Julian Norton: A new remedy for an old problem

The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton, from Skeldale Veterinary Centre, pictured with his three year old Jack Russell, called Emmy. Picture by James Hardisty.
The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton, from Skeldale Veterinary Centre, pictured with his three year old Jack Russell, called Emmy. Picture by James Hardisty.
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Dave, the yellow Labrador, limped into my consulting room one afternoon this week. His problem was clear to see, since he couldn’t put his right front foot to the ground.

“He’s been lame since last weekend and I’ve had a good look,” explained his owner. “I’ve squeezed his feet and I can’t find anything wrong so I thought it was time to bring him to see you, Julian.”

Julian takes a closer look to remove a thorn from Dave the Labradors paw.

Julian takes a closer look to remove a thorn from Dave the Labradors paw.

I love treating a dog with a human’s name! I examined Dave on the floor - he was too big to lift onto the table. Since our patients can’t tell us which bit hurts, we have to work it out by palpating, squeezing and prodding until there is some sort of reaction. As I felt each pad and probed between Dave’s toes, I found a painful, firm swelling in one of the spaces. This warranted further exploration under general anaesthetic.

Half an hour later, I had finished afternoon surgery and Dave was asleep in the operating theatre. I cut over the painful knobble on his foot. There was nothing obvious at first, but after some time exploring, the most satisfying thing happened. A black thorn, almost a centimetre long, shot out of the incision I’d made. After a couple of sutures and a bandage, Dave recovered uneventfully in his kennel. It was a painful problem, but one with a simple cure and Dave was soon reunited with his owner. He was also called Dave.

Later that evening, my phone ‘ping-ed’ with a text message from a colleague,

“Have you any experience of using Red Bull in the treatment of twin lamb in ewes?”

It was a painful problem, but one with a simple cure and Dave was soon reunited with his owner.

Julian Norton, aka The Yorkshire Vet

It was not a question I was expecting. I wasn’t on duty, but I didn’t mind being disturbed. I was intrigued by the new treatment.

“I haven’t, but it sounds an interesting idea!” I typed back.

‘Twin Lamb Disease’ is a condition seen in sheep in the later stages of pregnancy. The lambs grow rapidly in the last few days before being born, quickly using up all the readily available energy supplies. This energy demand is greater if there is more than one lamb - hence the name ‘Twin Lamb Disease’. The energy deficiency leads the body to try to use its fat reserves. This is fine up to a point and most ewes can cope with it. However, thin sheep that are inadequately nourished, excessively fat sheep, which have a poor appetite or sheep with bad teeth that stop them from eating effectively are all at risk. Equally, if late snow covers the fells and the pregnant ewes cannot graze, they can succumb to the disease. In these cases, the fat supplies are relied upon too heavily, and this results in a build up of ketones (which are a by product of fat metabolism) in the blood stream of the ewe. These ketones can actually suppress the appetite further, as well as causing all sorts of other problems, including blindness. Not being able to see their food makes it even more difficult for affected sheep and they quickly spiral into decline.

There are various remedies that are effective at treating this problem. Most are based upon the use of energy drinks, so it was easy to see why the farmer, desperate to fix his poorly sheep and save her lambs, would reach for a can of something special. I had, however, never heard of adding caffeine. “How did it work?” I had to ask.

The reply came back, “Well. It didn’t exactly give her wings. It actually gave the sheep explosive diarrhoea...”

Maybe the old remedies are the best after all.

The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 this Tuesday at 8pm.