Institute of Zoology – 1st November 2013

Today was my last day here in London. I have really enjoyed my week, especially seeing the process of chytrid swabbing from the very beginning, in the pet shop, right through the DNA extraction to the PCR and final analysis. I has been fascinating to be involved in the extraordinary world of research where everyone talks about papers and PhDs, the more papers to your name, the higher up you become. The devotion that the people I have met have to their is inspirational and I hope to one day do some research of my own, contributing a tiny drop to the sea of vast human knowledge. Yet from this week, I have learnt that every drop is powerful and has a huge impact on a small number of people, which turn has an impact on the wider society. For example, the research into chytridiomycosis will have a huge impact on pet shop owners, people with exotic pets and amphibian enthusiasts. These people will benefit from the learning about chytrid, how to prevent it and how to treat it so less of their animals will have chytrid. This will increase sales in pet shops, leading to greater profit which can be used to improve the conditions these pets are living, encouraging those who buy the pets to do likewise. Furthermore, if less amphibians are infected with chytrid, less will die and therefore less will be caught from the wild to be imported into England to supplement the deaths. This will reduce the sad impact which the pet trade often has on the environment, as it diminishes biodiversity. In addition to this, the research into chytrid can not only be applied to the pet trade but also amphibians in the wild. The greater our understanding of this disease, the more actions we can take to prevent wild animals being infected, preserving amphibian populations for generations to come and therefore maintaining ecosystems across the world.

Today, my cousin had lectures at the Royal Veterinary College as part of her MSc in Wild Animal Biology. This course is closely linked with the Wild Animal Health MSc, which is studies by vets wishing to specialise further into wild animals, therefore there were qualified vets in the lectures I attended. This was the first day of a new lecture series on epidemiology, with the introductory day consisting of 7 hours of lectures.

Introduction to Epidemiology – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The first lecture introduced epidemiology as the study the incidence, distribution and control of diseases. Epidemiology pulls together many of the challenges facing veterinary medicine today which revolve around disease, from the complex multi-factorial relationships between animals disease, productivity and welfare to the control of new and emerging diseases and the impact human behaviour has on this. Imports and exports and improving transport along with an increasing population, allows for rapid spread of disease around the world, with Asia as the global hotspot. He picked up on ecosystems and how diseases emerge, first starting in the landscape of population growth and environmental change, spreading to the natural community of urbanisation and forest habitat alteration, finally focusing on host-pathogen dynamics. As well as this, epidemiology involves the idea of ‘One Health’ which is a popular concept within medicine considering the health of humans, animals and the environment as one. This has to be understood, considering the many different risk factors affecting disease in order to use the best approach for controlling disease spread and combining multiple pieces of knowledge inclusive of science and society. In this way, the emergence of disease can be tracked and controlled where possible, improving the way veterinary medicine deals with epidemiology.

Causality in Epidemiology – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The next lecture considered the causes of disease, focusing on the knowledge needed on cause-and-effect relationships. He then talked about whether it was possible to eliminate causes and the effect this would have on the wider population, as well as the impact of multiple causes. He used lots of examples including the bTB badger culls. Here, badgers have been identified as a cause and therefore, efforts are being made to eliminate them. However, it only infected badgers which actually cause disease, so should they be screened? But it is the bacteria which are the underlying cause so should we be treating badgers with antibiotics? The deeper we go, the more complex the situation becomes and the decision has to made about at which level action should be taken.

Measures of Disease Frequency – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The next lecture explained how it is important to quantify occurrence of disease in epidemiological research and this can be done by expressing the numbers of infected, diseased or dead animals as a proportion of the number of animals capable of experiencing infection, disease or death. This would calculate the probability, or risk, of populations becoming infected. Discrete data can be measured using ratios or proportions whilst continuous data can only be measured using rate. We could then take these measurements by considering incidence or survival time measures or prevalence measures. Prevalence is the probability of having the disease at a single point in time and therefore is not as useful as incidence measures which consider the effect of the disease across a period of time. After listening to this lecture, although a lot of it was not relevant for, I realised the importance of quantifying data, making it accessible and putting it into context to be compared to other diseases. Only then can we prioritise action which needs to be taken.

Epidemiological Studies – Julian Drewe

The final lecture was about the different types of study design used in epidemiology, and when each of them would be useful to use. The aim of using specific study designs is to enable the best method for defining cause and effect, considering the confounders (factors which may have an effect but may not be considered e.g. breed, age, gender) involved with the study and identifying the effects of individual factors, which can sometimes be hard to differentiate. Epidemiological studies may be descriptive (using case studies and surveys) or analytical. Analytical studies can be intervention/experimental, observational or systemic. Lots of very interesting case studies were highlighted during the lecture, with particular focus was on a survey of transmissible between baboons and humans in Cape Town, South Africa which was carried out by Julian Drewe. He explained that although it appeared that urban residential areas created the greatest risk for baboons having potential zoonoses, no true conclusions could be drawn because only 27 baboons were tested over 2 weeks. He was then able to relate to the importance of finding the balance in samples size, whatever study was being carried out.

I really enjoyed my day at the RVC, in this learning environment. During lunch I went into the small anatomy museum which was fantastic. I could have spent hours, even days in there, looking at the skeleton, bones and preserved body parts. I can’t believe that one day I might know what every one of these body parts is and what it does, and what to do when it goes wrong and I just can’t wait!

 

Thank you so much to my cousin, Felicity Wynne, who did so much to help me over the past week and also Emma Wombwell, who was brilliant in showing me everything she was doing for her PhD and even letting me get involved.

