Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Saving Jade

I received a tweet from someone who found me on Twitter asking “If I could, or knew of anyone who could, repair a fractured pelvis in a found kitten?”

OK, this isn’t a request I get everyday (TG). I replied back asking for more information.

Pelvic fractures, (like every other fracture) come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and degrees of difficulty, and patient information is very important also. (Quick mention, almost every question I am asked is in dire need of significantly more information. I had a person call yesterday for an estimate on a dental? I needed a lot more information before I could give her the dollar figure she was in search of. Note to general public; don’t call for an estimate, make an appointment and go over every line item that the surgery requires. There is very rarely a “set price” for anything and every pet and every procedure should be individually customized and charged appropriately).

After a few tweets back and forth, I learned that Jade was a 5 week old kitten who was found in the middle of a very busy highway. The people who found her thought that she had “been thrown from a car.” She had been to a veterinarian already and they had been told that Jade had a fractured pelvis and would need a $3,000 surgery to fix it. The girls lacked the extra cash and  decided to hit the social media to find some help. (I’m still not sure how they found me, other than Twitter, but I was 2 hours away, and not an expert on pelvic fractures. I will take the inquiry for my services as flattery and leave it at that).
This is the highway Jade was found on.

As a matter of course I had a whole slew of questions. The first began with, “Who told you that she needed surgery?” I guessed it wasn’t a surgeon because I don’t know any reputable surgeon who would tackle a pelvic fracture in a 5 week old 1 pound kitten. I am also pretty sure that this feat is physically impossible. There aren’t even bones in a 5 week old kitten. It’s all just soft mushy stuff that eventually turns into bones. You cannot even find a bone plate that is small enough. I was happy to help this kitten but most of what I was hearing didn’t jive with reality.
I asked for the radiographs and told the girls that I would review them and pass them along to my surgeon friends.
But my second question was really the only question that mattered. “How is she doing?”
“Oh! She’s great! She is happy, playing, and eating.” Their tone had changed to a neffervescent jubilant proud parent when they explained how cute she was and how adorable every one of her kitten gesture’s was.

I reminded them that the patient dictates the treatment plan. Not the blood work, x-rays, or opinions of an “expert.”

I asked about the physical exam findings from the veterinarian that Jade had already been to. All the girls could recall was x-rays, pelvic fractures, and surgery. Not much for me to base a decision on.

We agreed that the best plan was to bring Jade to me so I could re-assess her and take more x-rays. It had been about 5 days since the first x-rays and I wanted more views if I was going to try to send them to a surgeon. I also needed to know a few key pieces of information. They included; her ability to ambulate, her nerve function to both feet, and any additional signs of trauma. I also wanted to be sure that she was disease free, (specifically FeLV/FIV). Everything hinged on these questions.

A few days later Jades foster mom drove the 2 ½ hours north, through both the DC and Balt beltways, for me to take a look at her.

As soon as I opened Jade’s carrier she leapt out and ran around the exam room. She was a little black 1 pound bucking bronco! She didn’t hesitate to investigate her surroundings, she just busted out like it was her very own coming out party!

OK, I thought, I could immediately cross almost all of my items off of her "critical information" list. She obviously had full motor function, full nerve function, full strength, and after her mom verified her negative FeLV/FIV test, and  that she was perfect in her ability to eat, drink, urinate, and defecate. I discussed my treatment suggestions.

To summarize I said “She thinks that she is perfectly fine. Listen to her. Don’t decide based on x-rays. She is too little and too comfortable just the way she is to risk an almost impossible surgery. I don’t think that you could even find someone to perform her surgery. IF you do I want to talk to them. She absolutely needs to be spayed at 5 months old, because her pelvis will likely heal crooked, and she may not be able to pass kittens through a crooked pelvic canal. But I think you saved her life, and I think she is one very lucky miraculous kitten. And as the old saying goes “put a kitten with a thousand broken bones in a bag and 2 weeks later they will heal.” (OK, skip the bag part, but the old saying in essence is that kittens and their 9 lives are amazingly resilient creatures, so don’t give up on them without giving them a chance to amaze you).

Over the last few weeks I have gotten many updates on her progress. Sure enough she is doing great and hasn’t skipped a beat!

I hope to see her in another few weeks for her spay. If I do see her (I know it’s a long drive so I won't take it personally if they decline to battle both beltways for me, although I will secretly beg and plead, and do it for free!) I will take x-rays and see just how that mangled pelvis did eventually heal.

