then be given antibiotics. If an animal is brought in that is unable to pee, this is an emergency.

I was shocked at some of the breed-related health problems, and the number of them. A pug came in that had had an enucleation of one eye and an ulcer scar in the other -pugs are very prone to ulceration in their eyes, usually caused by trauma as their eyes are so bulging. I could hear it struggling to breathe and saw on the x-ray how small it’s trachea was. She had presented with bloody diarrhea and the x-ray was done to check for a foreign body in the GI tract. There wasn’t, just some gas in the intestine so it received supportive treatment.

The issue of brachycephalic dogs was a hot topic in the staff room. Some of the vets had just attended some lectures showing just how deformed the skull of these dogs are, and the effects it has. Brachycephalic refers to a flat and wide skull shape. Breeds that have this skull conformation include: the Pug, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pekinese. With the skull getting flatter and wider, skin is thrown up into moist folds especially over the front of the face, eyes bulge out of their sockets. Although the skull has been getting progressively smaller over time, the amount of soft tissue in the nose and throat has remained the same. These soft tissues include the soft palate and tongue. These are all crammed into a smaller space, restricting the airways. These dogs may also be deaf as their Eustachian tubes are also affected! The main point was that they thought vets should be doing more about it, discouraging owners from buying these breeds, being more disapproving and not supporting the breeding of these dogs in general. Of course problems are that the breeds, especially the pug, seem to be increasingly popular and vets are worried that if they are disapproving to an owner when they bring in their new puppy they will just find another vet, one that doesn’t care about the welfare of the animal but just wants to make money.

These dogs can also be more likely to need a c-section or other breeds of dogs such as french bulldogs. It’s important for vets and breeders to report c-sections and any surgical procedures that change the natural confirmation of a dog to the kennel club.

Another problem is that owners are often unaware that their dogs even have a breathing problem and so such problems are becoming normalised!

There were some challenging times for the vet such as dealing with owners who were clearly upset, such as a lady with a very elderly hamster. I found it was often the case that the animal was suffering old age-related health problems and owners just really struggled to watch their pets who are their companions for years deteriorate. The vet dealt with it by changing her body language, tone of voice, reassuring the owner that the animal wasn’t in pain if it wasn’t and giving sound advice. I can empathize with them as I had the same with my first cat who at 18 started to go down hill and it was horrible to see. On the other end of the spectrum there were passive aggressive owners, upset at having to wait 20 mins. But people wait that time to see their doctor, so why not the vet?

In surgery I observed stitches being put in to a dog with a gash on its back left leg. The main aims were to cut off the outer edge of hard damaged skin, remove blood clots and any damaged soft tissue, flush it out with a sterile saline solution then suture together the subcut tissues then the skin. Then a bandage was put on.

On Tuesday I observed a lot of dental work on cats and dogs: 2 maine coons, a rex cat and a yorky terrier. The animals are given a sedative pre-medication drug that also contains a little analgesia, then given another sedative before being put onto general anaesthetic which was gas isoflurane. They are also given oxygen which is essential to sustain cellular metabolism. With the yorky, the plaque and tartar are removed by chipping off the main bits, and implements are used to clean the teeth (scale and polish). Any badly rotten or broken teeth are removed. Gums are manipulated back and then if the tooth has 2 roots and not 1, the tooth is cut between the roots and each root removed separately. This is to make sure NO root remains as this can cause pain and lead to infection. The gums are sutured up (absorbable) over the gap left by the removed teeth. Teeth should be removed by surgically cutting them out rather than pulling as this also helps to leave no root. They can be given more pain relief and anti inflammatory after the op. As well as dogs, cats’ teeth need brushing too. They don’t get cleaned in the same way that say a Scottish wild cats’ would by feeding on live prey and stripping off the meat.

Another tricky situation the vet dealt with today was examining the eye of a very stressed and aggressive cat. She tried allowing the cat to walk out the box himself as they are usually less stressed this way (they feel more in control), got the assistance of a vet nurse and wore gloves. It was a problem because she couldn’t properly treat the abscess on the cats’ head but did manage to give an injection of anti inflammatory. Due to the situation she also gave the owner tablets to give the cat at home rather than give another injection because it was better to give the cat that when it was happy to take it at home, rather than stress it further and give another jab.

I saw an ultrasound cardiac scan on a chiwawa with heart disease. Whereas heart disease in humans can be associated with too much HDL cholesterol, fatty deposits and plaque formation, in dogs this isn’t the problem (as their diets are much healthier) it is more a problem with the heart e.g. a leaky valve that leads to other problems as the circulatory system tries to compensate. It is all to do with pressure changes (if you close/narrow this pipe where is the blood gonna flow? -it’s a big piping system and if you change one part, the flow in another area is going to be affected). This dog had a leaky valve which was causing turbulence which we could see on the scan. The vet took measurements of the diameter of the LA and aorta during systole and diastole to see if there was any enlargement due to volume overload. To compensate more blood builds up in the LA. In congestive heart failure blood dams up in the organs usually lungs. For treatment the dog was given drugs to help the heart pump and also diuretics to remove some of the volume (fluid). Fluid in the lungs and congestion (coughing, difficulty breathing) are the most common signs. Many dogs with left-sided congestive heart failure faint due to lack of blood flow to the brain. This dog gad fainting episodes and a grade 4 murmur.

I also saw lots of steroid injections for treating allergic reactions to harvest mites! These dogs couldn’t get boosters that day as steroids do slightly suppress the immune system.

On Wednesday

I saw a bitch spay on a pomski puppy -again raising the conversation of ‘why do people breed and pay tons of money for yet another one of these ‘designer breeds’ of dogs?’. When it is much better to get a rescue mixed mongrel with significantly less health problems and you’re helping solve the problem of the pet overpopulation problem and not encouraging the breeding of designer dogs.

I saw a cat castration. The cat was aggressive so a crush cage had to be used to give an IM sedative of propafol. It was a quick operation and some vets choose not to tube and give gas general anaesthetic. After prepping the testes, the vet made an incision in the skin. She then incised the tunic exposing the testicle. You could clearly see the epididymis. She separated the vas deferens and the blood vessels using her fingers and then pulled the testicle slightly. She separated the vas deferens where it met the epididymis and used the remaining thin cord to tie several knots tying off the blood vessels! The testicle was removed. This was then repeated. The incision is not sutured up, it is only a small incision and will heal quickly as the skin is very thin.

I saw another quite upsetting case where the owner felt in a very difficult position because she didn’t know if her dog was in pain or having a good quality of life and she hated to think of making the decision to put her dog down. The dog had got glaucoma in one of her eyes (increasing pressure in the eye) and had had to have an enucleation because the retina was too badly damaged. The other eye was now looking pink and painful because the lens had slipped to the back of the eye. Uveitis and glaucoma can be concurrent with the lens slipping. The dog was also very panicky and all over the place every time she came to the vet which wasn’t nice to see. The vet dealt with the situation by adopting a more soft tone of voice and she empathized with the owner. She advised that if the decision was made to put her down the owners should be able to look back on that decision and not feel horribly guilty, because it was the best thing to do. You don’t want to be 3 months down the line thinking oh why did we continue I wish we hadn’t, if she’s in pain. Posterior luxations — those that fall into the back of the eye — usually do not cause discomfort and may not require any treatment.

On Thursday I saw the vet deal with an awkward situation at the end of the day. A man brought in his American bulldog at the end of consults as a sort of emergency. Except it wasn’t a true emergency as the dog wasn’t in need of immediate medical attention but he was ill and did need to see a vet. The situation was made tricky in many ways. Firstly the dog wasn’t registered with the practice so there was no history, the owner had brought along paperwork from his actual vet. Secondly, the owner couldn’t speak good English which made diagnosing what was wrong hard. Despite this, the vet managed to communicate well, well enough for the owner to be able to describe the clinical symptoms. Thirdly the owner said he was going to get his friend to pay suggesting he couldn’t afford the consultation and any drugs and so the vet had to decide whether to even treat the dog with any drugs and whether to charge for the consult. She asked if he qualified for the PDSA which he didn’t.

The bulldog had epilepsy but the problem now was myxoedema and/or hives. He had been vomiting and his face and parts of his back had swollen up with bubbles under the skin this morning, an obviously very visually scary symptom that made the owner worry a lot.

Hives or skin rashes (urticaria) are localized patches of red, usually itchy, skin. They often develop and disappear suddenly. Hives are relatively uncommon in dogs. The most frequent causes are insect bites or stings, shampoos, and medications. Other causes include contact with toxic plants or chemicals. Hives may develop after contact with (inhaling or consuming) allergens. The wheals (eruptions) appear within a few minutes or hours of exposure to the causative agent. Hives is a type of allergic reaction and the agent causes high levels of histamine and other chemical messengers to be released in the skin. These substances cause vasodilation and increased permeability (often resulting in redness or pinkness). This extra fluid in the tissues causes swelling and itchiness.

In severe cases, the skin eruptions are preceded by fever, poor appetite, or dullness. Often, hives disappear as rapidly as they arise, usually within a few hours. Treatment may not be required. They may return rapidly if exposure to the cause is not eliminated, however. Treatment may include rapid-acting corticosteroids. If hives are chronic, environmental or food allergens should be considered as potential causes. 

