MAR 2011

We’ve been rejoined this last month by vet Becky Rowe, who

Worked in Llangollen previously for 3 years before leaving to go travelling with her partner. Since then Becky has seen a lot of the world, including working as a vet in New Zealand. It’s great to have her back and of course she’s slotted in very quickly. Becky’s partner Clive is also a vet. I’ve always thought Clive a rather unusual name, (and, to be honest, it’s not my favourite – though don’t tell my parents!) but last autumn I was at a Shropshire Veterinary Association meeting and got chatting to the guy next to me. I was mildly surprised when he introduced himself as Clive and more so when he pointed out that the man sitting the other side of him also shared the same name! Perhaps admissions tutors at the vet schools went through a phase when they liked the name.

            Another case this month of a dog jumping off the small aqueduct over which the canal travels close to the Motor Museum in Pentrefelin. This is easily done. Your dog is up ahead of you as you take an afternoon stroll. It then jumps over a low wall beside the towpath not realizing there is a 20 foot drop the other side. Fortunately this was a small dog who landed lightly and, though concussed briefly, broke no bones. We had a whole spate of these a few years ago including a fatality and several broken bones. After a campaign British Waterways put up a warning sign but they wouldn’t raise the wall or add a railing because it is an ancient monument. So be warned, especially if you’ve been to the pub and your reactions are a bit slow.

Tree surgeon

 NOV 2010

If you remember last month’s article I rather unwisely wrote that cats do not usually act in as foolish a manner as dogs. No sooner had these words been published than we noticed that one of our five cats (called Malachy) had been missing for two days. We went round calling him, checked our cupboards and sheds incase he was trapped and asked our neighbours to do the same (he likes to go visiting), all with no result. On the fourth day my wife heard a faint meiowing coming from the wooded bank across the road from our house. She went exploring, following the noise as she did so, and was surprised how far the noise had carried as she climbed a fair way up the hillside to reach an oak tree which climbed straight up without any branches for 40 feet. There on the first side branch perched the cat calling plaintively. When he accompanies us on a walk, as he sometimes likes to do, he will skittishly scamper 5 or 6 feet up a tree, but what made him climb this far up I don’t know:- perhaps something frightened him.

We tempted him with food but he refused to budge, daunted by the long drop. Where there are side branches cats can be left to come down from trees themselves, but on the 5th day Malachy was still looking terrified so we decided to call in the experts in the shape of tree surgeon Malcolm Claybrookand his nephew Paul. They came equipped with crampons and ropes and Paul climbed slowly up the tree using a short length of rope passed round the far side of the tree with one end in each hand. By gripping with his feet and leaning back so that friction between the rope and the tree bark stopped him slipping down Paul inched upwards and we all tried to reassure Malachy so that he wouldn’t run any higher. I think he was very grateful to be grabbed and then lowered down in a hessian shopping basket. Once he was down I took him into the house where he drank copiously and I had to limit his food as he was eating so quickly it was making him sick. Then he slept almost solidly for two days before returning completely to his normal self.

  So, many thanks to Paul Claybrook for his bravery and skill, and Merry Christmas to all our customers (both human and animal) at Dee Valley Vets.

Thinking about recent interesting problems

 OCT 2010

Looking back I realise that I spend less time talking about cats in these columns than I do about dogs. This is despite the fact that there are now thought to be more pet cats than dogs in the UK and we treat a similar number of each. I think the reason why I don’t write about cats as much is because they are more sensible than dogs and thus don’t do so many silly things.

Thinking about recent interesting problems in cats I think the best last week was the middle aged cat which had had wheezy breathing for years – since prior to the owners moving to the area. The cat would develop very loud respiratory sounds which would improve for a while after a course of antibiotics before recurring. It is not the easiest cat to examine, having a bit of a temper, but after discussions with the owners it was decided to do a thorough examination under anaesthetic and possibly an x-ray. I couldn’t see a lot wrong down the throat initially but I felt that the soft palate, which forms the roof of the back of the mouth dividing it from the nose above, was not as compressible with my finger as usual. By pulling it firmly forward I was able to glimpse a lump. On removal this turned out to be a polyp about 1cm across in cross-section and 2 cm long – stuck right in the middle of the airway. It must have originated in the Eustachian tube which joins the middle ear to the throat (and allows pressure changes to occur when gaining or losing height) because I had to remove the other end of it from the right ear where it had pushed its way through the eardrum. The cat made a good recovery. The only problem the owners found was that whereas they always used to know where the cat was by the noise he made they now found it difficult to find him!


Veterinary practice

May 2010

Some of the most exciting operations we get in veterinary practice are caesarians. The animal that needs this most often is the bitch and we’ve had two this last week or so. These are usually exciting affairs with pups popping out thick and fast! – the most pups I’ve delivered in one operation is 14. The young of almost all species are cute (except perhaps humans when they’re not your own! – I’m sure most men will agree). When caesarians occur during the day the operating theatre is like a magnet attracting all the members of staff to help by rubbing dozy puppies to stimulate breathing. Out of hours it’s just the duty vet and nurse and it’s much quieter. At Dee Valley Vets we continue to offer a 24 hour emergency service unlike some practices, who, like the doctors, are starting to use an out of hours service (in Chester).

