A Day in the Life of Vet, Bairbre O'Malley

8.30am: Arrived early at the hospital as we have a full house today. Along with the usual cats and dogs the reptile ward is full of sick lizards and tortoises and we have had a recent influx of sick parrots.

Vicky the little cross bred pup is looking much better. She came in collapsed last week with severe bloody diarrhoea - the classical sign of parvo virus. We had to give her three days of intensive intravenous fluids and twice daily injections to prevent vomiting. In five days she has lost nearly half her body weight and has become skeletally thin. Yet despite her debilitation she still tries to wag her little tail showing some spirit! Luckily on the fifth day she suddenly turned the corner - she began to hold little amounts of fluid down and slowly began to show some appetite. Her owners were very lucky as she was so ill we nearly lost her. They have learnt their lesson - a very expensive one too as along with blood tests, intravenous fluids and x-rays the bill came to over 700 euros.

Lesson 1: When you get a dog keeps its vaccinations up to date.

Lesson 2: Get your dog insured immediately - financially it's worth it.

 9am: As Amanda my veterinary nurse is coaxing Vicky to eat a bit of chicken I inspect Rocco the African grey parrot. Rocco is suffering from malnutrition - he had been fed a very unhealthy diet of mainly sunflower seeds for three years. Sunflower seeds are very high in fat and very low in many essential nutrients like calcium so he developed osteoporosis and snapped his leg when he crash landed into the video machine. His leg has been splinted and he will be going home today with calcium supplements and pain killers. His owner is also going to switch his diet to organic Harrisons pellet mix to strengthen his bones and avoid further fractures.

Along with the more routine operations we have a fun operation today and the vet students are fascinated. Kharma is going to be spayed. Cats and dogs weight from 4kg up to 40 kg but Karma is a tiny Yemen chameleon who weighs about 80g! Chameleons are fascinating little lizards with their amazing ability to change colour and wonderful turret eyes. The problem with these beautiful creatures is that the females develop many reproductive problems.

Karma has been off her food for 3 weeks because the follicles on her ovaries have got so large there literally is not room left in her belly for any food! Unless we spay her she is going to slowly starve to death. Spaying her is difficult and not without risk as we will be removing almost 1/3 her body weight during the surgery. It is also expensive as we have to use specialised vascular sterile clips to seal off the tiny blood vessels and speed up the surgery.

11am: After 45 minute of stressful surgery Karma survives. As we are reviving her with a blast of a hair drier to heat her up post surgery I look at the next patient on the list.

Bugsy is back again . She is a beautiful young dward rabbit with buck teeth! In true 'bugs bunny' fashion her front teeth grow like a walrus and she gets great big fangs jutting down and digging painfully into her gums. We have trimmed them back twice already but as they are crooked again I have advised removing them permanently. As she is going to have four teeth out we are going to give her plenty of painkillers and keep her in hospital for 2 days after the operation to help her eat.

12pm: As Bugsy is peacefully recuperating from her anaesthetic my nurse Kim rushes in with an emergency. A collapsed African grey parrot called Coco with breathing distress. We immediately put her in an oxygen tent to help breathe and then I ask the owner some routine questions. Was Coco off colour for a few days or did it happen suddenly? Had there been any access to fumes in the house - for example anything burning in the kitchen? No, no says the anxious owner but then she suddenly stops.......oh my god! She suddenly remembers she had cooked some food in the microwave and burnt it creating such terrible fumes it had made her cough and open all the windows. I explain that birds have a very complex respiratory system and absorb oxygen 10 times more efficiently than humans. So any fume that makes us cough could potentially kill a pet bird. That's why in the old days canaries were kept down the coal mines to warn the miners if there was a gas leak.....if the canary started fluttering and going 'belly up' that was the warning to evacuate the mine. I explain that we will keep Coco on oxygen until she is able to breathe on her own.

1pm: While Kim and I are tending to Coco , Lindsey my veterinary assistant finished the last two operations of the morning a cat spay and guinea pig castration.. Simba, the tortoise shell cat is in to be spayed- her owner originally thought she had hurt her back as she was walking around the apartment crying as if she was in pain. She was in fact in season! Nelson is in to be neutered as although only a youthful 10 months he has still managed to father 6 sturdy young guinea pigs and his owner has had enough!

