Kingsnorth Vets – 17th September 2014

After a long break during the summer holidays I have returned to continue with my fortnightly work experience are Kingsnorth Vets. On asking the vet if I had missed anything exciting whilst I was away, she told me about an operation they had done to remove a lung lobe in a young dog. One part of the lung was infected and damaged beyond repair so to prevent the infection spreading to across the lungs, threatening the dog’s life, they removed the lobe of lung which was infected. Incredibly everything had gone smoothly and the dog had made an excellent recovery!

The first consult of the evening was a group of seven springer spaniel puppies. They were seven weeks old and ready for their first vaccines. In need of some extra hands, I cuddled one of the puppies whilst the vet checked each puppy before vaccinating it. He looked particularly at their skin as they had previously been infected with Sarcoptes, a genus of mite causing mange. After being treated with advocate they were all rapidly improving.

A Staffordshire Bull terrier was brought in having been newly rehomed that day. Its new owner had made the decision to start her vaccination course from the beginning as her history was unknown. However, it was suspected that she had been used for breeding and she also had an unregistered microchip. The vet advised waiting until after her first season before considering spaying. She was very pretty and extremely friendly and I found it hard to imagine how someone could abandon any dog, let alone one like her. I’ve also recently noticed that the overwhelming majority of abandoned dogs are staffies. In the kennels today was a stray staffie waiting to be collected by the dog warden.

A cat was brought in which had on-going loss of appetite leading to lots of weight being lost. The vets had taken bloods but these hadn’t shown any conclusive results. However, today the problem was more superficial. Having had an antibiotic injection during her last consult, the cat had suffered with a vaccine reaction. The owner described how a bald patch had appeared and soon the cat was scratching it. Despite the owner’s best efforts, the skin on the back of its neck was red and sore and hadn’t shown signs of healing. The vet gave a steroid injection to calm down the inflammation and itchiness. This should result in a noticeable improvement within two days.

Next was a mongrel limping on its front left foot. Unfortunately, it was very nervous so after having muzzle put on, the vet examined its leg and foot, finally located that the outside left claw was resulting in the most whimpers. The vet could feel and very slight crunch when moving this nail and suspected a broken toe. She gave the dog an analgesic injection and gave them tablets to take away. Unless there was a rapid improvement with the pain relief on board, she advised booking an appointment for an x-ray. If necessary, the bone could then be manipulated into place whilst the dog was under anaesthetic and it could be bandaged firmly. However, if the joint was too damaged there could be the possibility of surgery to scrape away the cartilage, allowing the joint to fuse, although to amputate the toe would be the simpler and much cheaper option.

Finally, a very old cat was brought in. The owners were very concerned that her condition was becoming progressively worse from day to day as she struggled to move and suffered with diarrhoea. The cat’s abdomen was hugely distended. The vet explained how she could feel a fluid thrill; when she tapped one side of the abdomen she could feel the impulse bounce into her hand on the other side – evidence that the abdomen was full of fluid. This meant the distension was not a result of swollen organs or bloating but gave a reason behind why the cat was so dehydrated despite drinking lots. The vet suggested possibilities for immediate action to put her on a drip then investigating the situation by taking blood or possibly doing some imaging. However, this was unlikely to extend the length of the cat’s life significantly and would put her through a lot. The owners decided to have her put down.

Cat Sense

the feline enigma revealed

by john bradshaw

published by allen lane in 2013

What is this book about?

‘Cat Sense – the feline enigma revealed’ by John Bradshaw explores how cats have changed and developed throughout time to become the modern cat we know and love. It begins by considering when and where the domestication of the cat begun. Unlike dogs, there is very little evidence to support how this process took place but archaeology and other historic accounts, including artwork give us some clues. Furthermore, we can use genetics to investigate which wild cats were the ancestors of our domestic Felis catus. The book then goes on to explore the building relationship of cats with humans. Initially, it is likely that cats were attracted to human civilisations as they began to store food, creating intense populations of rodents. Therefore, humans appreciated the work cats were doing for them in catching mice and rats. This is why cats are so different from dogs in their affection for humans: for the domestication of dogs was based on companionship whilst the domestication of cats was based on hunting. After covering this basic history, Bradshaw goes on to explain how cats think and feel according to research, a lot of which Bradshaw has carried out himself. This follows into the relationships cats have with each other, humans and wildlife. Finally, this is used to question how we keep our cats and consider how we should act to maintain a positive relationship with the domestic cat as we step into the future. In doing this, Bradshaw touches upon the controversial topics of selective breeding and neutering. Generally, neutering of cats is actively encouraged (see poster on right) to prevent the possibly millions of unwanted kittens. However, Bradshaw suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t be advocating neutering to such a degree. If all owners have their cats neutered, soon the only fertile cats will be strays – those cats who cannot be caught and detest the sight of humans. These will be the cats breeding our pet kittens, forcing the genetic line of the domestic cat away from an affectionate bond with humans. I was almost shocked at this opinion, but realised how true it is and that in the coming future, this is something we need to consider if we want to continue owning and loving cats.