             We also occasionally do caesarians in cats, although as a general rule this species is more adept at giving birth, probably because their shape has had less interference from man. Caesarians in sheep are common in the spring and we also sometimes operate on cows. With the latter there is an awful lot of stitching up to do after delivering the calf and we have to use very strong thread because of the strain it is under!  Once in a blue moon we are required to do a caesarian on a goat or guinea pig or rabbit. The young of herbivores very often have to be up and about rapidly after birth to escape predators. I have yet to do a caesarian on a chinchilla but I’ve heard of a vet who delivered the first offspring only to find it wriggled out of his hands, jumped onto the floor and then started climbing up the inside of his trouser leg!

Good crowd turning up for the unveiling of the plaque in memory

April 2010

Well, the open day went really well, with a good crowd turning up for the unveiling of the plaque in memory of Anne Mann. It was lovely to see a lot of Anne’s close family and friends. Keith Avery came for a nose also (although he doesn’t have any pets) and was telling me how the building was bought by his grandfather over 100 years ago. The chocolate fountain was a big success. It seemed to involve quite a lot of work:- an hour and a half to set up and get the chocolate melted and another hour to tidy away at the end. There was still a fair amount of the initial 15kg of Belgian chocolate left at the finish so I filled a large jug with several pints! We had some poured on our ice cream that night but that didn’t reduce the volume much so the next day I melted it again and poured it onto grease proof paper in baking trays to make several large bars. The trouble is I’m now piling on the pounds!

The farmers are now busy lambing. This is where the hard winter can now take its toll with an increased incidence of abortions and difficulties giving birth. This has led to us being a bit busier helping them this year though it’s still very quiet compared to years gone by. The farmers these days have more training and confidence in assisting births themselves. What with the spring calving season it is our busiest time of year for out of hours calls, although it was 2 dog fights that kept me busy this weekend. In the worst a tiny Yorkie had both lower jaws broken which then had to be wired together. The poor thing is in for a rough week or two.


Worst experience

Feb 2010

During this unusually harsh winter by recent standards we need to spare a thought for animals, domestic and wild, who have been struggling through lack of food and, when it is frozen, water. Of all the farm animals the ones who have the roughest time are sheep because they are normally wintered outdoors. The farmers have been working very hard to provide hay and silage on the fields for them and keeping water supplies unfrozen has not been easy. At least things have not been as bad as the winter of 1963 when thousands of livestock died (so I’m told!). The situation is even worse for wildlife. Imagine what it’s been like for a  rabbit trying to keep warm and find vegetation to eat. Only the hedgehog and dormouse use a strategy of hibernation. The rest have to eke out a living somehow. Of course many people feed and water their garden birds which is a great help.

   People ask if the bad weather is a problem for us at the vets and the answer is not as much as you would think – business always goes very quiet when it snows. The worst experience I’ve had this winter was at about midnight on Christmas day when I had a call to a cow on the top of the hill between Llan & Glynceiriog. This cow had delivered a calf and then prolapsed her womb (pushed it out so it’s hanging from her rear end inside out like a big bleeding sack). As soon as I set foot outside my door I slipped over on the ice. I drove steadily up along the lanes of Vivod but eventually came to a stop on black ice near the top. There was a pile of grit nearby (the last I’ve seen this winter!) but the more grit I scattered the further the car kept sliding back down the hill. Fortunately the farmer came and rescued me and took me to the cow in his landrover, where I stuffed it all back in again with the help of an epidural injection (for the cow, not me!).

Transfer down to the new premises

May 2009

Our transfer down to the new premises in Berwyn Street went reasonably smoothly thanks to the dedication and hard work of the staff and several friends and family members one weekend. We couldn’t operate from 2 premises so everything had to be moved more or less in one day. The new surgery isn’t quite finished yet mind:- a few odd jobs remain in the bowels of the building, so to speak, but we should be able to give guided tours soon.

    We are trying to remember to tell everybody who phones that we’ve moved but as time goes by it gets more difficult. Apologies to anyone who has gone to the old premises by mistake. There should be plenty of parking on the forecourt in front of the surgery on Berwyn Street (the A5), but if these places are full go to the main car park. Fortunately the times we are most busy (9-10.30am and 4.30-6.30pm on weekdays,) tend to be fairly quiet in the car park. We are gradually building up the stock in the pet shop but if there’s anything you would like us to order we have daily deliveries from one supplier and weekly from the other, so just ask and we can stock it for you.

            I must say it’s a real treat being down in town. I can pop for a sandwich to any number of eateries. I shall have to watch my cakeconsumption though as it may get dangerously high!


