Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The 6 ickiest things your veterinarian sees

If you think you’ve got it bad, smelling rotting sack lunches in the break-room fridge or putting up with a co-worker’s fetid breath, try spending a day in a veterinarian’s shoes: Being adorned with various body fluids is all in a day’s work for us. But some things are more odious than others, so for the entertainment of the reader with a morbid curiosity and a strong stomach, I present some of the nastier things seen in veterinary practice. Let those with queasy stomachs be forewarned. But if you stick it out to the end, I’ll let you in on a secret!

First, I must genuflect to large-animal veterinarians. Our piddling splatters of excretions and secretions can’t compare to what they endure:  We don’t have to contend with exploding cow stomachs! Large-animal vets are a singularly hardy breed. Nevertheless, we do see some impressively unappetizing things. Here, in no particular order, are my top 6:

1. Abscesses:  There’s a distinctive smell to pus, and it’s not pleasant. And as far as the appearance of the stuff that oozes from an abscess, let’s just say that once you’ve seen it, you’ll never think of strawberry yogurt the same way again.

 2. Rotten teeth and severe gingivitis:  If you open your garbage can on a hot day, that’s the odor of severe periodontal disease. Pus is often visible in the deep pockets under the gums. Sometimes the tartar completely coats the teeth, which makes it impossible for us to know what we’re going to find when we clean them. If the pet owner consents to a dental prophy, it’s not unusual for us to perform more than 15 extractions in a mouth like that. 

3. Proptosed eyeball:  This is a fancy term for an eyeball that has popped out of its socket. Yes, it looks like something in a horror movie! But how could this possibly happen? Some breeds, such as Lhasa apsos and pugs, have very shallow eye sockets and big eyeballs, which makes it easier for their eyes to proptose. I saw a pug a couple of weeks ago whose eyeball popped out when she sneezed! Needless to say, proptosis is an emergency; the sooner the dog is seen, the better the chance of saving her vision.

4. Intestinal foreign bodies:  Cats, but more often dogs, eat strange things. (See this blog post.) If they eat something soft, such as a sock or a dish cloth, the object stews in foul-smelling juice until we surgically extract it from the stomach or intestinal tract. Sometimes we have to pick apart the congealed mass just to be able to identify what it is -- an olfactory assault. 

5. Purulent ear infections:  Purulent = pus. I can smell one of these when I walk into the exam room. The animal’s ear canal is usually red, crusty, and swollen shut. These poor guys are in severe pain. 

6. Maggots:  Yes, dogs and cats can get maggots. They might infest a pet that has an open wound and is kept outdoors, but more often we see them when old or infirm pets lie in urine or feces and aren’t kept clean and dry. When the smell of putrifying flesh permeates the room, we know it’s time to play “find the maggots.” I once saw an ancient Lhasa apso with so many maggots that I could actually hear them squeaking. I still have nightmares about that one. Maggots are life-threatening, and that unfortunate little dog had to be euthanized.

I promised you a secret, and here it is:  As long as there’s no intentional neglect involved (as there was with that dog with the maggots), we vets love this stuff! Yes, it can be offensive, but we’re used to it. We love trading war stories with our colleagues about our unusual and nasty cases -- a sort of gallows humor -- so maybe we’re a bit twisted. But someone has to deal with these cases, and we’re happy to oblige. And we derive a great sense of satisfaction from helping pets that suffer with these afflictions.