A Kitten’s Tale

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I noticed her sitting in the far corner of the reception area, patiently waiting for the crowd to clear. She was an older lady with white hair. She was short and petite, and well dressed for Sweet Home. She was tanned to a rough brown, and her face and hands showed the wrinkles that came from years of outside work.

My curiosity was getting to me. I stayed up front to see what she was going to want.

“Ma’am, is there something that I can help you with?” I asked.

She approached the counter with slow, measured steps.

“Are you Dr. Larsen?” she asked. “I have heard a lot about you from my friends. I am June. I have a small place up on 43rd. My husband has been gone for several years now. It is just my cats and me now.”

“Yes, I am Dr. Larsen,” I said. “I hope that your friends said good things about me.”

“Oh yes, Doctor, you are well thought of by most people in town,” she said.

“So, what is it that brings you to see us today?” I asked.

“If I had a kitten that needed its tail removed, is that something you could do?” she asked.

“Yes, we do just about anything here,” I said. “What happened to the kittens tail?”

Ignoring my last question, she continued. “And how much would such a procedure cost?”

That depends on how large the kitten is and if the tail problem needs any additional treatment,” I said. “If it is infected, there might be charges to take care of that infection. That is something I could give you a close estimate for when I look at the tail.”

“I mean, if there is nothing wrong with the tail, how much would it cost for a 3 day-old kitten?” she asked.

“You’re asking about docking a kitten’s tail?” I said. “That is not something that is done in most cases.”

“You dock puppies tails,” she said in a matter of fact voice. “There can’t be much difference, most of those pups have no real reason to have their tails docked.”

“You make a good point,” I said. “Some breeds need their tails docked, others it is purely cosmetic, or for some breed standard. If you have ever lived with a Cocker Spaniel in a Western Oregon winter, you would understand why we dock some tails.”

“I don’t see a difference,” June said. “I have a litter of kittens, five of them, that I would like to have their tails docked.”

“I would have to think about that one,” I said. “You are asking me to stretch my ethics a little.”

“Now listen, young man,” June said in a stern voice. I wondered if she had been a school teacher in her day. “There are not many options for these kittens. Placing kittens in homes is difficult these days. All my cats are fixed, but this little mamma cat shows up and has this litter of kittens in my woodshed. I can leave them there and let them grow up wild. They will probably die from distemper next year that way. Or I can find them homes. If a kitten doesn’t have a tail, it is easy to find them a home. I never call them Manx, I just say they don’t tails. My husband used to cut off the tails with his pocket knife. Now I need you to help these poor little kittens find homes.”

“What do you tell folks when they try to breed these kittens, expecting to get kittens without tails?” I ask.

“That only happened once,” June said. “Most people have them fixed like I recommend. That one time, I just said, what do you think I am, some sort of a geneticist. That word shuts up most folks around these parts.”

“You win the argument about the ethics of tail docking,” I said. “I am not comfortable with you deceiving people about what kind of cat they are getting.”

“So you would rather I got the neighbor boy to put them in a gunny sack and drop them in the river?” June said.

“Okay, I will dock the tails for you if you get it scheduled before they are 5 days old,” I said. “But, if any of these kittens end up here for their shots or to be fixed, I will not be a part of your deception. If asked, I will tell the truth.”

“I see, you would rather have them search for a real Manx kitten,” June said. “Half of which will have bowel and rectal problems for their entire life. Many of those will not reach adulthood. My kittens save a lot of little girls a lot of heartaches.”

“Your husband must not have won many arguments,” I said.

June had the kittens in the next morning. The procedure was brief, I prepped the tail, snipped the tails with scissors and closed the wound with a drop of Nexiban surgical adhesive. The kittens were asleep before they left the office.

I didn’t charge June. I felt her intentions were sincere. In those years, I donated a lot of services to the humane society. June was serving in the same capacity. I only hoped that the humane society didn’t get wind of her philosophies. 

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That Last Glass of Milk

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Dad came through the kitchen door with a bucket of milk fresh from the morning’s milking. The kitchen was the center of life in our modest farmhouse. The kitchen was not only the source of food, but it held the wood stove, which was the only source of heat in the house. Mom ruled the family from the kitchen.

All life entered through the kitchen door, the back door to the house. The front door was used only to access the front porch on rare occasions or during the summer when we boys would sleep on the old bed on the front porch.

