A Typical Day in the Life

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a veterinarian’s life?

horses running in a snow covered field

Wake up in the morning...

Feeling short on sleep again! Get myself together, quick hit-and-run style breakfast (or toast and peanut butter for in the truck later…), run outside and turn on the truck, turning the heat up as far as possible to start my morning “car sauna” so it’s toasty when I finish my barn chores, before I leave for my “real” job. Then I go see my own animals. We have two horses and three adult Katahdin sheep with any number of lambs at foot, currently triplets with more still cooking in another ewe. I feed, water, turnout and muck out stalls in record time, then head back to the truck.

I call in to the clinic to check my schedule for the day and get any messages that have come in. Then off to the first call. Here is a selection of the calls I might see on an average day at work:

Call number one: An emergency call that got slipped in before my first scheduled call, because the horse is sick NOW. The client is worried that her horse is colicking (has abdominal pain) this morning and didn’t eat his breakfast. I arrive and take the history from the client, then check the vitals. The gut sounds are a little quiet, so I want to do a rectal exam next. I administer what I call my IV colic “cocktail”: a sedative to relax the horse and keep it from wanting to injure me while I investigate its sensitive areas, an anti-spasmodic to slow gas cramps, and Banamine, an anti-inflammatory/pain reliever. Then I don a shoulder-length glove covered with lots of lube and carefully insert it into the horse’s rectum up to my armpit. Once I remove any manure that is in my way, I can easily palpate a good part of the intestinal tract through the rectal wall, and this helps me decide if there are any obstructions, impactions or displacements. After the rectal, the next step is to insert a very long nasogastric tube into the horse’s nostril, down into his throat, where he swallows it and I can pass it down into the stomach. If I tried to pass it via his mouth, he would eat it and then we would have another problem! I do this to make sure he doesn’t have any fluid backing up into his stomach, and then if not, I can administer mineral oil and electrolytes to help move things along. That’s the last injustice for this guy today; he is all done and should be feeling better soon.

The second call is a horse that is due for vaccinations today. The horse stands quietly while I administer two vaccines, so he deserves a horse treat. This is a quick call and I get to relax for a few minutes and chat with my client about what they have been doing with their horse this year. It’s always nice to catch up.

Next call is a sheep (yes, I occasionally see non-equine large animals!) that is having trouble giving birth, what we call “dystocia”. The client is afraid that the lamb is stuck and the ewe has been trying for a while now, so she needs an internal exam. Back on with the glove! Lots of lube later, I have managed to sort out the puzzle of lamb limbs inside the ewe and turn the head around so that it is in the diving position. A few tugs later, and out comes a sputtering, wet, but very cute live lamb. I always do a second exam after delivering one baby lamb or goat, because there is often a second (or third, or fourth…) baby on the way. Sure enough, there is a second lamb to help out. We got there just in time to save everyone and it feels good. Even the mom ewe is happy it’s over!

All cleaned up, time to fill up the gas tank (I can go through a tank of gas in less than two days, easy) and grab some lunch (if I’m lucky) at Wawa, make some phone calls, enter invoices into the laptop, and then on with the show.

We’re back to the horses again; the next client has a few horses that are due for a yearly dental exam and teeth floating. Horses’ teeth need to be “floated” or ground down on a regular basis to remove sharp areas caused by normal wear and the unique way horses move their jaws. These particular guys don’t appreciate having their teeth done, so they get a little sedation before we get started. I use a dental speculum, a big metal contraption that holds the horse’s mouth open, while I work so I can see with my headlamp and reach all the way to the back with my hand. I have to put my arm in nearly to my elbow to touch the last tooth. I check for loose or damaged teeth, then use either hand files or a powerfloat, which is basically a spinning grinding disc run by an electric power drill body, to balance the mouth. I demonstrate the safety of the powerfloat to the client by doing a “party trick” where I grind my gloved palm without damaging either the glove or my hand. It is amazing how gentle but powerful these tools are, they do a terrific job and shorten the time and effort for both the horse and me! These horses will be eating better and more comfortable wearing a bridle after their exams.

The last call today (it’s not so busy yet this year) is to check a mare that is going to be bred soon. The client thinks she is in heat and would like me to ultrasound her to see when the best time to breed will be. Guess what? Long gloves and lube are a recurrent theme in this profession! To check how close to ovulation the mare is, we have to ultrasound her ovaries and uterus through her rectal wall. A horse’s body is just too thick to get through to do this from the outside. Once orientated, we can see on the screen that she has several follicles on each ovary and that one follicle is getting larger than the rest. This will be the one that ovulates, so we have to measure the diameter of the follicle with the machine to predict when this will happen. She has ovulated from a 55 millimeter follicle in past years, and it is only 40 today, so we have a couple days to organize the breeding while it grows. A quick call to the stallion owner and we are good to go!

More phone calls and tying up loose ends; have to go into the clinic to restock my truck, and then time to drive home and take care of the “homestead” again. A repeat performance of the mornings chores, then have to shed the dirty clothes before my squeamish other half sees them. Oxyclean is my friend! After dinner and a little relaxing, I’m ready to sleep. Another exciting day is waiting for me tomorrow!