This dogs’ hives appeared to have settled down again but he was still suffering slightly as he was now vomiting. The vet decided to give corticosteroid steroid injection, and also senocol? to prevent vomiting. These drugs only amounted to about a fiver so the vet was prepared for the owner not to be able to pay which she suspected he wasn’t.

She said it was a tricky situation. On the one hand you can turn people away if they can’t afford to pay. Pets are very expensive and it is fair to say well you shouldn’t own a dog and owning a pet isn’t a right. One problem with charities such as the PDSA is that they may fuel the idea that pet owning is a right because they are providing services at a lower cost or even for free in some cases so almost anyone feels they can afford a pet. On the other hand, if the treatment is relatively cheap they may decide to go ahead anyway. Word spreads fast with social media and if you decide not to act people may be put off from going your practice. She thinks it’s just the right thing to do at the end of the day -some people think a life is invaluable in terms of money. (This would not be true in a farm setting!).

..What do you do in an RTA and the owner isn’t there? It would be horrible to find the owner and say you didn’t do anything. But then you may try and save the dog and it costs hundreds of pounds and then the animal may not make it anyway -or the owner again can’t pay!! I think in these situations vets tend to treat animals but only up to a certain point before treatment gets incredibly expensive and obviously only treat if they think the animal has a good chance of making a recovery.

I also saw an operation to remove a small sebaceous cyst, which was a very quick job,  and another much larger one on the same dog that had burst. The latter took a lot longer and the operation ended up being a bit of a nightmare: the cyst was a lot deeper than first thought because it rooted right down into the upper muscle layer which had to be removed, and a histology was going to be done to see if it might actually be some form of sarcoma. Mast cell tumors are one of the possible diagnoses for a lump on a dog, they’re usually aggressive and angry looking things.

Not letting up on the week so far, I saw an incredible amount on my last day.

I observed a dog castrate followed by a bitch spay. I assisted in holding a dog steady lying down whilst a full leg bandage was put onto her back left leg. I observed an ultrasound cardiac and abdominal scan on a Staffy which had a severe pericardial infusion, and later sadly witnessed the euthanasia of the dog. I also saw consultations inbetween and a common problem was harvest mites and fleas resistant to Frontline. I actually spotted a harvest mite on a dog which the vet missed-and therefore helped in diagnosing that the cause of her skin irritation was indeed harvest mites!

During a dog castration an incision is made through the midline just above the scrotum below the penis, unlike cats and rabbits. This is because of the anatomy of the dog and it will heal easier and faster. The skin is incised, then the subcutaneous tissue and then the muscle wall which is lined on the deep side by the parietal peritoneum, cut through this and you’re into the abdominal cavity. In turn each testicle is found and the tunic is cut through. The very large blood vessels and the spermatic cord are clamped and ligated carefully before cutting, allowing removal of the testicle. The layers are then closed up with sutures, with sub dermal absorbable cat gut ones under the skin. Interesting note some people chose to castrate because some dog walkers refuse to walk dogs that haven’t been done. 

The bitch spay was on a much larger dog. The main differences to the previous one I saw were that in general everything was a bit bigger and there was more fat surrounding each uterine horn. The risk of bleeding is slightly greater because fat can tend to bleed quite easily. The vet ligated well before the cervix in the uterine body, just where the two uterine horns met. The dog also had an ECG done. It read approx 84 bpm, going up when the surgeon pulled on some uterus.

I helped in holding a dog whilst a full leg bandage was put on her left hind leg. The dog had punctured her toe and infection had spread from her toes all the way up her leg. The skin had become necrotic and died off and she was left with a terrible wound running up her leg with lots of sore exposed red subcut tissue. She had been having a new bandage 3x a week and now was down to 2x a week and the wound was healing well. It was a big success that we could manage to bandage her conscious because this avoided the risks of anesthetic.

I then saw a cardiac ultrasound scan on a quite nervy -so she wore a muzzle, but very sweet staffy. She probably would have growled/had more of a go if she wasn’t feeling so unwell in herself. She had been brought in because she was having fainting episodes where she would go quite limp. I think that bloods had been inconclusive so the vet had decided to do a heart scan. With a stethoscope you could only just hear her heart and he suspected it was because there was a lot of fluid surrounding the heart. Her abdomen was also swollen which was likely to be ascites fluid. Very sadly the vet was absolutely correct and she had severe pericardial effusion. The ultrasound showed a gap between the heart and it’s pericardial sac of about 2cm filled with fluid. During systole the right atrium was collapsing completely due to the amount of fluid pressing on it when the atrium contracted (cardiac tamponade). The cause wasn’t really known but it may have been a tumour at the apex of the heart. The failure of the right side of the heart to pump blood was causing a backlog of blood in the body’s veins, and this causes swelling in the abdomen which casues ascites. The dog was a rescue and currently in a foster home. Her foster mum decided not to attempt treating the dog (which would’ve involved trying to drain the fluid from around the heart). The vet was prepared to go ahead and attempt treatment but the owner was not prepared to go ahead with treatment probably due to the fact she was a rescue and due to cost. Tragically part of the dog’s kit that had come in with her was a bright yellow lead saying ‘ADOPT ME, ADOPT ME’. :'(

I’ve had one of the best weeks in a practice. I’ve learnt how demanding being a vet can be both physically and emotionally: from long hours and finishing late, constantly being busy, tackling tricky and awkward situations, difficult or upset owners, handling emergencies and upsetting cases to bread and butter cases. There’s never a dull moment (well maybe sometimes) and there’s such incredible variety, I saw all that ^^ in just one working day. I think that must give vets an immense satisfaction and love for their job.


Mayhew Animal Home

This week I went to visit my friend who works at the Mayhew Animal Home in London. He kindly gave me a whistle stop tour and I learnt about some of the many things the charity get up to.

The Mayhew at it’s heart is an animal welfare organisation. It has a rescue and re-homing centre which can hold up to 30 dogs and 150 cats and kittens. The centre successfully rehomes many animals every year and also reunites strays with their owners. Because it is a smaller centre than others such as Battersea cats and dogs home, the staff pride themselves on being able to get to know each animal very well and therefore provide them with the best care and attention and importantly also find the most suitable homes for them. This shows in the Mayhew’s ‘return’ rate of animals, which is very low (approximately 2%) whereas somewhere such as Battersea would be higher (around 10%). They are able to provide a very thorough adoption process. All animals for rehoming are neutered and time is taken to properly assess their behaviour in a variety of settings, such as with people, children and other dogs in the park. Potential new owners have an interview and a home visit and potential matches get to meet with each other in special areas provided at the home.

It was visible that every effort was being made to provide the best welfare for the in-house residents in the kennels and catteries. Lots of stimulation in the form of toys, tvs, and even sofas in kennels(!) was being provided and all the dogs also get out at least 4 times a day, either to the park or special gardens in the centre which have lots of different smells for enrichment. It is never ideal for animals to be kept in kennels or catteries for a long period of time especially in comparison to a good loving home as it’s often difficult to provide each animal with enough attention (usually in the form of enrichment) despite best efforts. But because of this the centre looks after each animal very well and also puts a lot of effort into preparing them to find new homes, so they can find them quicker! Videos are even created for some of the animals to help them find homes!

  • There is also community veterinary clinic attached which provides treatment to any of the animals that require it and also neuters and microchips animals before they are adopted.
  • There is a foster care programme and pet refugee programme.
  • Low cost neutering, microchipping and vaccinations to all and free neutering for bull breeds.
  • Animal welfare officers help in the community by assisting pet owners in difficulty, responding to welfare complaints and they also trap, neuter and replace (TNR) the feral cat population.
  • Animals provide therapy for local residential homes and childrens’ hospitals.
  • They support international animal welfare initiatives abroad as Mayhew International e.g. in India, Nepal. Run international vet training programmes.

As with some charity work by providing low cost or free services, which while the large majority of the time do what they set out to do and help those in need, they can be abused by people too. For example some people may abuse this slightly by bringing in bull breeds to be neutered when they can clearly afford to pay for the procedure.

The Dick vet scool

I’d like to look up more about The Royal Dick School of Veterinary medicine’s course  in preparation for the open day.

What particularly appeals to me about the veterinary medicine course is the opportunity to be part of a close-knit community of students and this is how they describe it at Edinburgh. The accredation you receive upon qualification is also another reason to study at the dick vet school. The degree is accredited by The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and The European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) and many students end up working around the world. I think this would be fantastic because in the long term my goal would be to work abroad in a country such as Africa or America because I really like to travel to different parts of the world.