Mom kept 2 large pans of milk on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator. She would allow the cream to rise to the top 24 hours before skimming the heavy layer of cream off the top of the milk. Living on a Jersey dairy, the raw milk contained about seven percent butterfat. We always had an ample supply of cream. It was used for whipped cream, for topping on desserts, like pies or berries, and any excess was churned into butter.

With three growing boys in the house, plus Mom and Dad and a sister, we would go through at least 2 gallons of milk in a day. We laid down a lot of calcium in our bones. It was rare for anything other than milk to be served at mealtime.

I grew up on raw milk. But that was a different time. In those days, a calf was born on the farm, grew up, and had calves on the same farm. It was a rare event for an outside cow to be brought into the herd. Herds were routinely tested for Brucellosis and TB. In such a closed herd environment where the milking was done by family members, and it was handled properly, the risk to the family from raw milk was very slim.

That is not the case today. Routine testing is no longer done because those diseases are rare. Other organisms are transmitted in raw milk, usually from poor sanitation or handling. Some microorganisms can be present in raw milk coming from undetected mastitis in a cow. 

Closed herds are as rare as the small family farm. When I was growing up, a herd of 50 or 60 milk cows was a large herd. All the cows had names, and I could recognize each cow by her udder. Today, a small herd is 400 or 500 cows, with large herds numbering in the thousands. Milkers are hired regularly, often with a questionable experience base. Diseases in the milking cow may or may not be detected on a timely basis. Raw milk scares me today.

When we got a new load of alfalfa hay, the milk’s flavor would be different or a time. Actually, probably just different, and it would take us a few days to adjust to that change. Then in the winter, when we would switch back to grass hay, there would be another period of adjustment.

When I joined the Army, one of the most surprising things was the variety of beverages offered at mealtime. I always chose to drink milk, not because I didn’t enjoy the other drinks, but because that was what one drank with a meal.

When I went to Korea, things were a little different. The Army shipped milk to Korea as a powder. They had a large plant in Seoul that reconstituted it. Then it was distributed to all the mess facilities in the country.

I almost gagged on my first glass of milk in Korea. The reconstituted milk was terrible. Worse than the milk from the worse truckload of alfalfa at home. But it is hard to change a farm boy’s habits. I gagged the stuff down, and after a few days, my taste was adjusted, and it was fine. I drank milk the entire 13 months I was in Korea. With some of the long hours I was on duty, I also learned to drink coffee. But that was only on duty, never with a meal.

Then comes one of those moments that changes one’s life forever. It happened at the Seattle Airport. Our flight back to the States was a long one. We had 13 hours of flight time and crossed the international dateline. We arrived in Seattle at 10:00 AM on the same day that we had left Korea on at 2:00 PM.

A group of us from the same unit were on the plane. We sat down for breakfast at the Seattle Airport while we waited for our flights back home. I ordered milk. After drinking the Army’s reconstituted milk for 13 months, this real stuff was awful. I couldn’t gag it down. So I had coffee instead.

That inability to handle milk continued through my leave time at home. Then I headed to Germany to finish my enlistment. In Germany, I was stationed in a small town, Schöningen, and lived away from the regular Army installations. I guess there was milk available, but I drank either coffee or beer with my meals.

That last glass of milk at the Seattle airport was the last glass of milk that I ever drank or tried to drink.

Photo Credit: Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels

One Needle Poke Or Another

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Critter was Karen’s problem child. He hated the clinic. And he was almost impossible to control on the exam table without the help of Karen.

Critter was a Sheltie. He was well cared for, and Karen and her family thought the world of him. It helped that he was on the smallish side for a Sheltie, but even the small dogs were difficult to control if they were convinced that you would do them harm.

With both Karen and Ruth struggling to control Critter, I worked through the exam as fast as possible. Getting a worm pill down him was a little like feeding an alligator, all teeth and jaws were snapping. The little plastic pill gun saved my fingers but suffered some fatal bites.  It would have to be retired. Then came the vaccination. There was real fear in Critter’s eyes as he eyed me out of the corner of his eye.

“Make sure that it is Critter that gets the injection,” Karen said. 

“Yes, that would be an unwelcome ending to this ordeal,” Ruth said.