2.30pm: Lindsey and I don't get much chance to eat today as the hospital is pulsating with sick or injured animals. Vets learn to eat on the hoof so I grab a bit of a sandwich before checking one of our long stay patients. This is a Mildred the tortoise who has emerged from hibernation in April and just wouldn't eat. She is 52 years old and has pneumonia which had made her very dehydrated and anaemic. Reptiles are slow motion patients - they take a while to get sick and even longer to get better. During her 2 week stay in hospital we have had to x-ray her and do blood tests and put in a feeding tube under anaesthetic so we could feed her twice daily.. Everyday for the past week the nurses have been offering her a dish of freshly chopped vegetables which she has ignored. Suddenly today we have a eureka moment - she devours a plate of dandelions picked from my garden this morning. (Rule no 1 for Exotic pet vets - cultivate a nice weedy garde!) . There is some thing primeval watching a tortoise take her first bite after 6 months of not eating!

3pm: Afternoon surgery shows a typical snake emergency - a client brings in snakes that had mites. He bought a mite spray for birds from pet shop and liberally sprayed his snake. Now the snake it twitching as he has been poisoned with organophosphate poison - I give the snake fluid therapy and an antidote injection and warn the owner again using a spray designed for birds. 

3.30pm: Summer time brings the usual ranges on canine skin ailments. Summer is the time for allergies and fleas and lots of scratching dogs. Dogs don't get classical hay fever like humans .When they get allergies from pollens and dust they don't get a streaming nose and eyes like we do - instead they have very sensitive skin which cause intense scratching. We often treat this short term with a cortisone injection to break what is called the itch scratch cycle but we also have to investigate what might be causing the problems. Flea control is very important - I always warn clients to treat all the animals in the house - all the cats and the dogs. As even one flea lays 500 eggs it may also be necessary to treat the house and furniture.

5pm: That evening Kiki the ferret arrives to be spayed the next day. The female comes in season in February and continues all summer so unless she is mated or spayed they can get bone marrow problems leading to fatal anemia. Consequently all female ferrets must be spayed at around 6 months. One benefit of this is that it also removes the pungent musky odour of ferrets. I love ferrets - they make wonderful pets as they are so cute and mischievous. 

5.30pm Next in is Delereum a pet rat. Many people think rats are vermin but pet rats make great pets as they are very sociable and bond well with their owners. Pet rats are bred from generations of laboratory rats so they make very safe clean pets. Delereum is owned by a young polish couple and she has common problem - a lump on one of her mammary glands. As these lumps tend to be benign they are worth removing so I book her to come in for surgery the following day. Rats only live 2-3 years so even benign growths grow extremely fast and need to be removed as soon as possible.

Just as we are seeing the last client out the phone rings - a client has just found that her puppy has eaten some slug pellets and is having seizures. We tell her to bring it straight down - its going to be one of those days............Lindsey and I could be here for a while yet.


Fur, feather and scales

Last year : A day in the life of veterinary surgeon , Bairbre O'Malley


8.20 Got to the Veterinary Hospital quite early. The traffic queuing into Dublin looked dreadful - I'm so glad the hospital is in Bray, not in the middle of Dublin City. Tasha, my dog loves going to work and bounds into the hospital looking forward to her day at the office!

8.30 Two phone messages. Last week's snake owner is happy - her boa constrictor Ruby is doing fine and has started to eat again. The owner of Parsley, the rabbit that had an operation yesterday will collect her later that morning.

9.00 A quick cup of coffee with my veterinary nurse Claire before our day starts. The owner of a tortoise is to call me about its operation tomorrow - surgery on tortoises is always interesting because you have to operate through a trapdoor cut into the shell.

9.10 Claire says Parsley has been eating well which is good news. Her back teeth had got so misshapen that they had overgrown and impaled her tongue. I had to give her a full general anaesthetic and trim down lots of sharp spurs. Animals like rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs all get dental problems and need regular dental check ups. 

9.15 The short-eared owl seems calm, and has devoured a mouse (dead) for his breakfast. Despite being a wild animal he has been a model patient. His broken wing is healing well after the operation so I hope to send him off to a bird sanctuary in Wicklow where he can convalesce before being released back to the wild.

10.00 The rabbit's owner is overjoyed to see her. I show the owner how to give Parsley her medicine for the next few days and will see her back for a check up next week.

10.15 A young boy and his mother bring in a hamster, which has got a sweet wrapper, stuck in its pouch. This needs to be removed in case the hamster eats the wrapper and gets a blockage. If you ask young children how old their pets are, they may tell you their guinea pigs, rats or gerbils are many years old. However if you ask the parents, they often confirm the suspicion that this is guinea pig, rat or gerbil replacement number 2 or 3 and that earlier versions have been quietly replaced. I examine the pouch with a pen torch and carefully pull out the offending wrapper with a tweezers. I explain to the little boy about not feeding his hamster dangerous titbits but I think he has learnt his lesson!


