The Merck Veterinary Manual provides veterinary practitioners and students with practical explanations of what to do to diagnose and treat conditions in all of the major medical and surgical specialties. It covers when to suspect a disease, a sequence of evaluation, and treatment options along with selected alternatives.
I know when you imagined your day this morning, it did not include a rushed visit to the emergency room with your beloved pet. I know you did not plan on your friend becoming ill or suffering an injury, or worse. I know you are scared of what can happen and scared of speaking with people whom you have never met before. I know you are worried about leaving your best friend to a stranger’s care.
I have been in your shoes; there was a time when I was rushing my best friend in for emergency care after an attack by another animal. My mind was such a whirlwind of thought and emotion and above all, fear. Fear of losing my best pal, fear of doing something wrong in the process of rushing, fear of trusting a person I did not know to provide care and love to my pet. It is entirely natural not to trust a stranger after all, and especially not with a life that is so precious to you.
I may not know your background story, but what I do know is how much that friend you just brought to the clinic means to you. I know that I can never compare to the love you show him or her, but you should know that I will come as close as I can. I will monitor your friend’s vitals and bring them whatever is needed to be as comfortable as possible. If they allow, I will sit with them and love them as if they were my own. If they are scared, I will do my very best to help ease that as well. I will provide the treatments that the doctor has ordered, and make sure your baby has the softest place to rest their weary head.
Do not be afraid to request reassurance from your pet’s medical team, that is a part of what we are here to do. Allow us to help ease some of the burdens of your worry, and please know that many of us came to this profession because of the deep love we have for all animals, including the one most special to you.
In my recent dental elective course, I learned that dental disease is actually the most common disease in dogs and cats and that about 85% of dogs over 3 years of age have dental disease. However, dental diseases are often overlooked. I still remember when my brother took his daughter to the dentist for dental caries, my brother was scolded by the dentist because he mentioned that dental caries did not matter as her permanent teeth had not erupted yet. He wasn’t aware that dental disease was already causing oral pain, which affected her ability to eat and lead to a sub-optimal body condition of his daughter.
During my clinical rotations, other than dental disease, I’ve seen cases of severe heartworm infection causing heart failure, puppies with parvovirus infections, and kittens with feline distemper, all of which could be prevented by routine deworming or vaccination. Prevention is the best medicine in many respects. When disease develops and progresses, it may cost more money to treat. Surgical or medical treatment for heartworm infection in dogs is expensive. In addition, for some of the preventable diseases, treatment may not necessarily lead to a cure. Diseases may have been bothering the animal for a long time before clinical signs are noticed. At that point the pet may be older and treatment may pose a higher risk.
In my opinion, prevention is an integral part of both human and veterinary medicine. Also, client education is paramount in achieving adequate preventative care for our animals. Clients are the ones who know them the best, give them routine preventive medications and bring them for medical care if things go wrong.
Being on call is my least favorite part of fourth-year. I am constantly worried about when I will get called in, where I will be when it happens, and what activity it might interrupt. Because of this, I hardly ever go to do anything in town when I’m on call. While it may be a little irrational to worry so much, I have learned to cope knowing that on call will be a thing of my past once I graduate!
I have found a job that does not require such intense attention to emergency care after hours, and for that I am grateful. I will be close to an emergency clinic if any patients need after-hours care, and I will certainly see emergencies that come in during the day, but my life will not be planned around whether something might, maybe, who knows when will come into the hospital.
The important thing about this for me is that, with a better quality of life for myself (not to disparage anyone in emergency medicine–you guys are superheroes!), I can practice better medicine for my patients. I have learned that an emergency or on-call schedule is not for me and that this is perfectly ok!
There are so many options available to new graduates, and it is important to find somewhere that meshes well with your skill set, but also with the things you know you would struggle with long term. For me, that meant finding a place that has more normal work hours and a few days off every now and then. It is so worth it to leave this stressful part of vet school behind and not allow it to follow me into my career and the rest of my life! Everyone is different, and that’s why veterinary medicine is such a cool profession! There are opportunities for every type of person (even the ones who love on call!) to find the place where they best fit.
As we pulled up to the truck parked in the field, I kept my eyes peeled for our cow. The owners had called us because there had been calf feet dangling out of her rear end for most of the day. Unfortunately, it was getting dark and the herd was out in a large field. Our particular cow was hidden in a large thicket of trees. After a few minutes of looking, we found she had rejoined the herd.
Our next goal was to catch her. The only solution was to use our trusty dart gun. I had seen it used before but never actually got to try it myself. Today was my chance. We loaded it with a sedative dart and hopped in the truck. I was in the back seat with both windows rolled down ready to do a safari-like takedown. As we rolled up to the herd, I was able to spot her but wasn’t able to get a good shot at her rear leg or neck with all the other animals moving around. Every once in a while I had a short chance to take a shot but I was worried about hitting another animal so I waited. I eventually ended up on foot and had to climb into the owner’s ATV to catch up with our cow. She finally stopped on the driver’s side of the vehicle but because the owner was so big I couldn’t lay the rifle over the steering wheel to take a shot.