Here is Jade’s Facebook page and information.!/HelpSaveJade
Thanks to her foster family and all of those who helped to save her life. The compassion of mankind can be found in the most common of places and I am happy to have played a part in her story. Best of luck to you all, and give her a big kiss from me and the rest of us at JVC.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't Ask Me My Opinion if You Don't Want to Hear It

It is Monday, the last one in June. I am feeling a little forlorn about the idea of being half way done with summer..It is running away from me..

Today had the potential to be a slightly insane day. One of the vets is on vacation at the beach, and another is moving to NC, so we are down 2 vets and it is summer, and it's Monday. The perfect storm seemed to be looming before the doors had even opened.

I got up early, did my usual Monday half-hair-do and make-up combo, gulped a coffee and headed off to tackle the day.

My first surgery for the day was an old Shih Tzu with all of the usual problems of an old Shih Tzu. Crotchety, poor vision (due to chronic KCS which is dry eye due to decreased tear production, dry corneas, and constant chronic infection of the eye), poor coat, pot bellied, bad teeth, and throw into that picture of imperfection; Cushing's disease. She is owned by long term clients, whose mom I adore and whose dad I can't seem to quite understand whether he hates me, hates, animals, or just seems to hate everything in general. Her name is Blossum. (A wonderful name for a slightly pig-like looking low to the ground, snorting grey beast). Unlike most of our other Shih tzu patients, you can pick her up and she won't bite you.
      link to explanation of KCS:
      link to information about Cushing's disease:

With her age and progressive disease accumulation she has developed wart like lesions dispersed all over her body. I see these a whole lot especially in dogs as they age. They resemble warts except most of them are filled with a sebum (we call it cheese-like consistency material) and although they can change in shape and size and grow over time, they are benign masses. A benign mass is something that will not spread to other parts of the body or invade local tissues and cause damage. Essentially I tell my clients that they are "cosmetic defects." We usually monitor them and remove them only when the pet needs another surgery. Because we usually don't risk anesthesia for cosmetics. If they start to grow fast, change shape, or impede the pets ability to function normally, (like gets in the way of something) then we discuss taking them off as a stand alone surgery. For Blossum this meant that the wart-like lesion on her forehead was getting in the way of her upper eyelid. It was also very, very, unsightly, (every girl identifies with this). We scheduled her for the mass to be removed today. I was concerned about her surgery because of her age and other diseases but her family wanted it off in spite of my worries.

Her mom called the clinic at nine am to confess that her husband had fed Blossum by accident at 7 am. I advised that we re-schedule her for next week. I figured she had enough complications not in her favor already.

My first patient of the morning was Browne, a sweet happy 12 year old golden retriever. He came in yesterday for lethargy and inappetance. His owners confessed that he had eaten two Aleve pills that had dropped on the floor on Thursday. Aleve (see my top ten drug toxins) is very very dangerous for pets. (Please never ever feed your pet anything without asking your DVM first, you can call us, and remember better safe than sorry). When I saw him this morning I knew he was in bad shape. He was laying in his cage, reluctant to move, and breathing too hard and too fast. His gums were very pale and I knew immediately that his gastro-intestinal distress had turned into a gastro-intestinal perforation. He essentially had a hole in his stomach and that hole was bleeding into his belly. He was bleeding internally and if we didn't close the hole very soon he would die from internal blood loss. I called his mom to tell him that I was very worried about him and we needed to do an emergency exploratory surgery to close his perforation. Her reply to me was, "shouldn't we just put him down?"

"Umm? No. This is treatable." I wasn't expecting to hear her want for abandon, and I started reeling about what to say next. I told her that I would call her back after I had his blood work results.

A few minutes later the blood work confirmed that he was bleeding. He had a low red blood cell count and life-threateningly low protein levels. He needed an emergency surgery now. I called her back to discuss my thoughts, concerns, and offer my treatment plan.  She asked me "What would you do if he was your dog?"

Without hesitance I replied "I would take a look into his abdomen and close his perforation. This is a treatable problem. As long as his body is strong enough to withstand this surgery."

She replied with, "I don't want to hear that. He's 12 years old, and I am a teacher, I don't get paid in the summer."

I told her that I "couldn't use age as a reason to deny treatment." I shut my mouth, said a little prayer to the gods of medical intervention and waited.

