Competition Vetting

Like everyone I know, I was glued to the Olympics – great job Team GB, especially our first Dressage and Show Jumping medals for a long time!
However, I wonder how many people think about the infrastructure and planning that go into keeping the horses fit, safe and healthy when they compete?
I’ve been a treating vet at a lot of competitions over the years, including Endurance events, local, regional and National Championship Pony Club events (where the standard is often as high as at many BE competitions!) and the International Show Jumping at Sheffield Hallam Arena. I was also on the vet team as a student at Badminton back when they still had roads and tracks before the cross country.

The vets that people most often seen are those on the Ground Jury at competitions – the notorious “Trot Up” before the competition starts, and again (in eventing) before the horses go forwards to the show jumping phase. At Badminton and most other big events, there are two vets – one on the Ground Jury, along with two or three other worthies – and one in the Hold Box. If there is a question over a horse’s fitness to compete, they get sent to the hold box, where the second vet examines them to see if there is a medical problem rendering the horse unfit. This is a very contentious area – I’ve never yet been at an event where the Ground Jury and the vets didn’t come in for a barrage of criticism over their decisions. However, it’s important to realise that they have to balance several factors:

Firstly, if a horse is unlevel on the trot up, it may be truly lame, or it may have a “mechanical lameness” – in other words, an abnormal gait………………..

What should vets do about negative comments on their Facebook Pages?

Most vets realise the value of social media for marketing their services, but many have reservations about the possible downside of this type of direct engagement with the public. In particular, vets are often put off interactive online activity like Facebook because of their fear of negative comments by disgruntled pet owners. Is this a genuine concern, and if it does happen, how should vets deal with it?
I’ve just had my first experience of a “grumpy customer” on Facebook and I learned a few lessons during the exchange. I’d be interested to hear what other pet owners out there feel about the way I handled it. For the sake of confidentiality, I’ve changed some of the details.
It happened on a Sunday evening: an email notification arrived alerting me to a new posting on my Facebook page: “You refused to treat a sick kitten: shame on you!”. I responded immediately, by logging on to Facebook and telling the poster that I knew nothing about the situation: we are a four vet practice and it’s impossible for any one of us to know about all events happening in our clinic. The reply came back at once: “You turned a friend away because they had no money. It’s cruel to turn away a sick, dying animal”.
I responded again, explaining that our practice had a fair policy to all sick animals, prioritising their welfare, but that in order to respond properly to the comments, I would need to find out more about the specifics of the situation from the practice during office hours. I also said that it was inappropriate to discuss confidential issues in a public forum like Facebook, and I asked the person to send a private Facebook message if they wanted to discuss it further. The person responded by reposting the public allegation that it was cruel for me to turn away a sick kitten……….

Part 3: Surgical Colic

As we saw in the previous part of this series, Medical colics are those which can be managed medically, usually on the yard. However, about 1 in 10 cases of colic require emergency referral to an equine hospital for surgery.

This is what most horse owners are terrified of. The general indicators that a horse has a surgical colic are:

1) Heart rate over 60 that isn’t relieved by injectable painkillers.

2) Dilated loops of small intestine on rectal exam

3) Positive stomach reflux from the stomach tube

4) A definite rectal diagnosis of a surgical problem.

5) “Toxic rings” – dark red or purple gums, that indicate that the horse is going into toxic shock.

Of course, it varies between horses, and the vet has to make a judgment call based on all the evidence available.

We also have to talk to the (by now usually frantic) owners about costs. Colic surgery usually costs between £4000 and £5000, but can easily be a lot more. Even if the horse is insured, it is important to check how much the insurance company will cover – there are a couple of companies out there who will only cover part of the costs of emergency surgery. If in doubt, always call your insurer’s helpline.

However, colic surgery is one of the most genuine emergency operations there is – and it can be truly life-saving….