Year one

  • The Animal Body 1 and 2
  • Animal Life & Food Safety 1
  • Professional and Clinical Skills 1

Year two

  • The Animal Body 3 and 4
  • Animal Life & Food Safety 2: Disease quantification, diagnostic tests in surveillance and clinical practice, animal disease surveys and the critical evaluation of veterinary medical evidence. Animal disease surveys and surveillance are particularly important skills to gain for work such as that of Mission Rabies who are tackling diseases in foreign countries where you 1st have to assess the situation of the disease in the country, then after your project conduct surveillance to evaluate how successful it was.
  • Professional and Clinical Skills 2
  • Student Research Component

During year 1 and 2 animal body 1,2 and 3 integrate anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and introduce pathology, infection and immunity. It lays down a strong understanding of normal anatomy, cell biology and homeostatic mechanisms. (and by understanding the normal homeostasis mechanisms you can deduce what happens when one component of the system fails, also how pathologies cause mechanisms to go wrong). Animal body 4 is little new material and focuses on clinical case studies using knowledge gained from 1-3. You learn about the anatomy of a dog (the bones of the skeleton, the major muscles and joints, and the topography of the organs). Also you learn to perform dissections of animal tissues according to written instructions. Learning about anatomy really interests me, I have already enjoyed learning about human anatomy for my medical sciences degree which will also come in useful. I enjoy the practical element of dissections and practicing manual dexterity. I enjoy learning the anatomy from books then seeing it in dissections.

In the animal life and food safety course you learn husbandry of farm and companion animals, animal welfare, veterinary public health, and food safety. For husbandry, practical classes involve the handling and restraint of domesticated animals. This makes the course sound very hands on right from year one which appeals to me. Topics of waste management, HACCP, stable to table, zoonoses, food borne pathogens and biosecurity are covered. In this course you also learn to interpret clinical diagnostic tests.

Another thing that stands out about Edinburgh is that they teach professional and clinical skills from year 1 and then every year. You develop personal, interpersonal and communication skills, with an emphasis on inter-personal skills, client perspectives, the human-animal bond and you learn how to perform a clinical examination of a dog.

In year 2, you conduct a group-based student-selected research project and present it. I enjoy being given or choosing a topic and really becoming immersed in it and exploring it. I would like the opportunity to develop my presentation skills and learn to present in an interesting and clear way, I have only had a couple of opportunities to do this before and I think it’s a really valuable skill to have to be a successful vet (communicating clearly and confidently). I also relish the challenge of working with other people in a group; to overcome any difficulties, come together and produce really good work. I understand that being able to be diplomatic, compromise and sometimes take the lead for group work is also a really good skill to practice.

Year three

  • Veterinary Pathology: principles and patterns of pathology using, where appropriate, examples of specific diseases for illustrative purposes. Students are exposed to practical examples of the disease processes.
  • Integrated Clinical Course: Dog and Cat
  • Professional Clinical Skills 3
  • Clinical Foundation Course 3

Year four

  • Integrated Clinical Course: Farm Animal
  • Integrated Clinical Course: Equine
  • Integrated Clinical Course: Exotics
  • Professional and Clinical Skills 4: prepares you particularly for final clinical year.
  • Veterinary Public Health:

Year five -lecture free!

  • Final Year Rotations
  • Student Research Component


In year 3, you start a clinical foundation course which teaches you how to diagnose and treat different species. It does this by covering subject areas including; pharmacology and therapeutics, diagnostic Imaging, surgery, anaesthesia and critical care, oncology and evidence based veterinary medicine. The course provides a foundation for the subsequent species based integrated clinical modules. You start the 1st integrated clinical course on the dog and cat! Each integrated clinical course focuses on a specific species and the disorders of that body system, learning about the aetiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment of each disorder. It is the foundation for the clinical rotations of the final year. You also start a 2nd student selected research component which you work on over year 3 and 4 and complete the 1st integrated clinical course for the cat and dog.

In year 4, you do the integrated clinical course for farm animals, equine and exotics. You continue to carry out your research project and finish it. The vet public health course covers principles of safe food production including food microbiology, encompassing all aspects of food safety from farm to table, food borne infections and role of food hygiene authorities/legislation at the national and international level.

In year 5, it is lecture free with an emphasis on practical experience. Clinical rotations are carried out in the Easter Bush hospitals and support services to gain experience and develop professional skills. It incorporates elective periods and externships.

During the vet course you are required to complete extra mural studies EMS: preclinical/animal husbandry EMS which comprises 12 weeks during years 1 and 2 (commercial animal units) and clinical EMS which comprises 26 weeks from yr 3 onwards (in practice, research, charities).

I’m glad I’ve done some research into the course because it has helped to get a better understanding of what it will entail. I can see that having 2 years of a medical science degree behind me would definitely help me on the course especially with subjects such as anatomy and pathology. Having 2 years of experience at university would also be useful as well for skills such as independent working and writing essays.


Here’s a post I wrote when I was on holiday in France.


It was Friday afternoon, my last afternoon at the vets and I was just expecting to see a few more consultations. However, the vet told me how the next consultation was a cat that was unable to urinate. She explained how unfortunately this was actually quite a serious condition. It can also often end up being very costly too because if the cat is unable to urinate it means that the urethra is blocked somewhere and surgery and a general anaesthetic is needed and the cat is hospitalised. This comes as quite a shock to owners who don’t always realise how serious or expensive the condition can be. When we saw the cat it was obviously in distress, making a crouching position every so often to attempt to urinate and otherwise quite quiet the rest of the time. It was an acute blockage and needed immediate surgical attention. The vet did a very good job of explaining the seriousness of the situation to the owner, how the operation is not always successful and even then how in some cats the urethra can sadly become blocked again. The owner was distressed at seeing her cat also distressed and uncomfortable. But I could see that the vet’s words calmed her and she was very good at putting her at ease. The owner was still worried about her cat but agreed to try the operation. The vet’s manner and calm approach really helped here.

The cat was brought downstairs and given pre meds whilst the vet went back upstairs to finish off the two consultations. Vets must be very good at time management and juggling lots of things on their plate, being decisive. If there had been many more consultations I wonder whether the vet would’ve asked them to wait as she was the only vet in and the cat need treating straight away. The operation equipment included a catheter, a couple of 10ml syringes and a kidney dish to collect the urine. The vet nurse was checking the cats vitals every couple of mins (checking heart rate, colour of the gums and eyelids). The vet inserted the catheter into the orifice of the cat’s penis successfully and managed to push it gently into the bladder. This took quite a few attempts. The penis was incredibly small, i’m sure that made the op difficult. She then drew out full syringes worth of urine, then at the end let the urine drip into the kidney dish. She reckoned she removed about 200ml~? The vet was obviously relieved that the operation had been a success.

The figure the vet quoted for  treatment was £400. I wonder what the vet does when the owner says they can afford to pay. I’m sure the vet does their very best to explain how much the cat needs treatment, i’m sure they also strongly encourage people to get pet insurance for large unexpected bills. Would they ever suggest taking the animal to be treated at another charity hospital such as the PDSA? Or sadly they might have to put the animal down?

The cause of a blocked urethra may be related to diet, a lack of water or an imbalance of mineral. It may have a genetic origin.

In sheep, urolithiasis or bladder stones is also a serious and potentially fatal condition. Sand-like particles get trapped in the urethra causing obstruction. If left, it can lead to urethra or bladder (retroperitoneal~) rupture and urine can leak out into the abdominal wall in which case the animal will become dull and die. Signs are attempting to urinate and colic. Treatment is not always successful, it can be snipping of the urethral appendage on the end of the penis or more complex surgery. However with commercial sheep this may not be economical. It’s mainly caused by lack of water, too much concentrate especially if it isn’t specially formulated for rams and imbalance of the minerals calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. Rams and wethers (castrated males -underdeveloped urethra) are most susceptible , ewes don’t because they have larger urethras.

It can also occur in cattle where farmers can notice the animal acting dull and a large swelling under its belly (urine under the skin). Vets treat with surgery (amputating the penis) and most cases heal very well.

Bitch spay followed by back left leg amputation

I saw a very special operation when I was volunteering in Malawi on a female dog with a broken femur. During the days when we were vaccinating if we saw a very sick dog needing immediate veterinary attention we tagged it (this means tagging it’s location using gps on our smartphones and writing a short description). One of the team members would then come as soon as they could and, after speaking to the owner and with their permission collect it and bring it to the BSPCA (Blantyre society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) to be treated.

This was the case for this dog. We had been vaccinating at a stationary clinic when the international vet in my team spotted the dog had a very swollen leg. After a quick examination she decided it probably had a broken femur that wasn’t healing on its own and it needed to be seen to. I spoke to my team leader and we decided to tag the dog (I tagged it and then phoned up the team member) and get the child who had brought the dog along to wait with it in the corner of the classroom. It was a tricky business, it’s not easy to decide when to tag a dog because there are so many dogs that would benefit from being seen by a vet but due to the size of the BSPCA only the most severe cases could be picked up. We decided this dog qualified. The team member turned up and went off to seek the owners permission. Afterwards he loaded the dog up into a small vehicle and took it to the BSPCA.

The next day I found out the dog was going to be operated on and it’s badly affected leg amputated. I was so keen to see it that I asked if it would be possible and amazingly it was arranged for me to be driven to the BSPCA that day so I could observe it. The leg was amputated because the fracture was unlikely to heal well on it’s own; it had already been left untreated for some time and was very swollen, the dog wasn’t bearing any weight on it at all. Another option would be to fix the femur with pins, plates and screws but this is very costly (BSPCA unlikely to be able to afford, owner can’t pay) and it would require lots of nursing and aftercare and attention (BSPCA can’t keep dogs long and the owner is unlikely to give this). I’m not sure the BSPCA even had an X-ray machine to be able to place screws ect.

