Kingsnorth Vets – 11th February 2015: Pericardial Effusion

Although this evening was quite quiet at Kingsnorth Vets, I one particularly interesting case.

In the kennels, preparing to go home was a black Labrador. The previous week she had been spayed but been brought back in after she had suddenly become lethargic and was struggling to breath. The vets found that she had a muffled heartbeat so performed an echocardiogram. Using this, they diagnosed her with pericardial effusion.

Pericardial effusion is a condition where excess fluid builds up in the pericardium. The vet explained to me that the pericardium is a smooth membrane which surrounds the heart. Although its function is not known for certain, it is generally acknowledged that it has a lubricating purpose, ensuring that the contractions of the heart are not hindered by the lungs. However, if fluid (either blood or lymph) leaks into the pericardium, it can compress the heart making contractions difficult. In dogs, the right atrium is the first to be affected so appears squashed on the echo. The fluid often comes from a bleeding tumour on the heart so the prognosis for this poor dog wasn’t great.

Luckily there were no signs of a tumour on the echo, but nevertheless, they immediately withdrew as much of the fluid as possible to alleviate the pressure on the heart. Very often this will solve the problem, at least in the short term. However, now she had developed arrhythmia – her heart was beating irregularly. The vet had never come across this as a result of pericardial effusion but was more concerned that it had caused tachycardia – her heart rate had accelerated rapidly. She had been placed on two intravenous drips, both giving her doses of medication to reduce her heart rate. The nurse showed me that one of catheters had been placed in the left celaphic vein – the front leg normally used for IV, whilst the other had been placed in left saphenous vein – the back leg. This was because the original drip had been unsuccessfully placed in the right celaphic vein, bruising it.

The saphenous vein is not normally used for intravenous injections because it’s quite wobbly. So although it is easy to find and raise, it can be hard to steadily put a needle in. However, on some occasions it might it be the best option. If a dog is agitated or aggressive, the saphenous vein is useful as it is further away from the dog’s teeth. It can also be useful because there is more to hold onto, so the leg can be held steady for quick needle insertion in a restless animal. One of the vets mentioned that he found it easier to take blood from this vein on puppies whose celaphic veins were just too small, whilst someone else said that they had previously used it for euthanasia, giving the dog more space around it head so it remained calm, or so that its owners could be nearer. Another consideration is that bandaging is harder around the hock than the around the wrist, but a bandage is more likely to stay in place.

The Labrador was going to go home for the evening, with the decision made that she was in a stable condition and would be more comfortable at home. The nurse removed the drips, but left the catheters in place under bandages in case the dog was rushed in that night. The owners were sent home with medication to reduce the heart rate, and an appointment was made for tomorrow. If all was well the catheters would be removed and a course of action would be decided.

The final question left hanging, was whether this pericardial effusion could have anything to do with anaesthetic the dog had been under last week for her spay. This made me recognise how everything interlinks and no piece of information can be discarded when evaluating a case. This is just one of the things which makes veterinary medicine such a challenging career. It’s a good thing that I like challenges!

Kingnorth Vets – 26th November 2014

Today I was given the choice between going into a consult with a puppy or a chicken. I chose the chicken! I have never seen a chicken in the vets before but wasn’t surprised when the vet told me that they were seen relatively often, for chickens are becoming increasingly popular pets. This chicken had not been laying and the owner was worried it was egg bound due to the large lump he could feel. However, this lump had become so obtrusive that the skin had split open on the chicken’s backside. It was bleeding and the owner knew that if action wasn’t taken the other chickens would peck at their friend to death. After feeling inside the chicken’s vent, the vet concluded that there was definitely not an egg present and was pretty certain that this was a huge cancerous tumour. After a brief discussion, the owner decided to have his chicken euthanized. As we left the room to fetch the consent forms, he muttered that he didn’t mind but it was ‘just what to tell the kids’. It is hard keeping chickens because they can be both pets and farm animals, so how should they be treated? The owner chose to have a group cremation so we took the chicken out back to the kennels and the vet injected the deadly drug. The vet told me how hard it is to euthanize a chicken, and this was proven correct when 40 minutes later, the chicken was still alive – it just didn’t want to die. The textbook advised that the quickest way to kill a chicken was to break its neck and it is possible to inject straight into the heart, but it is also effective to inject into muscle which is what the vet chose to do. Eventually a sufficient concentration of the drug was absorbed from the muscle and the chicken fell asleep. The vet then let me feel the mass on its rear. It was very solid and was almost as big as the chickens entire body. We stuck a needle into it: at the back it was just a mass of cells and nothing came out, but towards the front, it was softer and we managed to drain some pus from it. The chicken’s rear was a bloody mess of feathers and faeces and I knew that this slow but peaceful death was the best choice when faced with an attack from fellow chickens.

In the kennels, was a Bull Terrier which was notorious for eating clothes. He had started retching so his owner had rushed him in. He was clearly uncomfortable and an x-ray clearly showed up two metal eyelets! The vets knew there would be clothes attached and thought they would have to put him through emergency evening surgery, until one of the nurses suggested trying a very strong purgative. Only a very small dose was need before he was retching again, but this time he began to bring up clothes. The nurses held him steady, pulling the clothes out of his mouth before he could choke on them. About an hour later two socks and most of a light hoody had appeared. They x-rayed the clothes which had been brought up, revealing that they contained only one eyelet – the other was still inside the dog. However, they decided to leave him the night to let the purgative continue to take affect before reassessing if there was anything left inside him.

A rescued cat was brought in because it was urinating very often and frequently not in its litter tray. Furthermore, the urine was very smelly. After a check-up the vet concluded that it was probably a urinary tract infection rather than cystitis as the cat did not appear to be in any pain and there was no blood in the urine. Therefore, she prescribed antibiotics, advising the owners to assess stress factors which may also be contributing to excess urination, such as many cats in the household. This cat was also acting as if she was in season; she was holding her tail high and flexing her back when stroked. Although they had been told that she was already spayed, there was no easy way to guarantee this. The vet explained that with rescued cats, they normally clip the cat’s side to look for the distinctive scar from a spay. This is not always reliable for some cats may have similar looking scars resulting from other incidents, and the vet had operated in the past and been unable to find a uterus despite no scar being found. It is possible to do more conclusive hormone tests but these are often very expensive.

Next, an 8 week old kitten was brought in because it had slipped into the small space beside the hinges of the dishwasher door without the owner noticing. On closing the dishwasher, the owner heard a squeal and immediately found the kitten. He didn’t appear to be injured but the owner wanted to confirm that he was ok. After prodding and poking, the vet couldn’t identify any sources of discomfort. She explained that the bladder and diaphragm were typical worries after trauma. But fortunately, she could feel the bladder – suggesting it was still in tact, and the were no signs of breathing difficulties which would normally be apparent from even a small tear in the diaphragm. The kitten did seem slightly shocked but it was decided to not administer any treatment but keep an eye on him over the next few days. I asked the vet how she would confirm her findings, and she explained that the best diagnostic test would be top run a basic blood test checking for red blood cells, glucose, urea and protein in the blood. Generally, this would highlight any immediate concerns. Other options may include doing an ultrasound scan or x-ray.