Institute of Zoology – 31st October 2013

Today I made my way across London to London Zoo once again. I was very excited because I knew that today we were going to be completing the analysis on the samples we began using on Monday. In order to do this, we were going to use Quantitative Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR). This has the purpose of amplifying and quantifying a targeted DNA molecule, hence why we had to extract the DNA initially. In this case, we were going to compare the quantity of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (the pathogen which causes chytrid) DNA in the samples to standards which have been determines according to the quantities of this DNA present in healthy amphibians. The steps were carried out as follows:

  1. Defrost samples of DNA which have previously been extracted from swabs.
  2. Dilute samples with distilled water
    • I really enjoyed this step because I got the chance to try a digital pipette. Previously we had used manual micropipettes, where you press the button on DSCN3281top to the point of first resistance to load the set volume, ensuring no air bubbles are drawn up, then dispel the substance by pressing the button all the way down. It was also important to change the tip between every sample to avoid contamination. However, the digital pipette allowed a larger volume to be loaded initially and with a press of a button, the correct amount was delivered into the tubes. This meant that we could proceed quickly without the need to load between each sample. Furthermore as only distilled water was being drawn into the tip, the same one could be used for every sample.
    • when diluting the sample it is important to ensure that it if fully mixed, therefore the pipette can be used to suck up then expel the solution several times after the water has been added.
  3. Create Master Mix
    • the master mix is a mixture of reagents needed to prevent inhibition during DSCN3287PCR. It consists of 5 chemicals – water, Taqman, Forward primer, Probe and Reverse primer. Although these names (apart from water) meant nothing to me, it did not prevent me appreciating the importance of this step, especially after seeing the precise volumes of each chemical which are added to the tube before being mixed on a vibrator.96-well plate set up
  4. Place Master Mix, samples, negative and standards in a 96-well PCR plate
    • every sample is run in duplicates to ensure reliability, as seen in the table on the right. A negative sample (neg) and 4DSCN3288 standard zoo spore samples (S100, S10, S1, S0.1) to which the DNA will be compared, acting as controls and calibrating the machine.
  5. 96-well plate sealed with plastic sheet, ensuring no air bubbles and mixed in centrifuge.
  6. Place well-plate in PCR machine, set up the computer and leave to run for 2 hours
    • during this process, the chytrid DNA will be highlighted with fluorescein so can be detected, creating a graph on which the results can be illustrated.

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Whilst the PCR machine was running, we Emma decided to take me pet shop swabbing, for this was the only part of the process which I had not seen. There were only a few pet DSCN3305shops left to swab around London, but nevertheless we boarded a tube and headed to Upper Norwood to find Crystal Palace Reptiles. After entering the shop and talking to the owners, explaining what we were doing and why we proceeded to be shown around all the amphibians in the shop. It was a fantastic shop with over 80 samples to be taken. We made our way around the tanks, wearing gloves which had to be changed between every vivarium to prevent contamination. For each amphibian we brushed off any dirt before wiping the swab over the stomach and legs. The number of wipes taken did not have to be exact as we were testing for presence of chytrid rather than amount. For every sample we had to record the number of DSCN3307the sample, the number of the vivarium, the number of animals in the vivarium, the name of the species, whether they had been wild caught or captive bred and their country of origin. This was all important information in investigating the correlations between positive cases of chytrid. Some of the most interesting species I saw included bufos (toads), a Hong Kong warty newt and a fire salamander. We also saw hairy frogs, which weren’t particularly hairy, but are also very rarely seen in the pet trade as they are very vicious and the shop owners had to handle them very cautiously to avoid being bitten. Furthermore, the pet shop had recently acquired five caecilians from Cameroon as these worm-like amphibians are becoming more popular within the pet trade. They were in a tank full of moist soil and we had to dig around to try and find them although only succeeded in finding two of the five. One was near the surface and moving very slowly. It also had a lesion on its back. These were all clinical signs indicating chytrid as the fungus infects skin cells, DSCN3306causing them to break down leaving lesions in the surface. These can very easily become infected, leading to more problems. In addition to this, the fact that the other caecilians couldn’t be found suggests that they could be dead as when caecilians die, they quickly decompose in the rich, moist soil. Chytrid has recently be found to kill caecilians and previously Emma had found that many samples from individuals imported from Cameroon had tested positive. This was very exciting and indicated that we might have found some very interesting results.

Whilst doing this, it opened up some good opportunities to discuss the pet trade. There are many positives and negatives to the pet trade, many of which are highly controversial. I had not previously considered this and I hope to look into it further.

 

I later found out that many of the animals, including the caecilians, from Crystal Palace Reptiles tested positive for chytrid, and many were also found to have tuberculosis which is untreatable in amphibians. As a result the shop owners donated all infected amphibians to the ZSL to aid further research. Unfortunately, the decision was made to euthanize all animals to culture chytrid, however for many of them this was best as they were suffering with little chance of full recovery considering the number of them and the possibilities for research involved.

Institute of Zoology – 30th October 2013

Since we were London, we got the opportunity to spend some time looking behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum with my cousin’s friend, Simon Maddock, who’s research is based at the museum. After looking around the offices where students are doing active research, we were shown into the huge area devoted to the expansive specimen collection, not normally seen by the public. This was outstanding. Simon told us bout the 8 floors filled with specimens and as I looked around just one room, filled to the brim with cabinets and shelves, I found it hard to estimate the vast number of specimens surrounding me.