  1. Prep began by fasting the dog but allowing it water.
  2. The dog was given a premed -a sedative premedication drug of Xylazine intramuscular. This calms the dog, making it slip into anaesthesia more peacefully; it often contains a pain relief drug (analgesic), which reduces pain during and after surgery and the sedative action results in less anaesthetic drug being needed. Tramadol was given for pain relief.
  3. General anaethesia was achieved by giving an anaesthetic Ketamine + Diazepam intravenously as gas anaesthetic wasn’t available. It was maintained by topping up with the same drug every 15 minutes.
  4. When she was down the vet shaved the abdomen and around the leg. Then the leg and belly were sterilised with a pink scrub solution. The top of the leg was wrapped in a cast and then the entire leg draped to permit free manipulation.
  5. The dog had many ticks crawling across its body which probably mistook their host as dead and wanted to find another host. It also had fleas.
  6. She was sterilised 1st by an experienced vet that made quick work of it. The whole uterus was removed (ovariohysterectomy) but the vet did tell me that sometimes they only remove the ovaries. He said it is illegal to amputate a female dog’s leg in India without also sterilising the dog. This is because they cannot support their weight properly if they are pregnant (possibly with a large number of pups) on only 3 legs and their balance is affected all impeding motility. This is especially so if it is a hind leg as these legs normally take most of the weight. 
  7. The amputation began with a generous incision in the skin around the leg where it met the body*.The skin wasn’t completely separated from the subcut fat and muscle to aid grouping muscles later.
  8. The vet tried to first locate the femoral artery and vein. He took some time to find this and the more experienced vet helped. I held the leg elevated for the entire operation and it helped for me to raise it or angle it slightly to find the artery. He wanted to cut away more muscle to find it but the more experienced vet said because the leg was so swollen the muscle was likely to be well supplied and bleed easily. He found the artery and doubly ligated it before cutting. We could tell it was the artery because it was pulsating. All the major vessels are doubly ligated and transfixed but vessel branches to remaining muscles are PRESERVED.
  9. The vet incised the muscle to reach the bone at the hip joint. Each muscle band should be clamped, ligated and then incised. Care must be taken not to remove too much muscle as they can contract as they are cut. Nerves are also severed.
  10. The skin incision was oozing quite a lot of blood so adrenaline was given. It was just squirted from a thin syringe over the area. Adrenaline works by acting on adrenoreceptors of the sympathetic NS. a1 receptors cause smooth muscle contraction (vasoconstriction)!
  11.  No bone was cut, instead the entire femur and leg was removed at the hip joint.
  12. The remaining muscles were apposed and brought together and then the skin was sutured using a 16 gauge needle which looked quite large (gauge = thickness, the higher the gauge the thinner the needle) and any excess skin was removedIn total the dog had 12 sutures.
  13. After surgery the patient was monitored for pain, hypothermia, and excessive bleeding. Initially assistance in standing and walking was provided to prevent bruising.

The operation lasted around 2.5 hrs and I had assisted by holding the leg during the op and also after it was removed by passing swabs and suture material. It was a very successful operation I was lucky enough to see the dog a few days later up and walking about steadily on her 3 legs. Terribly the dog had apparently got the fracture from being attacked by people with stones so everyone was very glad for this happy outcome.

It was a very bloody operation but amazing to observe, probably even more so because the vet performing the operation was only doing his 2nd ever leg amputation. *In hindsight there were a few things he could have done differently. The biggest mistake was incising the skin around the entire circumference of the leg as this led to a lot of unnecessary bleeding. The more experienced vet had also advised him to try to cut the muscles a band at a time and do it in a more orderly fashion.

Overall I feel very lucky to have been able to observe the operation. The same dog in the UK may have received more complex treatment that requires more aftercare and is more costly OR probably wouldn’t have progressed to this stage and may not have even needed a leg amputation because it would have received earlier treatment. By going abroad it is sad to see such severe cases but you can learn a lot by treating (or in my case observing the treatment) of such cases. The charities that work abroad providing free vet treatment to sick animals and services such as sterilisation are doing an immensely good job and are saving lives. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to volunteer and learn more.


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Family dairy farm (2)

I’ve just started a week on a second diary farm and already it is very different to my 1st dairy farm so there is lots to write about!

I arrived at about 6:30am and this is when the cows come in for milking. In total there are about 60 cows being milked. On the farm there are also cows that are dried off ready for calving; these are split into 2 groups, just dried off and a small group that are close to calving that the farmer checks on in the morning and late at night before going to bed. There are also last years replacement heifers (about a dozen) and the new calves. The milking parlor is around 50yrs old. It used to be a mobile outside parlor holding only 4 cows but in the 1970s it was brought to the yard and raised up, a concrete building built up around it and concrete blocks for the cows to stand on. It is a simple parlor and only 6 cows can be milked at any one time so milking takes a lot longer. But it has a certain charm and it’s lovely to work so close to the cows (they are only tied with a chain running behind their legs) even if it is a bit more dangerous! They even stick their heads round at you as if to say ‘where’s my cake please?’.

  1. The cows are brought in and enter the parlor through a small manual door. They then step up onto the place to be milked and we place a chain behind their hind legs.
  2. We feed them cake (5 scoops for recently calved and 3 for the rest) and then wash and dry their teats.
  3. The cluster is switched on and placed onto the teats. The milk is collected. The average milk yeild for a cow per lactation is around 5-6,000L in this herd (23L pday).
  4. When milking is finished the cluster falls off and we teat dip the teats in iodine. This kills any bacteria to prevent mastitis.
  5. The cow is let out by a manual door.
  6. At the end of milking the parlor is washed down and the clusters are cleaned. First they are cleaned with cold water, followed by acid and hot water in the mornings or chlorine in the afternoon.
  7. The herd is let out into a grass field.

The cows are milked 2x a day at 6.30am and 4pm. The milk yeild could be increased if there was a bigger gap between milkings, some farms try to achieve a gap of 12hrs. The parlor is washed down with very hot chlorine water once a week.


The milk is organic and therefore the farmer gets a better price for it (around 32p). It is collected by a company (supplier) that then distributes it to retailers (Tesco, Waitrose, Yeovalley). The price of milk is seasonal. It is lower in spring and higher in autumn/winter. This is to encourage an even production of milk throughout the year and to avoid a surge in spring. The milk is collected by a tanker every 2 days as it can’t stay longer than 2 days on the farm. Not all the milk goes into the bulk tank, the milk from cows with a high cell count is collected in a bucket to feed the calves. Milk from antibiotic treated cows doesn’t go into the bulk tank either.  As the farm is organic the farmer doubles the recommended withdrawal period.

The farmer is more reluctant to use antibiotics and because it is an organic farm they use less anyway. If a cow has a cell count over 200,000 he doesn’t necessarily use antibiotics, in contrast to the previous farm. At drying off, if they have a history of mastitis he may use a dry cow tube but he is against using teat sealant. This is because you have to be extremely sterile and clean if you are using it to avoid pushing and trapping bacteria up in the teat and potentially causing a problem instead of preventing one.

For reproductive management, the cows calve all year round with the exception of June-July time. This is because the farmer is busy making silage and hay. The cows are Friesian Holstein but they will be bringing their own replacement Jerseys into the herd in years to come. There is one that is a shorthorn cross. The heifers are served by the neighbours’ Devon bull. The rest of the cows are bred with AI by the farmer himself. Different breed of bull are used: angus, holstein friesian, sexed semen Jerseys and the farmer looks for a low cell count, good fertility, good ease of calving and good % butterfat. He told me he took a course on AI which involved practicing AI on cows that were going to be slaughtered at the abattoir. When they shot the insemination gun a dye was released which could be seen in the dead cows reproductive tract to see if their placement had been correct.

The calves are kept with their mother for 2 weeks, this is longer than most farms. Some farms only leave them on for 6 hours to get the initial colostrum. The farmer believes there are many health benefits to leaving the calf on for longer though. This seems true because he doesn’t get many health problems with his calves and they are also impressive at the market (which shows he produces good quality calves) and the farmer often gets noted in the market’s reports. The farm rears their own dairy replacement heifers and the rest of the calves are sold at market. But then a downside may be that they’ve formed a stronger bond and some say it’s more stressful for the mother if you take calves off earlier and some say later.

He only vaccinates once against lungworm. He will only vaccinate against bluetounge if the vet strongly advises it. He hasn’t had many problems with pneumonia, schmallenberg or BVD. Schmallenberg is a virus that is thought to have been brought across the channel by infected midges, not imported livestock. It causes mild to moderate disease in cattle (milk drop, pyrexia, diarrhea) also late abortion and birth defects in calves, sheep and goats.

There have been a few problems with calving. One cow has had a c-section then sadly died. After the operation she just went off her food. The farmer suspects it wasn’t an infection that killed her. She was open for quite a long time though. They had attempted to foster a calf onto her but ended up having to bottle feed the calf. They had a cow calve twins alive but sadly only shortly later they were found dead.

