Most people with pets know the routine. Your pet is due for vaccines so you make an appointment. At the pet hospital or clinic, you bring in your pet and are escorted into an exam room. A vet tech or assistant usually enters and weighs your pet and asks if there are any specific concerns for the vet. After that, the vet comes in, does his or her examination, and your pet may or may not be given the clean bill of health. There may be times when the vet recommends that other things be done, heartworm tests, ear cleaning, nail trims, etc. that require the assistant and/or vet to take your pet to the back, away from you, being that pets just might hold a grudge against you, the owner, if you are present at the time these deeds are done. Once your pet has been, well, beautified, remodelled, or vaccinated, you are then escorted back up front, and pay your dues for this visit.
But what really happens when your pet is taken away from you? And have you ever really thought about what else goes on in the pet hospital during the day, and night for that matter? It may surprise you to know that vaccination appointments that may resemble the one described above are pretty uncommon in the pet hospital. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people take care of their pets, keep them up to date on their vaccinations, and have a perfectly healthy canine or feline companion. However, no matter how much one tries, pets still get sick, whether they are well cared for or not, get into things they aren’t supposed to get into, get into scuffs and battles with their fellow companions or the neighborhood cat, and even need surgery for various reasons.
Let us visualize what it might be like during an actual day through the eyes of the veterinary technician. Often times, the vet tech has the most physical job duties and while some paperwork is involved, the veterinarian spends most of his or her time filling out paperwork and talking with owners during the times the technicians are working with the pets. For this reason, we will focus on the technician’s day.
Doors open pretty early at pet hospitals, if they ever closed at all. Many pet hospitals are 24 hour care facilities and are open around the clock. We will begin with the morning shift, starting at 7:00 A.M. When the tech arrives there are almost always pets that have been hospitalized for one reason or another that need to be cared for first thing. Some of these pets may have had routine surgeries the day before, such as spays and neuters. Other pets may be hospitalized on IV’s and need extensive medications. On this day, there are several surgery pets and one cat on IV fluids. The surgery dogs are walked first, to avoid any potential potty accidents that may occur in their cages. Today, two dogs are hospitalized, one very tiny 3 pound poodle named YoYo who was neutered and one 98 pound labrador named Bear that was spayed for the local shelter. Small breed dog owners may well know that these little guys are sweet little pets for their owners, but for the vet tech who is trying to give it medication in a strange place it’s never been…these guys can quite resemble little piranahs. Often times in a strange place, a dog will refuse to eat any food offered so placing pills and other medications in food isn’t an option. After a struggle to medicate the small dog, he is walked and the technician moves on to Bear. Bear is typically goofy natured as many labs are but he takes his meds well before dragging the technician out of the hospital so he can relieve himself. After the dogs, the cats who had surgery the day before are treated with their pain medications, fed, and their litter boxes changed. There are three of these cats today. An obese orange cat named Pumpkin who had a large tumor removed from his side the day before, a small kitten by the name of Gordon who was neutered and declawed, and a large Siamese kitten who goes by Diablo who was also neutered and declawed the previous day. Surprisingly, they all behave well for their treatments, whether it’s out of fear or they are simply well mannered kitties. With all the surgery pets finished, the last pet to treat is the cat on IV’s, Levi. Levi is a sad case. He’s a ten year old kitty who won’t eat and has been vomiting. The technician prepares and administers several injectible medications and maintains his IV line and catheter. His bowls that are full of food are removed and fresh food is offered, and refused.