She called her husband and then called me back to tell me that she wanted him put down. She was crying and I was disappointed in her decision, and reeling about how to figure out a way to give him a chance when his owners believed that he is too old to treat any longer. I shut my mouth again, and hung up the phone.

I am trying to learn the lesson the universe seems to be grilling me on. I need to be respectful of others decisions with respect to their pets. I need to have some faith that they care about their pet, and that my assumption that if it costs a nickel or somehow burdens them in any uncomfortable way that they are not simply disposing of their problem on my already heavy, self-doubting, half broken heart. If I give up on mankind I will suffer the fates of the mentally bankrupt insane. I apologized to Browne, told him that I loved him, and that he was a very good boy. I cursed my own existence and walked away.

I went to Mary Jane's cage to change her splint and take out my frustration on a purring kitten. If there is anything that can convince me to not jump off the ledge it is this alone. She did the trick in a half a second. She is a 2 pound tortoise shell lump of affection. She has a broken leg and could care less about it. The leg is a little out of alignment but she stands, stretches, plays, jumps, walks, and is too little to correct in our hands. Actually, I would argue that I wouldn't suggest she be messed with at all regardless of whose hands want to try to fix her. She has normal nerve function and normal use of her leg. It is also healing well from where the broken bone busted through her skin.

She was brought into us 5 days ago from Animal Rescue. She likely had some terrible trauma happen to her, as it takes a great deal of force to separate the bone from its growth plate. Her problems were: First, she had a compound fracture, (this means that the broken end of the bone cut through the skin). Second, a compound fracture adds the problem of an infected wound to be added to your treatment plan. I worry far more about infection in these wounds than I do the bones healing. Third, she is a cat, and I have 6 upstairs that no one seems to want, and they are problem free. Fifth, because of her open wound we cannot cover up the wound by placing the broken leg in a closed splint or cast. Bandaging over an infection will provide that infection with a dark moist closed environment and the infection will in response start reproducing like gang busters and a few days later you have a smelly, sometimes untreatable wound disaster on your hands that now is only treatable by amputating. Lastly, Mary Jane was too little to use any of the normal bone fixation devices on. The smallest bone plate made still is to large for her, and weighs more than she does. She needed to be treated for infection then have her leg fracture addressed.

I have learned that most kittens that have functional and ambulatory lives will heal very very quickly without much human surgical intervention. Provide them with a safe, warm sheltered environment and some basic cheap antibiotics and they will heal like a miracle.

I called Grace at the rescue and told her that I wanted to keep Mary Jane for a few days.

I changed Mary Jane's bandage today as we have done every day since she arrived, and sure enough her wound is almost completely closed. Her bone is starting to heal and she is playing like every other 2 month old kitten does. She is a joy to watch, cuddle, and marvel at. She is a love, and she brought me back to the point of feeling like I am not just trying to convince the world to care.

Sometimes it is just a tiny ounce of intervention that saves a life and reminds you that there is joy in the little miracles.

Mary Jane's tiny Tim brace is made of a half a tongue depressor and two pieces of tape. She needs this for about another 2 weeks. I expect by 4 weeks that her broken bone will be strong enough to not need a support. All I have to do in the interim is NOT fall in love with her.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tips for a Cat Friendly Practice

There has been a great deal of focus on trying to figure out innovative ways to try to convince owners that their indoor cats should be brought to us veterinarians on a yearly basis. The data shows that fewer and fewer cats are being brought into veterinary clinics each year. It is likely a combination of a tightening economy and an overall impression that “indoor” implies “a safer environment and not needing to be vaccinated.” I think that almost every pet health care person understands and admits that the most important part of any pets examination is the discussion that the vet has with the owner and the physical examination. For the normal healthy adult cat it's not the vaccination(s). Yes, in many states a rabies vaccine is required by law, but your cat is probably at a low risk for acquiring rabies, (although it is still possible, and why wouldn’t we vaccinate your pet to protect both them and you?), and "yes," many of us veterinarians vaccinate for the "other cat diseases" on a three year basis, so why do you still need to bring your cat in to us? you ask. Well because at your cat's yearly examination we can discuss things like diet, physical and emotional health, and help you both understand the aging process and how to best protect their health as their body as it ages.
I am a cat owner and I have also had to address the stress involved in capturing, containing, traveling and waiting with my completely stressed out, crying in agony and breaking my heart kitty. I understand, acknowledge, and empathize. So how do I help make my cat clients feel better about a difficult decision to pry their cat out of its nap and come to visit the dreaded vet?
The June 2012 edition of Veterinary Economics has a bunch of "cat-friendly tips" to help make the visit less stressful and the owner feel more welcomed. They included cat -friendly accommodations, cat-friendly waiting areas, "new homes for feline friends," and "5 facility choices that make cat owners feel loved."

