Julian Norton: Kennel problems in need of attention

Labrador puppy Lexi.
Labrador puppy Lexi.
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This week, much of our time at Skeldale has been devoted to dealing with the problems of two little black creatures, each residing at opposite ends of the hospital part of our kennels.

One of these creatures was a ten-week-old black kitten, who was very cute and very constipated. The other was a little black labrador puppy called Lexi. She was also ten weeks old and also very cute but suffering from the opposite problem – chronic diarrhoea.

Lexi had been in with us for a few days. She was unconcerned by her condition, and jumped about and played with anyone who went to see her, but the diarrhoea was persistent, and she was on a drip and various medications, whilst we awaited results from the lab (‘lab’ as in ‘laboratory’, not as in ‘labrador’ that is. The joke about ‘lab’ tests wears thin after just a few weeks of being a vet. The joke about ‘cat’ scans remains funny for a bit longer).

The kitten, who didn’t have a name other than ‘Kitten’, did not need any cat scans, though. The nature of her problem was clear by the roundness of her abdomen and fact that the litter tray had been empty several days. Her worried owners had brought her in for treatment. Palpation of her abdomen identified rock-like faeces impacted in the large intestines.

This is a common problem for young kittens and it needs to be rectified promptly. If the bowel wall gets very distended, it can be damaged beyond repair and lead to lifelong problems. The large intestine’s role is to absorb water from the faeces, so if the wall becomes stretched and unable to contract properly, transit time is too slow and too much water is absorbed, making the faeces increasingly solid and compounding the problem.

The solution was to give the little kitten an anaesthetic so we could administer an enema of warm, soapy water, through a rubber tube. The plan was gently to break down the concrete-like mass of faeces and remove the blockage.

The addition of various lubricants can also help and every vet has a favourite combination of laxatives for this purpose. The task of unblocking a constipated cat is one that invariably goes to the youngest, most recently qualified vet. In this case, that person was Matt, who set about the job with fortitude.

Whilst it is a messy, smelly and painstaking process, it is also very satisfying, and a crowd of interested onlookers often develops. This was indeed the case this week, as a collection of vets and nurses all gathered to offer their favourite tips for removing the faeces.

After more than half an hour of inserting fluid into the back end of the little kitten, at least some of the impaction was coming away, and what was left in the colon was considerably softer. After the anaesthetic had worn off, ‘Kitten’ clambered into her litter tray and, with legs akimbo and through half closed eyes, set about sorting out her problem once and for all.

At the opposite end of the kennels, there was cause for celebration for the entirely opposite reason. At last, after nearly a week, Lexi had produced something solid! Ironically, her fluids had been going in through a tube at the opposite end of her body – the vein in her left front leg – to improve her hydration status.

Both little, black and very cute youngsters were heading in the right direction, at last – one becoming softer and the other one firming up. It’s a funny old job, being a vet.

Julian’s book, Horses, Heifers & Hairy Pigs: The Life of a Yorkshire Vet, is on sale now.