The death of Ben Fogle’s dog: his honest grief is helpful to us all

Ben Fogle has written a moving piece in the Sunday Telegraph about the loss of his Black Labrador, Inca. At twelve years of age, she had lost the power in both hind legs. Ben made the right decision for Inca, but it was still terribly difficult to go through the process of euthanasia. His article is unusually frank, with Ben describing how he “burst into uncontrollable tears” on the telephone when talking to his veterinary surgeon father, Bruce, about the situation. Then later, Ben describes the actual act of euthanasia:
“I carried her from the car into the house, burying my face into her fur, and laid her on the kitchen floor. Mum, Dad and my sister were all there. “I lay on the floor, hugging Inca while Dad injected her. Her breathing became heavy. I could feel her heart pounding and the warm blood beneath her skin. I breathed the familiar scent of her fur as I nuzzled into her thick coat. I have never sobbed like that in my life. It was a primal, uncontrollable, guttural sob as I felt her heart stop beating.I lay there on the kitchen floor clutching my best friend, unable to move. Wishing, hoping it was a dream, I held her lifeless body.”
Many readers have commented on the online version of Ben’s article, with some describing how tears were streaming down their face as they read his words.
Ben’s account will come as no surprise to vets and nurses: we witness people going through the emotional trauma of losing a pet every day, or even several times in one day. Perhaps the only surprising aspect is that the depth of grief isn’t discussed more commonly in public. It’s as if it’s only behind closed doors that it’s acceptable to express this level of grief for an animal……………………….

But can’t he just die in his sleep…..?

This week my Granny died, which was sad for us all but she was very old, had had a wonderful life and her family was with her at the end. She had been in a home for some time and was cared for very well. When she became sick and bedbound, the doctors and nurses worked together to keep her comfortable and pain free, until she slipped away in her sleep. I am lucky in that she was the first person I knew well who has died and this experience has made me understand why many people hope this is how their pets will go. However, to die in their sleep is rarely a pleasant or pain free experience for our animals.

Although, just like people, our pets are living longer and healthier lives, inevitably there comes a time when their age catches up with them and illnesses develop. Advances in veterinary care mean we can do a lot for them but eventually we won’t be able to keep up with their problems. If they were people we would put them in wheelchairs or place them in a home where their needs could be catered for, for example being assisted to the toilet or spoon fed but this isn’t practical, or in most cases fair, to a pet who won’t understand what is happening….

Colic: Part 2: Medical Colics

In my last piece, I looked at how the vet will examine a horse with colic. Following this, and using all the information from the history and workup, he or she has to decide if the colic is Medical or Surgical. The terms are more or less self-explanatory: a medical colic can be managed with drugs, while a surgical colic needs emergency surgery.

As a rule of thumb, 9/10 colics are medical, and can almost always be managed on the yard.

So, here are the common causes of colic that we see in the UK1 :

1) Spasmodic Colic. This is probably the commonest, and perhaps the least understood; I estimate about 80% of Medical colics are Spasmodic. Spasmodic colic can be caused by a stressful event, mild dehydration, or be genuinely idiopathic (i.e. we don’t know what causes it!). It can also be caused by severe tapeworm burdens. In a Spasmodic Colic, a section of the gut goes into a spasm, preventing anything from moving past it. It can be acutely painful, but usually responds really well to management with drugs. For any horse that has two or more bouts of spasmodic colic, I’d always recommend a tapeworm blood test to make sure it isn’t part of the problem!

2) Impaction Colic. This is more common in some management systems – it is pretty rare, for example, in horses who live on grass. In these cases, the food in the large intestine dries out a bit too much, and turns into a putty-like material. It then gets stuck, typically at one of the 180- degree turns in the Large Colon. It’s also strongly associated with moderate dehydration – as a horse gets dehydrated, he will move water out of the gut in order to keep up his circulating blood volume. This is a clever trick, meaning a horse can survive levels of dehydration that would kill a human. However, if the water isn’t replaced, and he’s been eating dry hay, his gut contents can become so dry they cause an impaction. This is why, many years ago, bran mash and Epsom salts were fed after hard work – both are good ways of rehydrating the colon and Caecum contents.

3) Gut displacements and entraptions. These are a bit of a mixture – some are medical, some are surgical, some look surgical but aren’t, and some can be fixed medically but keep coming back so surgery is eventually needed. What many people don’t realise is that the guts are in constant motion. Occasionally, a loop of intestine goes “wandering around” inside the abdomen, and gets stuck behind something else (for example, into a little gap between the spleen and the kidney). These can often only be diagnosed by rectal exam, and can feel really confusing, where nothing seems to be exactly where it should be! Each case has to be treated on its merits, and many can be resolved by lunging – presumably because jiggling everything around helps the intestines to fall back into their proper places! Personally, however, my inclination is generally to refer the horse as a possible surgical case……………….

Colic: Part 1: Diagnosis and Workup

It’s something all horse owners dread – colic. However, colic is a symptom, not a disease in its own right, and has a wide range of different causes. This is the first in a three-part series where I’ll be looking at colic in horses – its diagnosis and treatment, and what happens if your horse has to be referred for surgery.