The June article has some great tips they are;
1.       “Even if you don’t have separate waiting areas for dogs and cats in your veterinary practice, make it easy for clients to separate themselves so a cat doesn’t suffer the stress of a dog nosing up to its carrier.” Great idea! No home bound kitty, (especially ones that don’t live with dogs and therefore must think that must be horrible flesh eating barking monsters quickly advancing toward their inescapable metal prison) wants to be sniffed by a dog in a foreign smelling, loud, scary hospital. All cats in carriers in a veterinary clinic are petrified. to try to minimize this we try to reduce the  dog exposure time by moving our cat clients into a room ASAP. I also recommend a blanket or towel over your cat’s cage to minimize the nosey dog exposure. Cats tend to feel safer in a small dark place, and it’s quieter. (See No Evil, Hear No Evil).

2.       “Move cats and their owners to an exam room quickly to reduce stress. If you can keep one exam room ‘dog free’ so cats don’t smell dogs in the environment, and treat that room with cat pheromones.” Oops, already said that! I try very hard to stay on time when I am in appointments. An efficient cat exam makes everyone happier. We have three dog exam rooms and 1 cat exam rooms. This allows us to keep the doggy smells out, and the cats on time. it also has minimal hiding spots for the occasional cat on the ceiling fiasco.

3.       “Make sure your practice environment is secure so if a cat gets loose it can’t escape through doors or windows.” I have some kitties that are so wound up and afraid that when the carrier opens they run for any corner or exit. We have had to pull cats off of drapes, and pry off of shelving. If I walk into a room and the cat is already screaming profanities I usually ask the owners to step out do I have one less potential victim to worry about. I have some cats who are soo stressed out that we cannot even begin to examine them. I send them home with the number of our mobile vet. We have had to tear out dry wall to extract a cat that found a tiny hole behind our bookcase and wormed his way into our walls. My husband was not happy to tear down a wall and we have subsequently learned and sealed every other tiny hole or escape access to prevent any more inter office demolition.

4.       “Make it clear to cat owners that you care about cats by making sure that dog pictures don’t outnumber cat pictures in your reception area. You can also post photos of clients’ or staff members’ cats, provide books and magazines about cats, offer a range of cat products, post displays of cat breeds, and hang a bulletin board that displays feline information.” Here’s what we do; we have pets with Santa pictures in the cat room, I have my kitties framed photos up, and we have the cat room painted with cats. We also sell cat nail trimmers and an extensive full line of veterinary feline products. Or you can read my blog and get a really good idea of how important my cats are to me personally. And then there are the 8 cats roaming our clinic looking for that special someone to walk in the door and take them home to love as the incredibly majestic creatures that cats are.

5.       “If you have space in your facility, offer seminars or handouts on topics specific to cats such as life stage needs (from kittens to geriatric cats), dietary recommendations, tips on administering medications, and information about cat friendly boarding facilities. And consider offering kitten kindergarten classes.” Could anything be better that kitten kindergarten classes? Can we finger paint? Sign me up!
Here are some of the items that I would add: use a towel whenever possible. Cats hate slippery cold metal surfaces. And owners like to think of us providing a safe comfortable environment for their pet.
I have also heard some experts suggest “cat only appointment times,” to reduce the noise and anxiety in the clinic when dogs are sharing the same reception, waiting, and examination areas as the cats are. I think that’s a novel idea.
I also think that offering “borrow-able, or affordable (there are cardboard carriers available for a few dollars) to any client coming into the clinic without a carrier or harness. I cannot even quantify how many cats have been lost forever because owners carry their cat into the clinic in their arms, and then lose their grip because something spooks their cat. Restraining and adequately holding a cat for transport is a dangerous proposition. Even the pros don’t take chances. I hold the scruff lightly, support the cat from underneath, shield their face and rush from point A to point B if I have to carry your cat to the treatment area for blood work or care. BUT I would NEVER EVER dream of carrying anyone’s cat outside without a sturdy safe carrier. Please, please, please, err on the side of caution, and don’t make the mistake so many of my clients have made, and use a carrier! Your cat’s life does depend on it.
I also make my cat owners feel loved by providing microchips to ALL of our patients free of charge. Cats are far more likely to be lost than dogs, so we protect them and offer the best assurance of them finding their way home to you by offering micro-chips for free to all patients.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Somedays You are the statue

And somedays you are the pigeon.

