Friday, December 9, 2011

Clinical Observation

Part of the application process for vet tech school is getting 16 hours of clinical observation in with a licensed vet.  With as many years as I've had dogs, I have way more than 16 hours of observation but I never thought to document it so now I am doing it officially.

Back in October, my regular vet let me observe Ginny's dental and the surgery to remove the mass on her chest.  I was also allowed to observe another dental, tooth extraction and mass removal on a cat.  I still need a few more hours of observation and this Monday I was lucky enough to get some in with a different vet.

Central Virginia is horse country.  Maybe not as much as northern Virginia but there are still a lot of horses here. One of my agility classmates is an equine vet and very graciously allowed me to tag along Monday while she made farm calls.  SO interesting, and so very different from small animal veterinary treatment.

The first call of the day was for a colicky horse.  By the time we got there, the owner had already administered a dose of Banamine to the horse intravenously.  First observation - horse people keep lots of drugs on hand and know how to administer them intravenously, intramuscularly and subcutaneously.  It turned out that the horse had a case of gas colic due to an abrupt change in hay.  We pumped a bunch of water and then mineral oil into his stomach, left the owner with instructions regarding feeding and turn out then moved on to the next call.

James Madison's Montpelier estate also happens to be a very well known racing stable, thanks to Marion duPont Scott the last owner of the estate.  There are lots of Thoroughbreds on the estate training to race on both the flat track and in steeplechase races.  The practice that my friend works for services the racing barns at Montpelier and sends a vet to the barns almost every day of the week to take care of those horses.  Just like dogs who are being shipped to other states, horses need a health certificate to travel out of state to races.  We filled out several of those for horses that would be racing in other states in the near future and also rechecked a horse that had been castrated recently.

Next on the list was a visit to a 'community stable' for a pre-purchase inspection of a pony and to check on a pony that had a bad wound just above her ankle.  Interestingly, before you purchase a horse you pay for a vet to give it a thorough examination.  The vet checks not only the basics - like any wellness exam - but also checks the horse's gait looking for any signs of lameness and rechecks things like heart sounds after the horse has been cantered for a bit.  Unfortunately, the pony we were there to check did not pass inspection.  He had some lameness in his left shoulder and when his heart rate was up he had an arrhythmia.

The pony with the ankle wound was another surprise for me.  When she was treated initially, the vet placed a catheter in her neck so the stable manager could administer antibiotics and other drugs intravenously.  I know that is sometimes done with small animals as well but I think it's a pretty rare owner who administers the drugs themselves rather than take the pet back into the vet.  The pony's wound was healing well but there was some lingering infection.  We left a bottle of antibiotic/antimicrobial spray for the wound and instructions to keep it clean and covered for another week.

Our last call of the day was a sad one.  A horse owner had an old (14 years) Coonhound that needed to be put down.  As a favor, the vet was stopping by to do that.  The owner held the dog's head to keep him calm and I made sure the vet could easily access the leg for the injection.  It was emotional but, as my friend said, you focus on the fact that you are alleviating suffering in an animal and that helps you get through it.

All in all, it was a great day.  I already had an idea that horse people are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to treating their animals for minor issues and this was confirmed.  When they know what they are doing, which most seem to, it really helps hold vet costs down.  The vets also seem to trust that these folks know what they are doing and are more likely to provide horse owners with common drugs to have on hand in the event they are needed; antibiotics, anti inflammatories and even mild sedatives.  Have you ever tried to get a small animal vet to give you a prescription for antibiotics 'just in case?'  Large animal vets also rarely, if ever, use techs.  The owner acts as the tech; holding the animal and helping with the procedure.  It's an interesting difference but not one I'm sure would work well with small animals.  Too many dog and cat owners actually make their pets behave worse and not better when they are involved in veterinary treatment.

Hopefully, I'll complete the last of my clinical observation hours before Christmas.  Then I will forward everything to the college and wait.


  1. It sounds like a fascinating experience. I'd never think to log the hours I spend "observing" my vet. I hope you get all your hours in before the holidays as well. Then on to the next step!

  2. Sounds like an interesting day. I wonder if the reason horse vets are more likely to cede control of all meds, etc, and place more trust in their clients is because they have a larger area to cover and they go to the patients.

  3. That's sounds a little funny, I think I should have said "cede control of SOME meds."