As Simon was part of the herpetology department, the majority of what we saw consisted of amphibians, reptiles and fish. Every specimen had been fixed in formalin. Formalin, chemically known as formaldehyde, is used to fix specimens with the intention of inhibiting decay. It does this by covalent bonds between the proteins in the tissues, holding it in place. But because formalin is a known carcinogen, the specimens are generally preserved in ethanol. As Simon opened cabinet upon cabinet, we were able to see hundreds of fixed specimens in various sized jars according to the size of the animal. He told us that the oldest specimens dated from the early 1800s. It almost felt like we stepping into the past as we looked at the carefully hand written labels written on yellowing paper and imagined explorers returning from expeditions, with crates full of specimens with the possibility of uncovering species never seen before, creating the type specimen of that species – the first specimen of to be described. It was unfortunate that we could not spend all day going from cabinet to cabinet, peering in every jar to see an eerily suspended specimen staring back, but the lighting was monitored meaning that we could not stay for too long as the lights would automatically turn off. This ensured that the specimens were never exposed for too long to risk deterioration.

It was especially interesting to see specimens which had been stained, especially the skeletons, because this highlighted many features which don’t normally stand out for me, giving me a new perspective of seeing these specimens. I also began to understand how important these specimens can be in helping us to learn more about the natural world. Simon showed me several tuatara. I had never heard of tuatara before, but immediately, the specimens enabled me to readily learn about them by looking at the real things. This would not be possible if they had not been preserved in this way. The tuatara are reptile endemic to New Zealand, and although they closely resemble lizards, they actually belong to their own distinct order, classified according to their unique skulls which have an extra hole in them.

Some of my favourite specimens included the echidnas and platypuses we saw curled up in large tanks as well as the huge gorilla hands. Every crease, fold and crevasse had been preserved, leading me not only to consider the mind-blowing similarities to human hands of which we are so familiar, but also to see the strength in such limbs which spent their lives pulling an enormous gorilla from through from tree to tree. Another specimen which took my breath away was a chimpanzee foetus. It was almost fully formed, with only the facial features and fingertips awaiting further definition. Again, the similarities it shared with a human baby struck me, and I couldn’t help feeling moved to see a being so close to life, so lifeless.

After looking around these rooms full of cabinets, we moved into a room containing huge metal tanks containing preserved sharks. Although this would have been incredible to see, the tanks were so big that a mechanical hoist was needed simply to lift the lid to see inside. But most impressive was probably the giant squid which spanned the length of the room in an extremely long tank. I have seen dissections of giant squids on TV, but to truly imagine their size is impossible until you come face to face with the real thing. Finally we walked out through a room containing a large examination table where dissections of some of the specimens take place, allowing research to continually be done using this amazing collection.

We walked into the lift and were transported back into the museum, surrounded by tourists bustling around and enjoying themselves, unaware of the thousands, possibly millions, of animals in glass jars beneath them. I left with mixed emotions for it is impossible to ignore the fact that these animals are dead, taken from the wild and killed. But I believe that it is so important for us to learn as much as possible about the rich diversity in the world surrounding us. As human beings we have changed the world, not always for the better, and therefore we need continue changing the world, for the change cannot be halted in the state we have left it. The only way to ensure that this continual development conserves the treasures of Earth, is to understand, as best as possible, the impact that our actions will have. To do this, we need to understand the treasures themselves. Whether they may be living in zoos or dead in a museum they can teach us what we need to know to love and preserve their ancestors for many years to come.

Institute of Zoology – 29th October 2013

Today, my cousin got me the opportunity to look around the zoo. She often volunteers in the reptile house so she took me behind the scenes here. I met the Galapagas tortoises, chamaleons, frogs, turtles, tortoises and snakes, seeing those which are not on display to the public. These include the animals which need specialist conditions, such as peace and quiet, or to provide conditions for breeding. There was a room we were not allowed in because it contained some of the most poisonous snakes and frogs in the world. It was so exciting to realise that the zoo isn’t just there for the public but has a key role in active conservation as many of the species I saw are threatened, endangered or even on the brink of extinction with very few remaining in the wild. London Zoo are exploring breeding methods and helping to maintain the careful environments needed to help these species survive.

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After this, we visited the London Zoo Veterinary Department where we had arranged a tour with the head nurse, Matthew Rendle. Matt was brilliant and gave an excellent tour, opening up the opportunity for lots of questions. The level of biosecurity was almost extreme as we dipped our shoes in disinfectant before in. However, with so many different species of animals comes more diseases, many of which are exotic with very little known about them, so the containment of them becomes even more important, especially when the animals being dealt are so precious. First Matt showed us the huge filing cabinet where the medical records are kept. Every animals which comes to the zoo has a personal, unique medical record. In this all the information about it is kept, and if it undergoes a veterinary procedure, it is here that it is recorded. In the same room was a whiteboard, on which the inpatients were listed. Animals were generally in the hospital for one of three reasons; they were either in quarantine, being treated or simply had nowhere else to go.

Some of the kennels we were not allowed into, but we were shown into a few rooms and were able to see a few of the current inpatients. This a turtle with chelonian herpes virus. Although this virus had very little impact on the turtle, it was very dangerous for some other species of animal. This is similar to human cold sores which are life-threatening for some species of primates. However, the turtle was no longer shedding the infection so soon it going to be put back with the group it had come from. DSCN3260There was also a Zoe Imperial Pigeon which had suffered a wing injury. It was 26 years old and the only one they had at the zoo, therefore was very important. It was being trained to eat anti-inflammatories from from a yellow dish so could be fed specifically in the aviary and be put back as soon as possible, giving it the chance to use its wing again in a larger space, building up strength whilst still being treated. We were also shown several large tanks of caecilians. This was especially interesting because after Emma had swabbed them for chytrid as part of her PhD, they had been found positive. It had not previously been known that caecilians could be infected with chytrid and therefore was very exciting, although also worrying. There is no knowing how many different species of amphibians may be affected by chytrid. At the moment Matt was actively finding out the best methods of treating the caecilians. Many had already died because of the fungus, but there were some signs that the same medication used to bathe infected frogs was effective when added to the water tanks, but it was to find the optimum dosage and concentration.