Well today I got to be the pigeon!

I got 4 thank you cards from clients and a donation from two girls who saved a tiny kitten and then found me on twitter to see if I could do a fracture repair surgery for her.

Also got to finish work by 4 and had a date night with my husband.

So all in all it was a pretty good Monday.

Gotta check on the neighbors maggot cat tomorrow and pull her drains. More pictures anyone?

Talk to you all tomorrow.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Advice from Our Grief Counselor

Today I am sharing with you a blog that my best friend Linda wrote. She has been my best friend for 7 years, (ever since I moved here after vet school). She owns an antique store in Gatchellville Pa. and lives about 10 minutes away from our home. She has been a dog lover since…well, I think forever. Miniature poodles have always been her favorite because they are small, portable, and she can dress them up. When I first met her she had Mason a ten pound strawberry blond curly haired bouncing boy. He had a vertical leap that allowed him to launch his tiny body straight up and into your arms. She and her husband Carroll now have two white miniature poodles, Banjo and Noodle. Banjo was rescued from our clinic because he had chronic skin infections and his owners no longer had the ability to treat him. As soon as I saw him I knew that he would be the perfect companion for Noodle. The two have been inseparable buddies since Day 2. (It usually takes a bit of time for the resident pup to accept a new pup. I was actually surprised it didn’t take Noodle longer. He is a little spoiled,,and sometimes the Prima Donnas don’t take to change so willingly).

Carroll and the pups, in matching outfits, of course.

The pups matching haircuts.

Noodle and Banjo on their porch.

Linda and her pups.

Linda, in addition to running her own antique store and spoiling her two poodles also provides another service, she is our grief support person.
Easter lunch greeting.

Linda and Carroll's store.

Here is another blog from Linda about grief.
     What do we say to people who have lost a pet?  Sometimes when we don’t know what to say, we say nothing.  We figure it’s better to say nothing than commit some sort of faux pas and instead say the wrong thing.
     Over the past six months every week or so, sometimes every few days, sometimes a few times a day, I will get a call from Mary Ellen at Jarrettsville Vet Center to tell me that “One of our pets has died. Can you give his parents a call and see how they are doing?”
     To me, this is a service that all veterinary practices should offer, but I don’t think they do.  It makes sense though. The practice follows a pet through all of the years of his life, and then, what?  Nothing?
     I always have to repeat to the grieving parents that I am not trained in grief counseling, but by now, I feel like I have a bit of experience.  I have immersed myself in every book on pet grief that Amazon has to offer. 
 And I feel like I talk about it now non-stop, (a great way to put a damper on any dinner party by the way this is why I am no longer invited anywhere, I guess).
     But I have had pets and I have lost them.
     I’ve learned a lot in the past few months. One thing I learned is that people-friends, spouses, teachers, neighbors-just don’t know what to say, so they do what is comfortable and they stay away.  Unfortunately a lot of people go through this grief alone.
     But it’s easy to say the right things...easy.

     When I started, I was nervous, just as any of you might be when faced with the task of cheering up someone who has been through a death.  I had notes in front of me...what advice I could offer? How could I help? How could I cheer them up?  Well, I was all wrong and lucky for me I caught on fast.
Forget about all of that nonsense.
      The people who are going through this type of loss are not going to feel better, not for a while.  They are not going to cheer up-not today, not tonight, not until they are finished with whatever grieving process they need to go through.
     People in grief do not want to be cheered up in my opinion, to be cheery at a time of such loss would minimize the huge effect that their pet had on their life. 
Now, when I make one of my calls (and now there are no notes, no advice sheets, no pad and pencil, much better.) I call and introduce myself and just say,
·         Would you like to talk about it?
·         What are you missing the most right now?
·         What was it that made Spooky (or Peanuts, or Sweet Pea, or Angel) so special???
 And once those questions are asked, the words, sometimes the tears, come flowing out.
     Often people experiencing pet loss don’t think their loss is worthy of too many words.  People have already told them, “Well, at least it wasn’t a real person. It was just a cat.”
The best thing we can do when someone we know has lost a pet is just to pick up the phone and ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”
      Now, I am not talking about people who need professional help.  If you know someone who is not eating, not sleeping, not able to function-certainly, they should be steered towards a professional who can help them find peace with their feelings. 
     But for most of us it really helps to just open up and talk.  It’s something we can all do-for the people we love-but also for a lonely neighbor who we suspect might not have anyone to talk to.
     So easy-“Would you like to talk about it?”
In closing, this is a picture of my own angel, Mason, who died six years ago. I still miss him, of course but now whenever I think of him, I have a big smile on my face.
Mason, when he was a puppy.

