A Yorkshire Terrier that doesn't know the rules, dressing gowns and fluffy slippers in TV vet Julian Norton's surgery
But animals rarely follow the rule book.
Mercedes, the little Yorkshire terrier, was not even aware of the existence of a rule book. I had palpated her abdomen and then scanned it with the ultrasound machine, five weeks earlier.
“There’s a few in there, I’m sure of that,” proclaimed her owner who, for the sake of anonymity and for the purposes of this story, shall be called Margaret.
“Well, I can feel and see at least three,” I confirmed, suspecting that there was at least one more puppy than that inside the pregnant bitch.
Over my time in practice, I’ve learnt that it is a dangerous game to predict the exact number of puppies. There’s often at least one tucked away under the rib cage, impossible to feel or see. And good as the ultrasound machine is, it can only pick up a few foetuses on the screen at any one time, so it’s not easy to tell if a baby has been scanned and counted already.
There was much excitement that little Mercedes would be a mum before long. The gestation period of a bitch is nine weeks; sixty-three days. It can fluctuate within a day or so either way but not really any more than that. Horses, by comparison, can have a pregnancy well in excess of the median figure of 340 days, (the range is 315 to 365) which makes it harder to predict the time of birth.
Margaret and her friend (and Anne and I) were therefore taken by surprise this evening and a flurry of text messages flew back and forth, flagging a problem. Mercedes was in labour a whole week early. We arranged to meet at the surgery. I estimated their travel time and the amount of organisation Anne and I would need and was pretty much spot on. Just as we’d got everything ready, the door beeped, signalling that somebody had arrived.
My eyebrows shot up in surprise at the sight of two elderly aged ladies shuffling into the waiting room dressed identically in cream towelling dressing gowns and fluffy slippers. I wondered if there had been a mistake- were they looking for the spa? On closer inspection, I could see that they were weighed down by the little terrier and tackle for keeping newborn pups warm.
Margaret lifted the rotund and straining patient onto the table.
“She’s a fair size and she’s just started pushing,” Margaret explained. I examined the whelping bitch and it was clear the birth canal was open and ready, but sadly, the first pup was presented sideways, making a natural birth impossible. A caesarean section would be required. I explained what would happen next and we whisked Mercedes into theatre. The dressing-gown clad, soon-to-be-parents were left to wait.
“Can you show me where the toilets are? I’ve just had a water tablet,” were Margaret’s parting words.
From here on, everything was routine.
Over the years, I’ve lost count of all the caesarean sections I’ve performed. Across all species, it must be heading towards four figures. I don’t perform the operation every day of course, but one busy Saturday early in my career I did three bitch caesars on one afternoon.
Busy spring days could have a couple of sheep caesars and a cow to do. I’ve even done one on a pig.
As I dealt with Mercedes and Anne revived the babies (there were four, so my “at least three” covered it) and monitored the anaesthetic, we remarked how slick and efficient tonight’s procedure had been. It was successful and uneventful, apart from the disconcerting attire of the owners. I just wish I had a suitable photo to complete the story!