Saddened by the state the cat is in, the tech makes a note to come back later to see if he’s taken any of his food and to give him some one on one time. For now, clients are walking in the door to drop off their pets for surgery today while some are here to pick up their pets who had surgery yesterday. Paperwork has to be gone over and signed for each patient. Today, there are five surgeries; two cat neuters, one femoral head osteotomy on a large German Shephard Dog, one cat dental cleaning, and one small dog dental cleaning. It is 8:30 by the time all the surgeries are checked in. The next step, is bloodwork. Each pet has to have a blood sample taken prior to having surgery done. The German Shephard, Beau, is not well socialized and is a fear biter. Getting him out of his cage is a struggle that stresses the dog as well as the staff. Once he is out of his cage, two techs hold the dog down with his muzzle on, while the veterinarian offers his help and draws the blood from his jugular vein. Typically, the techs are the ones who draw the sample, but sometimes there just aren’t enough hands to keep the dog down. Tired, the techs return him to his cage, acknowledging that they will have to do the same thing again once the bloodwork is done and it’s time for his surgery. The cat who is getting his teeth cleaned today, Buddy, and one of the cats who is getting neutered, Tom, behave nicely. The remaining cat who is to be neutered, Bob, obviously didn’t watch his brother, Tom, behave so well. Bob fought tooth and nail forcing the techs to bring out the Cat Bag. It’s a contraption that allows the cat to be fully and safely restrained with a space in the top for his head to peek out. Once in the bag, Bob no longer struggles, but he makes his opinion known with growls and hisses. The small dog who is here for a dental cleaning, Otis, wiggles just a bit before giving up the fight to give his blood sample.
Once the blood samples are taken are are run in the chemistry and CBC machines, the pets can be prepared for surgery. The technician figures up and prepares the drugs needed for anesthesia. The veterinarian wants to start with the surgeries that will be going home that day, later moving on to those who will be spending the night. That means the cat neuters are first followed by the German Shephard Dog. Our technician will be doing the dental cleanings and will do so while the vet is performing the surgeries on the other pet.
The techs choose to anesthetize Bob first, to get the struggle out of the way. This time it is even more difficult to remove him from his cage. This time, he needs the net. When the cage door is opened, Bob rushes to the front swatting, hissing and spitting at the technician making it impossible to get near him without getting injured. Using the net, the cat is caught and made immobile. However, once he is carried, still in the net, to the surgery table, he feels it neccessary to make the situation more difficult by spraying urine on anyone in his path, which happens to be our technicians. One of his front legs is released through the net and his drugs are administered in a vein. He quickly goes to sleep and the vet appears to perform the neuter. After only a few minutes, the cat is back in his cage and monitored by our technician. She makes sure he continues to breath and stays with him until he is awake enough to recognize his surroundings. Meanwhile, the other techs are anesthetizing Tom, who showed no signs of aggression. When both Bob and Tom are awake, the vet announces that his plan is for the techs to anesthetize Beau. Once the dog is under anesthetic, one technician will need to stay and monitor while the other two need to anesthetize Buddy and start on his dental.
It is now 9:30 A.M. Beau puts up a fight as suspected but the job gets done. He is shaved, scrubbed and prepared for surgery while the two techs move to the dental area and begin on Buddy. Once Buddy is fully asleep, our technician begins his dental, scaling the plaque and tartar from his teeth, checking for abnormalities, and finishing with a polish and seal. Buddy’s teeth are pretty healthy and he doesn’t need any extractions, so our technician takes him off of the ansethetic. She sits with him until he is awake before moving on to Otis.
While the vet is still working on Beau, the receptionist appears with the phone in her hand. A client is on the phone with a sick puppy and wants to come in right away. Because this is a surgery morning, she has to check with the vet to see if he can work it in. He of course says it’s okay as long as they can get here in a hurry. He instructs the techs to go ahead and begin on Otis. If the appointment shows up while Beau is still having surgery and Otis is still having his dental done, the remaining tech can attend to the sick puppy. So, Otis goes down without a fight and our technician begins his dental. She can see right away that he will be loosing some teeth. She scales the teeth to remove all the tartar and makes note of all the loose and broken teeth. Four teeth on the left side will be extracted. Otis is already missing all of his front teeth. The technician is able to remove the teeth that need extracted and moves on to the right side. Three teeth will need to be pulled from this side and are done so fairly easily. Once the teeth are scaled, extracted, polished and sealed, the dog’s face is cleaned from the blood and debris before he is taken off of the anesthetic machine. The technician sits with Otis until he is fully awake.