There are many books that deal with the subject of grieving the loss of a pet. 
Some of my favorites (and all are available on as well as other sites):
·         The Loss of a Pet by Wallace Sife
·         Goodbye, Friend by Gary Kowalski
·         Pet Loss by Herbert Nieburg and Arlene Fischer
·         When Your Pet Dies by Alan Wolfert

Two books that specifically deal with children’s feelings are:
·         Children and Pet Loss by Marty Tousley-an advice book for parents of children.
·         Remembering Candy by Rob Van der Gulik.  This book is an illustrated children’s book, geared specifically to small kids, written by the author along with his two children.  At the end of the story, there are two pages with questions and advice for children experiencing loss. This is the book that I would read to my own grandchildren if they lost one of their pets.

My favorite book on pet loss is called
·         Going Home...Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz.  Mr. Katz is a writer, farmer, cattle breeder, and dog lover who has written many best sellers about life with dogs including Soul of a Dog, Dog Days, A Good Dog, and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm.
Going Home is his personal tale of coming to terms with the grief following the loss of his dogs over many years. Most poignant to me was his guilt and grief over putting down his dog, Orson, who was healthy, but aggressive-he had bitten three people.
He writes about giving a dog whose time is coming to an end, “a perfect day” filled with love, special treats, and special activities, and letting the dog’s friends come to say good bye before the end.  He also writes about the importance of preparing for a dog’s death in advance, (when that is possible...sometimes it isn’t, of course).  He suggests having a plan for that day and week, making sure you have companionship either at the death or shortly after, having a grave dug in advance, if that is your choice, and a ceremony to mark the date. His writing is both practical and poetic…very helpful.
Banjo guarding the window.

On duty.

We all have matching outfits!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pigs Feet on the Agenda, My advice on how to trim your pot-bellied pigs feet.

It is a perfect June summer day. The sky is bright blue and a few rounded rotund clouds slowly speckle the sky. The breeze is calm, gentle and refreshing. The thermometer reads 78 degrees and hasn’t budged a bit in 5 hours.
We went to bed last night with a plan for the following day at home. It is our normal scheduling for the day ahead of us events. That way we can monitor each other’s progress and provide a gentle reminder should one of us stray from the “have to get done” list. I have been planning today’s events for about 8 months. I am a nervous jittery mess the night before, and the whole morning of….Pig feet trimming time. Today is the day!
I have had a pet pot bellied pig for about 20 years now.
My first pig, “Miss Piggy,” (of course) was a rescue. She was about 150 pounds, solid black, and sweet, gentle, and affectionate. I loved her immensely. I always told anyone who ever asked about why I would have a pig that she is the easiest pet you could ever ask for. I trusted her around everyone and everything. Sadly she died about 4 years ago from old, old age at 17 years old.
After her death I rescued Strawberry. She was grown in a lab at Johns Hopkins heart center to be a heart valve donor for a research program. She was spared because the study ended before she was needed. She came to our house to replace my departed Miss Pig. Strawberry came with a long list of desirable pet traits like, “begs, sits, rolls over, answers to commands, and is affectionate.” In reality she is obstinate, short-tempered, aggressive, obnoxious, demanding, and aloof. But she is my responsibility and we have come to the place where we understand each other for what we are. She doesn’t want to hate me, and she tolerates me far better than anyone else, but I don’t trust that little white torpedo at all.