An interesting case was brought in for meds review. He was a black Labrador with a very unusual heart condition. Several years ago, this dog had suffered sudden episodes of accelerated heart rate (tachycardia) causing spasms and near death experiences. No cause could be found, even after being referred to specialists and diagnosed as paroxysmal arrhythmia – meaning sudden recurrences of irregular heartbeat. Using a cocktail of medications, the condition was being adequately controlled. The dog was strong and had amazed everyone by making it through the last two years despite still occasionally having episodes. Recently he had suddenly collapsed after getting excited, but had immediately recovered as if nothing had happened. The owners knew he was at greater risk when excited and had to be careful, but so far they were making good choices and were eager to buy a cheap stethoscope and try monitoring his heart rate quantitatively. They were also keen to try and reduce the medication he was on because it was very expensive and the vet was happy to try. This would need to be done slowly and it would be important to report any changes which may correlate with changing doses.

Folkestone Owl Rescue Sanctuary

Since July 2013, I have been volunteering at Folkestone Owl Rescue Sanctuary. Folkestone Owls is a rescue sanctuary which has been running for over 30 years, IMG_2233 (600x800)rescuing owls. These owls have been injured in the wild or come from other sanctuaries or zoos which have closed down or been unable to look after injured birds. Unfortunately, many of the owls also come to the Rescue Sanctuary because people have bought them as pets then realise that they are unable to look after them. All these owls are homed in the back garden of the one man who set up and committed his life to rescuing owls. His garden is filled with aviaries which can house up to 50 birds at one time of 8 different species. They require cleaning and feeding daily, with all the money needed to keep them dependent on public donations. Therefore, every Thursday and Saturday, the team take up to seven owls to Folkestone Town Centre where we let the public stroke them and ask questions about them, putting lose change into collection pots. This is a great way to educate the public about these IMG_2240amazing birds whilst fundraising sufficient money to keep the sanctuary operating. Once a month during the summer months, the sanctuary also has open days where the public are invited to come to the sanctuary and hold an owl, finding out more about how the sanctuary runs. On these days, we run a tombola and raffle and sell owl pictures, models and posters which have been donated to us.


I love interacting with the public and have become much more confident. Some of the standard questions we get include:

How many owls are there at the sanctuary? – at the moment we have 31 owls but we can house up to 50 at one time.

Why are they at the sanctuary? – we are a rescue sanctuary so our primary aim is rescuing owls. This may be if they are found injured in the wild and cannot be returned, but most of our owls actually come to us if other sanctuaries or zoos can no longer look after them. For example, Jazz the snowy owl was blinded in one eye when it was caught on a talon in the nest. The zoo did not want an injured owl so we took him in. Many of our owls also come to us if they have been kept as pets. Owls do not make good pets and many people do not realise this after watching Harry Potter and dreaming of their own ‘Hedwig’. Finally, several of our owls have been born at the sanctuary and hand-reared. This is important because these are the owls who are most amenable to being handled, so can be taken to the town centre or to schools, earning the money needed to feed all the birds we rescue. It also creates a gene pool, supporting the wild owl population.DSCN3459

What do the owls eat? – in the wild, owls eat a variety of prey ranging from rabbits, voles and song birds to frogs, insects and sometimes even slugs. However, at the sanctuary we feed them day old chicks which come in frozen.

Is it a girl or a boy? – in the owl family, the females are always bigger than the males, so this is the main way we can tell. With some species it is possible to tell by their marking, for example, female snowy owls normally have lots of black spots whilst males are almost entirely white. Very often it can be impossible to know until they lay an egg, in which case they must be a female. Most of the owls we bring to the town centre are males because generally they are calmer and less aggressive.

Why can I not stroke its back? – although it won’t hurt the owls to stroke their back and wings, we generally advice that it is best to stroke them on their bellies only. This is because they produce waterproofing oils on their flight feathers which can be wiped off by our hands, potentially reducing their water-resistance and damaging their feathers. It is also safer if they can see your hand and you don’t make them jump by suddenly touching their back.

How long do they live? – in captivity, barn owls may live up to 20 years whilst eagle owls may live up to 50 years. However, in the wild this is reduced to about 6 years for barn owls and 10 years for eagle owls because the numerous risk factors they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Do they not want to fly away? – the owls we take to the town centre are attached to our gauntlets (gloves) by their jesses. Although some of the owls may love to fly away, this is just like many dogs wishing to run away when let off the lead. The owls do not know how to hunt and therefore would not survive in the wild. Most of the owls seem to be very happy at the sanctuary where they have food, shelter and company.

Can they turn their heads all the way round? – owls can turn their heads about 270 degrees of a circle. This is because their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so unlike us they cannot move their eyes to look around so need to have the ability to turn their heads to see as much of their surroundings as possible.

I have learnt so much from volunteering with Folkestone Owl Sanctuary. Not only is it amazing to be able to handle these awesome birds which I have loved my entire life, but I have been able to realise the importance of developing good public relations and adapting to whoever you are talking to, giving them the best opportunity to be educated.

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.

Montgomery Vets – 17th April 2014

As it is Good Friday tomorrow, today was my last day at Montgomery Veterinary Clinic. Over the weekend, they are going to be moving to a bigger, purpose-built surgery on the other side of the car park so lots of time today was spent packing up and moving boxes. However, action on the veterinary side of business continued as normal and I began the day in consults. The first was a dog in for a booster. The vet discussed trying a halter for him because the owner mentioned his continual pulling when on the lead. Another point of discussion was the dog’s weight. After being castrated, he had put on weight leading to a body condition score of 5.5 out of 9. With 4.5 being optimum, it wasn’t a serious cause for concern but just something the owner needed to be aware of. The vet suggested reducing meal portions and coming in to be regularly weighed.

The cats I saw being spayed and neutered on Monday were brought in for their post-op check. They were both doing well, but the female would need to come in again next week to have a final check and have her stitches taken out.

One of the most interesting investigations of the week took place when a vet specialising in ultrasound echocardiograms came in to do a heart scan on a Patterdale terrier. The dog had lost almost all her fur after her last season and was coughing badly. They had tried steroids as a treatment for bronchitis but there had been no improvement. The use of steroids could even have worsened the situation as the hair loss could be caused by Cushing’s disease – excessive production of corticosteroids due to a tumour affecting the adrenal or pituitary gland. Cushing’s disease is very hard to diagnose, having to rely on blood tests and clinical signs. However, this scan was not related to Cushing’s but instead the coughing, for they wanted to find out if it was cardiac related. The vet was looking particularly for changes in size and pressure, which may be causing changes in the thorax to result in a cough. Luckily, after trying a couple of different probes and using the ultrasound machine in amazing ways, the vet concluded that there were no significant changes to the heart so the cough was probably a lung problem. Currently, the dog was on medication used for pulmonary fibrosis which was helping slightly. The drug reduces fluid in the lungs and dilates bronchi so the dog was now finding it easier to breathe. This meant that the owner was taking it on longer walks. After discussing several diseases and further investigations which could be done – the owner was keen to reach a true diagnosis – the vets decided to continue with this medication and test for Cushing’s disease. If there was no radical improvement, they could try bronchoscopy and take a sample from the lungs to test. I had a brilliant opportunity to talk to this referral vet after the procedure, so we discussed whether these problems were likely to be caused by one problem or whether there were multiple diseases at play. He showed me his fantastic ultrasound machine and told me about how he travelled the country, offering second opinions to many small veterinary practices.

