elefantasies asked:

Hi, I really want to study vet med at uni, I love the mix of the social aspect with the science and knowledge that goes with it and the fact that it's always changing. However I'm just worried that I've seen quite a few blogs posts where some vets seem to really regret becoming a vet because of stress and ungrateful clients. Is that a really common problem, as tuition fees are so great and I don't want to end up working in an industry where I have no spare time and little respect? Thanks!

This is such a complicated issue, which is why it’s taken me so long to try to answer it.

Yes, a large percentage of our profession burn out, get compassion fatigue, depression, drop out of the industry or drop out of life. This seems more common in younger female vets and older male vets. A considerable amount of discussion goes into trying to figure out why, and to do something about it. If there was one easy answer, it would have been sorted by now, but it’s not. So here I go.

If your life revolves around animals, if animals are literally the only thing in your life that give you joy, if you can’t imagine not having them in your life and would rather spend your time with animals than people, then DON’T become a veterinarian.

You will not thrive.

You can survey a bunch of practicing veterinarians, and future veterinarians, and you will guaranteed find someone who says “I want/wanted to be a veterinarian because I like animals more than people.”

This poses an unexpected problem, that many may not have anticipated when they signed up.

Veterinary medicine is a fundamentally social career. Say somebody brings in their dog to see you. Your first instinct might be to talk to the dog but you will end up conversing with the human, if for no other reason than to find out why they are here,but you will often find yourself discussing their home life, family activities, sports, weather and sometimes their finances. Even if you go out to a farm, the farmer is going to have a good old yarn or natter about the sport of their choice. You can’t even avoid people working in zoos or wildlife, as you’re expected to educate the public and at a minimum you must get along with your nurses, or life becomes impossible. You have to be able to deal with people. All the vets who stay in the profession have figured this out. 

What do I mean by you shouldn’t be a vet if animals are your only joy? That’s because the joy can be sucked out of you, leaving you nothing but an empty cynical shell in desperate need of help, with no ability to go back to how you were before.

If I go for a walk, or a drive, and I pass by dogs, I see problems. I don’t think how cute the pug is, I think of a list of medical problems. I pass a dog in the street and take great offense that the staffy cross still has testicles. I listen to people tell me how their cat comes home at 9pm every night and get angry because of all the potential dangers it is exposed to. For every species that I have studied, I can’t just sit back and switch off the veterinarian part of my brain and enjoy the ‘cute’ because looking for problems is so heavily ingrained in my soul.

I don’t tell strangers I’m a veterinarian in social situations. Why? Because it inevitably leads to “So I’ve got this cat/dog/horse and it does this thing and why do you think…etc”. I can’t switch off.

A brain needs to rest. The only way to stop thinking about these veterinary medicine things is to think about something else. Writing, Dungeons & Dragons, video games, gardening, whatever it is that lets you use the rest of your brain and switch off for a while.

If animals are the only thing that give you any pleasure, then that’s not going to work in veterinary medicine. You need something else as well.

There are also the finance issues, both for clients and ourselves. Sometimes you can’t help an animal to the best of your capabilities because nobody will foot the bill, and you can’t keep doing that off your own back either.

There’s also the issue of moral distress. That’s when you could help an animal, but the owner refuses to allow you to do it. Putting something to sleep with a treatable condition, for example, or for the owner’s convenience. You know it’s not the best outcome for the animal, but you are obliged to do it anyway.

It would be delusional to think that some of us get to work in fairyland practices where these issues are never faced, but some face them less than others. Rural practices are more isolated and often have more after hours. They can really be a trial by fire, but you gain experience quickly and can become a better vet if you can see it through.

But in any trial by fire, you can burn out.


A follow-up to New Graduate Problems, which I published in Nov ‘13. Which means I’ve been doing this crazy job full-time now for an entire year.

People often comment and say, ‘it must be hard being a vet, having to put down all those animals’, and it certainly is. But, after having a particularly harrowing week, I thought I’d highlight a few of the other day-to-day difficulties faced by the vet crew that you might not have thought about.

Please, be kind to your vets and vet nurses. :)

Veterinarians aren’t greedy; they make less than most pharmacists, almost all human physicians and almost all dentists. Their hourly rate is lower than your plumber’s. They went to school for half their adult life not because they want to be rich, but because they care about your pets.

Liane Ehrich, Vet Tech, for the



Bloating Akita caught on film. 

A must watch for dog owners. Know the signs; it could save your dog’s life.  

Single most important thing for a veterinarian to remember about the species they are treating

As vets we have to retain an awful lot of knowledge about a bunch of different species in our brain, but I could only impart one factoid onto a new vet for each species, these would be it.

Dog: Everything that can go wrong will go wrong, in a German Shepherd

Cat: Species most likely to send you to the hospital.

Horse: Species most likely to send you to the morgue.

Cattle:  Hygiene and lube.

Sheep: Not little cows!

Goats: Not funny sheep!

Deer: Don’t. Just shoot them.

Birds: No diaphragm, if you squeeze them they will die.

