You’re havin’ a Giraffe!

GiraffeAnother fun and adrenaline packed installment of Safari Vet School, with the primary focus of this week’s adventures centering on the capture of two giraffe, a mother and her calf. I don’t think I would be alone in commenting on how beautifully graceful they are and to see them running in their natural habitat must have been an absolute joy to behold – am very envious of the students!

The show seemed to really highlight well the dangers faced by the team from the powerful legs of the giraffe, with a well placed kick potentially fatal. Many a vet will attest to the pain and surprise that can be inflicted form an unfortunately timed lashing out of an animal’s leg, whether it be a cow whilst milking (been there, worn the resulting shitty T-shirt), a horse (unsurprisingly more painful and potentially more damaging owing to the metal shoes), or indeed a wild Safari animal. The job of a vet is one that is filled with dangers as it is often our patients’ natural response to lash out at us regardless of the fact that we are, of course, doing our best to help them.

I was pleased that Chris highlighted the fact that veterinary work is highly stressful and as a result it is important for vets to be able to kick back and indulge in a little R&R. The adage that vet students (and vets) “work hard but play harder” is a certainly a trueism – just look at the famous AVS Sports Weekend – and is actually a very important part of being able to discharge and deal with the huge number of emotions and ‘baggage’ that vets are expected to deal with as professionals. To party in Africa, and especially to spend your birthday out there, is just awesome! Which reminds me, happy (for when the show was filmed) birthday to both Chris and Jacqueline 🙂

Pet Blood Bank – Great to get involved

Chris the Nerdy Vet with Joseph, a proud pet blood donor
Me with a happy blood donor, Joseph the dog

I had the pleasure on Sunday of being involved in an official capacity with the Pet Blood Bank, a fantastic UK charity that collects blood from volunteer dogs, with the blood then being processed into packed red cells and plasma, which is then made available to vets around the country for use in emergency situations and for major surgeries.

The organisation was fantastic with the session overseen and administered by a fantastic team from the Pet Blood Bank HQ based in Loughborough. The whole day was relaxed – for donor dogs, owners, and even vets! My role, as an official vet, was to health check the donors, including taking pre-screening blood samples, and to decide whether, in my professional opinion, the dogs could indeed go through to donate. Every dog I saw was an absolute picture of health, and so well behaved, that the entire day just seemed to whiz by in a happy, healthy blur of activity. The criteria for dogs to donate is quite strict, and rightly so, with dogs having to meet the following criteria:

  • be aged between one and eight years old
  • weigh more than 25kg
  • have a good temperament
  • never have travelled abroad
  • be up to date on all vaccinations, and not have been vaccinated within the last two weeks
  • be fit and healthy
  • not be on any medication, other than routine flea and worm control

Before the dogs can donate they have a blood sample taken, and their packed cell volume (PCV), which is the percentage of the blood that is made up of red blood cells, and total protein (TP) are measured. If they are both within certain healthy limits then they can be cleared for donation. Every dog I saw passed with flying colours! Each dog then donates 1 unit of blood, which is equivalent to about 450ml of blood, and the actual donation stage only takes about 5-10 minutes. The great thing is that every dog then gets to tuck into some tasty food – the equivalent, I guess, of our ‘tea and biscuit’ – after their session and gets a goody bag, complete with toy, to say a huge thank you for their donation.

The great thing is that the blood that is donated goes to help vets save lives in real practice – something that as an emergency vet myself, I have been involved in first hand. Donor blood truly does save lives! The wonderful thing was that the day saw experienced, repeat donors turn up as well as dogs and owners for whom this was their very first experience, and everyone had a good time doing something worthwhile.

If you would like to find out more about the work of the Pet Blood Bank, including how to get involve yourself, then click here to visit the Pet Blood Bank website.

Cry Me a (Safari) River

Rhino mother and calfWow! Quite an emotional episode of Safari Vet School this week – I could feel the water table in my own eyes rising slightly whilst watching. The main focus of this week’s adventures were Rhino, and in particular the problems associated with poaching, which is unfortunately on the rise. Rhino horn is a much coveted component of many traditional Chinese remedies and there is an increased demand for such products, and with it a sad upsurge in the demand for Rhino horn. One of the main issues with poaching is that the poachers do not have the skills, knowledge, or regard for the Rhino’s welfare to even attempt to harvest horn humanely and sustainably, either cutting them off in such a way that leaves the animals mutilated and doomed to suffer a long, painful, lingering demise, or to just kill them outright, which is a criminal waste of life.