He told me this would be our last shot to get her before she ran into more trees so he turned towards her. I had a shot at her rear leg lined up but just before I pulled the trigger she moved. My dart missed behind her. If I had been aiming for her mid-flank I would have gotten her, but a dart into the abdomen wouldn’t have been good. While I was quite upset that I had missed, it ended up being easier because the owner then told us that he had a cattle chute that we could use. If I had hit her, she would have run down into a small pond or a small patch of woods, which would have made things difficult in the dark.
Once we got her into the chute, I was able to palpate her and determine that the calf was coming out in the correct way. After putting chains on the calf’s legs and applying pressure, I pulled out a live calf. The baby was given some of mom’s colostrum and then we were on our way. Getting to finally use the dart gun was awesome, and next time I won’t hesitate when I have the perfect shot lined up.
Hour 1: Two classmates and I carpool to a 10,000-cow dairy, arriving at 8 am to catch the vet as he comes out of a monthly meeting with the herdsmen. The vet is eager to begin work, so he passes out skeins of rectal sleeves, pulls on the ultrasound goggles, and opens the door to the largest barn I’ve ever seen.
Hour 2: The awe of giant fans, vaulted ceilings, and endless cows wanes somewhere around my 20th rectal palpation. Only one student is allowed to palpate a cow after the vet, and only cows more than 45 days pregnant can be palpated by students. So far the vet has checked about 2/3 of the 350 cows in this pen for pregnancy. Oh boy…only 5 more pens to go.
Hour 3: Thank goodness for waterproof coveralls, is all I can say. Despite the mechanical floor scrapers that remove manure every 2 hours, my coveralls are soaked in manure up to mid-calf and I’m spotted like a Dalmatian with manure splatters. But one of my classmates had worse luck: She was standing behind a cow when it coughed, and 2 seconds later she was digging handfuls of manure out of the gap between sweatshirt and coveralls, trying to prevent manure from sliding down between coveralls and pants. It was not a success.
Hour 4: My head is pounding, my throat is parched, and my limbs feel like blocks of ice. I’m longing to escape to drink some water and warm up in the herdsman’s office. I’m now a bit more eager to palpate cows since at least one of my hands will be warm. I feel twin pregnancies for the first time, and it’s rather exciting.
Hour 5: We’re having a spirited discussion about badgers, tuberculosis, and cows in the U.K. as we wait for the current cow traffic jam to resolve. Due to overstocking and barn design, there are 300-350 cows per pen but only 270 headlocks. So we catch 270 cows, the herdsmen identify which cows need to be pregnancy checked, the vet checks their status, then the free cows are sorted to determine which of the remaining ones need to be checked. Needless to say, it’s not the most efficient system, especially because cow traffic jams are frequent and can take several minutes to break up. On the bright side, once we finish this pen we get a 10-minute break to chug some water and visit the restroom!
Hour 6: After the 8th identical cow pen, the vet informs us that we finished the preg checks for the day. I happily strip off my rectal sleeve and trudge through the slop in the direction of the herdsman’s office, desperate for some warmth. But the vet stops me in my tracks, reminding us we have to visit the sick pen before we leave. One cow has an abscess the size of a basketball on the side of its thigh. One of my classmates films the lancing of the abscess, and I later send the video to my brother, who delights in any and all gross things. However, he did not appreciate the video—apparently, he watched it while eating dinner!
I have a pet cockatiel. His name is Kenneth, and he does not enjoy people. I got him from a friend who didn’t have anyone to take care of him anymore. I love him, but he is a wild bird. He needs room to fly and exercise and have more enrichment. Luckily, as a vet student, I’ve learned a lot about what I can do to help him while he waits for his flight cage to be built (yay!).
Birds are not always the most social creatures when it comes to their humans. This can be frustrating for owners who were looking for something to cuddle or talk to or be close to. Beyond that, excessive social behavior or cuddling can lead to significant health issues for birds, especially those who are reproductively active. With Kenneth, luckily, I don’t have to worry about those kinds of behavior problems, but I do have to worry about something else. I worry that he gets bored. He is afraid of my hand and does not want to be handled, so it is difficult to enrich him in the way I had hoped when I first got him.