 One of the best things about being a vet is the variety of work. All sorts of
 creatures from large farm animals to tiny childrens’ pets and birds. We need to provide a range of treatments combining the skills of a GP with those of a hospital surgeon in a way that Doctors can’t. So, even after 26 years in the job I still get called upon to perform tasks that I’ve never done before. These jobs can be mentally and physically challenging, often difficult and sometimes a little dangerous. I was called upon to do one such job last week. A client phoned to say he was travelling to Australia but that when the authorities there heard what he was taking along they had become very concerned. There was the possibility of death and disease from Sydney to Perth and he needed my help. What on earth was it he was taking along? Cheese was the reply!

           The client (who I had only met previously with his cats) is an expert on cheese manufacture and was to be the keynote speaker at a conference on cheese in Melbourne. He wished to take some samples with him but the Australian customs needed to see a veterinary certificate saying they were prepared in a manner that minimized disease risk. Now I wasn’t sure that I was sufficiently qualified to certify cheese so I phoned the local animal health office who assured me I was assigned to panel 1 e) and therefore able to carry out the task.  The day before his flight the client brought the cheese to the surgery securely enclosed in a plastic cool bag.      I opened the lid with some trepidation to find a dozen pieces of cheese of various sorts wrapped as they would be for sale in a supermarket. They appeared docile and I was able to handle them without the need for a muzzle. After a small hitch in finding out the registration numbers of the premises where the milk had been pasteurized I was able to complete, sign and stamp the certificate, in triplicate, and send the cheeses on there way without a single bite or scratch. Some samples were left with us for post-mortem, testing and disposal in a way that complied with clinical waste regulations. (They tasted very nice.) All in all the most difficult job I’ve had to do since I had to sterilize some wild and aggressive fishing rods prior to the owner’s holiday in Iceland

White squeaky Father Christmas toy

Jan 2009

Father Christmas came early for me last year. During November I was phoned at home late one evening by a man in a panic. He had been to the surgery with his dog a few weeks previously and the lady vet he’d seen had diagnosed a tumour under her tummy. The dog had seemed ok at the time but he had just come home and found that ‘her insides were coming out through the growth!’  When dealing with people on the phone like this you tend to have thoughts about what the likely diagnosis is. In this case I decided that dog’s tummies don’t usually burst open and that the problem was likely to be a mammary tumour which had ulcerated and was now bleeding. I obviously couldn’t say ‘give the dog an aspirin and we’ll see her in the morning’ so we arranged to meet at the surgery ASAP. When the man arrived he came into the consulting room clutching tightly a small terrier wrapped in a large blanket. I persuaded him to relax his grip and to start unwrapping the blanket so that I could take a look. He began doing this ever so slowly, obviously nervous about what we were going to find. Half way through this unwrapping process there was a puzzling squeaking sound and I noticed a look of alarm cross the man’s face. When we finally removed the blanket the dog sat crouched on the table not wanting to move. I could see something red emerging from under the dog’s tummy and her owner said ‘yes, that’s what I could see’. I gently turned the dog over and there, under her tummy, grasped between her back legs, was a red and white squeaky Father Christmas toy!!

        A funny case recently:- a Staffie arrived carrying a yellow plastic ball in its mouth. I thought ‘how cute’ until I was told that the ball was stuck there. The dog’s mouth was open as far as it would go with a tooth from each jaw stuck in a hole on each side of the ball. The funny thing was that this was a talking ball- it had some contraption inside it that kept saying ‘come and get me’ or ‘so you think you’re tough do you’ as the dog moved around. Every so often the ball would laugh, as if it appreciated the funny side of the situation!

   We had to give the dog an anaesthetic to remove the ball which kept chatting away the whole time.


Check Test Wales is virtually complete

Autumn 2009

Check Test Wales is virtually complete. This has been an effort by the Welsh Assembly to try and stop the relentless spread of bovine tuberculosis by testing all cattle in Wales in the space of 15 months whereas previously only adult cattle have been tested merely every 4 years. This test, which involves injecting all cattle with extracts of tuberculosis bacterium and returning 3 days later to look for the development of any lumps, has thrown up a number of new outbreaks, though none locally thank goodness. The vets of Wales have now been rewarded for all this (none too exciting) work by being asked to repeat the process but this time in the shorter interval of 12 months. The work is low stress but fails to ‘quicken the pulse’ of vets so that veterinary practices in TB hotspot areas are having difficulty recruiting staff who know that they might be spending 6 days a week doing the same tedious task.

           Fortunately we are not yet in an area where bovine TB has taken a grip and we are still getting plenty of interesting jobs. Just this week a cat arrived at morning surgery having lost its miaow two days previously. She was also not eating and retching occasionally but still walking about. I couldn’t see anything in her mouth whilst she was awake but suspected a small foreign body, perhaps a blade of grass stuck on the lining of the back of the throat. I therefore gave her an anaesthetic and was amazedto see something poking out of the top of her windpipe. This was carefully removed and found to be a piece of twig about one inch long! I don’t know how the cat managed to get it into her windpipe but it was only prevented from disappearing down into her chest and almost certain death by the fact that it was too big to pass through the larynx. This in turn begs the question:- how was she able to carry on with her life for two days with it lodged there? A very lucky cat!       -