The show touched upon the story of Will, the head vet at the reserve, who had to suffer putting a Rhino he had seen grow up being destroyed as a result of poaching activity. Quite an upsetting thing for any person, let alone vet, to have to do. It did make me think, however, that every vet is faced with the harsh realities of life’s unfairness in various forms during the course of their daily lives, even in daily, general practice. Whether it be the case of the misguided and uneducated owners unwittingly buying a puppy from a puppy farm, or not engaging in simple routine preventative healthcare, such as lungworm control, with the result being that you, as a vet, have the task of fighting to save that pet, or even cases of deliberate animal cruelty. I still cannot get my head around how anyone can condone or even be involved, directly or otherwise, in animal cruelty acts such as dog fighting or physically abusing an animal. These are the sad examples of unfair animal exploitation that occur here, in our country, and are not, to my mind, too dissimilar to the issues facing the Safari Vet School team this week, albeit with obviously different causes and repercussions. It seems to me, however, that the common underlying issue in all such examples is education – if only people really, truly understood the implications of their actions then I predict that animal cruelty and ‘unfairness’ would be but a sporadic event.

On a more upbeat, less soap-boxy note, it was awesome to see how genuinely thrilled Camilla was with her experiences of microchipping and blood sampling the Rhino. That’s one of the great things about Vet School and veterinary in general: the series of ‘firsts’ that you get to be involved in, from performing your first caesarian and delivering healthy puppies, to your first fracture repair, right the way through to your first Rhino encounter 🙂 Nice one!

To learn more about the issue of Rhino poaching and how to get involved in putting a halt to it, check out the Team Rhino website by clicking here.

Veterinary still a very popular career choice

An interesting article caught my attention recently that suggested that in spite of the increase in university tuition fees this year to £9,000 per year, which includes veterinary science courses, application numbers to study to become a vet have actually risen, thus bucking a general trend. Data from UCAS revealed that in spite of a 12.9% drop in year-on-year applications for all degree subjects, veterinary courses actually saw a rise of 6.7%. Why, I wonder, would that be the case?

It has always been known that a degree in veterinary science is an incredibly good degree to have, regardless of whether the holder eventually enters, or indeed stays in, clinical practice, due to it’s high standards of training across a multitude of subjects and skillsets. It could be expected that with degrees becoming significantly more expensive, and graduates facing being saddled with such debt for many many years, a lot of students are looking a lot more carefully at which degrees they actually apply to in the first place. It may be simply that a veterinary degree, and subsequently a career in veterinary, is valued as a good, professional option as opposed to some other degree options available. I am sure such students are going into their applications with a good understanding and appreciation of the huge costs involved, with the projected cost of tuition fees for a standard 5-year course alone coming to £54,000. If they are not then that needs to be addressed, especially when you then factor in the total likely cost of completing a veterinary degree which, with living costs and the fact that much of the vacation time other students are able to use in order to work in paid employment is occupied with compulsary, and necessary, work placements, is very high. Latest figures put such a final figure at around about £78,000. A truly staggering amount of money!

Of course, the fact that students are not being put off veterinary as a career option is a wonderful thing as it is a truly unique and rewarding career, in many ways, but one concern is that students applying for and studying veterinary medicine have a clear and realistic appreciation and expectation of the salaries, and earnings that they can expect as a vet. I know for a fact that many students have wildly unrealistic expectations about veterinary remuneration and have heard of students even halfway through their courses expecting to start their careers commanding salaries of £60,000 per year. If they know of graduate vet jobs that are paying that then I would love for them to get in touch with me as I will be sending my CV over immediately!

Another ongoing concern for the profession is the issue of widening access, with the RCVS and the vet schools actively engaging in ongoing activity to broaden the appeal of and access to veterinary as a career option among the under-represented demographics. Are we seeing a rise in application numbers from such students or are the increases coming from the more traditional camp? These are interesting questions and do have ramifications for the future of the profession as a whole.

The main point, however, is that veterinary is clearly still a popular career option, and rightly so, and the buck in the general trend should be applauded and celebrated as a sign of the veterinary profession’s bright future.

