I feel like there is a significant lack of cat and dog jokes around to make into a quirky title for this blog…
After my group finished our equine rotations we needed to switch our brains into ‘smallies’ mode because we had 3 weeks of Emergency and Critical Care (ECC) and Small Animal Medicine rotation ahead of us.
The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room is located in the middle of the university hospital and all the most sick or critical patients get transferred there. Often the team is so busy they don’t leave the room and have no idea whats going on in the other departments! We either worked day shifts or evening shifts–which were the ones I preferred. This meant that after normal day time hours most of the other hospital departments had gone home–so if a patient needed a special procedure or diagnostic test we did it ourselves instead of transferring to another department.
Again, as a student we were meant to take a case and be “in-charge” of the treatment and monitoring of that animal while it was in hospital. If an animal presented to the hospital it was called over the loudspeaker and we went to the reception area to triage the patient and consult with the owners.
The first patient I saw ended up being the most complicated case we had all week! The cat was initially suspected to have hepatopathy (a fancy way of saying liver disease) and renal (kidney) disease. After further treatment and diagnostics we discovered both an intussusception and a gastric foreign body with bi-cavitary effusions, hypothermia, hypovolemia, and hypotension…which is a real fancy way of saying that this cat was very very sick! Each day we had rounds where we could sit outside in the gardens and discuss emergency topics. This patient was a great patient to initiate discussions on identification of shock and management of critically ill patients.
On our next shift we had a blocked cat, which is something I had seen a lot of at my previous job! It is not an un-common problem in male cats. My housemate went to a conference last year and listened to a lecture about sacroiliac blocks (epidurals) for cats during this procedure. We use epidurals quite commonly in cattle but less so in our small animal patients. One night we were lucky enough to have a cadaver cat to practice epidurals on as well as other emergency skills like jugular catheters, tracheotomies, thoracocentesis, and urethral catheterization.
Another evening, there must have been something in the water in Werribee because we had multiple patients present after they feasted on the laundry room products!! One dog ate everything in site—detergent, soap, wine, bleach, smashed glass, etc. One cat ate lily laundry detergent and lilies are particularity toxic to cats!!
In Australia it is quite common to see snake bite cases! The university is currently working on SnakeMap which is this cool project that collects GPS coordinates of where snake bites occur which will help veterinarians manage the cases more efficiently. We had a few patients present to us in different stages of the course of the disease. It was fun being involved in these cases and I will miss them when I practice in Canada one day.
In the true spirit of emergency we had a couple cases which were rushed directly to the ICU room. My group stood back in awe and watched the well-oiled ECC team perform CPR on a ferret who was involved in a dog attack. Within minutes we had experts from the anesthesia team and the exotic specialist vet at the ICU room to assist with the uncommon patient. Another patient in the ICU needed a pericardiocentesis preformed. This is a procedure where the vet will stick a special needle through the body wall into the sac surrounding the heart (without poking the heart) to remove fluid—often blood–which is preventing the patient from breathing and pumping blood around their body properly. This is a really cool technique because it is both diagnostic & therapeutic. This means that by performing a pericardiocentesis we can often get a diagnosis of the disease we are dealing with and we can also TREAT that condition at the same time.
My group then transitioned into the Small Animal Medicine Department for a slower paced and more detailed rotation. We had tutorials on nutrition for cats and dogs and discussed diets required for different medical conditions and how to best formulate that into a treatment management plan. We also talked about antibiotics and prudent use. Lastly, we had a CPR tutorial where we practiced our technique on life-sized stuffed animal patients. We had a ton of fun practicing because we searched up YouTube and played “Stayin’ Alive” on loud to help us keep on time (compressions should be done at a tempo of 120 beats/min)!
I was in charge of another critically ill patient this week that was transferred back and forth from Medicine, ECC, and Surgery. This cat initially presented with blood in his urine. However, he was very anemic as well. Over the course of the week he ended up needing at least 2 blood transfusions. At one point we were considering giving him dog blood (xenotransfusion) because we didn’t have any feline donors. Personally, I didn’t know that you could even do that without an animal dying and was completely mind blown! The cat continued to get sicker during the week as we tried to figure out an explanation for his many problems. We performed x-rays, ultrasounds, multiple blood tests, and even an exploratory laparotomy (surgery). This cat had a very guarded prognosis and I was amazed and delighted at the end of the week when he was pacing around the ward and meowing at me for more food in his bowl (and not through his stomach tube!).
Wednesday was cardiology day! We shadowed the specialist cardiologist that comes to the university. My group sat in on all his morning appointments to watch echocardiograms (an ultrasound of the heart) and ECGs. I had a patient that had come in earlier in the week for something unrelated and when I did my physical exam I heard an abnormally low heart rate, a few tests later and an appointment booked in with the cardiologist and we had diagnosed her with a serious heart condition requiring surgical implantation of a pacemaker.
And on Thursday we had extra training with the specialist oncologist. She was really lovely and spent some time helping us to better feel lymph nodes in dogs and cats. This is something that I have always struggled to find in normal patients who do not have enlarged nodes. Several of the patients I saw this week were cancer patients in various stages of diagnosis, staging, and treatment. I now have a better understanding of chemotherapy drugs, what to do when you think you may have found cancer in a patient, how to treat and diagnose cancer.
These 3 weeks provided tons of opportunities for reviewing multiple different diseases and we had a lovely time in the hospital!