lambing time

MAR 12

The arrival of warmer weather and lighter evenings means that lambing time is here. This doesn’t bring us the huge extra workload it used to as we no longer get many of the simple jobs – the lambs arriving with one leg back or twins tangled together – farmers manage most of these themselves now. The ones brought to us tend to have problems such as ringwomb, where the cervix hasn’t opened sufficiently to allow the lambs out, or cases where the lambs have died inside and are now just a stinky mess – lovely!! We also see large single lambs, especially late in the season. The value of ewes and lambs has risen in recent years so farmers are more willing to pay the cost of a caesarian section at the moment. The other day I delivered a deformed lamb born (dead) with its internal organs on the outside of the body.The part presenting at the vulva was the liver! This particular deformity, known as a shistosoma reflexus, has always been an occasional defect in sheep and cattle. Bizarre defects in lambs are now occurringin flocks as a result of infection with Schmallenberg virus in southern England and Wales. This virus, spread by midges, could have a devastating effect on sheep farming in Britain over the next few years. It appeared out of the blue less that two years ago in the small town in Germany from which it gotits name. It’s amazing how viruses, which have no brain, can seem so clever. But of course it’s just an example of natural selection:- viruses mutate all the time. It’s just that some mutations give an advantage that alow the organism to be more successful. A similar situation occurred with the emergence of Canine Parvovirus when I was a newly qualified vet, thought to be a mutation of a similar virus in geese. This disease still causes problems, with recent deaths in Ruabon in unvaccinated dogs having been confirmed in the laboratory.

James Herriot drama

FEB 2012

I was intrigued just after Christmas to see a trailer on the telly for a new James Herriot drama on the BBC. There is no doubt that Herriot did more for the image of the veterinary profession than anybody else, with his hilarious tales of life as a vet in Yorkshire before and after the Second World War. It was his books that really got me interested in a veterinary career. In fact, even now when the job has obviously modernised, there is still a lot of entertainment to be had in the interaction between the vet, the owner and their animals.

    However, when the short series arrived I was dissappointed:- I doubt if the stories were written by Herriot himself as the cases he was attending were not realistic as they were in the original All Creatures Great and Small, (for instance a dog with distemper that was cured with a single injection and a very strange case of a sheep that went into shock,) and the Veterinary School was very odd, with the new student James (who wasn’t particularly likeable) in classes with other students who had been there years, rather than the steady progression through pre-clinical then clinical work. I suspect somebody at the BBC thought ‘what other old ideas can we cash in on’ and paid a writer to produce these. I doubt if they will make any more.
    We’ve had a busy January, without the interruptions from the weather of the last two years. There’s still plenty of winter to come though I’m sure.

Testing cattle herds for tuberculosis lately

JAN 2012

  I’ve been very busy testing cattle herds for tuberculosis lately. This is basically a simple job:- inject them all with tuberculin extract and then go back 3 days later to look for reactions which could indicate the presence of TB. Doesn’t sound difficult you think, but the weather often does its best to interfere – farmyards always seem to be exposed to the wind and the rain/hail/sleet /snow that it brings, so that after 3 or 4 hours your fingers are so numb you can barely hold the scissors and syringes! The other day I was testing a small herd and all had gone smoothly until we got to the 2 year old bulls. The first of these came charging along the passage into the cattle crush and hit the gate at the far end with a resounding crash bending the bars as it did so. He then retreated and did the same again but this time we managed to secure him for the test. On release he charged out, turned at the far end of the yard and charged at the 3 farmers and myself. We leapt over a gate to comparitive safety – the bull hadn’t noticed that the gate was only tied together with string! He then charged around the yard, pawing at the ground and trying to bash his way out through the gates and fences. This carried on for about 15 minutes with us trapped in the corner before he finally calmed down, wandered back into his shed and a brave farmer ran to shut the door.

    Cutest patient of the month was an African Pygmy Hedgehog which presented with a tumour on the underside. It kept rolling up every time I went to look. However we forced it to unroll with a general anaesthetic and successfully removed the growth.
   Yolanda and I are being joined by a new full time vet in January. His name is Geoff and he is American, though he trained in Liverpool. He brings plenty of experience having worked for over 10 years in Wales. I am sure you will like him.