Put simply, all colic is, is abdominal pain. However, before you’re tempted to dismiss it as a stomach ache, it’s worth remembering that the horse’s intestines are as complicated as a major chemical factory! Anything that causes disruption to their function is potentially life-threatening.

Occasionally, colic pain comes from a non-intestinal source, e.g. Liver disease (think ragwort poisoning, or liver fluke), or a kidney issue. In mares, it can also be caused by certain disorders of the reproductive tract. However, the vast majority are due to disease, damage or malfunction of the intestines.

If you call your vet and tell them that your horse has colic, they’ll treat it as an emergency, because it can be….

Getting ready for an anaesthetic at the vets

At one time or another we all have to face our beloved pets having an anaesthetic which can be a scary process if it’s not properly explained. Fortunately most veterinary practices have a fantastic team of nurses that can help you understand the procedure. (NB. I have used “he” in the article for continuity but this goes for all dogs a

and cats regardless of gender).

To give you a head start, here are some top tips:

1. The number one golden rule for preparing for an anaesthetic is no food after midnight (this does not apply to rabbits or guinea pigs). Also, some practices may give you an earlier time say nine or ten o’clock but the principle is still the same, basically no midnight feasts and no breakfast. The reason for this is two fold. The main reason is to stop your pet vomiting and potentially inhaling it. This can also prevent nausea on recovery. Another reason is to try and prevent any ‘accidents’ on the operating table which increases the risk of contaminating the surgical environment although to safe guard against this, some practices routinely give enemas and express bladders before surgery. So, while it breaks your heart to tuck in to steak and chips with Fido giving you the big brown eyes treatment console yourself with the knowledge that you are actually acting in his best interests to help minimise the risk of anaesthetic.

2. Give your pet the opportunity to relieve himself before coming into the surgery. Obviously this is easier with dogs but while we advise taking dogs for a walk before coming in we don’t mean a five mile hike on the beach with a swim in the sea, we mean a nice gentle walk around the block to encourage toileting. If you bring your dog in covered in dirt and sea water, you’re increasing the anaesthetic risk as we have to keep him asleep longer while we prep him. (See my previous article about how we prepare your pet for a surgical procedure).

3. Tell the nurse when she is admitting him whether you have noticed any unusual behaviour. Vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing or sneezing can all be indicators of problems and may need to be investigated prior to anaesthesia. Also tell the nurse if your pet is on any medication, when he last had it and bring it with you if you can. This way, if your pet needs to stay in after his operation, they will have everything he needs without adding extra to your bill…………

Equine ER – Dealing with traumatic injuries

I recently had to stop on the side of the road to help out a family whose trailer had rolled over, trapping their horse inside. By the time I’d got past the queue of stationary holiday traffic, they’d already done the first aid basics, and it was great to see how well they’d coped. However, it made me think about what owners can do in emergency situations for shock, trauma and blood loss in horses.

In serious accidents, the most common injuries are probably bruises and lacerations – jagged cuts, caused by broken metal and debris cutting through the skin. However, puncture wounds and broken bones are also not uncommon, and it can be really difficult to determine what’s a mild graze, and what’s a deep, dangerous puncture wound in the field, let alone by the side of a busy road! If you’re faced with a real emergency like this, remember three things – first, make sure you and anyone else around are not at risk. Second, get someone to call a vet and any other emergency services ( e.g. the police to close the road, the fire brigade to cut horses and people out of the wreckage, and of course ambulances for any human casualties). Finally, assess the horse(s) and do what first aid you can at the scene….

How Do You Know If A Cat Is In Pain?

It sounds like such a simple question, but the answer is actually far more complicated than we think. And it’s not just cat owners who struggle with this question, those of us who have studied these creatures for years still frequently miss signs of feline pain. Because when it comes to showing signs of pain (or any illness for that matter), cats are masters of disguise. In the feline world, complaining gets you nowhere, and showing signs of weakness can get you killed. Sure, some cats in pain will cry out, but if you see a cat crying out in pain, the problem is likely very severe indeed. Besides, cats cry out for many reasons, so even if you do see this, how can you tell if it is due to pain or some other form of stress? Next time you think your cat may be in pain, try to remember some of the following signs of feline discomfort:

• Lameness:
Ok, we’ll start with an easy one. But you’d be surprised how many people come to me with a limping cat who insist that they are not in pain….

More Useful Information

Examining your pet

Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.