As well as this, I had a very exciting consult today when 9 French Bulldog puppies were brought in for their first vaccines. They were 8 weeks old and adorable! Every single one of them needed hepatitis, parvovirus, distemper, parainfluenza and leptospirosis as well as health and weight checks. Roland showed me how to draw up the vaccinations into needles so that I could do this whilst he did the checks. There were two bottles, used as a combination to deliver all the vaccines needed. One was a solvent and the other a solution. After drawing up 9 vaccinations, I had got the hang of it and really enjoyed doing some hands-on experience! Whilst I stuck vaccine stickers into the puppies’ brand new record books, I listened to the breeder and vet discussing one puppy in particular with pinched nostrils. This was a common problem with bulldogs and could make breathing difficult. This puppy had already got a new owner lined up, so Roland suggested that the new owner should be told and he would advise an operation when the dog was about one year old to cut open and correct the nostrils. The breeder agreed, and decided to offer to pay for the operation if the new owner wanted to go ahead with it to prevent any disagreements.

A border collie was brought in with a cyst on its ear which had become infected and swollen. The vet drained it and prescribed some antibiotics, giving the owner instructions to keep an eye on it and bring it in if it worsened.

A spaniel was brought in with the owners wanting a second opinion. The dog had been in a fight and had an open, bleeding cut on its ear. They had taken it to their normal vets who had tried to cauterise the cut. But as it had not stopped bleeding, they had sutured it with dissolvable stitches instead. It had now become infected so the owners had come to Montgomery’s, not satisfied with the other vets. After taking off the bandages, the vet looked at it and suggested trying antibiotics and metacam to reduce the infection. He also thought that leaving it open with the dog wearing a buster collar would give it the best conditions for healing. The owners agreed, and they decided that it would be bandaged only if it was a problem left open. The vet then explained that it would need stitches, but only once the infection had gone completely.

A cat was brought in because it was ‘under the weather’. It was normally a lively cat but had suddenly become very quiet and lethargic. There were no other symptoms, with no raised temperature. In cases like these it is very hard for the vet to know what to do, but important for the owner to be aware of the possible risks. The vet decided to prescribe a laxative in case the problem was furballs and instructed the owners to keep an eye on urine and stools, which were normal at present but could be a good indicator of a developing problem. He also suggested that in a week’s time the cat should be treated with milbemax and advocate in case it had worms and because of the mild signs of dermatitis from fleas.

A cat was brought in for a vaccine, but during the routine check-up, the vet noticed it had enlarged thyroid glands. On further examination, he found that the gut was also enlarged and was amazed to find he could grab hold of the intestine from the outside. This was not a good sign as normally the intestine should slide away, being almost impossible to grasp during an external examination. Holding onto the intestine, he was able to accurately take a fine needle biopsy, collecting cells to send off for testing. The vet left it open with the owner as to what it could be, but when the owner left and I asked, he told me that he almost certain this cat had cancer in its gut.

On Tuesday evening, after I had left, a dog had been rushed in after a road traffic accident. On examination, they had found almost no injury but immediately gave anti-inflammatories and painkillers to avoid shock. Today, the dog had come in for a recheck. The vet found a very slight swelling to the paw, but otherwise all was fine and the owners were happy to be discharged.

When I began my week at Montgomery Vets, I was looking forward to seeing lots of exotic animals and my very last consult lived up to expectation. A Royal Python was brought in after having shedding troubles. The owners had moved it to a new, bigger vivarium but this had induced stress, causing the bad shed. As a result, the python had defecated into the shedding skin causing the new skin to become infected. The vet began explaining lots of health care tips to ensure easy sheds, for prevention is the best cure. Now it was important that the remaining old skin was shed successfully, giving the infection a chance to heal. To do this, the snake must be kept between 28-30°C and given a bath twice daily. The vet advised placing the water in the viv to warm up and letting the snake move in to the water when feeling comfortable to do so. It should then be patted dry with paper towel and have iodine solution placed on the damaged area to act as disinfectant. Finally, the owners should try to give an antibiotic injection every third day. The vet explained that if they were not happy to do it themselves, they could bring the snake in but the owners wanted to give it a try. Therefore, Clive gave the first first injection to show us how it was done. The needle had to be slid underneath the skin on one side of the spine. It should then drawn back to make sure there is no blood before slowly compressing the plunger.

I have had a brilliant week at Montgomery Vets and feel I have learnt so much, seeing so many fascinating cases. It has been a joy working alongside such loving and devoted vet and nurses. They have involved in everything so that I have matured, being able to ask questions and set fire to my passion to become a vet. Thank you so much to everyone at Montgomery Veterinary Clinic!

Montgomery Vets – 16th April 2014

Today the first operation of the day was a cat for a mid-line spay. However, as I have seen quite a lot of spays I did not watch this but instead observed a dog having its blood pressure taken and an ultrasound done as part of a kidney investigation. However, there were no obvious indicators so a discussion needed to be had with the owner regarding what to do next.

A basset hound was brought in limping. After an examination, the vet found that touching the muscle was painful whilst the joints were all fine. Limping can take a long time to subside on a basset hound because it is so hard for them to walk on three legs. Therefore, the vet prescribed anti-inflammatories and lots of rest. He suggested that the dog was separated from the Jack Russell terrier it lived with and given at the most 4 very short walks a day. If they maintained this for two weeks before building up exercise again, recovery would be a much quicker process.

A family with two dogs and a cat were brought in for their booster vaccinations, but they also had a host of other issues to discuss with the vet. One of the dogs had bad hind legs with muscle wastage and arthritis. The vet talked to the owner about trying Nutraquin, the product the drug rep had come in about on Monday, as the vet was very keen to see how effective the nutraceuticals could be. The cat had a small which the vet thought was probably from a tick. He explained that the cat’s immune system should deal with the tick’s snout if it was still under the skin whilst the best tick treatment is prevention, for many owners do not realise that advocate does not affect ticks so different treatments are needed.

When a greyhound came in for his booster, Roland did the general check-up, exclaiming about its very loud heart beat. He started telling me about the strong heart of a greyhound and the fantastic electrocardiograms they create. This was what he did his dissertation on, and it was brilliant to listen to his enthusiasm over it. This particular greyhound had a very sensitive stomach so the owners had to be very careful to constantly monitor the food it was eating.

An adorable German Shepherd puppy was brought in for its second booster. The vet discussed some training techniques which would be important to put in place. These could include using a whistle or taking him to puppy training classes. We also looked at the hip and elbow scores the breeder had carried out under the Kennel Club. The elbow score is on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 being the best and 3 being the most severe, an indicator of elbow dysplasia. This puppy had an elbow score of 0, despite German Shepherds having a higher incidence of elbow dysplasia. The hip score is on a scale of 0 to 106 (53 for each hip), with the lowest scores indicating the least degree of hip dysplasia present. Luckily, this puppy had a relatively low score of 11/12.

A miniature poodle was brought in for a pre-castrate check up but it also suffered with many different problems. This included sciatica, a curved spine and a slipped disk for which it was having hydro and physiotherapy. However, it also had a urine infection, shown by the increased red and white blood cells as well as minerals in the urine. The particular mineral was struvite, the build up of which can lead to urinary tract stones. The vet suggested they should not go ahead with the castrate but prescribed a course of antibiotics then a re-check with the hope of going ahead with it in 10 days time.