DEC 2011

With Christmas approaching we decided to put up our tree in the shop somewhat earlier than usual (mid-November) to try to catch some of the festive trade. We have to order goodies like dog and cat stockings in August when it’s difficult to get your head around such things and we found we sold out of dog advent calenders very quickly with no possibility of ordering more. Cat presents don’t sell as well, I think because cats are often fussy about treats.

    However I was called out one night last week to a cat who should have been a bit more fussy. The owners noticed a sudden onset of difficulty breathing and a bin liner with a hole in it. Sure enough when I administered an emergency anaesthetic to the patient, who sounded like a steam train, I found a piece of chicken bone lodged down his windpipe which I was able to retrieve with a pair of forceps.
    Becky has departed to pastures new. She first joined us in 2006, left after 3 years to go travelling but returned last year. She is following in the steps of her boyfriend, also a vet, who has moved to a new job further south. It was a similar tale with Krzysztof earlier this year. It’s amazing how many vets marry other vets. I met up with 3 old college friends last week and they are all married to fellow vets. Yolanda’s boyfriend is a vet, our regular locum Angharad is married to one as is the new vet who is starting work in January. More about him in next month’s issue.
    Merry Christmas to all and the usual advice:- just because you are going to stuff yourselves silly don’t inflict the same grueling  punishment on your pets!

Entertaining coffee breaks

Nov 2011

A few of the staff including me bring their dogs to work some days. This can make for entertaining coffee breaks when they are let out to play together as 3 of them are under a year of age and one of mine, Winnie, still thinks she’s a puppy. Yolanda’s pup Eirwen, a Clumber spaniel who already has the look of a grumpy retired army major, is hilarious. She disappeared for a while the other day only to be found in the flat upstairs munching the cat’s biscuits!

A recent classic out of hours phone call

Sept 2011

A recent classic out of hours phone call.

 Caller:  ‘My dog’s just died’
Me: ‘Oh I’m sorry. What happened?’
Caller:  ‘I’ve just found her dead on the floor.’
Me: ‘Had she been poorly?
Caller: ‘No’
At this point the phone suddenly went dead and I assumed the caller was too upset to go on, but a few moments later it rang again: ‘It’s me again. I’m sorry to waste your time but I just poked the dog and she woke up!’
Me: ‘Does she seem ok?’
Caller: ‘Yes – fine’
I’m sure all of you who have owned an old dog will know that sinking feeling when the dog is so deeply asleep and possibly deaf and senile that on first glance you think they are dead, only for them to wake with a sudden start and a bit of a gruff ‘what me, sleeping on the job? – never!’ look on their face!
We are getting a few queries about lungworm in dogs. This is a parasite which has its larval form in slugs and the adult worm in the lungs of foxes. It used only to be present in the south west of England and is known to infect dogs which eat slugs and snails either deliberately or accidentally if they are stuck to the fur or a toy left outside. However there have now been cases recorded in Denbighshire, Cheshire and Shropshire. Symptoms in dogs include coughing, difficulty breathing, bleeding problems and occasionally sudden death. Obviously these symptoms, particularly the latter one, are worrying. Routine 3 monthly worming with Milbemax, our most frequently prescribed drug, should deal with infections. The most effective wormer however is a spot-on called Advocate, so if your dog is likely to ingest slugs an occasional dose of this product is advised, although it needs to be done monthly if they have a real taste for slugs!

Advertised this month for a new part-time member of staff

July 2011

I advertised this month for a new part-time member of staff and was inundated with applicants. Many were very good and I think I’ve chosen well. However, a few applications were written very poorly in terms of spelling, punctuation and lack of information about the applicant. The most amazing letter provided way too much detail. A lady wrote from Bradford in Yorkshire, although she did not say whether she intended to commute daily or move house if she were successful. In her letter she described her experience working on an alpaca farm, informing me that she was capable of clearing up alpaca poo, providing hay for cats (!) and had experience of using a hose. Although she had no obligation to tell me about health problems (and it is now not allowed for a prospective employer to ask about ill health) she volunteered the information that she had had to leave that job because of asthma. She also mentioned she had left a previous job as a pot pourri packer for the same reason. She also listed other health issues: six months off work after she cut her leg, six months off suffering from depression and that she also suffered from repetitive strain injury in her right thumb. The lady also volunteered that she had left another job when her husband, who was in the forces, got posted abroad. By the time I got to the end of her letter I felt it was more like a plea for help than a job application!    Work has been generally busy this last month. I am not really sure why summer is our busiest time with pets but we will get busier still with the start of the harvest mite season any day now. These tiny orange mites cause devastation with their blood sucking habits from late July through to October. The flea season is similarly timed but longer so we are sure to see insecticides and miticides flying off the shelves!

