Volunteering at the Equine Hospital

In the 3rd year of the DVM degree there is a volunteer program run at the equine hospital on campus for some students.  I wanted to volunteer to improve my clinical skills with horses and help solidify the concepts we learn in class. My housemate and I are partners and we’ve already had 3 shifts. The shifts usually start at 6pm after our classes end and most of the daytime staff at the hospital have gone home. During our shifts we work with the overnight nurse until about midnight.

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After our first shift! 

Our shift usually starts with physical exams on the horses staying in hospital. On our first shift we reviewed how to do it and then me and my housemate have been on our own. Same principles of examination apply for any animal–start at the nose and end at the tail. We assess the face for symmetry or any swelling, look for any discharge or other facial abnormalities. Moving on to mucus membrane color (looking at the color of a horse’s gums) and then taking out our stethoscopes for a listen. I really enjoy listening to horse hearts because I feel like I can understand and better hear the differences in sounds at different valves in the heart—> horses are easier than cats and dogs because their hearts are larger. Horses have a different gastrointestinal tract (GIT) than cats and dogs (and humans!) and it is usually quite noisy! We always listen to different areas of the gut to make sure normal sounds are heard. My favorite sound (yes, i have a favorite animal GIT sound….) is the ileo-cecal flush. Here is some horse gut sounds for those who are super interested. We also check for the presence of a pulse before eventually taking a rectal temperature. Counting respiratory rate in a horse is fairly easy–we just watch their flank (sides) move in and out with each breath.

Sometimes, certain horses need medications or treatments done. I have been lucky enough to be able to practice giving intravenous (IV) (into the vein) and intramuscular (IM) (into the muscle) injections. I have also practiced re bandaging legs and assessing surgery sites.

Later on in the night we complete ‘walk-bys’ which include walking infront of each horse’s stall and recording notes on what they are doing, how they look, if bandages have fallen off, etc. We also provide food and water.

On one of our shifts there was an extremely sick horse in the hospital. She was on fluids, but still very dehydrated. We took a blood sample to run and analyse.  It was quite exciting to listen to the vet and the nurse talk about what could be going on with this horse and her future treatment plan. We learned a lot about fluids in class this year so seeing it in practice was interesting.

We were also lucky enough to experience a euthanasia during our first shift. There was a couple of 4th year DVM students there who mentioned that they hadn’t seen an equine euthanasias during any of their shifts at the hospital or placements. We discussed how to appropriately check for signs of death in a horse and logistics of equine euthanasia compared to small animal or other livestock.

Another time I entered an isolation stall with the nurse to help treat a horse with a suspected case of Strangles. This was a great learning experience for me as we have talked about Strangles a lot in the last 2 years. As well, it was a great opportunity for me to practice appropriate use/application of personal protective gear (PPE) (safe clothing like gloves, gown, boot covers, etc) and attempting to minimize contamination.

On another shift my friend in 4th year was working on training one of the troublesome teaching horses. I do not have any experience training horses so I had a lot of fun chatting to him and watching his techniques.

I’m really starting to love equine medicine more and more. I can’t wait to see new cases and get a lot more practice on further shifts!

My Placement at an Elk Ranch

As part of the vet program we are required to complete 12 weeks of placements at different animal facilities before the end of our 2nd year. The placements can be at intensive or extensive farms, boarding facilities, zoos, wildlife centers, etc. I was lucky enough to get a plane ticket back home to Canada for my winter break in July. I decided to do some outside farm work while I was home because Albertan summer is so beautiful!!

My absolute favorite Canadian view

My absolute favorite Canadian view

I spent about two weeks working on an elk ranch with about 210 adults (expecting 75 calves at the end of the season). Starting out, I thought I had a decent knowledge about elk from just generally growing up in Canada and spending tons of time in the mountains growing up. Ranching and farming elk is totally different and so interesting! I learned so much from this placement.

 

Elk is commonly used for meat and EVA (elk velvet antler). The ranch I was on was raising elk for EVA which has been used for thousands of years as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.

A lot of people don’t actually know what velveting is… put simply: Velveting is cutting off the antlers at the velvet stage (when they are fuzzy and before they calcify and become hard antlers) and then freezing them in order to retain the blood and useful components before processing. The antlers are then made into pills/capsules or slices which can then be taken or used in teas. EVA is used to treat arthritis pain, enhance immune system, etc. etc. Farms that raise elk for EVA often send the animals for meat as well. During my placement I learned that Canadian produced EVA is in high demand in the international market as well and we are trying to increase our product in both China and Korea.