Next we were shown into the certified rabies quarantine area. This was impressive, looking more like a prison cell than a kennel, with every effort being made to ensure that there was no possibility of rabies escaping the building. The doors had heavy bolts on them, there was special clothing which had to be worn including face masks and gloves and it was a necessity for all staff to be vaccinated against rabies. We were only allowed in because there were currently no animals in rabies quarantine. However, other animals in normal quarantine included a Prairie dog and a Burmese python. The Burmese python had just been spayed and was being kept in here where lots of space whilst recovering. Matt told us how hard it was to operate on snakes because they do not breathe when under anaesthetic so it is necessary to support them using artificial ventilation. Also in this building were some meerkats. The mother meerkat, Pipsqueak, had broken her leg and hip whilst heavily pregnant and had to undergo surgery just two weeks before giving birth. Because she had been taken away from the group to do this, she was no longer accepted into the gang. However, she had successfully given birth and to three, very cute, pups. As soon as they had been neutered, they were going to be moved to another zoo where they would hopefully be accepted into a new gang. Matt told us that the meerkats you see in zoos are much fluffier than they are in the wild as they have two coats of fur. As they live in a hot environment, in the deserts of Africa, they would normally shed the top coat. DSCN3261Meerkats also have a problem with high cholesterol which can lead to severe heart problems. This is something often encountered when they are kept in captivity and fed a high protein diet, such as rats. The zoo discovered this problem and now only feed them apple, carrot and dry adult cat food, which I was allowed to help hand feed Pipsqueak and her pups!

Finally we went back into the hospital and Matt showed us around the 2 operating theatres, filled with hundreds of bottles of medication, a table able to move with a load weighing half a tonne (the mass of an adult lion), an x-ray and ultrasound machine. He had selected out several x-ray images which we looked at and asked me what animals I thought they were. It took me a while to think about it but on the whole I had a general idea for most of them.
DSCN3274 The radiographs included an armadillo, which I initially thought was a tortoise before noticing that the shell was divided into segments. Matt pointed out that an armadillo only has a carapace (upper shell) whilst on an x-ray of a tortoise both the carapace and plastron (lower shell) would be identifiable. There were two images of animals with wings – a pigeon (the Zoe Imperial Pigeon currently in the kennels) and a bat. I was able to tell the difference mainly because of the fingers in the bat’s wings. However, Matt also showed me some key difference between birds and mammals including the teeth as well as the presence of a diaphragm only in the bat. I did not previously realise that birds and reptiles do not have diaphragms but instead have small lungs with lots air sacs. I found incredible but also bizarre to understand and would like to do more research into this. Other images included two frogs of very different sizes – the larger one was a Mountain Chicken (yes, it is a frog!). The last image was of the Burmese python which had been spayed, on the picture we could also see a whole rat inside the snake! Matt hadn’t realised that the snake hadn’t yet digested its last meal when the x-ray had been taken but it was a brilliant picture.DSCN3279

On the way home we fed mini cheddars to some friendly squirrels in Regent’s Park. A fun end to a fascinating day, though maybe not the ideal diet for a squirrel.

Institute of Zoology – 28th October 2013

This week, I have had the opportunity to do some work experience at the Institute of Zoology (IOZ) based at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) London Zoo with my cousin who is doing a masters with the RVC and ZSL.

We arrived at London Zoo, Regent’s Park, through the hurricane, tackling London transport in chaos. As we entered the Wellcome building I discovered that behind the scenes at London Zoo there is a huge amount of research taking place. It is an active academic environment with lots of laboratories and facilities devoted to discovery. The IOZ supports a vast array of people in completing PhDs and this was what I was going to see. We climbed several flights of stairs, passing a doorway through which the experiments on live animals took place. I was strictly not allowed to go in here. The experimentation using living animals is regulated intensely, meaning that the majority of research does not use live animals. We then reached the herpetology department, where the all the amphibian and reptile research was based. My cousin hadn’t yet started her own dissertation however, spent much of her time helping her friend, Emma, to complete her PhD. I was introduced to Emma Wombwell and she soon started telling me about the research she was doing into chytridiomycosis. Chytridiomycosis, often abbreviated to Chytrid, is an infectious disease of amphibians which is currently a huge impact upon amphibians populations, especially frogs, across the world. Emma was looking particularly at Chytrid in the pet trade. She had set out to visit every pet shop in the country, swabbing all their amphibians then bringing back the samples to analyse for traces of the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. She hoped to be able to track where the amphibians had been imported from, and hence shed light on the areas of the world in which chytrid was most severe so that further research could be focused here.