Next, a female ferret (jill) on heat was brought in. Roland showed me the swollen vulva and the owner explained she’d seen a small, but luckily not excessive, amount of blood. However, seasons can be very dangerous for a jill if not mated. They can cause fur to fall out along their sides and possible anaemia, even death, if the season is prolonged. Therefore, every three months, this ferret was given a hormone injection to stop the season.

A cat was brought in with TB. When I was told it had TB, I began to worry because of the scare in March when two pet owners caught TB from their infected cats. However, the vet assured me that this was caused Mycobacterium microti. Tuberculosis is most regularly caused by M. tuberculosis, M. bovis, or M. microti. M. tuberculosis causes more than 90% of tuberculosis in humans whilst very rarely causes infection in cats, probably because they are naturally resistant to it. Mycobacterium bovis infects cows, badgers, deer, dogs, cats and humans as well as many other animals. Although all members of the tuberculosis complex pose potential zoonotic risk, it was this zoonose which  was transferred from the cats to their owners. It is as a result of the number of species it affects as to why it has caused so much trouble on farms. However, M.microti is only known to cause infection in voles and cats. The cat brought in was a keen hunter and it was likely it had caught TB from a vole. This cat had lesions on its paws, probably from where the vole had bitten it, transferring the bacteria. But more severely, I was shown an x-ray of its chest and saw the damaged lungs, covered in scar tissue. Treatment involved 6 months of antibiotic medication to ensure all the bacteria were destroyed. However, this particular cat refused to take medication. As a result they had inserted a feeding tube directly into through the neck and into the oesophagus. This meant that the medication could be syringed using a needle into the tube. But, two weeks into treatment, the tube become blocked causing the cat to gag and wretch whilst the owner could not inject the medication. An x-ray was taken, showing that the tube had folded over. Immediately they put the at under anaesthetic and reinserted the tube before taking another x-ray, confirming that the tube was back in place ready for the next six months.

Next, a 14-year old border collie was brought in for a blood test to review medication. It had previously had a lump removed from its liver and although it had very bad arthritis in its back legs, the current liver medication was maintaining the dog in good health. However, now the dog was steady, it was a good opportunity to consider changing the liver medication to a cheaper alternative to be administered less frequently.

A cat was brought in for a booster vaccination. Whilst doing the general check-up, the vet noted the fantastic weight of 4.45kg, reduced from 6.20kg, resulting in a much improved body condition score. He also pointed out the tartar on the cat’s teeth and showed them how it could be picked off with your nail. However, there were also signs of gingivitis which could only be improved if they chose to have the teeth scaled in a dental.

A very cute pygmy hedgehog was brought in with a lump on its tummy. Once the hedgehog was uncurled, we got a moment to have a look and Roland though it was either an abscess which had formed as a result of infection, or a growth. They discussed the option of anaesthetizing and taking a sample for further investigation, but the owners to start with antibiotics and then review progress. This hedgehog was now five years old and kept as a pet, being fed dry cat food and fruit. It is something I have never seen before and I’m not sure whether make particularly good pets, as they are not sociable with humans.

Finally, a dog was brought in with a limp it had suffered with for some time. It was the result of a lump near the nail of the toe. It had not responded to metacam so they decided to try antibiotic in case it was an infection. They could also consider taking a sample or doing an x-ray to explore some further options of the cause.

Montgomery Vets – 15th April 2014

When I arrived this morning, the first patient I saw was a golden Labrador in the kennels for a liver function test. It was suffering with frequent seizures so a variety of investigations were being done. This test involved taking blood then giving the dog some food to eat. Two hours later, more blood could be taken and the two samples would be compared. They were looking specifically for bile acid production. If the liver was functioning normally, the levels of bile acid should be very similar as the liver should have removed excess bile acid, produced as a result of the food, from the bloodstream. It does not specifically matter what food is used, however, fattier foods are ideal.

Also in the kennels was a spaniel for chemotherapy. I was strictly told not to touch the dog, its kennel, or anywhere it had been, for any fluid that comes out of the dog’s body must be treated as contaminated. I hadn’t realised previously, but this meant that the owners were at as much risk as the dog. The strong chemicals used are designed to kill cells and therefore damage the immune system, making both the dog and owners susceptible to many potentially life threatening diseases. At home, it is important that the owners take lots of precautions, handling waste carefully and keeping the dog in the house to prevent others being at risk. The owners had chosen a very expensive drug containing platinum because it was considered one of the safest options. The spaniel was put on an intravenous drip and the drug was injected in using this. Currently, the sessions were given every three weeks with continual monitoring. This involves taking blood samples to check white blood cell count and adjusting the chemotherapy drugs accordingly. I asked about what determined whether radiotherapy or chemotherapy was used and the vet told me that it was entirely dependent on the type of cancer: primarily the position and size of the tumour.

The only procedure under anaesthetic today was a three-year old Yorkshire Terrier having a dental. The vet estimates the number of extractions needed before the procedure begins and then phones the owner to ensure they are happy for it to be carried out. In total, 10 teeth were extracted, most of which were very loose and came out easily due to plaque damage. Roland showed me how he identified the teeth to be extracted according to gum swelling indicating gingivitis as well as cavities and chips in the teeth. He told me that a black line visible on the tooth shows that the inner tooth is decaying. Poor teeth are very common in small breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers as they are often only fed wet food or small pieces of dry food which can be swallowed whole. This means that they do chew enough and their teeth cannot remain clean. This is also often seen in greyhounds because the long shape of their mouths similarly prevents chewing. Whilst the lack of chewing accounts for plaque build up, chips in teeth are often caused by chewing the wrong things such as stones or tennis balls. Teethbrushing is a good option to help maintain good teeth, but Roland expressed an interesting opinion that it the lack of bones for dogs to chew on which has resulted in the increase of poor dental health. He believes that the best option for dogs’ teeth is chewing on large, raw bones.

In the consults today, a sneezing conure was brought in. This was important to treat immediately as birds rarely show symptoms. However, they had already tried antibiotics with no success. Therefore, the vet suggested it was likely to be chemical in the home environment, this could be as random as their new washing machine. He advised giving it a steam bath as inhaling the tiny droplets of water would wash through and clean the mucus, making breathing easier.

A golden retriever was brought in because of facial nerve damage. The muscles on the right side of its face were not working resulting in a lopsided face, most visible when the dog was panting. He also had limited sensation suggesting that some trigeminal nerves were responding. The dog had always had ear problems so this problem was likely to be due to to inflammation of the ear, squashing the nerves. However, it a large area to be affected just by the ear so there could be another underlying cause. Therefore, the vet chose to treat symptomatically, using anti-inflammatories and antibiotics to reduce the ear infection. However, the vet had no way of knowing the situation of the nerves, for if they have been cut through, rather than just squashed/blocked, they cannot be repaired.

A guinea pig was rushed in as an emergency. The owners had noticed it suddenly become very cold and the vet immediately realised it was in shock with an extremely low temperature. It had not been eating for almost three days, despite trying critical care food. We wrapped it in a towel and surrounded it with hot water bottles. Once it had warmed up slightly, it was given injections of a painkiller, gut stimulant and antibiotic. After this, all we could do was leave it tucked up in a warm kennel. Unfortunately, later in the day, the guinea pig went into cardiac arrest and died.