“Let me tell you a little story,” Karen said. “Just to justify my concern.”

Karen was not much larger than Ruth. She was a nurse at the Lebanon hospital. Her short dark hair had a few streaks of gray, but she was probably close to my late 30s.

“I was getting ready to flush a catheter in the hospital one afternoon,” Karen said. “The patient was not as bad as Critter, but he was a little jumpy. Just as I had the needle to the catheter, and he jumped. Not a little jump, he really jumped. The needle and syringe flew into the air. Instinctively, I reached out and caught it. The needle pierced two of my fingers. I was lucky that it was a sterile needle, and not much came of it. Not much except for a hole through two fingers. I think about that every time I flush a catheter now.”

“I have to admit, Karen, that I poke myself every once in a while,” I said. “But, I have never stuck a client.”

With everything completed with Critter, I set him on the floor and watched him dance around, happy as could be. He took a treat from my hand, a completely different dog.

“I was going to see if you guys would clip his nails,” Karen said. “But I think he can only tolerate so much at one time.”

Ruth smiled, “I think he is not the only one who can only tolerate so much at one time.”

“So now, before you go, I have to tell you a real needle story,” I said.

“You probably work with some large needles when you work on those cows and horses,” Karen said. 

“I was working a herd of cattle, doing pregnancy checks, and doing some booster vaccines at the same time. In the 1970s, we commonly used automatic syringes when working a herd. I never liked them and seldom used them, but it allowed me to work a little faster. Pregnancy checking with my left hand in a sleeve and using an automatic syringe in my right. I would work several cows before changing sleeves and refilling the syringe.”

“That sounds like it would be difficult to keep everything clean,” Karen said.

“Yes, I could do three or four cows and then stop to clean up,” I said. “For some reason, I was working by myself, I am not sure I remember why.”

These pistol grip syringes were large, chrome, and glass syringes. The handle allowed you to stick the cow with the needle and pull the trigger to administer the vaccine. The benefit was not having to load a syringe with each dose.

“I was using needles that were one and a half inches long and 16 gauge. That allowed less resistance to the plunger. And I would change needles every time I stopped to clean up. So a needle would be used on three or four cows.”

“I had been working most of the afternoon, and I was probably tiring a little,” I continued. “But as I neared the end of the herd, I tried the hurry along a little. I checked this one big old Brahman cross cow and injected her with my right hand, a subcutaneous injection, behind her right elbow. I turned back toward the table to get ready for the last few cows. As I turned, I sort of let the syringe swing in my hand. When I stepped with my right leg, I buried that 16 gauge needle to the hub into my right thigh.”

“Did you inject yourself?” Karen asked.

“No, I would have really had a problem had that happened,” I said. “It was a clostridial vaccine for subQ use only. As it was, I had one sore leg for a few days.”

“I would guess you made some changes after that,” Karen said.

“I had been looking for an excuse to get rid of those syringes for some time,” I said. “They were becoming a thing of the past with all the single-use products coming into use. That was the last time I used them. And the last time I worked a herd without some help.”

Photo Credit: Photo by Ademola Adebowale from Pexels

Snake Bit in Sweet Home

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I always told folks that if they wanted to get a veterinarian to treat Salmon Disease in the dog, don’t go to Kansas. Likewise, if you’re going to get a veterinarian to treat a snake bite, don’t come to Sweet Home. Actually, I have treated one local snake bite, and it was on a horse.

The call came in the early afternoon on a hot August day of 1977.

“Doc, I have a horse with a large swelling on his chest,” Bob said. “I was wondering if you could come up and get a look at him.”

Bob was a young man, maybe a few years older than me. He was well built, and his skin was deeply tanned. I suspect it was a farmer’s tan. He wore a wide brim hat with a snakeskin band on it.

“Sure, Bob, I can get up this afternoon,” I said. “I will need directions, and maybe a hint as to what you think might have happened.”

“I live on a small place upon the top of Fern Ridge,” Bob said. “It’s on the right side of the road, has a large white house and an old barn, you can’t miss it.”

“And, do you have any idea what happened to the horse?” I asked again.

Bob pointed to the band on his hat. “We have a few of these critters around up there. We see them more this time of the year. They tell me there is an old rock quarry over the hill from us a little way.”