10.30 The first dog comes in - a German Shepherd dog called Rocky, needing his annual booster vaccination and worming. Despite his size and his breed reputation he tries to lick me to death - sometimes pets are scared of the vet so it's nice to be appreciated!


10.45 A black and white cat called Millie is next. She is showing pain when the owner touches her rear end and her owner is concerned that she has hurt her back. A detailed examination reveals a tiny puncture wound just beside her tail indicating Millie has been bitten by the local tom on the prowl! I give her a pain killer injection and antibiotics against the cat bite infection.

11.00 An owner phones to report that Gloria the goldfish is doing very well. Many owners wouldn't bother taking their fish to the vet but this one is 30 years old - a year older than the 29 year old son who brought it in! She had a growth above her eye, which was obscuring her vision. When I'm operating on fish I have to be quick as they can only be out of the water for five minutes at a time. I use a cake tray and a wet face cloth to keep them moist! Unusual and interesting surgery like this is one reason why I love seeing exotics.

11.30 There are two operations scheduled this morning - Hazel a rabbit in for spaying and Henrietta the Basset Hound having a cystotomy (bladder surgery). Just like cats and dogs, rabbits are now routinely neutered. This is not only to prevent unwanted litters but also to prevent cancer of the womb, which is common after 2 years of age. Rabbits are delicate surgical patients that get easily stressed so they need extra special care during and after surgery.

12.15 While Hazel is recovering peacefully after her spay I start the operation on Henrietta the Basset Hound. She had been passing blood in her urine and when I x-rayed here there was a massive stone in her bladder! Claire is amazed to see how large the stone is but female dogs commonly get big stones.

While Henrietta recovers on a drip from the surgery I take Tasha off for a walk up Bray Head. Wicklow is great for the outdoors and Tasha adores racing around meeting all her doggy friends. She is a bundle of energy and needs plenty of walks no matter how bad the Irish weather!


15.00 A veterinary colleague phones to refer a bird for treatment. Her client has a cockatoo parrot, which is plucking out all its feathers. Not many vets in Ireland treat birds on a regular basis so she has to drive up from Kilkenny. Cockatoos suffer a lot from feather plucking problems - there are many causes like poor diet, boredom, virus infections and even sleep deprivation. That is when the owners watch too many late night movies so the poor cockatoo can't get a wink of sleep!


15.30 An emergency is brought in. Sally, the dog was walking with her owner on Killiney Beach and got tangled in fishing net. She managed to get two fishhooks stuck in her mouth and paw which was obviously very painful. I give her a sedative and when she is drowsy gently ease them out - luckily she didn't have time to swallow them.

17.00 During evening surgery I get the full range of fur, feather and scales. First in, is a reptile patient, a water dragon called Fester with a swollen toe. I suspect brittle bone disease and admit him for an x-ray the next day. This is a common ailment in reptiles and is caused by lack of calcium in the diet. An owner of a Burmese python phones to ask about treating mites, which can be a real problem with snakes.

17.30 I always know when there's a Siamese cat in the waiting room due to the meowing! Ming, is an elderly male Siamese with amazing china blue eyes that has been scratching his ears. It turns out he has ear polyps. I prescribe an antibiotic ear cream to help ease the irritation but he will need ear surgery in the long term.

18.00 Max the terrier is brought in - he has been scratching himself raw along his neck. Brushing back the fur it's easy to trace the cause - tiny specks of dirt indicate he has fleas. The reason why he is so itchy is that he has an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which is a very common problem in dogs. Although easily treated rigorous flea control is needed to prevent it happening again.

18.30 Next patient is Joey the budgie with scaly beak. I see this a lot in budgies and it's caused by a mite creating scales around the base of the beak. A lady phones looking for an exotic vet. She wants to make an appointment for a chipmunk that has been bitten by its brother. I advise them to bring it down in a safe pet carrier - chipmunks move like greased lightning and have a habit of escaping!

18.45 An owner drops in her cat, which is due to be spayed in the morning, and then last patient of the day is Buffy the Spaniel pup. She leaps into the consulting room full of beans but it was a different story last week.

 She had been vomiting non-stop and initially I was worried she might have a fatal infection like parvovirus. However x-rays revealed she had a blockage and when I operated I found a rubber teat blocking her intestines. The young toddler in the house leaves her bottles lying around and Buffy was obviously attracted by the smell of milk! It's amazing the difference a week makes - she is a different dog today wagging her tail, while last week she was on her last legs!