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It's not just a jab- an article about health checks at vaccination.

This is an incident that happened to me several years ago when I had been qualified about 18 months. I was talking to my boyfriend recently who is also a vet and we were discussing the rigours of working in a very busy practice and how stressful it can be.

He had been telling me how they had seen a case from another practice because the clients were unhappy with how quickly they had been shuffled in and out of the door. The fact is that we do have a very stressful job and often have to see many people in a very short space of time. It only takes a couple of complicated cases to put you behind by half and hour. We are always conscious of not making people wait if at all possible and you can easily end up trying to do routine things very quickly to make up time.

This whole discussion reminded me of this particular case when I had been extremely busy and feeling like it was all getting a bit too much. The reason I will never forget the case is because it was such a stark reminder that we can never afford to try and cut corners. Hopefully you will read this and may forgive us sometimes if we are running a little late!

It was an evening surgery and I was overbooked as was often the case in this particular practice. The waiting room was heaving at the seams and there was an air of understandable annoyance growing among the clients. I was relived to see that my next patient was in for his annual vaccination. This should be a quick job and a relative ‘no- brainer’. I saw the opportunity to make up a few precious moments.

Whenever an animal comes in for its vaccination I always give it a full clinical examination, as I would hope your vet does too. This is because it is unwise to vaccinate an animal that is unwell. The other reason is that for many animals we do not see them from one year to the next and vaccination time is a good opportunity to make sure the owner is happy and there is nothing that they may not have noticed as a lay person.

The dog in question was a slightly rotund Collie cross with a long, shaggy coat. His owner had no problems and the dog seemed in good health. He thought he was slowing down a bit but put that down to his age and his weight.

I got his jab all ready while I was stalking to his owner and then started my examination. I had a quick look at his eyes, colour, teeth and had a feel of the lymph nodes under his jaw and neck. Everything looked fine and I was desperately keen to get on and reduce my time deficit.

The thing is I clearly remember thinking to myself that I really should be thorough and have a good feel of his abdomen and finish my examination. I had a mental conversation with myself and to this day I am so glad I did.

As soon as I felt his abdomen it became abundantly clear that all was not well. Quite incredibly this lovely, healthy- looking dog had a mass in his belly that was literally the size of a small football. At first I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. I had a good feel around and there was no getting away from it. I told his owner what I could feel. With his apparent lack of symptoms and the area and size of the lump the most likely thing was a tumour in his spleen. I advised surgery as soon as possible and we had him in the next day and my suspicions were confirmed.

The spleen is an organ that is useful for fighting infection and for storing red blood cells but it is an organ that, luckily, we can do without if need be. We had already x-rayed Ricky’s chest to see if there was any obvious sign of spread and there was not. At the time of the surgery I had a good look round his abdomen before removing the offending organ to make sure there was nothing else obviously wrong. It seemed, miraculously, that we had caught a well- contained tumour in the nick of time.

Removing the spleen can be quite time- consuming but is a fairly straight forward surgery most of the time. In Ricky’s case as with some of these it was the sheer size of the thing that caused the biggest problem. There was the logistics of making a hole big enough to get it out and also the weight of the mass needed to be supported by a strong nurse while the numerous blood vessels were tied off.

After about an hour of surgery and some aggressive fluid therapy to replace the blood volume he had lost in his spleen, Ricky was allowed home. It had all been a massive shock to his owner and, I suppose, to Ricky himself. Splenic tumours can cause little problems if they do not spread and grow slowly but equally they can be very aggressive and because they are in a blood- filled organ they are prone to sudden bleeds that can be very rapidly fatal.

I left the practice about a year later and Ricky was still doing fine and had found a new lease of life. I’m sure the instant relief of not hauling 2 kilos of tumour around all the time but have been nice.

The fact is that Ricky taught me a very valuable lesson. I would never have forgiven myself if I had not spent those extra two minutes doing my job properly and had been presented with a dead dog the following week. I think it also highlights another valuable thing- for all of you out there who are unsure about vaccinations and those of you who may have decided to give them a miss- for goodness’ sake simply have your dog examined every year anyway because it might just save his life.

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