On Tuesday, it was just me and the farmer milking in the morning and afternoon but it went well. There is one cow called K2 that we brought in to check because her back left quarter looked inflamed and swollen. Yesterday we had done a California mastitis test (CMT) on her and found a positive result for that bl quarter. (A positive result is the formation of a gelatinous mixture indicating a high cell count). When the farmer milked the teat by hand this morning it was obvious an infection was present because the milk was watery and quite clotted. It didn’t appear to be an E.Coli infection because the milk wasn’t that light brown colour with few clots so therefore it may be a Staphylococcus or Streptococcus contagious infection. He stripped the quarter as much as he could and then gave her a lactating cow tube of antibiotics straight up into the teat.

Before lunch the farmer took me to see Sedgemoor market which is where he sells his calves. Despite there being no animals because it wasn’t market day we still had a good look around. The market was large with 2 auctioneer rings in 2 separate rooms. During the auctions an animal enters the ring and it’s weight is displayed on a screen. The buyers all stand around the stage pen and bid by making gestures. At the back of the building was the show pen area for selling all the other animals. It was incredibly big and was full of pens that could hold livestock e.g. small flocks of sheep/groups of calves. Pigs and poultry are sold on alternate weeks. It had signs up stating the importance of disease control; there was a fine for anyone found in the area that wasn’t supposed to be there and as they could bring disease in. There were stations for people to disinfect their boots before entering the market and when livestock vans emptied they had to be disinfected and cleaned before leaving the market, similar to the abattoir. Only dairy cattle were sold in guineas.

On Wednesday morning and afternoon I stripped the teat and tubed K2. She was already improving. He suspects that she had got the infection in early lactation because she wasn’t milked soon enough after having her calf (it was left 2/3 days). We also went to Burnen on Sea to visit the beach and look at the sea! And I also had a look at the farmers range of homeopathic medicine. 

I stripped and tubed K2 cow again this morning (Thursday). There was a lovely Hereford heifer calf born on weds morning and we brought her in today. I tagged her ear and we dipped her navel in strong iodine. I also got to tag a calf’s ear on Monday so this was only my 2nd time ever! The farmer only places the 2nd large ear tag in just before they go to market because he thinks they’re too easily ripped out when they’re very young (!).

We also saw to a cow’s back feet. She had very overgrown toes so we got her into the crush to clip them and she was an excellent patient -very quiet. In the crush we used a belly belt to help take some of the weight off of her. We used clippers to shorten the hoof and then a hoof knife to cut away at any overgrown sole. The clippers and the knife were both a bit blunt so it was quite tricky. The farmer told me that you want to be able to fit a golf ball right in the centre of the foot. You don’t want to cut away too much of the sole because it may start to bleed. On her back right foot we found an ulcer (we hit some pus first then found quite a sizable hole) which we cut away at and hopefully it will feel a lot better now that it can drain. We gave her some blue antibiotic spray too. Solar ulcers (damage to the laminae -horn forming tissue) can occur when the solar horn overgrows transmitting the weightbearing to the centre of the sole. This causes bruising to the sole where bacteria can more easily enter and penetrate the laminae causing pain and lameness. In the absence of infection, factors that lead to bruising and damage to the laminae can cause an ulcer. Treatment involves restoring the correct weight-bearing surfaces. The farmer will check it again in 3wks. On the last day I spotted another cow with overgrown back toenails and the farmer is going to see to her too.

That evening we had a really nice time going to the pub after we’d finished afternoon milking to celebrate a birthday and then we also checked on the expectant cows afterwards. I was definitely struggling to stay awake as I’d had a busy weekend and week so far and I was starting to feel it! I can definitely appreciate that dairy farmers work incredibly hard being on their feet all day, being up in the early hrs and checking on their stock late at night, they don’t get much sleep!

On Friday I had a really amazing last day. I felt like a vet -or at least a vet student for some of it! After morning milking we went to visit one of the farm workers at the farm where he is a tennant and his landlady was there too. We were disbudding 6 calves (3 were his and 3 were his landlady’s). The calves were about a month old and had started to grow little horn buds which could be easily felt. They had been treated with metacam (an NSAID analgesic) this morning. 1st I gave each calf 2 injections of anaesthetic (each 3ml) into a hollow below the ridge of bone (book says to do 1/2 between eye and bud under a bone ridge). It was important after inserting the needle to pull back on the plunger slightly to make sure you weren’t injecting into a vessel. But blood when you pull out can be a good sign as it means your near the nerve. Then we left the calves for 10 mins for it to take effect. Next I used the hot iron to cauterize the skin around the horn bud and then angled it slightly to remove the bud itself. Finally I applied an antibiotic blue spray to dry the wounds and promote healing. Some of the calves barely moved during the procedure and it seemed like they couldn’t feel it which was a good sign but others did move around quite a lot.

The other farmer then showed me a cow with acute E. Coli mastitis. They had been stripping and tubing her and also injecting her with antibiotics in order to make her better. I got to feel her infected quarter and it felt very hard in comparison to the others (washed hands inbetween!). Also the milk coming out was a watery brown indicative of E. Coli.  I stripped her as much as I could and then we gave her a 23ml Hexadecylpyridinium? IM injection on each side. This was required every 5 days as opposed to every 1 day with penicillin and streptomycin treatment. She should recover but sadly she would lose that quarter. They believe her calf had wondered slightly and had started feeding from another cow. The bacteria may have been able to establish an infection because she wasn’t being emptied in that quarter (suckling may have helped). As E.Coli is found in cow faeces that may be how she became infected.

During lunch we stopped and had a cup of tea with a slice of cheesecake. It was glorious weather and it was a lovely break. Afterwards the other farmer showed me his stock. They were a beautiful mix of cows and calves. He had mother cows which were HFs, beef shorthorns, dairy shorthorns, limousin, british blue also one with an amazing tiger marble coat. And many calves including some herefords. I suppose suckler herd are better off than dairy. He told me he sometime keeps cows until they are 10 or 15 before they go! Steers can go for slaughter at around 18months. Normally he likes to sell them when they still have a nice coat from drinking their mother’s milk and get them off to market quickly as they loose this when they are taken away from their mother. Suckler calves stay with their mother and don’t get milked so they live out their days with relative ease compared to a dairy cow. (It’s amazing what dairy cows do really because since the age of around 2 they have a calf every year and are milked 2x a day during their lactation. They then go for meat when they are older.) The farmer also rears calves off their mother and these he feeds a molasses coarse calf feed instead of cake because it’s more palatable. They wont get let outside till next spring.

Before heading back we also went and had a look and their herd of black Dexter cattle. These were a charming little bunch of cows, calves and a bull, all small with big horns. The breed originates from Ireland and though people believe it they are not closely related to Kerry cattle. I was struck by the story that one of the heifer calves had fallen down and badger hole but wasn’t surprised when I saw it for myself! Luckily the owner had heard the calf in distress but otherwise it would have died. The scale of the badgers impact was large, the cattle’s field had quite a lot of holes and they were all surprisingly large. It caused a real problem for the owner.

We went back and did the afternoon milking before I went back home. It was a great week and I learned a lot. It was really nice to get on so well with my host family too. Till next time!

Calf with the same birthday as me!
Suckler herd
The dairy herd

The difference between hay and straw…

because it’s a simple difference

The word ‘hay’ refers to the entire harvested plant, including the seed heads. Most hay is grown to be used as animal feed, and is generally rye, alfalfa or a specialized grass. But cereal crops like wheat, oats and barley are sometimes grown for animal feed as well as human consumption.

When the plants are left intact and bundled up, it’s hay. But when the seed heads are removed, the plant stalk that’s left behind is straw, a hollow tube that has many uses, including animal bedding on farms and mulch in gardens.

Zoo farm

I started my week of work experience at a Zoo farm today. The zoo farm is quite large and it’s home to a wide range of zoo animals such as Bison, Giraffes and elephants but also some farm animals.

We worked mainly in animal village (where children can handle animals), and with the show animals (the farm animals). Sadly we didn’t get involved with any of the zoo animals or keepers today. They have a Jersey cow which was hand-reared and so was easy to handle, an Ankole-Watusi, many sheep; i saw mainly Jacobs sheep some of which had 4 horns and black sheep that were  , goats and kids, donkeys and a shire horse. Their routine is to be brought in from the field to be in the show pens from 9am-4pm where they have access to hay, water and straw bedding. The hay didn’t look particularity good quality! They take part in the animals show 2 times a day. Then go back out in the field where they are able to graze and get fed maize products.

Despite being weaned and not needing milk, the lambs get bottle fed milk opportunistically after every show depending upon whether children want to have a go at bottle feeding them. There is a mad dash as the lambs run for the bottle and desperately try to suck from it whilst it’s passed along a long line of children. Although the volunteers say it does them no harm to have the bit of extra milk overall I don’t think this is good for the lambs. They are subjected to irregular feeding, mishandling and a crowd of strange new people.