A leopard tortoise was brought in with a lump on its nose. The lump had been bleeding and there had been discharge from the eyes and nose. The vet thought it was either an infection or mass cell tumour. Therefore, he took a cell sample. After showing me how to stain the slides, he had a look under the microscope. I have previously stained at Kingsnorth where I dipped the slides into the stain. But Clive preferred to pipette the stain on as dipping can cause cells to fall off, contaminating other samples. Unfortunately, the samples he looked at were inconclusive so he prescribed anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, treating as if it were an infection. If this did not work they would do further investigations. This was the first time I had seen a tortoise at the vets and as Clive advised the owners on caring for their pet, I picked up some points I hadn’t previously known. Tortoises should be kept at over 20°C for at least 12 hours a day and bathed twice as they do not drink but absorb water through their tail. A ridged shell on a tortoise indicates protein deficiencies whilst tortoise species must not be mixed as some species are carriers of viruses which only affect some species.

Finally, a golden Labrador was brought in due to vomiting. It was a very docile dog so they decided to take an x-ray of her as no sedation would be needed. An x-ray of the abdomen showed gas in the upper small intestine, where it shouldn’t be, but moreover, the stomach was sitting at the wrong angle with the colon too low and the small intestine too high. It was possible that gas could have made the small intestine elevate slightly but the vet thought there was not enough gas to cause this much change. Therefore he thought there was an obstruction in the abdomen which the organs were adhering to. This was bad news as it would most probably be a cancerous lump. The owner understandably became upset so Roland talked to him gently. They decided to do an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis. Miraculously, the ultrasound was entirely normal with no lump visible. It was a joy to see the owner’s relief despite the vet’s confusion. Roland decided to treat symptomatically, monitoring food carefully in an attempt to stop the vomiting. If there was no improvement they could try further investigations, but for now the owner was overjoyed that he would not be carrying the burden of cancer.

Lambing – April 2014

From Monday 7th – Friday 11th April, I did work experience on Carter Farm in Ruckinge, Kent. They have about 600 sheep, all of which were lambing in the first three weeks of April, though they always have a few earlies and lates. I had a fantastic time on the farm and really enjoyed it all. Unlike other work experience placements I have done, this was hands on experience and I knew that I was contributing to the team of farm workers. Rather than blogging each day as I have done so previously, I will talk about each aspect of the work I did across the week, as many days were very similar.


lambing barn plan

The sheep were lambed in a large barn, the general plan of which can be seen above. Most sheep lambed in the central pens (coloured orange) which each contained about 30 ewes. Therefore one of the most important jobs was taking the ewes with their lambs out of these pens and into a cubicle (coloured purple). To do this, we slowly approached theDSCN3418 lambed ewe, who would often be licking her new born lambs. We then took the lambs by their hind legs and begun to drag them away. The mother would normally sniff the lambs and immediately follow. In this way, most sheep could be led anywhere. Often we would leave them in the alleys between pens if the mother was agitated before moving them the entire way to a cubicle.

However, sometimes problems would arise. On Tuesday morning, we spotted a single lamb in the centre pen. Edging into the pen, we began to drag the lamb out but two sheep followed. Roy, who has been a shepherd for 60 years, showed me how we could easily tell which ewe the lamb belonged to because of the placenta hanging from her vulva. Even after the afterbirth, it is easy to tell a lambed ewe because of the enlarged vulva and wetness that remains for a prolonged period. Although we knew which ewe was the mother, an old, large ewe persistently tried to lick the lamb, following whenever we tried to take the lamb. Eventually we managed to encourage the real mother out and quickly shut the gate before the other ewe could follow. This older ewe continued to be troublesome until later that day when she gave birth to twins and was at last satisfied!

Tuesday was an eventful day in the large pens. The ewes were lambing fast and after lunch we returned to the barn to find that several sheep had lambed in the same pens. Sorting out the sheep wasn’t generally a problem because earlier in the year, the ewes had been scanned and marked according to whether they were to have singles, twins or triplets. This also identifies which ewes are not pregnant. They are then sent to market. We pulled several lambs out, with several mums following and soon the problem had condensed into one issue – a sheep, marked to have a single, had ‘stolen’ a lamb from a sheep which had given birth to twins. The single mother would not accept her own lamb and neither would the mother of twins, leaving both mothers with one lamb each and a lamb with no mother. Roy made the choice to try and adopt it on to another mother.

Adoption and Sock Lambs

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for lambs to be rejected by their mothers so during the week I learnt about the two main attempts which are normally made to encourage mothers to take a lamb. If a single lamb has been born to a mother with sufficient milk for two lambs, the rejected lamb can be rubbed with the mucus from the birth and as a result the mother may accept them as twins. However, for this to be successful the timing must be perfect with the reject being taken to the mother almost immediately after birth. An alternative method for adoption is skinning a dead lamb. It is sad but must be accepted that roughly 10% of all lambs die (only 2% of mothers die during lambing), and I realised that it is best to put these dead to good use if possible. Therefore, it was with mixedDSCN3412 emotions that I watched as Roy spotted a dead lamb of a single mother. If this mother would not take another lamb, she would be useless. Roy took his pen knife and sliced through the lamb’s fleece, chopping off its legs and head. Whilst keeping the head hole as small as possible, Roy pulled the body of the lamb out of its skin. He left the ugly, pink form in the shape of a lamb, lying on the floor and I had to remind that it had already been dead but was now opening up a life for another lamb. Taking the lamb in need of a mother (this one was from a set of triplets whose mother did not have enough milk to look after all three of them adequately), Roy pulled the skin over its head and slipped its arms and legs through the appropriate holes. It was just like a little jacket and was a perfect fit. Putting the lamb with its new mother, we knew that only time would tell whether it had worked, as some mothers are much more gullible than others. I was pleased that had seen a lamb being skinned because it brought to life the reality of lambing. It is a process undergone, not simply for the joy of seeing new life but for financial gain, to keep the farming business alive. The joy of new life is a wonderful bonus. I don’t know if I would be able to a lamb myself but this particular adoption was a success and it was great to see a life given a chance of living.

But adoption didn’t always work and wasn’t always an option, sometimes the lambs were too small and weak and need some tender loving care. On one occasion, a mother with twins tried to reject one of her lambs to the extreme. She nipped it, throwing it about and pushing into it. She pushed it with so much force that she even managed to break the door. Roy decided to try and get her under control rather than take the lamb away, so he made a halter out of string and tied her firmly to the wall, showing the lamb where to suckle. But she continued to kick at him. After several hours, we realised that it was a lost cause and Roy explained that he was also worried that it may have been injured with the possibility of broken ribs. Consequently it was placed into my arms and I carried it inside where it would join the other small, weak, rejected and injured lambs who became sock lambs.


There was a small outbuilding on the farm where we made coffee and ate lunch, and in here was a wooden pen with a lamp hanging above it under which the sock lambs huddled. Every morning when I arrived and every evening before I left and at random intervals throughout the day when a small lamb was given to me, I would bottle feed the lambs. I would make up some milk using instant lamlac, a ewe milk replacer, then hold the lambs on my lap one at a time to feed. The older ones knew what to do and leapt up, eager to be fed when they heard the milk being prepared, whilst the younger ones, who were often still very weak, were less confident. I often had to force the teat into their mouths before they settled down and sucked contently. I grew very DSCN3394attached to many of them, especially number 11, who had a cyst near the base of his spine meaning that his back legs had become deformed. We weren’t sure whether he would make it, but with two antibiotic injections every day and lots of milk, we saw rapid improvement and by the end of my week, he was hobbling at speed around the room and always first on his feet during feeding time. However, I could not become too attached. Almost every morning when I walked in, I was greeted by the sad sight of several dead sock lambs who had not made it through the night. On Wednesday, I was trying hard to feed an extremely small lamb. It was barely sucking so I had to gently squeeze the teat to force milk into its mouth. When I put it down it wobbled DSCN3397on its weak legs and dribbled out lots of the milk I’d just given it. I laid it down under the lamp but it was dead within the hour. Another sad story was that of a lamb which landed in the water bucket. It had been completely submerged but was just breathing when someone spotted it and fished it out. It was put into my arms and I ran it inside. I put it under the lamp and sat with it, rubbing its coat and patting its back. Its breathing became stronger, and eventually I left, knowing that I could do no more for it. Unfortunately it did not make it.