Raptors(eg eagles) : Much easier to handle with a sock over their head.

Chickens: If it’s egg bound there is no such thing as too much lube.

Water birds: Projectile feces. Aim with care.

Rabbits:  Drug sensitivities

Guinea Pigs: Lethal penicillin

Rats & Mice: It’s going to be a tumor.

Snakes: Don’t leave them in a cage. They get out.

Lizards: 90% of the time it’s a husbandry problem

Aussie mammals: Don’t wrestle wombats, you can’t win.

Fish: You can MacGuyver an anesthetic rig from two buckets, some tubing, a straw, a clean cat litter tray and some alfaxan. Do not use electro-cautery on a wet fish.

Ferrets: Most of their problems are from the same area; the kidneys, adrenals and ovaries seem to be part of a club to cause havoc for this species.

Pigs: Wear ear muffs, because they scream like you wouldn’t believe, and remember that they’re bred for meat, which is muscle and they know how to use it.

This is not an attempt to condense veterinary medicine into a few dozen sentences. But if you can only remember one thing, make it a useful one.

Castro the tiger undergoes surgery

A group of 30 veterinarians, physicians and students from the UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, the Sacramento Zoo and Sutter Medical Group joined forces to perform surgery on a 15-year-old Sumatran tiger named Castro. The tiger is recovering nicely following the procedure.

Fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers are believed to exist in the wild, and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world.

Traps for new vets

There are certain pearls of wisdom that you really want to hear before you have a chance to make these mistakes yourself. Note: This list is by no means exhaustive.

  • When expressing anal glands, do not stand directly behind the animal and do not talk. Keep your mouth shut, do not talk.
  • Always check the animal’s sex before calling them into the exam room. Some people like to give their male pets strongly feminine names and enjoy getting upset when you assume ‘Susan’ is a girl.
  • Never say “At least he doesn’t have a tumor” until you have finished your physical exam.
  • Goats and valium do mix.
  • Book double consultation times for clients that may not be to comfortable with English. Best case scenario is they bring a friend or relative to translate for them, requiring the whole conversation to happen twice. Worst case scenario is that you end up communicating via charades.
  • Mast Cell Tumors look like everything, and anything. It might not be a lipoma.
  • Cats will heal just about anything if you put their pieces close enough together. (If they don’t, look for FIV or FeLV). To think of it another way: Cat’s are nature’s jigsaw puzzles.
  • All dogs bite. That’s how they eat. The breeds most likely to send veterinary staff to hospital for serious dog bites are actually Labradors and Golden Retrievers, simply because you don’t expect them.
  • Don’t use the smallest possible catheter when trying to hit a vein. They’re flimsy and they suck. You can place a 22g in a kitten. You really can.
  • If you’re not sure, and need time to think in front of a client, either put your stethoscope on, listen to the heart/abdomen and shut your eyes or if dealing with cattle, put on a rectal glove, get in there and look as though you’re concentrating hard. Nobody likes to interrupt.
  • If you think a client is using a euphemism for genitals, ask them to show you what they mean and henceforth use correct anatomical terms.
  • You can always use your first principles
  • Don’t say “I don’t know” unless you follow up with “But I have a plan to figure it out.”

One day, there will be a part 2 to this post.

#HeforShe for Vets

View blog on WordPress; image credit: Liv @ why-i-am-a-vet-student

If you have been on the internet in the last few days then you’ve seen Emma Watson’s inspiring and poignant speech in her new role as a goodwill ambassador for UN women. In her speech she calls out for men to take up their end of the bargain in the fight for female equality and empowerment. It’s an inspiring speech and if you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it [here]. After signing up to the #heforshe pledge I started thinking to myself what role sexism played in my life and I kept coming back to my place as a future veterinarian.

 Anybody in vet school across the world can attest to the fact that more females are entering the profession than ever before. In my class alone, 85% of the students are female, and this is universal across western countries with a similar trend across the world. This is in stark contrast to the male-dominated profession that has been the norm historically. There are a whole assortment of theories as to why this is the case, and these range from increased academic commitment of females to more males pursuing high-income professions. In the end though the ‘why’ isn’t the important part, it’s how it’s approached which is the issue.

 I remember that in my first years of vet school, on visits to clinics in regional Australia, that I was treated differently to the female student I conducted the visits with. It wasn’t every clinic, and it certainly wasn’t every vet, but it was enough to be noticed. Comments like ‘Geez it’s great to see some male vet students coming through’ were fine – we are definitely few and far between! It was comments like ‘you had better pull this calf instead’ (when my partner had grown up on a dairy farm and was definitely far better at pulling calves than I was -and still is) that really stuck out. When it REALLY got uncomfortable was when I heard numerous theories about the failure of the profession due to there being too many women unable to run businesses. As a young student I listened to these comments come from good vets, employers, pillars of their communities, and I found it more perplexing

Keep reading

Impostor Syndrome: The Struggle of the Vet Student

For those vet students reading this, I am sure like myself, you remember the very moment you received your vet school letter or email of acceptance and not believing your very eyes. I actually couldn’t believe my very eyes and promptly replied asking if said email was indeed a joke. Looking back now, I can see the very beginnings of “Impostor Syndrome”.