Children can get hands on at the zoo and handle chicks and rabbits. It’s a really interactive experience which is great and the children seem to really enjoy it. However, after a while I don’t enjoy having to pull the little chicks out from under their heat lamp or pick up the same rabbit for the 3rd or even 4th time! I know that the best thing for the animals would be to leave them in peace and -especially the chicks let them grow. I cant help feeling that again this is not in the animals best interest. It causes the animals stress to be surrounded by and handled by the children and myself (picking them up many times) and the chicks could quite easily get injured by a  scared child squeezing to tight. -Think fishy finding nemo! I do acknowledge though that there is the opportunity to teach children how to handle animals correctly and safely.

There is a zoo vet who visits every other week who had learned about exotic species by coming to the zoo and there is a Zoo vet specialist who comes 4x per year. The vet came to do an annual TB test a few days ago on many of the animals including the cows, pigs, goats and alpacas. Everything came back negative. The test in pigs is similar to that of cattle, it requires the injection of tuberculin on day one and the reading of the test 72hrs +/-4 later. It’s injected into the loose skin at the base of the back of the ear instead. The same vet is required to read the test. It is read in the same way and the vet can also check suspect cases for clinical signs of TB.

On Tuesday I arrived slightly earlier and so I got to help with more of the feeding and watering. All the animals in animal village get fresh water everyday, the chicks also get all their bedding changed, all of the animals have chip bedding.

In today’s show there was also a reindeer and her baby (calf), a shire horse and thoroughbred. On the way to the show if any of the animals defecate or urinate we have to clean it up and disinfect the area. Then a record is made of which animal pooed where. This sounds a lot of paperwork but the zoo has to do it in case any children pick up an infection from contact with the animals faeces such as E.Coli infection. By keeping a record it may be easier to work out which animal is infected and trace the root of infection, find out what the infection is likely to be. There are a number of infections that can be picked up by people (espec children) from petting zoos via the faeces of the animals.

In one of the stables there are 2 goat kids that have been isolated and this is because one of them was found with a big nasty gash on her left shoulder one day. The vet came and stitched her up and now she has a few stitches. She can’t be on display so she’s kept in the stables with her brother for company. It will be some time before they are on display again as the vet needs to come again and remove the stitches.

At the zoo farm they have isolation pens where any new animals are kept for 30 days. There are new guinea pigs that are currently in them but my supervisor told me that it could be some time before they are put on display because they need to have an injection against a type of bacteria that they’ve had a problem with at the zoo farm.

We also health checked the rabbits which gets done every week. 2 baby gerbils had died.

On Wednesday I got to help out in some of the zoo animal sections. First I went to help with the ring-tailed lemurs lemur catta. Lemurs are primates endemic to Madagascar and its tiny neighbouring islands. At the zoo they have 8; 2 parents (incl the alpha dominant female) and their 3 daughters and 3 sons. The keepers distinguish them by their tails. When they came to the zoo about 6 years ago they just had the 1 son so they’ve successfully bred about one baby each year. All the primates get fed 3 times a day and all of them have specific diet plans worked out for them which are followed. This is made to meet their nutritional requirements and tries to model what they would normally eat in the wild. We started by cleaning out their indoor area: picking up poo then washing the walls (which they like to bounce off).

We then cleaned the outdoor meerkat enclosure. Meerkats are from the sourthern African plains. There is a waterfall in their enclosure which provides enrichment and there was also a chunk of tree which naturally contained lots of insects they could get at by picking at the wood. In the wild meerkats would eat scoprions but at the zoo they feed them chicks 6 days of the week and mice on the other as a source of protein.

In the afternoon I got to go back to primates section for the last feed of the day. We cleaned out the gibbons and then fed them swede and celery. We then fed the black and white ruffed lemurs (lettuce and steamed swede), the tamarins and marmosets. Black and white ruffed lemurs are endangered, more so than red ruffed lemurs.

I asked if the gibbons had ever had any health issues and the keepers told me they didn’t and in general are very healthy animals. The only health issues they tend to get is scraps and scratches. One currently had scabs on her face and the keepers think that one of the other gibbons must have caught her and she has since picked at the scab making it worse, however it was starting to look better now. If they do require any medicine it it easy to give to them because it is mixed in with fruit which is kept as a treat for them as they never get fed it otherwise (their daily diet is veg).

There are three groups of marmosets: “true” marmosets, tamarins,  and Goeldi’s monkey. Tamarins are from South American rainforests. They are critically endangered, as are many of the rain forests are disappearing due to ever-expanding logging, agriculture, and industry. The golden lion tamarin forms social family groups. Males help to raise their offspring, and often carry their young on their backs in between feedings. Tamarin young are usually twins. The marmosets also got fed a substitute for tree sap, a type of gum by syringe and a little bowl. This is becuase in the wild they eat primarily insects in addition to fruit, tree sap, and other small animals.

I only got to spend a small amount of time with the keepers but what I picked up was that they have quite a busy schedule with lots of jobs to do, many of which are daily tasks such as cleaning the glass, the enclosure and feeding. Many of the keepers I’ve met are responsible for more than one animal, usually many, which surprised me as I assumed there was one main keeper for each animal. They have to follow their schedule quite tightly as feeding times can’t be allowed to be delayed or interrupted and cleaning jobs can’t be missed. Another daily task is checking the fittings in the enclosure. On the public side, their role is to give talks and educate the public more about their animals, run keeper experiences. On the animals side, they look after the animals welfare (health checking animals and providing enrichment).

Today (Thursday) was the best so far because I got to spend time with the giraffes and their keeper. When we entered the giraffe house we disinfected our boots to make sure we didn’t carry bacteria inside from any of the other animal enclosures/the environment. There are 4 giraffes: a dominant male, a female and their 2 sons which are 4 and 2yrs. Giraffes can live up to 28yrs in captivity. The female is a reticulated giraffe and the male and sons are not a purebred subspecies. Their keeper explained how the different subspecies of giraffe (such as reticulated and angolan) may actually be separate species, certain studies suggest this to be the case. In which case only the female is a ‘purebred’ and only her genes would be valuable in a european breeding programme. The giraffes are not currently part of such a programme but they hope the female will be in the future. The 2 sons are being moved to form a bachelor herd in Holland. Despite being ‘hybrids’ the father and sons are still fertile which I think is evidence for there being at least very closely related different species of giraffe. Animals that can mate together to produce fertile offspring forms part of the definition of being of the same species. This type of ‘crossbreeding’ would happen in the wild but at a much lower occurence compared to captivity.

The giraffes get fed 4 times a day and they have a very specific diet plan. It has been created with thorough research into what their nutritional requirements are, what giraffes in other zoos are fed and what they would normally eat in the wild. A positive of there being so many captive giraffes is that there are many studies/lots of info available on what their diet should be. The main part of their diet is browsing and browsing pellets (supposed to contain everything they need). The browsing can consist of sycamore tree leaves, sweet chestnut, ash, hawthorn and blackthorn which they love. They seem to like thorny browsing and these are similar to acacia which they’d eat in the wild. To provide some enrichment they get fed the pellets in a bin with only a few holes in and hay stuffed on top to make it tricky to access. These are tied high up and the browsing is hauled up by a winch. The giraffes are fed normal hay but they also get lucerne hay or -Alpha A. Alpha A is an alfalfa crop which contains lots of quality protein for them which they would normally get from eating diff plants in the wild. Well made lucerne hay is generally of better quality, nutrative value and palatability (for horses) than well made meadow hay. It also contains more minerals beneficial to horses than meadow hay. They also get linseed pellets. These are fatty and oily and provide a source of omega 3 fatty acids which are important in cell membranes. They get biotin which is good for feet and hoof health. In the winter they are kept indoors and get fed silage -a bit like cows! Their silage is made from beech trees. They also get shut in at night as they are very sensitive to temperature changes. The inside house is kept at a constant 16C.

When I asked, the keeper told me about the enrichment the giraffes get. Most is based around their food by trying new and interesting ways of feeding them often tying to make it harder for them to get to their food. They also stimulate the giraffes sense of smell by placing different smells in their enclosure such as ladies perfume, different animal faeces or the camels fleeces when they’re sheared. They can use auditory enrichment by exposing them to different sounds such as sounds from Africa or sounds of different animals. In the wild the tickbird call would alert them to danger. They can also place novel objects in their enclosure, even things such as a cardboard box for them to play with.

They currently suspect the female giraffe is pregnant, mainly because she hasn’t been in heat for 3 months now. She has also been slightly off her food recently and this is normally because she is on heat or it is due to hormonal changes during pregnancy (the keepers hope it is the later). Despite being able to do a preg test by taking a faecal sample, the zoo won’t because giraffes are one of the easier species to tell, especially at later stages of pregnancy where they start putting on a lot of weight. The test is also expensive.

The keepers also do training with the giraffes. They have a crush in the indoor giraffe house and they train the giraffes to use it using a target stick and fruit as a reward. By doing this they are able to weigh them every week and also do things like check their feet and file them down. They need this because the artificial flooring (concrete with sand) although abrasive, doesn’t wear down their feet well enough. They can also check for any scrapes and obvious signs of damage, also possibly take tests like a blood test more easily.