Today she was going to be extracting DNA from samples she had already collected, ready to be used for real-time PCR which would test for chytrid. She showed me how to use all the equipment in the laboratory and gave me a chance to try a few things out myself. The steps were carried out as follows:

  1. Organise 48 samples to be analysed. DSCN3229
    • with the huge number of samples she has collected, it is important that she carefully keeps track of which sample came from where. Every pet shop has a number, and every sample taken there also has a number. Here we were extracting DNA from swaps from pet shops 678, 84, 676, 453, 666 and 7002.
    • it is important to use 48 samples because most trays are arranged in rows of 12 and the centrifuge has room for 24 tubes.
  2. Place 0.03 – 0.04g of Zirconium/silica Microbeads into centrifuge tubes.
  3. Pipette 60µl Prepman ultra into tubes.
    • PrepMan® Ultra Sample Preparation Reagent has been developed to prepare DNA ready for PCR as it inactivates PCR inhibitors such as lipids.
  4. In a fume cupboard, cut off the tip of each swab, DSCN3232using a scalpel on a petri dish and place one swab in one, correctly numbered, tube.
    • it is advised to be done in a fume cupboard to avoid the spread of the fungus from the samples into the lab.
    • to avoid contamination it is important that a new scalpel blade is used for every swab, however the same petri dish can be used up to 4 times, as long as it is turned round betweeBead Beatern swabs so a different area is used.
  5. Homogenise the samples using a bead beater
    • the bead beater shakes the samples very quickly. This is why the Microbeads are important, because as the bang against the sample, they cause it to be broken up.DSCN3236
  6. Centrifuge the samples for 30 seconds.
  7. Homogenise again.
  8. Centrifuge again.
  9. Heat at 100°C for 10 minutes in a heat block.
    • this causes the DNA strands to separate by breaking the hydrogen bonds between base pairings.
  10. CoolDSCN3237 for at least 2 minutes
  11. Centrifuge for 3 minutes
    • this causes the heaviest organelles and other parts of the sample to be pushed to the bottom of the tube, leaving a supernatant containing the DNA.
  12. Pipette as much supernatant as possible out of the DSCN3238tubes, ensuring that the cotton from the swab and microbeads remain in the tube.
  13. Freeze samples until PCR.

I had a fantastic day today and really enjoyed learning about the processes involved in extracting DNA. It was brilliant to be able to apply the knowledge I have learnt at school about the structure of DNA to help me understand the steps which we were going through. I am looking forward to seeing the process completed using PCR, and uncovering some results.

Kingsnorth Vets – 5th February 2014

Today I arrived at the vets to see a police car parked in the car park. I soon found out that this was because of the horses in the fields which surround the surgery, although are not associated with them. Because of the awful weather we have been having, the fields have become sodden with water and as a result the animals are suffering. Two horses were found dead yesterday and today one was on its side in the mud, exhausted and unable to get up. The RSPCA had to intervene confiscating the horse of the owner but to do so the police had to be involved. The owner of the horses was going to be prosecuted on terms of animal welfare.

Apart from this, it was quite a quiet evening. In the kennels was a whippet with a poor liver. To assess their function, blood had been taken and then steroids had been administered, then blood tests were done at regular intervals to observe the liver’s response. Also there was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel with haemorrhagic, bloody diarrhoea. It could not control its bowel movements and regularly had to be cleaned. It was eating very little and more investigations needed to be done to find out the cause. Finally there was also a dog which had been vomiting, therefore x-rays were being taken at regular intervals to search for foreign bodies and monitor the movement of gas through the digestive system.

During the consults today a German Shepherd was brought in with diarrhoea. It was prone to diarrhoea and normally had bouts of it once a year. The vet prescribed medication to help the faeces to bind together and settle the stomach. The dog had previously responded quickly to medication, indicating that it was likely this dog just had a sensitive stomach. If it did not clear up rapidly, there could underlying causes and further investigation would be needed.

A dog was brought in with a skin tag on the inside of its outer ear. It was just a small cyst, probably the result of sweat glands secreting discharge. There were similar lumps on other places on the dog but this was the only one which where the skin had ruptured and not healed, exposing it to infection meaning that it was pussy and bleeding. The vet suggested several options including cauterising it under sedation and local anaesthetic or just cleaning it regularly to prevent the build up of infection and monitoring any development, taking action only if it got any worse. However, the vet chose to try using catgut suturing material to tie a knot at the base of the lump. This was likely to be unsuccessful but worth trying as it would at least provide a short term solution. After pulling it tight, the cyst came away, leaving only a small amount behind which was more likely to heal. This dog also had an underactive thyroid, meaning that the thyroid gland was not producing enough hormones to sufficiently stimulate the body’s metabolism. Therefore, the dog was putting on weight and the owners needed to consider changes to diet.

A flat-coated retriever was brought in with a lump under its leg. It was likely to be a mass cell tumour especially as smooth-haired breeds are more prone to them than other dogs. A nurse came in and together the nurse, owner and I held the dog on its side as the vet used a syringe to take a sample of cells and put them on a couple of slides. The vet warned the owner that there may not be sufficient cells to diagnose from, in which case a biopsy could be taken. The nurse then showed how to dip the slides in a fix then into two different dyes. Each slide had to be dipped 5 times in each chemical and the cells would be stained according their affinity for the different chemicals, meaning that different organelles could be identified under the microscope. Finally, they were rinsed with distilled water to wash off excess dye.

As it was quiet today, I spent some of time de-fluffing and folding scrub tops and trousers as well as cleaning some of the kennels out. I also took the whippet who was in the kennels for a walk and wee.

Kingsnorth Vets – 22nd January 2014

In the kennels today was cat which had been in a road traffic accident and had broken its jaw. It was on a drip, was struggling to breath and being fed through an oesophageal tube. However, it was happy to lick the syringe feeding it, suggesting that it wasn’t in severe discomfort and would improve rapidly. Also there was a cat with FATE written on its kennel door. I asked and found that this stood for Feline Aortic Thromboembolism caused by a thrombus, or blood clot, breaking away from a larger blood clot in the heart and lodging at the saddle, cutting off circulation to both legs. As a result, the cat could not move its back legs. Often this condition is triggered very suddenly by small stresses which lead to strain on a diseased heart. The cat was being and would continue to be given lots of medication including aspirin for blood thinning, appetite stimulants and pain killers. Heart disease cannot be cured, only kept at bay. Therefore, this cat was going to be discharged tonight.