A rush of births

June 2011

 A rush of births this week. In the space of four days I attended a whelping bitch, (which had just one large pup and needed a caesarian,) a ewe lambing, (which also required a caesarian due to a large lamb – very late in the year this, the farmer was as surprised as I was,) a goat kidding ( a fairly easy one  – the head was there but no legs, so the kid had to be pushed back into the womb so that the front legs could be found first as they have to preceed the head on the way out,) and finally a cow calving – the hardest physically of the four as the calf was rather big and needed a good pull. All these took place out of hours, just happening to fall on my turn on call – bad luck on me in some ways, but if there is a live birth the effort seems worthwhile (and even if there is a stillbirth you have still saved the mother’s life). 

      I remember a hobby farmer phoning me at 1am to report a ewe lambing with the head in the birth canal but no legs. ‘OK’ I said, ‘bring her down to the surgery and I’ll get the lamb out’. ‘Oh no’ he replied, ‘I want you to tell me on the phone what I’ve got to do so I don’t have to pay your fee’. Well, I’m never at my best at that time in the morning, but I tried to explain the manoevre and off he went. Needless to say he was back on the phone an hour later to say that he had been unsuccessful and now felt he needed my help. The job took less than 5 minutes but of course he had a hefty bill!

Business brisk during April and May

MAY 2011

 Business has been brisk during April and May, though that may be partly due to the surfeit of bank holidays leading to the work being squashed into the remaining weekdays. I had a run of colts to castrate this month – 6 in the space of 3 weeks. This is an operation which keeps you on your toes as, compared to castrating a dog in the calm of the surgery with an array of instruments, drugs and oxygen to back you up, a horse can be large, strong and unpredictable. You have to be wary that they don’t charge off just as you administer the anaesthetic and make sure they don’t fall down on top of someone. I did read of a colt that took flight at the injection, careered across a field, through a fence and the neighbour’s garage doors before keeling over. The operation had to be carried out in the garage and the neighbour presented a bill to the vet for a new door!  The anaesthetic is relatively short acting so you have to operate quickly before bracing yourself for the recovery when again you have to hang on tightly to the rope. Thankfully serious complications are rare and the satisfying outcome is the conversion of a stroppy colt to a nice gentle gelding (hopefully)! Of course there are equine hospitals such as the one at Liverpool Veterinary School where they have large operating tables and padded rooms to reduce the risk of injury on recovery. However, this comes at a price – about 10 times what I charge!

Spring and lambing time

April 2011

Spring is here and lambing time is upon us as usual. It is a time that I think all the staff enjoy partly because there is nothing quite so cute as a newborn lamb and partly because of the seasonality – the work would probably lose its charm if we did it year round.

        It also seems to be the season for ruptured diaphragms. Sian, one of the staff in our Corwen surgery, brought in one of her cats whose breathing was laboured. We knew on x-ray that the diaphragm had ruptured because the intestines were visible in the chest. The cat made a good recovery from surgery to repair the tear which had probably resulted from a knock from a car. A more unusual case was a sheepdog which presented one evening collapsed and in severe pain. There was no history of any accident but I could tell that the stomach was blowing up with trapped gas and seemed to be further forward than usual. An x-ray showed a ruptured diaphragm with the stomach inside the chest. Emergency surgery revealed that the chest contained not only a hugely bloated stomach but also the liver, pancreas, small intestine, spleen and left kidney! – no wonder he was struggling to breathe. The most likely time for the dog to have had an injury had been the week before when he had wandered into the field of the owner’s sister’s horse. Nobody had seen anything untoward and there were no visible injuries but perhaps he had had a kick. The most amazing thing was that up until a couple of hours before presentation he had been eating and going for walks, though not with his usual gusto! Another example of how much tougher animals can be than us. Having said that we humans can be pretty tough when our backs are against the wall – witness the amazing resilience of the Japanese after March’s tragic events.