We asked our Head Vet Sean to tell us what the average day in the life of a vet entails:
“Most of my career before joining the team at tails.com was spent in private practice but there are many other roles that vets play from treating domestic pets, horses, farm animals or even zoo work, to government, research and health or nutrition industry jobs. In my previous clinics, I mainly treated dogs and cats but also worked with small furry pets, reptiles, birds and even some zoo animals. If one thing’s for sure, no two days are the same and there is nearly always a surprise in store. It’s hard to describe a typical day, but here’s a good example:
8:30am: Arrive at the clinic to check on inpatients. Luckily, I didn’t get called out last
night to any emergencies, but I did have a phone call at 3am so I definitely need a coffee before my rounds. Our rabbit with a painful abdomen has finally produced some droppings and eaten some dandelions. She looks much brighter! Gonzo the Schnauzer with pancreatitis was vomiting and dehydrated yesterday but looks much better after a night on a drip and medications. He even wags his tail at me; his worried owner will be pleased. I start the day feeling accomplished and happy with what a great job this is sometimes. Delivering good news is definitely one of the highlights.
8:45am: I call a couple of clients with important lab results and plan what we need to do next for their pets. I manage to get a glance of the surgical board before nipping into the consultation room. Looks like it’s going to be a busy day!
9-10:30am: The morning consultations are 10-minute appointment slots and fully booked. For vaccinations, minor problems and routine health checks this is just enough time to examine the pet, answer any concerns their owners may have, give some advice and sneak them a treat for behaving so well on the table.
I have a double slot for an adorable litter of 8-week-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in with their breeder and Mum for their first vaccinations and health check. Five pups get my seal of approval but worryingly the smallest pup, Mabel, has a slight heart murmur. We discuss the best course of action and agree to recheck her murmur in 2 weeks when she returns for her next vaccination.
She seems very well in herself and the murmur is mild; sometimes these can be normal in young puppies but this breed is prone to heart problems so I want to rule out a serious condition before she goes to her new home. More tests will be needed if I can still hear it in two weeks. Unfortunately, some inherited diseases are very common in certain pedigree dog breeds. It’s very frustrating to see these issues affecting animal welfare day in day out.
I greet the next client with a puppy-induced smile, “Ziggy please?”. The atmosphere changes as soon as the elderly lady enters the room however. Ziggy is a 16-year-old tabby cat we haven’t seen for some time and has gone off his food, is drinking lots, is now extremely thin and to top it all off has painful dental disease. From his history and my exam, I suspect he has an overactive thyroid gland which I can feel is enlarged. His heart rate is through the roof and with the history of excessive drinking I fear his kidneys may be in bad shape too.
We take some bloods as a first step and his owner goes home to await the news. I try to reassure her that we can manage these problems and improve Ziggy’s quality of life if it is bad news, but my heart breaks when she leaves with tears running down her cheeks saying Ziggy is her only company and she can’t bear to lose him.
I’ve overrun on my appointments because Ziggy’s case took much longer than expected with examining him thoroughly, explaining his various problems, taking bloods and trying to comfort the owner. I also had to dash out the back to assess a cat found on the side of the road hit by a car before my colleague could step in and start treating him for shock.
My next client is very angry she’s been left waiting 10 minutes after her scheduled time. I apologise and explain we may need to treat her pet in an emergency in future so would appreciate her understanding. She doesn’t look impressed.
10:30am: The nurses and other vets on duty have done a great job admitting my surgical patients, taking pre-op bloods and giving pre-medications to get them nice and relaxed for their procedures. Today I’m spaying a gorgeous 15-month-old Golden Retriever called Honey, doing two cat castrations from the local rescue charity, a dental on Rocky the crazy 11-year-old Springer Spaniel who still behaves like a puppy and a very unusual reptile case. A Rhinoceros Iguana I took X-rays of yesterday has a large bladder stone that needs to be removed surgically. That’s a first even for me!
I really enjoy my surgery days, chatting to the nurses and discussing cases with the other vet on duty whilst we work through the patient list. It’s always really rewarding to see the patients recovering from anaesthesia wrapped up in warm blankets and being monitored carefully by our amazing nursing team until they’ve come around.
The Iguana surgery is a bit of a challenge but I manage to remove a massive stone that was filling the entire bladder. He’s going to be feeling much better after this, but no doubt still as grumpy a creature as ever.
3:30pm: I manage to finish my surgeries just in time to grab a bite to eat and dash to the loo before evening consultations begin. Some days when things don’t go to plan, even getting a toilet break can be a luxury!
When I return from the staff room I see that Ziggy’s blood results are on my desk and it’s not good news. I can’t help feeling exasperated that had I seen Ziggy earlier we could have addressed his problems more easily, but understand sometimes people are afraid to bring their beloved pet to the vet for fear of bad news.
4pm-7pm: I have a few clients to see including a budgie for a nail and beak trim, a couple of routine vaccinations, a dog with diarrhoea, another dog with blocked anal glands and a very smelly abscess on a cat that I squeeze an amazing quantity of pus out of. Nobody ever said this was a glamorous job!
I take the chance to call Ziggy’s owner during a rare free slot in my evening appointments. Sadly, Ziggy’s kidneys look to be failing and his thyroid hormone levels are extremely high as I suspected. He has a long list of problems; hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure and dental disease causing his mouth to be painful and infected.
Any one of these conditions on their own are treatable, but all three at once are costly and difficult to manage. The likelihood of successful treatment and long term quality of life in a 16-year-old cat also needs to be taken into account. I give the owner some time to take the news in and offer her an appointment in the morning to come in and have a chat about how she wants to proceed or answer any of her questions. If we are going to treat him, Ziggy will need to be brought in as soon as possible to go on a drip to support his kidneys as a first step. She says she will call back later.
Back to consultations again with a young family who has just adopted a lovely crossbreed puppy from our local shelter. Need to regain my enthusiasm after that phone call, but it’s not long before puppy licks and excitement have me back in cheerful mode. I love to see people adopting and rehoming dogs and cats as there are so many unwanted animals needing homes.
Before I leave after my last consultation I gladly pass over the on-call phone to my colleague. That was a long day and I’m looking forward to going home and relaxing, hoping for an early night and some sleep. As I’m leaving, the receptionist pulls me aside and tells me Ziggy’s owner has called. She has decided not to put him through any treatment or a dental at his age, so booked an appointment to have him put to sleep in the morning. I feel sorry for his poor owner, and of course for Ziggy.
As I say to anyone who tells me what a wonderful job being a vet must be, it’s not all playing with puppies and kittens. Tomorrow is another day, who knows what it will bring…