I also asked if any of the giraffes had had any health issues. Luckily the keeper told me that they hadn’t had many health issues. Currently the oldest male has got crack in his hoof. This is not a major problem and his leg is not swollen or inflammed. By using the crush the keepers are able to monitor the situation and they feed him biotin to promote the healthy healing of his hoof. The eldest son has a condition called locked patella syndrome. Normally the horse usually “locks” and unlocks its stifle without any difficulty while the animal is standing. The system permits a horse to stand for long periods of time without using too much energy. But the knee cup and associated soft tissue structures can fix or “lock” over the portion of the femur preventing normal movement. The vet at the cat vets told me the condition can be corrected in horses by cutting the ligament and just using local anesthetic. The keeper told me how the giraffe had learnt how to overcome this when it happens to him by relaxing all the muscles in his body. Some factors that could predispose to this condition are poor muscle tone and condition, straight hind limb conformation, trauma to the region and hereditary factors. The youngest son had to be weaned early (at 6 months) because his mum became very ill. She went completely off her food. The giraffes also get wormed every 3-4 weeks against things such as roundworm, tapeworm, lungworm.

The keeper also told me a little about their zebras health issues. One of the females had been struggling to get in foal for a long time and they discovered that the grass at the zoo was selenium and vit E deficient. Since selenium/vit E deficiency can be associated with fertility problems they provided a supplement and soon after the mare was in foal quite quickly. Sadly she didn’t reach full term and aborted and they are still investigating why she is struggling to foal.

We also spotted from the diet board that the ostriches are fed oyster shells and the zebras are fed garlic. The keeper explained that the oysters shells are fed to the ostriches because it helps the birds to digest their food. Birds naturally will eat grit and stones which they keep in their crop where they cut up bits of food that they eat. The garlic in the zebras diet has a strong smell but also affects their blood and acts as a natural fly repellent. Though the keeper is a bit skeptical about its effectiveness!

It was my last day at Noah’s and I’m sad to be leaving. The week definitely got better after the 1st two not so good days and it just shows that you have to stick at things because a lot of the time they work out for the best! I learnt that our volunteer supervisor and animal village section leader has a health plan for each animal in animal village and this details things such as when they need to be wormed (ferrets get ivermectin -effective against intestinal and lung worms), fly sprayed and have their feet taken care of. Doing a weekly health check of the animals also picks up on animals that need their claws clipping (rabbits and guinea pigs) and any obvious signs of disease.

She is also responsible for stock management. This is an important part of her job to consider because many of the animals at the zoo breed and it has to be decided what to do with any offspring. For the zoo animals their offspring may be transferred to other zoos as part of an international breeding program, however for the smaller animals in animal village such as chicks, baby gerbils and lambs they are often not kept. This may be due to lack of room to house them in the zoo, especially when animals such as gerbils have a gestation period of about 20 days! The baby gerbils born do eventually go for food and the chicks don’t stay either. However there is a constant replacement of baby animals such as chicks for attraction and handling.

Sadly during this week 2 of the chicks used for handling have died. I can’t help feeling they’re a little fragile for handling (the youngest being a few days old) and it would be much better for them to be left in peace. As a result handling chicks was closed today and will continue to be whilst the keepers investigate why they might be dying.

I found out that the new guinea pigs were waiting to be put on show because they require a vaccination against yersinia pestis (plague). Yersinia pestis is caused by gram -ve rod shaped bacteria. The bactiera can infect both humans and animals (zoonotic) and it can cause the disease called bubonic plague. Most spreading occurs by infected rats and fleas which harbor the bacteria, and as the zoo is partly a farm they do get rats and so there is a risk of the bacteria being present in the environment and spreading to the zoo -especially petting zoo animals. This is why the zoo has chosen to vaccinate the animals against it. The bubonic plague is the most common form of infection and targets the victim’s lymphatic system. After being taken up by macrophages, the bacteria proliferate in the affected lymph nodes, causing inflammation and swelling. The septic plague courses through the body via the bloodstream, disseminating from infected lymph nodes. Being a petting zoo it is also important to prevent animals from becoming infected with bacteria that can also pass to humans. I don’t know what the vaccine is composed of but was told that it was currently on a trial period -maybe it was one of those cases where the company agrees to give out vaccine doses in return for a report on their outcome. The gibbons would also be getting this vaccine.

Overall, it was a very interesting and rewarding week and my favourite part was working with the giraffes and learning about them.  I would love to go back in the future as a volunteer or complete another placement!

The zoo contains many different animals including many of the larger zoo animals such as elephants and tigers and there is a real sense that the owners want to have many animals on display to show what they believe are amazing creations of God. Although I do not believe in creation and I am against keeping animals in zoos because I believe they do not get enough space and enrichment, their welfare needs are not met and I think more should be done to protect these animals in their natural environment, I share the same wonder at the amazing diversity of animals on this planet.



On the small animal side of things I have been lucky enough to observe a

  1. bitch spay, bitch spay followed by leg amputation
  2. pregnant cat spay
  3. rabbit castration, rabbit spay

The bitch spay I saw was on a fluffy brown female springer spaniel. An ovariohysterectomy is the removal of a female dog’s reproductive organs (uterus -the dog has a bipartite, uterine horns and ovaries). It is for the purposes of dog population control, health benefit, behaviour control and genetic disease control.

Benefits of spaying include the prevention of unwanted litters, every year thousands of unwanted puppies are dumped in shelters or on the side of the road, reduce stray dog pops, prevent passing on of genetic diseases or inferior genetic traits. We do not want to breed from dogs which suffer heritable diseases such as hip and elbow dysplasia or polycistic kidney disease. Spaying can also have health benefits by preventing or treating ovarian or uterine diseases. By removing the reproductive organs it’s impossible for the animal to suffer from uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, polycystic ovaries, metritis, endometritis, uterine prolapse and uterine torsion. It also prevents hormone induced diseases such as breast cancer (mammary neoplasia) and hormone mediated behavioural problems e.g. roaming, blood spotting during proestrus, attractiveness to male dogs. On the other hand people may choose not to spay because the dog is more likely to become overweight, you can’t pass on it’s genetics, lack of oestrogen can cause lack of development of female characteristics, it is a surgical procedure and carries risks (it is more invasive than a dog castrate) and it can be too expensive for some.

It is recommended bitches are spayed at 5-7 months old. If they are spayed before their 1st season at about 6 months this may give the best health benefits e.g much reduced risk of mammary neoplasia. 

Step by step guide..

  1. Prep begins at home. The dog is fasted but given water. If they have food they may vomit after the anaesthetic.
  2. The animal is examined by the vet to make sure it is healthy enough for surgery. You are also offered to have a pre-anaesthetic blood panel test done to detect any underlying kidney or liver problems that may cause problems with the anaesthetic.
  3. The dog will receive a premed -a sedative premedication drug. This calms the dog, making it slip into anaesthesia more peacefully; it often contains a pain relief drug (analgesic), which reduces pain during and after surgery and the sedative action results in less anaesthetic drug being needed.
  4. General anaesthesia is normally achieved by giving the dog an intravenous injection of an anaesthetic drug. It’s maintained using the same injectable drug or, more commonly, an anaesthetic inhalational gas.
  5. The skin over the animal’s belly is shaved and scrubbed with an antiseptic solution prior to surgery.
  6. When it comes to canine spay surgery, there are fatty ovarian pedicles (tubes of dense fat and fascia containing the ovarian arteries and veins) and the uterine body. These are highly vascular sites that must be tied off securely with sutures (so that they do not bleed) and cut in order for the uterus and ovaries to be removed. In female dogs, (unlike cats), the ovaries are held down firmly into the abdominal cavity by tight bands of ligamentous tissue,the suspensory ligaments these must be broken to allow the ovaries to be raised up out of the abdomen and into view. They are bigger if the dogs in heat or pregnant. More fat makes surgery harder also as it gets in the way.
  7. The skin’s incised and the abdomen entered. It goes skin, subcutaneous tissue, abdominal muscle layer with ct line linea alba, peritoneum. Muscle bands are not incised here.
  8. The suspensory ligaments are teared off and the 1st uterine horn revealed using a hook. The ovarian pedicles (ovary arteries and veins) and uterine body are ligated off (the uterus may be double-ligated) and cut above the ligatures and the uterus and ovaries removed. I actually saw just the ovaries removed by ligation either side of each ovary then removal (ovariectomy).
  9. The abdominal wall is sutured closed with an absorbable suture. Then the subcutaneous tissue layer reducing chances of fluid swelling up.
  10. The vet can use intradermal absorbable sutures for the skin as the dog can’t chew these out or non-absorbable sutures which need to be removed later.
  11. During the op the vet nurse monitors the dogs normal body functions and records them such as breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels e.g. checks the colour of the gums and inner eyelids for a healthy pink colour, temperature. The hr can also be listened to via a tube downn the oesophagus.

Her blood pressure cuff kept slipping off so the vet nurse used a doppler. She was given fluids. She also got quite cold during the operation to about 35°C (normally 38.3 – 39.2°C) so heat mats were used to keep her warmer.

