Today was my second day of work experience at Barrow Hill Vets, and after an enjoyable day yesterday, I was looking forward to what the day would hold.
One of the services offered by Barrow Hill Vets, as a large and influential vet surgery, is the Wye Community Vets. This happens every Tuesday when one of the vets goes on home visits around the village of Wye. This is free and ideal for elderly clients who don’t have the opportunity to bring their pets in, owners with lots of animals who spend a lot of money and time on visiting the vets, as well as owners with animals which are terrified of the vets and it is more convenient for the vet to come to the pet than the pet to be forced to the vet. I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to accompany the vet on her home visits. On the short drive up to Wye, it gave me a really good chance to ask questions about applying to do veterinary medicine at university as well as hear about some of the controversial issues surrounding veterinary medicine and how it is possible to overcome these in practice.
The first house we visited was a farm with a lady who owned two Labradors. This is where I saw the problems which accumulate with age. The Labradors were suffering with arthritis, making it hard for them to move around, however these problems were being addressed. The dogs were regularly attending hydrotherapy sessions in which they could swim, strengthening muscles and maintaining fitness without exerting there painful and stiff joint by putting weight on them. The owner described these sessions as being very successful because the dogs loved being in the water. I keeps them fit and healthy which essential in any step towards treatment. In addition to this, the dog with more severe arthritis was being prescribed metacam as a painkiller, enabling the dog to enjoy more movement with less pain. But in addition to this, research has shown that metacam is a good anti-inflammatory and therefore a very positive approach to dealing with arthritis, killing two birds with one stone. As well as this, the vet started suggesting that the dogs could take part in a trial of Hills JD Prescription Diet which has a high omega-3 content and previous research suggests that it helps to reverse the effects of arthritis. This was going to be a large scale investigation into the effects of this food across many different dogs to see if it had large scale impact in revolutionising arthritis treatment.
In addition to arthritis, old age brings difficulties with weight and in turn this can cause the occurrence of lipomas, or fatty lumps. These are tumours of fat cells, found just under the skin. They are easy to remove by surgery, although this is often not necessary. Commonly, fatty lumps are benign, meaning that they are only locally aggressive and therefore present no threat to the general well-being of the animal. However, occasionally they are malignant and can spread to other parts of the body, becoming cancerous and dangerous. In these cases, they must be removed.
After this farm house, we drove to a neighbourhood of tiny bungalows. After meeting the elderly owner in her wheelchair about to leave the house she told us that her husband was in the house. The vet warned me that her husband was blind but it did not prepare me for the house we were about to enter. With five cats and a dog, the house was dirty and smelly with the animals living in poor housing conditions. After trying to catch a few of the cats to inspect them, the vet explained to me that they had had many problems but this was just a general check up. The couple evidently loved their animals, as I saw when the man held his cats, identifying them by touch alone. It made me sad to realise that people and animals lived in such conditions, but also I saw the love people have their animals, and having sacrificed their house to their pets they loved them all the more. This is why the Wye Community Vets project is so important. It gives a helping hand to the people and pets most in need of a little extra support and keeps an eye on everything to check all is well.
Back in the surgery I had a chance to see what had been happening. A dog was in the x-ray room undergoing a sinography. This is where a radiopaque liquid is injected into the sinus. However, in this case, the liquid was injected into a lump on the dogs head. It then had an x-ray to ensure that the lump did not protrude into the head meaning that the brain could be damaged during surgery to remove the lump. Luckily, the radiograph showed that the liquid did not enter past the skull and therefore it was safe to proceed with surgery. As I looked on from outside the theatre the vet told me that it looked like the skin had grown inwards for a reason unknown when the dog was a puppy. In this procedure it was even more important than normal to flush out the wound thoroughly because there was hair inside the lump. Although it was a complicated operation to unfold the skin and make sure it was thoroughly removed, it was successful.
Also in the kennels was a saluki cross dog. It had been having lots of fits and with nothing striking indicating why it was having these seizures, various tests were being done. Although it had been determined that it was not epilepsy, the cause was still unknown.
During the afternoon, a cat was rushed out back from the consultation. It had possibly had an ‘RTA’ (road traffic accident) but this was only a guess as the owners had found the cat like this. It had a large wound which was possibly a few days old. It needed to be cleaned and stitched but the cat was distressed and not willing to be injected with an anaesthetic. This is when I first saw the contraption called a crush cage. The sprawling cat put in the cage and one side of the cage was pushed inwards forcing the cat to be crushed, motionless, against the other side of the cage. This gave the opportunity for the vet to safely inject the cat so it could drift off. Although this looked cruel, I realised that this was the safest way for both the vet and the cat. A vet trying to inject a distressed cat is likely to get scratched and bitten whilst the cat becomes more worried, all the time with the problems worsening and the wound not being healed. Once under anaesthetic, the site of the wound was shaved then disinfected with hibiscrub. The wound was opened up and flushed with saline which acts as a disinfectant, ensuring that any exposed areas are clean and will not become infected. After this, the skin around the wound was debrided using a scalpel meaning that there was a fresh site on which healing could take place. These two freshly bleeding sides were then stitched together and the cat was left to wake up.
This morning, a cat that I saw in a consultation yesterday was brought in to be examined more closely. It had been brought in by its owners because they were worried as to why their cat had stopped miaowing. After being placed under anaesthetic, the larynx was carefully inspected and it was concluded that it was fine. However, as the cat was under anaesthetic, it was decided by the vet and owners that it would undergo a dental. During this procedure, ultrasonic vibrations were used to remove tartar, preventing the risk of the gum disease gingivitis. Although many owners may brush their pets’ teeth, this only removes plaque and not the tartar which results from a build up of plaque. After the teeth have had as much tartar as possible removed, they are then polished, removing any scratches which could prevent an environment for bacteria.
During the day, I saw lots of animals come round from anaesthetic. When the animals are waking up, the nurse always sits with them. This is because it is necessary to make sure that the animal safely comes through the anaesthetic without needing an additional injection to wake it up, but also because the pipe in the trachea needs to be removed. It is interesting to see the recovery of different reflexes in an animal and how this determines when the windpipe is removed. The blink reflex wakes up before the swallow reflex and therefore it is important when waiting for a cat to wake up that the pipe is removed when the blink reflex returns. This is to ensure that the pipe is removed before the swallow reflex returns because of the sensitivity of the larynx. In dogs however, the pipe is never removed from the trachea until the swallow reflex is heard, ensuring that the dog is awake enough to safely return to consciousness.
Once again, today was very interesting, but what struck me most was the importance of a vet within their community as I saw from the Wye Community Vets. It has made me resolve to become a vet not for my own love of animals but for benefit of those less fortunate than myself who are dependent on their animals for love, companionship or a livelihood.