Aortic thrombo-Embolism in cats – a tragic condition

I had the tragic task of dealing with a case of aortic thrombo-embolism in the emergency clinic at the weekend, in a beautiful cat who had been presented by her owner after suddenly going off her back-legs.

This condition, which results in a blood clot forming and blocking the major blood vessels to the legs – most usually at the point where the body’s main artery, the aorta, branches to supply the hindlimbs – results in cat suddenly losing the use of their back legs, with the legs often feeling cold to the touch and with the absence of any normal sensation. This was confirmed when I performed a test to see whether there was any blood flow to the back legs by making a small needle impression in the pads (which normally results in a small spot of blood, as you would get if you pricked your finger with a needle) and by cutting the nail back past the quick, which is the equivalent of the very tip of our fingers and usually results in bleeding. The absence of any blood after both these tests confirmed the diagnosis and as a result the decision was made to put the cat to sleep.

There can be many reasons for such a clot to form in cats, with the most common reason being an underlying heart condition which if left undiagnosed and untreated can result in abnormal blood flow and potentially a clot forming, with some devastating and sudden effects. It is therefore important to ensure that you take your cat to the vet for regular check-ups, which will include the vet listening to their heart. Sometimes, however, as in the case yesterday, there is no apparent reason and it it just makes the situation that much more tragic.

Click here to read some more information about emergency situations with cats.

Two of the most motivating words ever: “Can’t” & “Never”

LionManaged to catch up on Safari Vet School thanks to the good old ITV iPlayer (did I mention how much I love my iPad?!). This week’s episode saw the team of vet students and safari vets take on darting and surgically implanting a tracking device into a lioness, which was pretty nerve-wracking stuff, and then finish up with a mass capture of Zebra, who apparently can kill with a single kick, something that anyone who has worked with horses will appreciate. Of course I’m not saying that rounding up a herd of Zebra is anything like working with your standard hack but the power and innate unpredictability of large animals – well, in fact ANY animal – is something that’s important to always have in the back of your mind as a vet.

One of the stand-out parts of the show for me was the point at which Charlotte was recalling the advice she received whilst at school, regarding her ambitions to become a vet. She was advised to “have a plan B” and to “give up,” something which I hear a lot of from prospective vet students. Yes, it’s a tough course to apply to and yes, it’s not a bad idea to consider, even for a fleeting moment, what you might do if, all things going awry, you don’t succeed with applying, but to be told to give up just seems ridiculous. One of the main issues I have identified through advising prospective vet school applicants and through my book is that many careers advisers (I use the term in the very broad sense to include teachers who are not necessarily careers ‘specialists’) don’t fully understand the unique nuances of preparing for and applying to vet school and as such, rather than seek to fill the gaps in their knowledge so that they can better inform and guide their students, it is often easier to revert to the assumed misconceptions about veterinary being “impossibly hard” to get into and to thus encourage other career options to be pursued. I wonder how many really fantastic vets we may be missing out on simply as a result of a student being told at that critical point in their young lives to “give up.” It’s something to ponder. Good on Charlotte though for sticking to her guns and focusing on her ultimate aim of getting to vet school – if she hadn’t been so determined then darting lions in Africa would have been but a hazy daydream!

I wish I was there!

I am officially jealous! One place I would absolutely love to be right now is at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Widely regarded as the key technology show in the world, where the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Apple tend to showcase their latest cool gadgets, it represents every tech enthusiasts’ fantasy setting.

Just because I can’t be there (it isn’t actually open to the general public) doesn’t mean I can’t get excited about some of the futuristic technology being showcased. One idea that I find especially interesting is a technology being demonstrated by a UK firm, Blippar, who produce Augmented Reality (AR) apps for smartphones and tablets. Augmented Reality is the process by which digital content is overlayed onto a view of the ‘real world,’ for example, by viewing a bottle of juice on your iPad using the in-built camera, AR would recognise that product and thus overlay the ‘real’ image with additional content, that moves and changes with the view of the product. This offers incredible opportunities for providing value-addition to all sorts of products, for example, by showing video demonstrations, or providing e-vouchers linked to the specific product being viewed. The potential is one that has been recognised and Blippar are being sponsored by the UK Government to showcase their technology at CES – very exciting!