Many of the benefits and cons to spaying a dog also apply to cats and rabbits. A cat spay is very similar (usually done from 4 months of age) except that you don’t need to tear any suspensory ligaments. Cats and rabbits are induced ovulators. Most vets will spay a cat through their left flank.


A pregnant cat spay is similar to a cat spay. They can be spayed at any time in their pregnancy (gestation period 64 days) but at the later stages it is viewed more as an abortion and some vets will refuse to spay them. The procedure is not as safe or ethical as a spay on a non pregnant animal. It carries greater risk as the vessels are larger, there’s more risk of haemorrhage and the op takes longer. I think in the operation I saw the cat was around 3 weeks pregnant and small spherical swellings of the fetuses were present spaced out along the length of the cat’s uterine horns. 


I have also seen a rabbit spay (usually done at 5 months of age). Rabbits have a duplex uterus with 2 separate cervixes. One of the main reasons to spay rabbits is to prevent ovarian or uterine neoplasia, a common problem in unspayed older does. Rabbit spays are also similar however everything is smaller and their skin is much thinner. The vet doesn’t want to begin surgery unless the level of blood oxygen saturation is ideally 97-100%. The skin is also incised and the linea alba is cut through. The broad ligament can be torn slightly. The ovarian pedicles (vessels) are ligated and cut and also the uterine arteries and veins are tied and cut off too. The ovaries and uteri are removed leaving the cervixes in the rabbit because the vaginal wall is so thin! When the remaining tissue is carefully replaced the abdominal wall can be sutured but the subcutaneous layers can be sealed using surgical glue. Rabbits are notorious at breaking sutures so intradermal absorbable sutures or glue is ideal.

Rabbit anaesthesia is also more difficult. If too much anaesthesia is given the rabbit could become starved of oxygen resulting in brain damage or death. If too little is used the rabbit could retain awareness and memory of the op and the pain caused by the surgery. Thus it’s vital that the level of anaesthetic is appropriate and monitored throughout. In the rabbit castration surgery I observed the level of anaesthesia was not quite enough despite the nurses best efforts as the rabbit was occasionally kicking and twitching.

I also got to observe a rabbit castration (usually done at around 4-5 months of age as the testes descend at 2-3 months of age). The reproductive organs are very similar to that of other mammals, except for the additional ability to retract the testis in the abdomen via the open inguinal ring. The castration of male rabbits is recommended to reduce difficult behavior e.g. marking of its territory with strong smelling urine, aggressive attitude and mounting. It also prevents epididymitis which is hard to treat and neoplasia of the testes.

  1. The rabbit is given a premed followed by a general anaesthetic. It is placed onto a heat pad for surgery. The fur around the scrotum sacs is shaved and the skin is scrubbed with a special surgical soap and an antiseptic solution. This step is done carefully as rabbit skin is very thin and can easily be injured. The rabbit’s blood oxygen saturation and respiration is monitored.
  2. The skin of the scrotum is incised followed by the parietal fibrous tunic, exposing the visceral vaginal tunic. This is left intact in a ‘closed castration’ which is best if possible. If the rabbit retracts the testis into the abdomen during the op the surgeon can attempt to squeeze it back into the scrotum or vaginal tunic can be entered to access the testis and the op becomes a ‘half-closed’ op. In the operation I observed the vet was struggling slightly because the testis kept slipping down moving towards the abdomen. 
  3. Testes lie retroperitoneal. The testis, epididymis and the deferent duct are pushed out through the incision.
  4. The attachments (fascia) between the vaginal tunic and the scrotum can be broken down by the surgeons fingers or hemostats.
  5. The spermatic cord is clamped and sutured. An additional suture is needed around the entire structure to close the inguinal ring if it’s an ‘open’ castration to prevent herniation of the abdominal content!
  6. It’s removed by cutting through the sutured spermatic cord. The ligament of the testis and epididymis is cut.
  7. The remaining tissue is replaced and the incision in the scrotum is sutured or glued together at the subcutaneous levels and the skin.

Rabbits can be castrated through the scrotum or the abdomen. Post op aftercare is important including watching the rabbits as they come around because they can often hop about and injure themselves.

General anaesthetics = xylazine, ketamine,

For the large animal side of things I have seen a

  1. umbilical hernia op on a heifer calf
  2. calf castration
  3. colt castration

An umbilical hernia can occur when a small hole in the abdominal muscle wall present during pregnancy (to allow vessels to pass from the mother into the fetus) doesn’t fully close up allowing intestine to pass through. It differs from navel ill because the calf is not ill, the swelling can be pushed back into the abdomen easily, there is no infection present and it is not hot or painful. Some small hernias resolve but others require surgery e.g if it hasn’t regressed by 4 months. 

The heifer calf was given a general anaesthetic. The vet determined the amount by estimating her weight. When she went down we lay her on her back and tried to make sure her head was comfortable. I had a go at pushing the hernia back in to see that it was in fact a hernia and could easily feel the hole in the muscle wall. The vet clipped the abdominal area then scrubbed it thoroughly with pink antiseptic surgical scrub. When the area was sufficiently disinfected she injected local anaesthetic into the area around the navel. Then she incised the skin. She told me a hard part was knowing how much skin to remove but she estimated it perfectly. The guts were pushed back in whilst the hole in the muscle wall was sutured together with a non-absorbable suture. Then the skin was also sutured and sprayed with an antibiotic spray. You use non-dissolving sutures inside to cause fibrosis and scarring and soluble ones on the skin. We want to cause the fibrosis inside so there is no hole in the muscle wall any longer. The calf was up on her feet very quickly so more anaesthetic may have been better next time in case she woke up during the operation.

The time I saw a calf castration I saw the vet do about 4 in a row, very quickly! Calf castrations (usually done at a young age <8 months else you start to see less productivity) can be done in 3 ways: a rubber ring, Burdizzo bloodless castrator and surgical removal. I saw the latter. Rings are only legal before 1 week of age and you must make sure that both testes are in the scrotum when you do it. Burdizzo bloodless castrators work on the principle that crushing the spermatic cord (vessels and vas deferens that run to and from the testes) destroys it. The cord is pushed to the outside of the scrotum then the jaws of the Burdizzo are applied to crush it. This is repeated just below the 1st crush and then twice on the other cord. The crush lines mustn’t join up otherwise the scrotum may be lost. One farmers opinion that I met was that he wouldn’t trust this procedure to work as the cords could be insufficiently crushed, they may even be missed by the jaws and he also thought it seemed a very cruel procedure for calves. Surgical removal is the most certain method of castration. It involves slitting the end of the scrotum so that the testes fallout; pulling the testes down, and then, in small calves pulling and twisting to break the spermatic cord and in larger calves, crushing and cutting the cord with a special emasculator. Good levels of hygiene are required for surgery.  I was surprised to learn that the vet doesn’t use local anaesthetic or general! Of course the farmer can choose to give some pain relief if they would like to but most of the time the problem is that waiting for an anaesthetic significantly lengthens the procedure. It also means the calf has to be handled more which can cause stress. The calf I saw did get metacam as pain relief because he had also been dehorned so the farmer felt bad as he had been ‘topped and tailed’ on the same day. 

Castration of bull calves has significant advantages. Steers are much easier and safer to handle than entire bulls and there is no risk of unwanted sexual activity and accidental matings. Carcass quality may also be improved by castration. In pigs it is done to prevent ‘boar taint’.

A colt castration (usually done at 6-18 months old though can be done at any age) can be done with the colt standing or down on the ground. Castrating a colt is usually performed for ease of management. Left entire, colts can become very difficult to manage, as it can be difficult for them safely fit into a herd of mares or geldings. They may fight with other male horses in the herd or cause unwanted pregnancies in a herd of mares. These colts were fairly wild horses so the vet chose to sedate them. Each horse was given a premed -a sedative premedication drug intravenously and then Ketamine as a general anaesthetic. They were castrated in the field using a technique called an “open” castration (vaginal tunica incised). Two incisions are made in the scrotum (one for each testicle) by cutting through the skin. The vaginal tunic covering the testicle is then incised, allowing the testis to be completely exteriorised. The blood vessels and spermatic cord are then crushed using a surgical instrument called an emasculator (2 crimps and one cutter may add more crimps above emasculator with hemostats). With an “open” castration no sutures are used, with the wound being allowed to drain naturally. The castration is a farm procedure and it is NOT sterile. This is why you don’t want to suture shut the incision in the skin. Doing so would trap bacteria inside and not allow drainage. Late fall/early spring is best because there’s less flies. The horse is given an injection of penicillin AND and tetanus anti-toxin (a purified antiserum derived from horses containing tetanus specific antibodies).

Tetanus causes animals to become stiff, have difficulty swallowing, and an increased pulse rate. Breathing is labored. Spasmodic contractions of the muscular system occur, extending muscles of the jaw thus, the term “lockjaw” is frequently applied.

For older colts/stallions (>24 months old) a closed castration is preferable. This technique involves using sutures in order to seal off the blood vessels supplying the testicles and the vaginal tunic covering the testicle. This should minimise the risk of post-operative herniation, which can be a significant risk in larger older horses.

It is necessary to have the procedure done in an equine hospital if the op is ‘closed’, if the horse is a rig or if the colt has a scrotal hernia.