I have been a practicing veterinarian since 1997, but have been in and around the profession since 1984. I am a general practitioner and see most pet species, from dogs and cats to parrots and snakes. In my job I do everything from routine vaccinations to complex surgeries and difficult medical cases. Becoming a vet takes hard work and dedication but can be very rewarding.
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First, just a clarification. In our business the patients are the animals and the clients are the owners. Possibly a minor semantic, but one that's important when we discuss cases. Yes, I have had clients blame me for bad outcomes, though thankfully not very often. Some people have a hard time understanding that no doctor can be 100% correct 100% of the time, or that there are cases that we simply can't help. Sometimes our initial diagnosis and treatment isn't correct, but that's not uncommon in medicine (not just veterinary). In may illnesses correct diagnosis can be a long process and we can't always get it right on the first try. Diagnosing disease isn't as easy as many people seem to think, especially if the client declines some of the diagnostics we recommend. Have I made mistakes? Sure, I'm only human. And if you have any doctor (human or animal) tell you they have never misdiagnosed a case or chosen the wrong treatment they are lying to you. Such situations are thankfully rare, but do happen.
Personally I work 9am-7pm four days per week, totaling an average of 40-45 hours per week. Currently I don't do after-hours emergencies, but have done that in the past with previous clinics. A vet's hours significantly vary from practice to practice, though there have been trends to move away from the 50-60 hour work weeks of the previous generations and have clients go to local emergency clinics rather than doing their own emergency work. Vets have been increasingly realizing that they deserve a good quality of life outside of work and don't want to be at work 6 days per week.
Honestly this is not my area of expertise, so I don't know much about the subject. I read the article and it does seem like a legitimate concern. Problems like this have happened around the world and can cause serious ecological issues. For example, colonists to Australia brought rabbits as food sources. The rabbits escaped, reproduced, and started decimating the environment. So they started releasing cats to combat the rabbit overpopulation. The cats decided that lizards and other species were better prey, leaving the rabbits alone. Now there are species endangered by predation from cats. Any time a non-native species is released into an ecosystem there is a potential for severe harm. It sounds like that's the situation with these pythons. However, I don't think it will be a significant problem for most people unless they have small pets that are outside unsupervised in areas where the snakes are "invading".
There definitely are pets that a truly specialized vet needs to work on, though most of these are going to be zoo animals such as primates, camels, and so on. The truly uncommon exotic pets are the ones you can't find in typical pet stores, and therefore there isn't much opportunity for learning their behaviors, diseases, and physiology. But a lot of it comes down to personal training. I have a vet friend who has never become board-certified in exotics but had worked on venomous snakes, Galapagos tortoises, and alligators. He has done a lot of personal research and learning to become skilled with these species, all of which I wouldn't feel at all comfortable working with. Personally I also draw the line at invertebrates, which I don't like and don't have the skills for. Thankfully most clients with exotic pets call first to find out if we'll treat, so I haven't had any big surprises.
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Wow, that's a really tough one because so many have affected me over the years. One that sticks clearly in my mind was from before vet school and was one of my motivations for becoming a vet. As a teenager I worked for a local vet. One time a small black kitten came in after having been abandoned outside. She had a horrible wound near her anus that had maggots crawling through it. She was a tough little girl and seemed to have a strong will, so I named her Cleopatra. Unfortunately will wasn't sufficient and she got worse as infection spread and had to be euthanized. That was over 20 years ago and I still remember her clearly. More recently I had a dog who swallowed part of a cloth toy and I had to go into his stomach and intestines to remove it. The surgery went well and he seemed in good condition immediately afterwards, but over the next few days he developed serious complications and had to be euthanized. That one was hard because I expected him to make a full recovery. I've been practicing 15 years and on average euthanize at least 3-4 patients per month, though at times I've done that many in a day. Thankfully I don't have patients die due to illness as often. But it's hard to think of one specific case over that time. Though I think the absolute worst was my own family dog, a lab named Guinevere that we had to euthanize two years ago. She was only 5 and developed lymphoma in the brain, so there was nothing that we could do. Even as a vet we still have to treat our own patients, and those are the hardest cases of all.
That's a great question. It really depends on the situation because often the children are young enough that we can't leave them alone to have a private talk. The older children will often suspect something if I ask to speak to the parents without them around. Thankfully, most parents are astute enough to suspect a possible euthanasia either before they come in or early in our conversation. I do try to be aware of the children and not give incredibly grim news right away. I have children of my own who have gone through their own pets being euthanized, so I'm sympathetic to how difficult this can be. If the case is bad, I try to say things in such a way that the adult will start getting the idea and can decide how to talk to their children. Then I'll offer to leave while the parent and child discuss what is going to happen. This is always a delicate situation and there's no set answer. Each case is a little different and you have to develop the skills of discussing such things with tact and aplomb.
In most cases of euthanasia we use a special solution containing pentobarbital. This is given as an IV solution, though in very small pets with veins that are difficult to access we might give it in the abdominal space or directly into the heart. This solution is standardized and almost no other methods are used. The chemical causes rapid deep sedation and then ceases brain and heart activity. In essence we are overdosing them on anesthesia. This chemical is used across all species. However, in animals going into the food supply we can't use it because it will end up in the meat and could be highly dangerous to anyone anything eating it.
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