Areas of Interest for Further Research

  • An Interaction Between Genes and the Environment

I learnt many extremely interesting things from ‘Cat Sense’, which enlightened my biological and historical view of cats and questioned the anthropological relationships we form with them in our society. However, one of the most fascinating discoveries I made was about the Siamese cats’ coat colour. The darker areas on a Siamese cat’s face, paws and ears result from a temperature-sensitive mutation. At body temperature, the hairs will be white, therefore when Siamese kitten are first born they are white all over because their mother’s womb is uniformly warm. However, as they grow, the coolest parts of their bodies – the extremities including face, paws, ears and tail – become darker in colour. Furthermore, cats living near the equator or in very warm houses tend to be lighter than those living in cooler climates. I have never considered temperature sensitive genetics and this is definitely something I would like to look into further.

See my post about Temperature-Sensitive Genes for more information.

How good was this book?

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it took a while to get into. This is because I am less interested in the history of cat domestication and found it hard to follow the exact dates and geographical settings of each area Bradshaw explored. However, it was easy to become engaged by the fantastic experiments which Bradshaw directly referred to. Despite not owning my own pet cats, I was immediately able to appreciate the significance of many of the findings on society’s view of domestic cats.

Who would I advise this book to?

I think this book would contribute greatly to the knowledge of anyone working alongside cats. Whether this be in a cattery, veterinary practice or at home. It would be extremely useful for anyone considering getting more than one cat or anybody interested in finding out more about the mysterious life lead by our feline friends.

RSPCA Ashford Garden Cattery

For the past year, I have been volunteering regularly at my local RSPCA Cattery in Ashford. Having had very limited experience handling and working with cats previously, I was keen to get involved. The RSPCA is a fantastic charity and the work they do invaluable. From the very first day I volunteered – 20th August 2013 – I have been amazed at the overwhelming number of cats cared for and rehomed through the cattery. There have been court cases and strays, as well as dearly loved pets who cannot be looked after any longer because of changing circumstances or owners’ ill health. They really need and appreciate their volunteers and as a result, we all love what we do for them.

Every morning at the cattery, volunteers come in at 8.30 to clean all the pens. This involves scooping out litter trays, brushing hair out of blankets and wiping down surfaces before sweeping then mopping the floor of each pen. With a small team of volunteers working alongside the staff, all the pens are clean by 10.30, ready for the cattery to open to the public at 11.00. During the day, other volunteers come in to help in the garden or socialise the cats. Socialising is great fun and involves letting the cats out to play with each other and get used to human company, ready for when they are rehomed. However, in everything we do, we have to be very careful. Every cat must be regarded as an individual. Some cats are not allowed to interact with other cats because of suspected illness so it is important that we do act as carriers of potential disease. Therefore, we always have to wash our hands regularly. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to respond to the cats’ behaviour. If they hiss or refuse to move, it would be wrong to try and force them to come out and socialise, for it could result in scratches or bites.

On a Wednesday, the cattery is shut to the public and the vet comes in to check up on the cats. I have been around to observe this several times. Very often the problem is fleas, in which case the cat(s) are put in quarantine to prevent the fleas invading the entire cattery. However, I have also seen several cases of feline herpes virus. One in particular was very interesting because to test for the virus, the vet used fluorescein in its eye. This highlighted an amazing ulcer which looked like a river with tributaries spreading out from it. Luckily, herpes is not a huge problem for the cattery because although it affects the individual cat, all the other cats are routinely vaccinated against it.

During the past year, I have been regularly going to the cattery for 1 1/2 hours every other Wednesday afternoon. My main job is to rinse all the scoops and brushes which have been left to soak for their weekly disinfect. I then put all the scoops and brushes back into the pens, giving me the chance to see and interact with the cats. Very often there are kittens which I play with, observing how they develop hunting techniques through this playing. Recently, I spent a lot of time with several very shy cats. They had been confiscated from their owners by the RSPCA due to neglect, leading to a court case. Their ears were very tatty and initially I thought it was because they had been in fights resulting in the rips and tears – one of the cat’s barely had any outer ear remaining. However, after asking one of the staff, I was told that this damage was all due to ear mites. Therefore, each one of the six cats in the household had suffered with it. This made it clear why the RSPCA had taken action.

In total I have now spent about 40 hours at the garden cattery, which consists of cleaning, socialising cats and generally helping out, it even includes an early morning clean on Boxing Day when they were short of volunteers. Over the coming year, I am going to be spending several hours cleaning every other Wednesday morning. Despite having a few scratches, I love working at the cattery and have learnt so much about cats and the people who choose to abuse them or love them.