During the consultations today, a family came in with a dog and two cats all to have their booster vaccinations. The vet drew up the syringe for the dog then asked me to draw up the syringes for the cats ready for when she had injected the dog. This was really exciting and I was very nervous of getting it wrong. It was a combo vaccination and I was fascinated to find that one of the vaccines in solid and dissolves when mixed with its combo. After inverted the pot containing the combination, I drew it back up the syringe before changing needles, ensuring that I left the cap on the clean needle for the vet to remove when she was ready to use it. I think it will take a lot of practice before I can become as swift and efficient at drawing up syringes as the vet.

An owner bringing in her dog for his vaccination asked about a chipped tooth she had noticed. However, it was not causing any apparent pain or discomfort, therefore the vet chose to leave it but keep an eye on all of the dog’s teeth.

A Chihuahua was brought in because it was sneezing. The vet concluded that it was likely to be an upper respiratory tract infection and prescribed anti-inflammatories to treat it.

A very old whippet was brought in which had a poor liver. However, the current problem was its sore anus which it kept rubbing along the ground. It had previously had problems with its anal glands and this seemed to be recurring. Therefore, the vet emptied them and suggested putting a mild cream such as sudocream on to sooth the soreness. Furthermore, this dog had very bad teeth. It was dangerous to consider anaesthetic because the dog’s age and liver problems, however the owners decided they would undergo a dental as the risk would only get greater with age and the vet had pointed that the teeth would need to be dealt with eventually.

A bulldog was brought in with an infected uterus. She had previously had a tumour in one of her ovaries, therefore she had been spayed. However, it was possible that before the operation was done, part of the ovary had migrated elsewhere in the body. When spaying, a stump of the uterus is left along with the cervix and vagina. It appeared that hormones were being released by the migrated piece of ovary which had not been removed which was affecting this stump. As a result, thick discharge was being produced and the dog was still having seasons. The vet discussed the options, suggesting that although another operation could be done to try and locate the migrated ovary, this was not the best option especially for the overweight bulldog. Also, the dog had very bad ears. The owners had been trying to clean them with wet wipes, however, these are the wrong pH so cleaner and ear drops need to be used.

A dog with infected anal glands was brought in. It was having its anal glands emptied every week and was also on antibiotics. Precaution needed to be taken because severe anal gland infection can be very serious, sometimes resulting in the glands coming out of the anus. In addition to the infected glands, the owner had noticed that his dog was drinking a lot of water. This could be a result of the medication but could also be an indication of more serious problems such as diabetes. The owner was going to take a urine sample so the concentration could be tested and he was going to try and measure the exact volume drunk in 24 hours. This would give the vet appropriate information to decide whether to carry out further investigation.

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was brought in showing signs of pain in its neck and front legs. These were possible signs of syringomyelia or chiari malformation which are conditions this breed is prone to. Selective breeding for short skulls has resulted in abnormal formation of the cerebellum, in which it is displaced downwards. This can lead to the development of fluid-filled cysts in the spinal chord called syrinxes. A combination of these conditions can result in pain in the neck and front legs as well as a characteristic swatting of the air with the paw. This dog had previously been screened for syringomyelia but the results had never been received. It is a relatively new division of neurology and therefore the vet did not know much about it. She was going to follow up the results from the screening and in the meantime prescribe some mild pain killers. It was likely that the pain was not caused by chiari malformation but it was a possibility that mustn’t be looked over.

A chocolate Labrador was brought in with conjunctivitis. The vet tested it with fluorescein but found no evidence of foreign bodies, therefore she prescribed some ointment to be administered twice daily. The owner also expressed his worries that the dog may have eaten a pencil but the vet explained that as there had been no vomiting or diarrhoea, this was unlikely.

Finally, a dog was brought in to check up on its ear infection. It was improving well so was instructed to continue the medication. Whilst it was in the vet cut its claws. She caught its quick so used silver nitrate to cauterise the blood vessel and stop it bleeding, a technique which I haven’t seen used before.

Kingsnorth Vets – 8th January 2013

In the kennels today was a cocker spaniel I had seen a few weeks ago because it had been vomiting. Earlier in the day it had a foreign body surgically removed and was going to be sent home when it started eating again without vomiting, confirming that the operation had been successful.

This week was the first week I had been in now that the consultation times have been lengthened from 10 minutes to 15 minutes. The vet I was talking to told me that although these were slightly more expensive, they were rarely overrunning leaving clients waiting for less time. Also, the vets often had time to write up notes and make phone calls if consults were short, saving the vets having to stay at work for hours into the evening to do this.

Three cats which had been recently rehomed from an RSPCA cat shelter were brought in for their second vaccinations. One had previously had fleas and as a result had lost lots of fur. Although the fur was regrowing quickly it still looked very scruffy. Another cat had a grade three heart murmur. The vet tried to listen to the cats heart so that its condition could be monitored but it was purring so much that this proved difficult. After trying various techniques to distract the cat to stop it purring, including holding cotton wool soaked in spirit to its nose, running a tap and tapping its head, the vet still could hear just enough to confirm the heart murmur.