Docking, Castrating and Marking

Once the lambs were in the lambing cubicles, they were left for some time to bond with their mother. However, as soon as they were ‘dry’ (normally within 24 hours), we docked, castrated and marked the lambs. We did this using an elastrator and small elastic bands. After placing the elastic band on the elastrator, it could be squeezed, stretching the ring. Roy showed me how to hold the lamb between my knees and slip the stretched ring over the tail to its base, where the skin became visible, then pull the ring off the elastrator, leaving it on the tail. The tail would then fall off after 7 to 10 days. At the same time, the male lambs could be castrated by placing a ring at the neck of the scrotum, causing the scrotum to shrivel and fall off within two to three weeks. It was very important to ensure that both testicles could be felt underneath the ring and a couple of times I could not find DSCN3398the testicles and Roy explained that they may not have dropped yet. It took several goes to get the knack of it, but by Wednesday we had a smooth production line going. Roy would check which lambs had already been ringed and which needed doing and then we would work our way down the cubicles. Roy fished out a lamb using a shepherds hook and handed it to me to ring whilst he marked up the mother. I would then dock and castrate (if it was male) the lamb and spray iodine onto the umbilical cord before handing it back to Roy to number. The single lambs and ewes were left unmarked whilst the twins were given the same number as each other and their mother and triplets were given the same letter of the alphabet. This was done in red spray whilst all the ewes also had a blue ‘C’ on them, standing for ‘Collick’, the name of the farmer. Roy was so kind to trust me with the ringing and I really enjoyed doing it as I gradually improved, finding it easier as the week progressed.

Organising Sheep

The rung lambs and their mother could then be moved from the lambing cubicles into the small pens (coloured turquoise). 14 ewes with their lambs would be kept in these at one time, giving the sheep a chance to socialise and become used to being in a group. It DSCN3417helped to ensure that the ewes and lambs would recognise and be able to find each other in a large field full of sheep. Therefore, several times a day, I would find myself scooping up lambs and chasing sheep through the barn. Roy would identify the 14 to be moved then open up the door, chasing out the sheep and lambs. I would stand behind the ewe, whistling and clapping, encouraging her to walk down the aisle and into the open pen. Sometimes the lamb(s) would follow by themselves but normally I would have to grab their legs and carry them into the pen as they fidgeted and bleated, confused as to all the upheaval. Occasionally the ewe would be uncooperative and we would chase her up and down the aisles, and sometimes she would calmly follow if allowed to sniff her lambs. Every sheep was different and it was an exercise of versatility. I was initially shocked at the roughness with which the lambs were handled. They were normally carried using one foot, and often thrown onto the straw floor. But Roy had 60 years experience and I trusted him when he told me that the lambs were tougher than they looked, and not easily hurt. He told me that one of the few scenarios in which the lambs got injured by being handled like this was if there legs got caught up with your legs when carrying them. By the end of the week I was used to the procedure and found myself throwing the lambs about like I never thought I would’ve!

With lambs continually being born, the process of moving sheep from pen to pen and ringing and marking them as we went was also a continuous job, which we spent most of every day doing. When the lambs and sheep had been moved into the small pens, they were soon moved on into even larger pens in a different barn, filled with dozens of lambed ewes. Then within several days they would be taken to one of the many fields belonging to the farm. On Monday, I went with Dick and Dave – two men who volunteered on the farm during lambing – as they took some sheep to one of the fields. We loaded them into the trailer, first catching all the lambs and putting them in a portioned off section so they would not get trampled, then chasing all of the sheep in after them. We drove them to a nearby field where they were unloaded. We checked that all the lambs had found their mothers and then continued on a round of all the fields where there were lambs, checking that all was well. In one field, a ewe had managed to get her head stuck in a tree but luckily that was all and we found no dead lambs.

On Thursday, I went out to the field again, but this time it was to bring sheep in. The ewes are served (mated by rams) at intervals, with the hope that they do not all lamb in the same short space of time. However, one lamb had already been born in the field of late DSCN3428lambers and so the decision was made to bring them to a field opposite the farm, so they could be conveniently moved inside when the majority were ready to lamb. I went with Dick and Pip – the farm manager – in the tractor to the field, taking Ash the sheep dog with us. Ash helped to quickly round up the sheep so we could chase them into a makeshift pen. After finding and ringing the lamb which had already been born, we let it and its mother back into the field then loaded the sheep into the trailers.

Feeding and Littering

By the afternoon, the sheep were normally organised adequately to ensure that there were sufficient free lambing cubicles for any new-born lambs. Therefore, every afternoon we fed all the sheep. The sheep were fed on nuggets and fodder beet. Fodder beet is a cross between sugar beet and mangelwurzel, and is a nutritious, fibrous feed which the sheep love. First of all we moved the sheep in the large, centre pens who were ready to lamb, down into a single pen. They were very squashed, but it was only for a short period of time. Pip would then drive in with the tractor carrying a large scoop full of fodder beet. Through a combination of tipping and throwing, we would distribute the beet into all of the middle pens before letting the sheep back through. Then we would take a sack of nuggets into each pen and empty them, spreading the nuggets through all the sheep. The sheep always knew when it was feeding time and the drone of baas which usually filled the air would immediately escalate to an almost deafening chorus! The sheep in these pens always had water available with a piping system set up to feed water into large buckets.

DSCN3413After this, it was normally my job to load the wheelbarrow full of nuggets and make my way down the lambing cubicles, throwing a small scoop to every ewe. I would then take the hose along the aisle, ensuring that every cubicle had buckets, half filled with clean water – the sheep had a tendency to knock over their water buckets. Finally, we would take a wheelbarrow of fodder beet down, cutting the beets into smaller pieces with a spade so that every ewe received roughly a third of a large beet, although the sizes were very variable.

The last job of the afternoon was always littering. It was important that hygiene was DSCN3423maintained despite the constant activity and huge numbers of sheep. There needed to be as many clean cubicles as possible available for the night when Pip needed to be able to pull ewes with their new born lambs into cubicles when necessary. Littering consisted of raking the muck and straw from the bottom of every empty cubicle and then covering the bottom with a thick layer of straw. It was surprisingly hard work mucking out and never failed to exhaust me, leaving my hands itching with blisters from the rake.