If you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, it is defined as…  

… a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” (source)

I have sat in class on numerous occasions unable to conjure up the correct answer to a dose calculation or not being able to name a particular prominence on a bone, when most of my classmates could. I would think to myself, “how on earth did I get into vet school if I can’t work out how much amoxycillin this hypothetical dog needs?!” or “I shouldn’t be here if I can’t remember the deltoid tuberosity on the humerus!”.

I know when I get out in practice, I am literally going to feel like a 5 year old playing dress up in scrubs with access to far too many medications that can cause harm as well as sharp, pointy things that no tiny human should have access to, let alone me. I know I am going to make mistakes that will exacerbate that feeling of being an impostor and will make me question how on earth I ever graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. 

The thing is, everyone has these thoughts. 

As one of my lecturers told me last year, we all got picked and got a place in this course for a reason. Someone out there thinks we are smart enough and capable of being successful veterinarians, even if we sometimes doubt it. So if you find yourself struggling to get a handle on your intradermal sutures or can’t quite get a grip on your fluid and electrolyte calculations, just remember that no, you are not a 5 year old pretending to be vet student and that you actually are one that worked hard and has earned their right to be there. 


To anyone considering declawing their cat and those who find to problem with declawing,

Please watch the Paw Project. Declawing is extremely harmful to cats. Declawing does not simply remove the nail, it removes the last segment of the cat’s toes. In an attempt to regrow the nail, declawed cats’ toes often have small nail particles growing in their toes and as you can imagine, it is extremely painful to the cat. Additionally, while one may think that declawing will make a cat more “friendly” (because it cannot scratch), cats will often resort to biting. 

Anyways, the Paw Project can articulate all of this and more better than I can so please head over to netflix and watch it now!


This was an insane case that took everyone in the clinic on a roller coaster ride!

"Sunny" was a 5 year old female spayed Beagle. The owners called, concerned, a few hours before close because the dog was straining to urinate and didn’t seem to be producing anything for the past day. They lived over 100 miles away but promised they could be there before we closed. We asked if they wouldn’t rather take her to a clinic in their rural town but they said they trusted us and would rather she come see us.

They made the three hour drive and arrived 45 minutes before close. I was hoping that she would just have a UTI, since complete urinary blockages are very rare in females. But she sat there on the exam table wagging her tail and then trying and trying to urinate, and not producing a single drop.

I took the first x-ray and groaned. Her bladder is HUGE. There are also a cluster of stones in the bladder, which at first distracted me from the real problem — the stone in her urethra, visible behind the pelvic bone. It was huge as well.

With a sinking heart I told the owners that she had a complete obstruction. The owners looked to each other in tears. They had significant financial constraints. I told them that a surgery tonight to remove the blockage would likely be $2000-$3000 at an emergency hospital. They could also try to have her catheterized so that the stone could possibly be pushed back into the bladder (where it would be unlikely to fall into the urethra again), but with anesthesia and hospitalization that would still cost $1000 and might not work anyway, it’s very difficult to catheterize female dogs.

The owners wanted me to try calling a few e-clinics to see if anyone thought they would be up to catheterization. I tried the two local clinics but no one there felt confident in their female dog catheter skills. I called one further away and they thought they could do it, but the $1000 price tag was still the owner’s whole paycheck.

The owners were crying as they told me they would have to put her to sleep, since they couldn’t afford either procedure and knew they did not want her to die at home from an obstructed bladder, which is a terrible death; toxins fill the bloodstream and the bladder begins to die or can even burst. I told them we would have the tech go over the estimate, and gave the dog a huge handful of treats, which she ate with joy, wagging her tail.

Agonizing I went into the back, wiping the tears from my eyes. It was horrible! She was only 5! What bad luck it was to get blocked as a female dog (whose short wide urethras usually protect them). I felt sick but at the same time knew that I did not want her to just die at home. I knew I couldn’t catheterize her (I couldn’t even do it in a cadaver at school, let alone in a life or death situation) and was just feeling awful about my inability to help. Death seemed so wrong and yet was better here than slowly dying at home.

While the technician was going over the estimate for euthanasia I suddenly heard a call for me. “Doctor!!!” I hurried down the hall and there was a most beautiful sight — the Beagle wagging her tail, standing proudly next to a huge puddle of urine and the HUGE stone in the picture. SHE DID IT! SHE PASSED THE STONE!

We snapped one more x-ray and voila! The small stones are still there, but the bladder was tiny! One owner ran at me with her arms wide in a huge hug when I showed her the x-ray. Every tech and receptionist was sooooo relieved, we all left with the hugest smile on our faces when we sent them home with food to dissolve struvite stones and antibiotics. YAY.

If there had been any less delay in any of those scenarios — they hadn’t made the drive, they hadn’t had me call around — we could have had them sign those papers sooner and she wouldn’t be here. It really felt like a veterinary miracle!!!