Another cat was brought in because it was vomiting, however the owner had not noticed the vomiting coinciding with eating or any other possible causes. The vet discussed feeding it a bland diet and suggested that a blood test could be taken to discover any underlying causes. We took the cat out to the kennels but as soon as the box was opened it made a dash for it. Eventually, after the nurse had thrown a towel over it, the vet scooped the cat back up but it was now too stressed to attempt to take a blood sample so was returned to the owner with the advice of changing the diet and bringing the cat back in if no improvement was made.

A miniature schnauzer was brought in for its kennel cough vaccination which was administered as a nasal spray. The vet also did a general health check and found that although it was given a dental in September, plaque was already building on its teeth. She explained that some dogs are prone to bad teeth for no obvious reason and suggested that the owner should try brushing the dog’s teeth.

A dog was brought in with a hurt leg although when the vet examined it their did not appear to be any obvious problems apart from a possible slight swelling in the knee. The dog was excited and the adrenaline produced from being at the vets was probably masking any pain or injury. Therefore, the vet prescribed anti inflammatories to be given for one week and instructed that the dog must rest for two weeks even if it seems to have recovered beforehand. It was important that exercise was slowly built up from this stage whilst the injured limb regained strength as was it equally important to reduce the amount of food being given. Not only would the dog be burning less energy but it was already overweight. The vet explained that in a dog of an appropriate weight you should be able to feel its ribs and see its waist.

A 12 week old puppy was brought in for its first vaccination. After being given it, the owners were told that it could not come into contact with unvaccinated dogs until two weeks after the second vaccination, which would be given between two and four weeks after the first.

A cat was brought in with open wounds which were weeping pus. It had been in a fight previously leaving it with wounds which became infected and developed into abscesses. The cat had now been in another fight which had opened up the old wounds. They were now badly infected so the vet cleaned them thoroughly before prescribing antibiotics and anti inflammatories as well as giving them a buster collar to stop the cat licking the wounds and disrupting the healing process.

Between appointments, I asked the vet about what can be seen in a blood test. She told me that among other things, it was most common to look for a high white blood cell count, indicating an infection and high calcium levels. High calcium is a possible indicator of cancer as some cancer cells mimic hormones produced in the parathyroid gland which control the levels of calcium in the blood. As a result, calcium will come out of the bones and into the blood. I asked if this could cause bone problems but the vet told me that it would not as the absorption of the calcium from the bones did not effect the structure of the bones themselves.

The final consult of the day was an emergency after a cat had been hit by a car. Its paw was degloved and it had a seriously broken leg. Furthermore, it was likely that bruising had developed on its lungs and it had a graze on its head. Its heart was beating rapidly and its pulse was very weak. Along with its high temperature, this revealed that the cat was going into shock. It paw smelt bad, suggesting that the injury was infected and at least 24 hours old. To save the cat, they would have to act immediately, putting it onto an intravenous drip. There was little hope of reconstructing the paw and although there was the option of amputation, this would be hard for the 14 year old cat to cope with as it was a front leg. This combination of factors resulted in the owners made the hard, but probably kind, decision to have it put to sleep.

Kingsnorth Vets – 18th December 2013

After cleaning several kennels, I was in consults again today. A poorly rough collie was brought in who had a knee joint disease. After lots of tests being done at Kingsnorth and no results being found, it had been referred. However, this had found that the dog had lung disease. Its legs had become worse and it was struggling to walk despite the medication including steroids it was on. Therefore, the owners had asked for another blood test to be taken to see if anything had changed to trigger this period of worsening. We took the dog out to the kennels where I held it with its held tilted upwards to try and reveal a vein. However, at least ten minutes past and neither the vet nor the nurse could find a vein from which blood could be taken whilst the dog was becoming agitated. Eventually, enough dripped into the syringe to run test for and I took the relieved dog back to his owners. Afterwards, I asked the vet about steroids because I have seen many cases in which they have been used but I was unsure about why they were so effective for such a wide range of problems. The vet told me that they were used for any kind of inflammation. They were extremely effective with very few side effects. Furthermore, unlike many drugs including antibiotics, which many anti inflammatories have an element of, they do not need to be taken in a course. However, they can suppress the immune system so should not be used chronically. ‘Steroids’ actually refers to the class of chemicals corticosteroids. These are completely different from anabolic steroids apart from the fact that they are both based on steroid hormones produced in the adrenal gland. Anabolic steroids are used occasionally in veterinary medicine to boost muscle growth.

Two Staffordshire Bull Terriers were brought in for their booster vaccinations. However, whilst they were in the owner wanted to query one of the dogs scratching. It was likely that it had had an allergic reaction to flea bites, but when combed through, there were no signs of fleas. The vet proceeded to check the other dog for fleas as well because if there are fleas in a two dog household, it is likely that both will have them and the itching dog may have managed to scratch all of his off. However, there were still no signs of fleas so a steroid spray was prescribed to reduce the inflammation of the skin causing the itching. The vet discussed with the owner that they could consider changing the food in the long term and explore factors triggering the dog’s known allergies to red meat and dust mites.

A rabbit was brought in needing approval for travelling into Europe with its owner. Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits do not need passports but do need consensus from a vet to agree that they are in good health and vaccinated so won’t take or bring back any diseases. The owner thought that it had been scratching more than usual so the vet brushed some dandruff out of its fur and placed them on a slide. She then looked at them under the microscope and concluded that there was nothing serious although the scratching was most likely to be caused by Cheyletiella, a mite commonly known as ‘walking dandruff’.

Another rabbit was brought in because one of its eyes had been watering more than usual, making its face wet. The eye did not look inflamed or sore and was tested fluorescein negative. However, the fluorescein ran across the face rather than coming out of the nose as it normally would. This suggested that the rabbit had blocked tear ducts as the tear ducts connect the eyes and the nose. Very little could be done about this but the vet prescribed some eye drops to try and unblock them and told the owners to bring the rabbit back in if its eye became sore.