The whole week was extremely hard work and I went home exhausted yet satisfied every evening. However, the most fulfilling and incredible experience I had was delivery. Roy was always on the lookout for sheep giving birth, and told me about the tell-tale signs of a ewe preparing to lamb. It was possible to listen for the mum heaving and a drip of mucus would appear hanging from her vulva. The mother would eat the waters at this point because it was valuable protein which could not be wasted. The ultimate indicator was when the hooves became visible. Most sheep successfully lambed by themselves. But several times we intervened. The first time Roy intervened it was to show me how it was done. Then when I working alongside Pip, he spotted a ewe lambing and let me deliver it! I could see the hooves of one foot so put my hand into her uterus and felt for the other leg. Taking these hooves between my index and middle finger, I tugged the second leg out into the open. I then firmly pulled both legs until the nostrils were just visible. Pulling her vulva back, Pip helped me to continue tugging the legs until finally the head followed and in one swift movement I delivered the entire lamb. After clearing the mouth and nose of mucus, the next job was to ensure it could breathe. There were several ways of doing this including sticking a piece of straw up the nose or pinching the end of lamb’s ear as there are sensitive nerves here which can shock the lamb into breathing. Finally, we placed the lamb by its mother and she began to lick it. It was a fantastic sight and I was filled with awe at the miracle of life.


However, several other deliveries were not so straight forward. Roy and I were walking past the pens when suddenly we noticed a sheep with a lamb’s head hanging from its vulva but no legs were in sight. She was running around, heaving and panicking, so Roy immediately lay her on the ground and started pushing the head back in against her contractions. I watched as he pushed with all his might, making the most of the slight delays between every contraction as the were extremely strong. Eventually the lamb’s head slipped back in and Roy felt around for the legs. He found one so pulled it out but couldn’t reach the other so took a chance and pulled with the one leg. Just when it looked like he would have to start again and reposition the lamb to find the other leg, he successfully managed a one-legged delivery! It was a huge relief because Roy explained that if we had not spotted the lamb’s head hanging out, it would have died and then the mother would have died from blood poisoning. He also told me that if the lamb was dead, it could be delivered quickly and easily to save the mother’s life by slitting along the forearms and pulling out the bones. This is possible because the shoulder blades are not attacked to anything so both entire arms can be removed, leaving a streamlined form to be delivered.

Some sheep also had some lucky escapes. One was lambing with one foot back. Roy was just about to intervene when it managed to sort itself out. Another ewe had previously had prolapse where her uterus had been ejected during the pregnancy. Roy had pushed the uterus back and successfully used a couple of stitches to secure it in place. He also explained that this didn’t also work and a prolapse harness (or improvised string harness) could be used to hold it in place. It was important to keep an eye on this ewe because as she came close to lambing, the stitches had to be removed otherwise the lamb could no come out. Roy spotted her as she began to lamb so quickly cut out the stitches. There was a 50% chance that the uterus would come out again. If it did, this could have serious consequences because the uterus would almost certainly become infected. Although penicillin would be given if this did happen, survival could not be guaranteed. However, the birth was successful without prolapse and we were all over the moon!


I really enjoyed my week lambing on Carter Farm, I have learnt so much and been worked extremely hard but nevertheless loved every minute of it. Thank you so much to Pip Collick as well as Roy, Dick and Dave and everyone else on the farm who did so much to make this a week worth remembering. I’m hoping to return next year and see the stresses, strains and wonders of the lambing process unfold once again.

Montgomery Vets – 14th April 2014

I am going to be spending this week at Montgomery Vets, in Evegate Business park, Smeeth. Today was my first day and I was very excited because they specialise in exotics, something I have not previously had much exposure to. I went in and introduced myself to the head nurse, Leah Parkinson and she showed my around. The vets was tiny with two small waiting rooms, an office, two consulting rooms – one which doubled as a prep room and an operating theatre, as well some space out the back where medication and food is stored and a tiny room acting a kennels. It was so different from both Kingsnorth and Barrowhill vets. There are normally two practicing vets, Clive (who owns the practice with his wife Jane. Jane spends most of her time working as full time vet at Port Lymne Zoo!) and Roland as well as two nurses, Leah and Lucy. After being introduced to everyone, Roland asked me to help him draw up premeds for the cats and rabbit who were undergoing operations this morning. He even let me inject the rabbit, which was brilliant. The premeds included antiinflammatories to reduce the inflamation which inevitably results from invasive procedures, painkillers to lower the heart rate which would otherwise increase because of the adrenaline release stimulated by the pain, making the animal more comfortable whilst under anaesthetic and when it initially wakes up, and sedatives which mean that a lower dose of anaesthetic can be used to knock it out and also reduce the stress the animal feels from being in the vets.

The first procedure was a cat castrate. The cat could be given up to 1ml of anaesthetic, but most cats would fall asleep before all of it was administered. Roland showed me the thick, white medication and explained that only medication of this consistency could be injected into a vein as particles found in almost all other medicines can block venuoles. First, the nurse plucked the fur off the scrotum and cleaned it with disinfectant. Then Roland cut out the first testicle before tying the cord and blood vessel together. As he completed by repeating the procedure with the second testicle, he explained that there were many different ways of doing it. I asked why they didn’t just use an elastic ring as they use during lambing as it would be much cheaper. However, this would raise many welfare issues; it would be likely to get infected with the cat licking it and could easily go wrong, whilst owners would be unlikely to appreciate their cat’s testicles falling off on their carpet.

Next was a cat spay. Unusually, the owner had requested a flank spay rather than a midline. There are advantages and disadvantages to both spaying methods, however at Montgomery Vets they usually perform midline spays. It can be easier to find the uterus on a flank spay but leaves a larger patch of more visible trimmed fur. After the operation, Roland left me with the removed uterus and ovaries and the clamps so I spend some time looking at it close up. Despite having seen many spays previously, I have never been given the chance to handle a uterus and it was really interesting.

The rabbit was now ready to be anaesthetized ready for its dental. It is high risk putting a rabbit under anaesthetic especially as they are unable to put a tube down its throat. Instead, a mask has to be used and therefore a higher concentration of anaesthetic is needed because more of the anaesthetic diffuses into the surroundings rather than the rabbits lungs. Using a specialised stand, the rabbit’s mouth was clamped open. Roland showed me how the top molars were spurring into the cheek and explained that bottom molars would spur into the tongue, although the only the top was a problem for this rabbit. He filed down the spikes and pulled out one of the top molars which was causing the majority of the problems.

An ultrasound scan was performed on a 15 year old border collie. It had previously collapsed, triggering the investigation. Blood tests showed the wrong balance of red cells and plasma but the ultrasound showed no obvious problems. Therefore, the scan used to assist in taking a sample of fluid from the stomach. The ultrasound showed the needle entering the stomach and helped the vet to guide it into an area of fluid – shown as black on the screen. This would be sent to the lab and hopefully reveal more about what could be causing the changes in this dog.

Before lunch, a drug rep from nutravet came in to talk to the vets and nurses about their products. nutravet have developed nutraceuticals – medications made from natural ingredients. These include nutraquin aimed at improving osteoarthritis and other joint degenerative diseases and nutracys to help manage feline cystitis, a huge problem in many cats. The rep was especially advertising the client-aimed leaflets that come with the products so the owner can assess the improvements their animals are making, understanding the purpose of the product and making it easier for a vet to prescribe. Having recently read an article in the Veterinary Times which concluded that there was very little evidence for the effectiveness of nutraceuticals, it was interesting to hear about this company’s success. I wondered how much of it was due to the medication and how much of it was a result of the client-friendly information, helping owners to become more aware of their animals condition and therefore provide better care for them.