There has been research conducted on EVA that shows both positive and negative results of the effects. Here is one article which shows that EVA has antioxidative effects and presumed health benefits:

Kim, E., Lee, W., Moon, S., Jeon, Y., Ahn, C., Kim, B., . . . Jeon, B. (2009). FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ACTIVITY BY ESR SPECTROSCOPY AND NEUROPROTECTIVE EFFECT ON H2O2-INDUCED DAMAGE IN PC-12 CELLS OF ENZYMATIC EXTRACTS FROM KOREAN ELK VELVET ANTLER. Journal of Food Biochemistry., 33(6), 895-912. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/46467863?accountid=12372

And here is another article that shows that EVA had no beneficial effect on muscle growth and sports performance:

Syrotuik, D. G., MacFadyen, K. L., Harber, V. J., & Bell, G. J. (2005). Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism., 15(4), 366-385. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/47718499?accountid=12372

I actually really enjoyed my time working on the elk farm and learning about another agriculture industry in Alberta; I hope to work with elk again one day and if I do I’ll be spending more time thumbing through research articles.

During placement I also helped with the moving of elk between fields, rounding up for velveting, and feeding (all on the quad). I was continually surprised how much calmer than cattle the elk appeared to be. I especially noticed this while we were running them through the chute and into the squeeze. An elk squeeze is designed different from a cattle squeeze because elk hold their heads up rather than down (like cows) and so the squeeze must be accommodating to both this and the large antlers they have.

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Towards the end of my time back in Canada I attended part of the 2015 Alberta Elk Expo. The most interesting part for me was helping to score the hard antlers. We measured the length of each tine, the circumference of the beam, assessed the symmetry, identified non-typical tines, and the overall quality of the hard antlers.

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So 2 weeks of placement down and it was great! I’m thinking dairy or pigs next 🙂

P.S.: To my dear Australian friends who I love very much…

 

New Digs!

Easter weekend is finally here! With that, I’m on my autumn break, so I have a bit of time to catch up online. Since I don’t have my best friends or my family here for the holidays I decided to write a post with them in mind. Knowing that my parents and my grandmas are quite curious about where I’m living I decided to fill you in on my apartment….

Hallway to the door

Hallway to the door

Here is the hallway to our front door. On the left you can see the doors into the bedrooms and the bathroom. We are on the 3rd floor of our apartment building.

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This is our kitchen, floor to ceiling window walls lead out to the balcony. We have a small oven with a couple of burners and an apartment sized fridge. Yes, that is my cow cup on the table. No way I was leaving Canada without that! I must drink my daily 6 cups of tea somehow.

Shared bathroom!

Shared bathroom!

The bathroom (yes, I did clean all the rooms before I took these pictures haha). Thank you to everyone who has sent me videos of massive Australian spiders crawling out of toilets, that is now what I think of every time I go in here!

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My place of slumber

My place of slumber

Here is my bedroom, I got the bigger bedroom/closet but the smaller bed. I typically haven’t liked studying in the same place that I sleep, but so far it is working out okay. The decorations on my wall are all pictures of my friends at home 🙂 There’s a little Tim/Wendys, some selfies, some Cano Palma, some animals, a few travel pics, and a lot of great memories!!

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Now this is where the magic happens! My desk, all the studying and the learning! I’m loving my classes and the learning material. Of course I’m excited for more of the practical and hands on work that I will be doing in my final years. But for now, it still feels like a dream every time I look up and think “I’m going to be a doctor.” The classes have not been too hard yet, we have spent quite a lot of time studying the digestive system. I’ve seen some really cool digestive tracts, including a kangaroo! IMG_0126

Lastly, our balcony is one of my favourite spots! It allows us to crack a window and let in fresh air, and on nice days we can sit on our outdoor couch and soak up the sun! Here is our view! It is even more spectacular at night when all the city lights are on and the ferris wheel and Bolte bridge are changing colors!

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That’s it for today! Happy Easter everyone, wish you were here!

Settling in to school

While it was all fun and games in my last post about my animal handling practicums… this week was the first week of real vet school. I started lectures!

Some of the lectures this week focused on teeth and dentition. I haven’t had a lot of previous classes on this subject and therefore found it quite interesting. At home I work in small animal clinic where we do a lot of dental surgeries. Having the background knowledge about animal teeth will be super beneficial when I go back to work. I can’t say that I find dental consults, cases, and surgeries the most interesting part of veterinary medicine but they are quite common!

Other classes covered the skull and associated bones and muscles; we also spent time looking at microscope slides and identifying cells. My favorite parts of the week were when we got to practice some hands on skills with greyhounds and sheep and do a dissection of a dog leg.

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The biggest bonus I have discovered thus far is that Hills (a major pet food company) provides all the vet students with free tea and coffee in our building!! If nothing else, I picked the best school solely for this reason alone 🙂

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Studying in the vet student kitchen area

By this point I have discovered that most things in Australia are ridiculously expensive (except phone plans!). As an attempt to save money and be more active I’ve bought a bike and plan to bike everywhere instead of taking the tram/train/bus. Hopefully I can keep up with this into the Australian winter season (I hear it rains a lot)… I’ll get back to you on that.

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Here I am (squinting in the sun) with my new bike on the driveway up to the vet building.

Cheers!