An 8 week old puppy was brought in to have a health check and immediately it became apparent that something was having an effect on its skin. It was very itchy and the skin was scaly, coming away with large clumps of fur. There were no signs of fleas but after taking a sample on a slide, the vet looked at them under the microscope. The vet let me look through the microscope and I immediately saw mites. These were Cheyletiella, as we had expected to see on the rabbit. However this was a much more severe case with the small amount of skin on the slide crawling with them. Cheyletiella are most commonly found in rabbits and although they affect dogs as well, they are very rarely found on adult dogs because the developed immune system of the dog means they have little effect. Unlike fleas which feed on blood, Cheyletiella burrow into the surface of the skin. Therefore, they are treated using a spray rather than a drop on. A spray is sufficient because they are not deep burrowers. If they were it would be expected to see thick crusty skin. After the owners had left, the vet and I watched the dandruff left on the consulting table to see if we could see any movement for Cheyletiella are often called ‘walking dandruff’. This is because they are visible to the eye only as moving pieces of dandruff.

The third rabbit of the day was brought in for its booster vaccination and also wanted to query mites, but this time it was clear that they were affecting its ears. The vet wanted to prescribe a mite treatment, however, the rabbit had recently been given flea treatment although the owners could not remember the brand they had used. This was a problem because if the mite and flea treatments contained the same substances the rabbit could be given a potentially harmful overdose. The owners would contact the vet when they found out the brand of the flea treatment so a suitable mite treatment could be prescribed.

A young collie with irritable bowel syndrome was brought in. It had always had problems with bowel movement and had been constipated so the owner had fed the dog liver to act a laxative which had resulted in diarrhoea. It had a sensitive anus and was very uncomfortable. The vet prescribed liquid paraffin to soften the stools and aid movement. If this did not solve the problem, it was suggested that the dog was brought back for an enema. It was likely that this had been triggered by two sudden changes in food. The owner also talked to the vet about suitable weights for rough collies, for often they can become too thin without the owner realising because of their thick fur.

Finally, a 13 year old whippet was brought in. Its lower canine was digging into the upper gum causing soreness and inflammation. The only way to treat it would be to operate, however, this dog had a grade 6 heart murmur with a loud ‘whoosh’ being heard down the stethoscope with every heart beat. This ruled out many medications and made anaesthetic an extremely dangerous option. Furthermore, when removing canines a surgical flap would have to be created making the procedure more complicated than other dentals. The owner chose to go ahead with the surgery, knowing that although her dog may not make it through it was the only option to make him better.

Kingsnorth Vets – 4th December 2013

Today in the kennels were a couple of dogs being sick. The first was guessed to be just because of an upset stomach as no other cause could be found. However, they could not tell if it was improving because it would not eat in the kennels. Eating is one of the best health indicators, therefore they were going to send it home for the night to see if it would eat at home. If it would not then it would have to brought in again for more investigation to be done. The other dog being sick was only two years old but had already had three operations to remove stones it had eaten. This was the most probable cause of it being sick, however, the x-rays which had been taken had not shown any stones. Therefore, the vets were exploring the possibility of other foreign bodies obstructing the digestive tract. To find out if there were obstructions caused by objects, such as socks, which would not show up on an x-ray they were taking multiple x-ray images over a period of time on which they could observe the movement of gas through the intestine. If gas in the digestive tract was to seen move throughout the intestine and out of the body then it would show that there was probably not an obstruction. However, if the gas did not pass a certain point it would indicate that there was a foreign body obstructing its path. Barium sulfate, used in a barium meal can confirm this movement. Barium sulfate is insoluble, therefore it is safe to use as it will not be absorbed through the intestine wall whilst it is dense enough to block x-rays and therefore show up on a radiograph. The vet showed me several pictures in a textbook, giving examples of barium meal used to highlight the intestine as well as x-rays of foreign bodies in dogs’ stomachs including a corn cob and some buttons.

During the consultations today, a dog was brought in with red and inflamed eyes. The vet looked at them using an ophthalmoscope and could immediately see that the cornea of the eye was smooth meaning that it could be concluded that this was a case of conjunctivitis and there was no need to use fluorescein although I had initially thought this would be necessary. They were prescribed antibiotic eye drops and if no improvement was seen they should bring the dog back in.

A cat which had been in a car accident was brought in for a check up. After the accident, it had been brought in with extremely shallow breathing and in a lot of pain. X-rays revealed that it had a ripped diaphragm. The liver had moved into the thorax and was obstructing the ability for ventilation to take place. The cat had to be operated on immediately to move the liver back into place and stitch the diaphragm back together. The cat was recovering well and rapidly improving.

A dog I saw in the kennels two weeks ago who had his toe removed due to a cancerous lump was brought in for a check up. The bandaging was removed and I could now see that the entire digit had been cleanly removed. It had healed well and although it would take the dog a little while to get used to walking on, it would be much better than the malignant, uncomfortable tumour.

I have previously noticed that when doing a general check up, many vets tap the chest around the stethoscope whilst some do not. Therefore, I asked the vet why this was done. She told me that when tapping you could hear the sound resonating around the chest. If it was a clear hollow sound, this indicated that the chest was clear from obstructions including a build up of mucus or fluids. She used the example of the cat who had ripped its diaphragm. Tapping around the stethoscope here would produce a dull, muted sound because of the liver in the cat’s chest. She told me that some vets only do it when necessary whilst others, like herself, did it in most check ups in order to create a habit of it.