After lunch, I spent some time in consults with Roland. A golden retriever was brought in for a preop check before her spay. She had a fishy smell, suggesting that she may be in season, however, her vulva was closed meaning that she was not in season and the spay was ok to go ahead the next day.

A cockatiel was brought in for a beak trim. When the beak is displaced, the top and bottom mandibles do not grind against each other so grow uncontrollably. In situations such as these, the beak had to be trimmed about once a month. It is done carefully using a rotating file. It must be done very slowly otherwise the file becomes too hot causing pain as there are nerve endings and blood vessels further up the beak. This is similar to the quick in nails, meaning that the amount trimmed must be carefully judged. Whilst this was happening, the owner had to be out of the room, this is because birds are highly sensitive and could quickly associate the discomfort of the procedure with their owner’s presence. Instead, the owner ‘saves’ them at the end, ensuring that the bird to have a positive relationship with the client.

A dog with glaucoma was brought in to check on the eye pressure. Previously, there had been an episode where the blood pressure had suddenly escalated. This was surprising as the eye medication the dog was on should have the opposite effect. After putting local anaesthetic in the eye, Roland used a tonometer to measure the pressure. It had now returned to a normal level. Nevertheless, we took a sample of urine to indicate any kidney problems. Placing a small amount of urine in a refractometer, we could check the urine specific gravity which was slightly higher than normal. Using coloured patches confirmed that there was a high protein content in the urine so there could be possible problems with function. However, the client’s financial strains meant they only wanted bloods to be taken for further investigation if it was a necessity. Therefore it was decided to keep an eye on how the dog was doing rather than acting now. Aside from this, the dog also had bad breath so the owners asked for some penicillin to help keep this under control.

A red setter was brought in with red, raw skin where it had been chewing itself. This could be the result of fleas or some other allergic reaction. It was prescribed a steroid spray, to be used on the surface to reduce the inflammation, a cream to sooth the already damaged skin and some flea treatment to prevent the risk of fleas. In addition to this, the owner asked for something to help with his excessive wind so the vet gave them a probiotic which should improve balance in the stomach.

The last consult I saw today was a love bird which had been sitting on the bottom of its cage not eating for 2 days. As prey animals, birds are very good at hiding symptoms and therefore a sudden change like this can indicate a serious problem. The bird had slightly wet faeces and although the wings, beak and body condition were all good, the vet noticed during his examination that one foot gripped better than the other. However, this was unlikely to be related to the symptoms so Roland decided to use trial treatment. They would first try antibiotics, with the importance of eating strongly emphasized. The owners were instructed to offer the bird its favourite foods and add glucose powder to its water if they had no success with solid food.

I really enjoyed my day at Montgomery vets and learnt many new things, especially as I have very rarely seen birds at the vets before.

Vetcam 2014

On 31st March – 1st April, I went to Cambridge University to attend Vetcam. I took the train there then walked from the train station to Queen’s College, where the course was based. I was quite nervous because I did not know anyone else on the course but I am lucky because my sister is studying music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, so I have been to Cambridge several times and know my way around. After being giving my key, on staircase M, I went back into the dining hall and talked to some of the other keen students, all with a desire to study veterinary medicine, possibly at Cambridge. It was amazing to look around the hall, filled with 150 people and it dawned on me how challenging the application process was going to be with so much competition. We talked about work experience, and everyone seemed to have a lot. One girl in particular told me about the lambing that she had done, so I am now really looking forward to the lambing I am going to be doing in a few weeks time.

I was very impressed that the whole course was arranged almost entirely by students, showing me that studying veterinary medicine isn’t just about learning the course but also about reaching out to others, highlighting the importance of veterinary medicine in our society as well as inspiring and encouraging prospective students. A third year vet told us to make our way to the Fitzwilliam Hall where we were given a talk by David Bainbridge about the first two years of the vet course. He ran through the course structure, explaining that this would be very similar in all vet schools. He then ppointed out that Cambridge was different because it is primarily science based and emphisizes working with non-standard species including fish, birds and rabbits. This really interested me as I love science and have scientific frame of mind. Furthermore, there are generally only 70 vets per year, meaning that the supervisors and lecturers know students as individuals, helping to ensure that everyone is supported. Dr Matthew Mason then talked to us about the third year. This is the main area in which Cambridge differs as it is the only vet school which offers an intercolated third year where you can choose a topic then subspecialise within this. It gives the opportunity to do unique research onto an area of your choice, working alongside some of the best vets in the UK. I find this really exciting and would love to spend a year doing independent, self-motivated learning into recent science, having the chance to really make a difference. Finally, Penny Watson talked to us about the final three clinical years. During this time lectures move to the vet school and you begin doing more practical work including rotations in the Cambridge RSPCA clinic, which is almost entirely run by Cambridge vet students. This gives the opportunity for client contact, developing communication skills, preparing you for the world of work.

In the afternoon, we got went to the Downing Site, which is where the science courses at Cambridge are based. We took part in a number of sessions including pathology, neurology, anatomy and pharmacology. I really enjoyed these and learnt loads of new things. I am beginning to realise that there is so much involved in veterinary medicine from the chemistry behind drug action to the mechanics of movement and the biological skills required to identify pathogens under the microscope. I think that this is one of the main reasons which I would love to study veterinary medicine because I would not be satisfied with an individual component of science but want to bring it all together and use it in way which will impact individuals.

After this we had some free time before dinner which I spent walking around the beautiful Queen’s College and watching punters on the river Cam. We were treated to formal hall which was fantastic, as we truly experienced the traditions of Cambridge and the food was delicious. There were also several vet students at the dinner so we got to talk to them and they told us about their experiences at Cambridge vet school. In the evening we had a quiz then watched a film before going to bed at about 1.00 a.m.

In the morning we got a coach up to Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital where we got the chance to look around. The facilities looked brilliant and the people who talked to us were all really nice and very knowledgable. In the afternoon, we divided into groups and went to different colleges. There are 29 undergraduate colleges in Cambridge, all with a unique touch which every student learns to love, claiming that there college is best. My group went to Downing College which is very open with lots of ground. It is very beautiful with large pillars around all its buildings. I especially enjoyed looking around the library where we climbed a spiral staircase and were blown away by the number of books. There is also a great student atmosphere and the room we were shown was impressive with a double bed and en-suite bathroom, although we were told that a room like this would be quite expensive.

Finally, we returned to the Fitzwilliam Hall in Queen’s College and were given three final lectures. The first was titled ‘Getting In’ by David Bainbridge. He talked about the application process which starts with sending in a UCAS form, then completing an online form specific to Cambridge, then entering the BMAT. Cambridge try to offer almost all applicants interviews which are given in early December and finally the decision letters are sent in early January. He also explained about the pooling system and how admission tutors select students. We were then given a lecture about interviews by Alun Williams. He talked about how well you need to know your personal statement and how you need to come across as a rounded person with a ‘spark’ of enthusiasm. The last lecture of the day was by Carys Redman-White who explained the application process from a student’s prospective. This was really encouraging and although I am scared about applying and feel intimidated by the process, part of me is looking forward to pushing myself and finding out what I am capable of.

I have really enjoyed the past couple of days and am now certain that veterinary medicine is truly what I want to do. I love the aspects of science which surrounds and the university experience is something I would never want to miss. The time I have spent in Cambridge has been incredible, I think that it is a stunning city and I definetely am going to apply. It will be extremely challenging but I feel ready to give myself this challenge.