At the same time, the two technicians are carrying Beau back to his run to wait for him to wake up. The dental area is a mess as the surgery area is, too. Surgeries are done but the morning isn’t finished. It’s now 11:00 A.M. and there is still much to do. The sick puppy arrives at that time. One of the techs checks in the appointment, finding out that she has been showing signs of Parvo, while the remaining techs work on finishing things up in surgery. Charges are put in the computer by one tech, while our tech cleans the surgery table and room, soaks and cleans the instruments, puts together the surgery packs and sterilizes them. The technician helping with the sick puppy leaves the vet in the room with the client to print up an estimate for the cost of treating for Parvo. She takes the paper into the room with her where she stays until roughly 11:35 A.M.
At that time, she emerges from room holding the puppy, with the vet following her and the clients leaving the building. The puppy is staying in the hospital to be treated for Parvo. Two techs work on the puppy, putting in an IV catheter and giving injectible medications. The pup is set up in the isolation ward and the techs finish their work at 12:15 P.M. The vet leaves for lunch and the technicians split up their lunches. While the two techs are at lunch, our tech stays behind, deciding to take the later lunch. During this time, she gives the surgery patients water and litterboxes as well for the cats. Bob hides his face in the corner growling the whole time. Noting that all the patients are doing well, she begins on some other tasks. Each day the techs have a pile of files of patients who have been seen for illnesses. These require a phone call to check on the patient. These are finished at 12:50 P.M. With ten minutes left before she has to clock out for lunch, she fills a couple of prescription refills and helps a client who walked in wanting to purchase dog food. As they were walking out the door, the returning techs were clocking back in. Our tech clocks out and goes to check on Levi. His food has moved but he didn’t eat yet. She sat with him for a few minutes petting and talking to him trying to coax him into eating. She stayed with him for about fifteen minutes before he went back to sleep. As usual on her lunch hour, she runs home to let her own dog out, hurrying to get back in time for afternoon appointments.
At 2:00 P.M. appointments start. The afternoon is full of vaccination appointments, a few itchy dogs, a check eye on a Maltese, a limping cat, and a euthanasia. For the msot part, things ran smoothly. Our technician ended up getting bruised by a large dog who raked his nails down the back of her legs, but otherwise, the pets were fairly well behaved. At 4:30 P.M. the euthanasia appointment shows up and the family is escorted into an exam room. Our technician goes in to find out if they want to be present at the time and what they would like to do with their little dog afterwards. They decide they want to be present and they’d like to have him cremated. With everything prepared, the tech and the vet return to the room to perform the job. It goes well, the dog doesn’t fight and he goes peacefully. The family is of course upset and are left to grieve for as long as they choose.
At 5:00 P.M. one tech starts the evening treatments while the other continue to work on the appointments. Beau requires two technicians to get his treatments done but the remaining treatments consist of Levi and the sick puppy, Chloe who only require one. Bob and Tom’s owners show up to pick them up and take them home. Tom goes willingly into his carrier but Bob wails and cries, ears slicked back and teeth showing. But a trick learned in the field works well. The technician opens the cage door and slides Bob’s carrier in towards him with the carrier door open. He recognizes it’s his carrier and runs into it right away. Bob and Tom head home. Otis’s owner and Buddy’s owner show up at the same time and they are released to go home as well. The last patient walks out of the door at 5:59 P.M. and the techs are busy shutting down equipment, cleaning, and putting the lab samples out for pick up. The receptionist works on shutting down computers, locking up the money, and feeding the friendly fish in the lobby. Everyone clocks out at 6:15 P.M. and heads for home.
A tiring day, but a typical day. Somebdays are busier, some aren’t. Some times the pets are more agressive, and some days they just sit there and let anything be done to them. While our technician never fully knows what a day is going to be like, she does know that at the end of this day she can retire to her own home full of pets needing cared for knowing that even after 11 hours of being on her feet, wrestling cats and dogs, and straining her physical and mental being, she knows she has finished a job well done.