A little later, I pulled onto Bob’s place. He had the horse tied to the fence a short distance up the hill from the barn. I surmised that what Bob was seeing was a large abscess if it was a snake bite. I was not confident that a snake could strike a horse in the chest, however.

Looking at the horse, a large grey gelding named Joe, everything was fine except for the sizeable fluctuant swelling on the right side of his chest, over his pectoral muscles.

I shaved the swelling. There in the middle of the swelling were two deep red fang marks.

“It must be a snake bite, alright,” I said. “I don’t see how a snake could strike this high.”

“I have this road that runs up the hill, and there is a steep bank on one side,” Bob said. “It could easily happen if the snake was on that bank.”

“How many snakes do you see around the place?” I asked.

“Not many, this one,” Bob says as he points to his hatband. “And the one that bit the horse. That’s enough for me. Folks say this is about the only area where they are found around Sweet Home.”

“How did you find that one?” I said, pointing to the hatband.

“I walked into the barn one afternoon, the cat was standing in a corner with a mouse in his mouth. This snake has him cornered in a standoff,” Bob says, pointing to his hatband again. “I ran back to the house and got my 22 pistol and decided the argument in favor of the cat.”

“Some story, that might make a person a little worried about doing anything under the barn,” I said.

“For sure,” Bob said. “What do you think about this bite on the horse?”

“I think this happened a few days ago, maybe more,” I said. “Just a big abscess right now. I will open that, drain the pus and flush the wound. Then give antibiotics and tetanus vaccination, and that should do it. You will need to keep the area clean and sprayed for flies. I will come back in a few days and remove the drain. It should be a piece of cake. If he was a racehorse, I would be a little worried about whether that muscle under this abscess was damaged, but it shouldn’t be a problem. And if it was damaged, there isn’t anything we could do about it.”

So that was about that, I scrubbed up the area. I injected a little Lidocaine before making a sizable hole in the abscess. The pus that drained was really rank smelling, not typical at all. After flushing the wound with Hydrogen Peroxide and followed with Betadine, I sutured a Penrose drain in the opening. I gave a hefty dose of long-acting Penicillin and a tetanus booster. 

After spraying the whole area for flies, Joe was fine until the fly spray but settled right down when it was over. I tossed the can of fly spray to Bob. “Twice a day, the more, the better. I will be back on the third day and check things over and get the drain out. I would expect things to heal fine.”

That was close to the extent of my snake bite experiences in Sweet Home until one evening when a guy comes through the door right at closing time. He has his wife and 5 kids and a hound dog with him.

“We just moved into town a few minutes ago,” Jim says. “We moved from Susanville, California. This hound was snake bit a couple of days before we moved, I was hoping you could get a look at him. He is really swollen.”

So the bite was at least 3 days ago, this was probably going to be a replay of the bite wound on Joe.

Jim lifted Burno onto the exam table. Burno was a large Blue Tick hound. He had more black on him than many Blue Ticks but some black ticking on white on his legs and front shoulders. His exam showed an elevated temperature and a submandibular abscess.

“I was afraid the swelling was going the shut off his airway,” Jim said.

“It is pretty loose, shouldn’t be a problem just yet,” I said as I opened Burno’s mouth and used my finger to explore the back of his mouth and upper airways.

“How do you do that without getting bit?” Jim asked. 

“I keep my thumb on the roof of his mouth with quite a bit of pressure,” I said. “That keeps his mouth open, that and then you have to be quick. His airway is fine. This is just a large abscess at this point in time. I will drain it with local anesthesia, flush it, and place a drain for a few days. That and antibiotics should be all he needs.”

Burno’s treatment was identical to Joe’s except for the tetanus vaccine. Dogs are pretty resistant to tetanus and are not routinely vaccinated.

So now, having treated two cases of snake bites, both multiple days old, I could almost call myself a novice. I have talked to veterinarians in other areas about how they handled snake bites, and there is a wide variety of opinions. Antivenom is expensive, but many veterinary patients survive without it. 

Photo credit: Photo by Alexis Chateau from Pexels

Hot Tub Skin Infection

D. E. Larsen, DVM 

 “Doc, this is Dave, I just brought in an old cow from the back pasture,” Dave said into the phone. “I think she has a dead calf in her. I have been busy, and It has been several days since I checked those cows. I guess I didn’t even suspect this old gal was pregnant. But she is sloughing a lot of fluid and smells pretty bad.”