Being a vet I am naturally interested in the vetty and animal applications for Augmented Reality, of which there are clearly loads. Imagine, if you will, such applications as…

  • Waiting Room – reveal interesting and informative content about your vet practice, such as a ‘view behind the scenes’ or educational advice about preventative healthcare, such as lungworm control, simply by holding your phone up to the poster on the wall. Waiting for your appointment will suddenly feel like a pleasure as you have so much interactive content just there “in front of you.”
  • Clinical – not quite sure what your vet means by your dog’s cruciate injury? Well how about if the vet were able to hold up a tablet over your dog’s leg and show you a cool, biological view of where the ligament is, how it works and what happens when it goes wrong? I reckon that would be pretty interesting!
  • Surgery – So many applications…. so very many!
  • At home – Not quite sure exactly when your pets’ vaccinations are next due? Looking after your parents’ cat and can’t quite remember what medication he is on? Imagine just holding up your phone to your pet and seeing all of their relevant information displayed there in front of you. Would work well in an app, don’t you think 😉

New Toy – Simple but Cool

Okay, so part of me sort of feels like I have been had whilst another part of me actually feels like my recent purchase is pretty cool. What is it? Well, I will start by saying that it is something to be used with the iPad – which I actually love, by the way – and is a very simple peripheral but one I had actually been looking for and then chanced upon it at a local branch of Curry’s.

So, my new toy is a Wacom Bamboo Stylus. A what?! It is basically a ‘pen’ with a specially designed spongy, soft tip where the nib would be on a normal pen, and is intended primarily to be used with their free app ‘Bamboo Paper.’ The app itself is a simple notebook app but the pen makes it feel so realistic that for someone who loves jotting notes, or doodling crazy designs etc it’s great to have a digital equivalent to real paper. The main reason I was even looking for a pen, however, was that I wanted something to use with another app I have (Sketchbook), which is an art app and which I couldn’t help feel like a five year old child finger-painting whilst using it.

Anyway, needless to say I am looking forward to getting creative with the new pen and posting more nerdy designs right here. Watch this space 🙂

Safari Good Fun

I have just watched the new ITV vet show ‘Safari Vet School’ and it instantly brought back several memories of being a student myself – not necessarily memories of being out in South Africa, although my training did involve dealing with a few ‘exotic’ species – but more of finding oneself very much out of a comfort zone. The rotation that this was most noticeable on was anaesthesia, which is what seemed to cause the students in the show the biggest challenge.

Stepping out of your comfort zone, putting the books aside and placing yourself in a position where things don’t always go according to the textbook is a feature of life every day for vets, with the very nature of anaesthetics, and indeed biological systems, being unpredictable and thus intrinsically risky. I actually thought they did well on the show, considering that it was their very first day, they had no real idea of how much the wild animals they were dealing with weighed, and, lets be honest, none of them ended up getting injured – quite an achievement I would say!

I for one am looking forward to the next episode and learning more about each of the intrepid veterinary travellers as we go along.

Caesarian Companion

Over the Christmas period I found myself performing a caesarian section on a Pug, with the result being four healthy young pups. Thankfully the anaesthetic was stable and we had more than one nurse who was able to step in and help to receive and revive the puppies as I delivered them. It did, however, get me thinking about those situations where you might find yourself with just you, the surgeon, and one nurse – a common situation in out-of-hours (OOH) emergency work. What would happen if the anaesthetic was unstable or there were simply more puppies than the nurse could manage on their own?

Rough sketch for 'Caesarian Companion'

The idea for the Caesarian Companion thus came to mind. The principle is that the surgeon can drop the newly delivered puppy/ kitten into one of the flexible ‘slings’ (flexible and clear to allow easy breathing, be comfortable and enable close visual monitoring), which can be detached, replaced and even come in different sizes, depending on the expected size of the delivered babies. The slings could be suspended within a frame that is gently vibrating to encourage tactile stimulation of the new pup/ kittens, with their heads poking out of the end into a chamber delivering the optimal amount of oxygen. The chamber would be heated to keep the puppies warm and made out of a clear, easily cleaned material to maximise hygiene. The idea behind carefully suspending and ‘agitating’ the newborns is to help any fluid that may be present on their chests to drain and to gently stimulate the newborns to start breathing on their own. Once suitably awake and when the nurse, or other staff member, is free then the newborns could be removed and transferred to a standard heated incubator, with the Caesarian Companion potentially doubling as one, with the newborns being placed on a heated, padded mat inside.

NB: This is simply an idea & the design is certainly not complete. Please feel free to comment/ suggest changes/ improvements.