This morning was the dreaded foot trimming day. I have spent countless hours planning this event. I have researched and organized every possible piece of information, advice and available tool to make this task as quick, safe, and painless as possible.
With the help of VIN (Veterinary Information Network) I gathered the consensus of advice that was posted on “PBP (pot belly pig) anesthesia.” (It is a very short advice section full of lots of things like “good luck,” and sarcasm).
There are many things that have to come into alignment for a pig trimming to take place. The weather has to be perfect for at least two days. I had to make sure that the day we chose to trim her toes was sunny and cool and going to stay that way for at least 48 hours. I also had to make sure it was a Saturday on a week end that we could be home all day, and into Sunday, if needed. This is because pigs tend to get hyperthermia and I don’t want Strawberry to be down too long on a hot day. I also don’t want her outside passed out from drugs on a rainy day and drowned. And we can’t get her feet trimmed in the blazing sun either. I learned the hard way to provide at least 48 hours, because on the first nail trimming exercise Ms. Piggy had to be re-dosed 4 times and she slept for 4 days. I spent 4 days checking her every 3 hours, and dragging her lifeless body from one shady spot to another.
The VIN research I found had a few suggestions for sedation. I read them all and decided to go with the consensus of a nice cocktail of analgesia and sedation to include torbugesic, ketamine, and xylazine.

My VIN notes.
Now mind you I have done this at least 5 times before. It has never gone seamlessly. Actually it has never gone easily either. But no pigs have died and no human ended up in the ER, so it didn’t go awful either.
Here are some of the problems I seem to always have wrt pig anesthesia.
1.       I can NEVER estimate pig weight accurately. I have gotten somewhat proficient at dogs and cats, but that’s only because I do it every day and I have a scale to tell me how far off my guess is. I have never weighed a pig on a scale. Who has?

2.       I seem to never be able to find a needle long enough to actually get the paltry dose of sedation into the muscle of the pig. VIN says “I hit the ham.” Except I don’t know where the ham is? Is that an anatomical muscle group I missed in lab? Is that short for hamstring? Do you know how small that is in a pot belly? How the heck do I get that needle into a rapidly moving, sharp-tusked pig? So I go for the epaxial muscle (along the spine) and bury the needle (1-1/2” long) to the hub, let go, (because she has run away by this point), and catch up to her to push the plunger of the syringe. Therefore delivering the dose of sedation, 1-1/2 inches into whatever lies there. (Based on my inability to ever get sleeping resting static pig I suppose this is still fat).

3.       I never have a farm hand on hand. Which leaves me and my protective, “Get out of the way, I’ll do it!” husband. He is trying to protect me, but really he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I ignore him, which turns into a heated discussion in the pig pen. While we are arguing a punctured pissed off pig circles around us looking for any means of escape. (This is exactly why vets hire technicians and don’t use spouses).

4.       “No,” I didn’t have an extra hand to catch all of this on video, and “Yes,” it would make a hilarious video. Moving back to tusk (bad pun) at hand.

5.       As the sedation clock ticks into the 45 minutes and still the pig paces, my husband gets impatient and tries to schedule the “now eating into my time” foot trimming into his day and I am forced to give replies that sound something like, “Well honey, in dogs it takes 15 minutes for them to get sleepy,” or, “No honey, I didn’t expect this to take four dosing’s and have her still walking. I am not a PBP expert. I do not do this for a living.” (This is why I stress about this task). Not only is the pig not an ideal patient but my farm hand is calling “mutiny” and bailing ship.

After four injections of sedation she was wobbly had her head lowered and eyelids drooping. It had been about an hour and a half since we started to try to sedate her and I was pretty sure this was as good as we were going to get.
I always write medical notes to myself.
Todays listed how much I gave of each drug, and then summarized it all as "barely worked."
Joe looked at me doubtingly and said “Don’t you want to give her 15 more minutes?”
“Nope, we either try now or reschedule.” (God, the thought of making another attempt at perfect weather, timing, and self-psyching was too much? I couldn’t abandon all hope).
I jumped into the pen and cornered her. He followed with his usual valiant “I’ll save the day” heroism.
Let me tell you how strong a pig is. They seem to possess some demonic like supernatural ability to produce unforeseen amounts of brute force, even if sedated. It took both of us to wedge her into a corner and pin her against the fence. It then took 5 minutes to trim her feet. (One of the VIN experts suggests “bruticaine” as his sedation of choice. He explained it as “brute force and ear plugs.” I took part of his advice and made sure we both had our ears plugged before we started our trimming. (Seriously sage advice. Pigs scream, period. Be prepared and don’t let it scare you. But warn your neighbors, they will call the police if you don’t).
Another piece of advice I can offer. If you are silly enough, (and, or you can’t find anyone else silly enough to do this for you) have multiple pairs of clippers on hand. I have found that the best pair I have used are the heavy duty branch trimmers. Make sure the blades are sharp, and pay attention to where the flesh of the foot is, and don’t trim above that. Pig’s feet are not like dog or cat’s nails. They are hooves. They will peel easily if you cut too close. As hard as it is to do when you are wrestling a screaming, fighting, bucking bronco pig, try to cut low and trim from there. They will bleed and hurt if you are too aggressive (a hard tid-bit piece of advice when you are trying to go as fast as you can and to save your own neck from being broken in the process).