Training can be a great way to give a bird confidence and the ability to be handled or even just taken out of the cage without stress. I’ve certainly tried this with Kenneth and I think it’s made him a happier bird to have something else to do! It is also important for you to be able to move your bird to another cage in order to take them to the vet for regular checkups, which is another trainable activity. I also have lots of toys, foraging toys, a “wobbly” ladder for him to climb on and get his exercise in since he doesn’t have a place to fly right now, and toys with bells and mirrors that he likes to chime along to and with when he sings. It can be hard to make sure your bird is happy and healthy in their environment, and don’t forget that veterinarians are a great resource to help you achieve that goal!
It was 40 degrees and sprinkling as we arrived at the sheep barn for our first physical exam sheep lab of the year. The air was filled with excitement and the smell of wet sheep wool. The lab began with demonstrations of performing a physical exam, hoof trimming, IM and SQ injections, and venipuncture. After the quick demonstration, it was time to tackle our own sheep in pairs for the first time.
The majority of students never handled a sheep before, so it is safe to say that wrangling some of the university’s feral ewes was more than entertaining. For the next hour and a half, my partner and I took turns performing physical exams on our wether. He was by far the unruliest sheep of the group. Every procedure ended up with him trying to jump out of our hands or run away to be with the other, uncaught sheep. He did leave for a greater learning experience though as most sheep you may encounter in practice may not be very tame. With a little instruction from one of the large animal residents, we were both able to successfully accomplish all our tasks including venipuncture – which was one procedure I have never done on a sheep before. We ended the lab with a few of us sticking back and assisting with some castrations and tail docking on some of the lambs; which for many was the highlight of the lab.
This was one of our first live animal labs of the semester and it was such a great relief, in a way, to be able to finally be able to handle animals again. One of the biggest struggles of being a first-year veterinary student is how few live animal labs you may get, but the amount of knowledge you are gaining in other labs and lecture is immense. It’s hard to imagine that in less than a year, we will be doing our first surgery. We have learned so much but have a long way to go.
Graduation is less than a week away. Of course, I’m excited but it’s pretty sad to think that this chapter in my life is coming to an end. Veterinary school is difficult, but it has been my entire life for the last four years. I’ve met so made so many different friends and I’ve become very comfortable with life the town. After all of my other graduations, despite everyone’s best intentions nobody really keeps in touch. I can honestly count the number of people I still talk to from before vet school on one hand. As a result of this, the thought of leaving here and moving onto somewhere new is frightening.
Since this will be my first job, I just don’t really know what to think. I’ve got so many unanswerable questions constantly floating around in my head. What if I don’t like my new job? Will I actually be good at it? What if I don’t like the area? How will I adapt to living without anyone? There are just so many questions that I have no clue how to answer. I won’t know if it’s the right fit and if I’ll be happy until I get there. No matter where I go I know I will make the most of it. If the first job doesn’t work out it will only be for a year and then I can move onto a better opportunity.
On the hand, I will finally be a practicing veterinarian. Everything I’ve ever worked for is about to become reality. I’ve been in school since I was like five, so it’ll be nice to finally get out in the real world and start putting everything to use.
Last week, I spent six days in a clinical intensive program to become certified in veterinary acupuncture through the CuraCore Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians course in Fort Collins, Colorado. For the past three years, becoming certified in acupuncture has been a dream of mine. I’ve witness firsthand the power that acupuncture and integrative modalities such as laser and electrical stimulation have on the therapeutic management of disease. I have watched them dramatically transform the quality of life for countless animals and I longed to be able to play a role in making a difference for animals in that way.
Prior to arriving onsite for the clinical intensive course, I completed roughly 60 hours of digital modules that introduced acupuncture and related integrative modalities. I completed tests and quizzes that challenged my knowledge of the subject and helped me to truly embrace the power that acupuncture holds.
Once in Colorado, we began to practically apply all that we had learned to real patients with real cases and real needs for acupuncture. From Day One, I was hooked! I saw, yet again, the power I had to change an animal’s life for the better in the span of less than an hour. I have never been able to experience such an immediate means of helping an animal. Sure, I know I’ve saved lives and that’s an amazing feeling, but seeing the entire demeanor of an animal change because you learned to listen to what they are telling you in a different way was a complete game changer for me. My hands are powerful tools. This course taught me to listen to them during my physical exam and to trust that a gentle, light touch can be more powerful than I had ever imagined. I tend to discredit the work that my own two hands can do. I reach for bloodwork, diagnostic imaging and medications before I look down at my own hands and see all that they can do. But all of that is about to change. The two most powerful tools in my diagnostic toolbox are attached to me. My hands communicate intricacies about pain or discomfort my patients are experiencing but can’t quite articulate and they help me to actually do something actionable to make a positive difference in their life as a result.
My physical exams are so much more thorough and refined with this course. I have grown as a clinician in more ways than just being able to stick some needles into animals. I have seen my potential as a veterinarian more clearly than ever before. I have been rejuvenated and inspired to go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of animals, all with my own two hands.