It all amounted to 3 hours for 5 minutes worth of vet care (sounds about par for us). Ask any equine vet how long the average horse call takes? It’s about the same. And they leave with a $45 call out bill. (Boy do we vets have a poor estimation of our time value).
I called a lawyer the other day. Guess what he told me in the first 30 seconds we were on the phone? Yep, $100 for 15 minutes. I don’t get paid for my phone calls, and we charge $45 for a call out.
Thankfully, after all of the shenanigans Strawberry has four trimmed feet. They aren’t perfect but we are all still alive. She ended up with a scrape on her nose and bruising to her check. I ended up with what feels like 2 days of Ben-Gay and ibuprofen ahead of me and a cut on my arm and a load of laundry that I am hoping Oxi-Clean can handle.

I also hope this will last two years, (although all the experts say to “do yearly.” Hey experts wanna make a pig call to my house for $45? I’ll provide the drugs, but you better guesstimate her weight, turns out I am not so good at that).

Strawberry gets to have one power nap today. She is asleep in a mound of fresh straw. Her sedation should keep her calm, quiet, and pain free today.
A clean pig house.

My filthy farm hand, toasting himself for saving his wife from certain mauling by porcine.

You know she's going to be fine when she eats her dinner.


My "other" farm hand.
Update; September 2014

The magic of bruticaine works!

It has been years, over two decades of pig wrestling that we have subjected ourselves to in an effort to maintain optimal hoof length on our pigs. Here is what I have learned.

Drugs don't work on pigs unless your plan is to anesthetize them, which wouldn't be prudent for the quarterly frequency that they need attention. I will clarify. They seem to work until you approach or touch your pig and then suddenly they aren't working. So we have abandoned trying.

Here is how I prepare these days;

Here is what we do now;
  1. Block her out of her house. She has no place to hide.
  2. Calmly corner her with a large heavy thick blanket.We use a moving blanket. Hold it open at arms length in front of you edges to the ground. She perceives it as a wall and will allow us to lower it over her once she is cornered. We are slow, quiet, and gentle. If she starts charging it is time to back off. Don't scare, threaten or harass, and don't talk to her. She won't understand you and the whole point is to keep her calm.
  3. Once the blanket is over her my husband kneels on the edge at his feet and wraps it around her. As long as we are slow and gentle she allows us to roll her over. 
  4. Keep her face covered bu tip of her nose exposed. She needs to breathe and pigs are significantly compromised in their ability to breathe on their side or back (worse), so let them breathe and monitor the respiratory rate. If she is not bright pink (blue or purple are very very bad, stop and let her up if she is off-color). Also it is imperative that you not lean on her chest.
  5. We then hold her front and back feet so I can trim them. 
Here is how we restrain her.No more drugs. They didn't ever work well, and the risk of overdosing (death by respiratory or cardiac arrest) isn't worth the benefit. Video on pig capture and restraint here;

We have both gotten much more proficient on how to do this calmly, slowly, safely, and effectively. We used to need ear plugs. Now she gives a few obligatory objection snorts and surrenders.

Start with the worst nails. Use a trimmer that is safe and allows you to make small trims. Ideally, use two cuts per hoof. Do not cut across the hoof. One cut will twist the nail and pull it away from the foot. Think of it like trimming your toe nails. Even with large nail trimmers it is easier to cut a toe nail from the left side to the middle an then the right side to the middle. Thereby removing the nail in two cuts instead of one.

No one gets hurt, everyone remains calm. It actually works.
Lastly, remember that the most dangerous part (really the only dangerous part) of a pig is their mouth. Just keep your eyes on that, and your hands, body and face well clear of it. They are strong but can't injure you seriously unless they bite. They can break your arm, and shred your skin. Tusk trimming in pigs is not for anyone other than a professional! I don't even contemplate doing it without anesthesia or a large animal vet with experience.
If you have any questions about this you can find me on I am happy to answer any pot bellied pig questions. Or, any other pet or animal questions. Pawbly is free and open to everyone.

You can also find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, in Harford County, Maryland. Or find me on Twitter, @FreePetAdvice.