 “I can up there this afternoon if that works for you,” I said. “Do you have the cow in the barn?”

 Dave had the old cow in the crowding ally when I pulled up to the barn. I enjoyed going to Dave’s place. He had a commanding view of Sweet Home, plus his facilities for working his cows were some of the best around.

 This was a big old Angus cow. I could smell her when I stepped out of the truck. 

 “The way she smells, that calf must have been dead for several days,” I said.

 “It’s been several days since I checked that pasture,” Dave said as he loaded her into the squeeze chute.

 This was one big old cow. Reaching the depths of this old girl’s uterus will be impossible for me. With the volume of fluid she is discharging, and the odor, this was going to be a real mess. After scrubbing her well, I pulled on a plastic OB sleeve on each arm.

 I ran my left arm into the vagina. I ran into a shoulder of the calf lodged into the birth canal. Feeling around, the head is turned back to the right side of the calf. Both front legs are retained. I could feel the hair slipping off the calf while I maneuvered my hand around him while exploring his position.

 When I pulled my arm out, the sleeve was covered with black hair. 

 “Dave, this calf has been dead 5 to 7 days to be losing hair like this,” I said. “This is going to be a mess. I think the best thing for the cow is to do a fetotomy. I always try to do a fetotomy on a dead calf first. I think we see better fertility in the cow following a fetotomy versus a C-section.

 “That sounds good to me,” Dave said. “What do you need from me?”

 “Aw, actually, you are going to have to do a lot of the real work,” I said. “You are going to have to do all the sawing. I will have to position the wire saw and hold the fetatome in position while you do the work.”

 With a fetatome, I could make right angle cuts on the fetus. My first cut would be to remove the head and neck. That should allow me room to bring the front legs into the birth canal. Then t will depend on how much air has accumulated in the abdomen of the calf. 

 Passing a wire around the neck of the calf proves nearly impossible. I finally have to strip down to my waist and go in with a bare arm to drop an OB chain over the top of the neck. 

 “Dave, I need something to stand on,” I said. “This big old cow is a long reach for me.”

Dave brings a big block of wood, an oak round, for me to stand on. Standing higher, I reach as deep as I can, my shoulder is in the vulva now. Finally, I grab the chain on the underside of the neck.

 Tying the OB wire saw to the chain, I can pull the wire around the calf’s neck. Then I thread the wire through the two barrels of the fetatome. This fetatome sort of looks like a cross between a double-barrel shotgun and a trombone. 

 With everything in position, I give Dave a brief lesson on how to run the saw handles. He is a strong young man, this won’t take long.

 “The only thing I want you to remember is my hand is holding the end of the fetatome in position,” I said. “If you hear me holler, you stop. That saw will take a finger off in a single pull.”

 Severing the neck takes less than a minute. I quickly set the fetatome aside and run my arm back in to try to grab the head. The head has slipped into the depths of the uterus.

 I can reach the front legs, but I had to stand on the block of wood to accomplish that feat. With the aid of a little J-Lube, I can pull the calf with little difficulty. 

 Now the only thing is to get the head. Reaching as far as I can into the uterus, I can only just touch the head. I try again and again. There must be another way.

 “When I was in school, the thing that was always stressed was time,” I explained to Dave, as much for my benefit as his. “If you haven’t accomplished what you are trying to do in 20 minutes, you better be doing something else.”

 “So, what else is there at this point?” Dave asked. “Are you going to do a C-section for the head?”

 “That would be like doing a C-section for the last puppy after spending half the night to deliver the first 10 pups,” I said. “I have been there, done that. If worse comes to worst, we might have to do that. But first, we are going to use some tincture of time. I will put a package of tetracycline powder in this uterus and load her up on some antibiotics. I will recheck her in the morning. Hopefully, this uterus will shrink up enough that I can get ahold of the head and pull it out.”

 “You think she will be okay?” Dave asked.

 “I think so,” I said. “The cow is a funny beast, though. This calf has been dead in there for a week, and she is looking pretty good. Then I come and dig around in there, and it knocks a lot of bugs off into her bloodstream. We have to load her up on antibiotics. Otherwise, she will be in a problem in the morning. The biggest risk with this plan is if the uterus closes up too much, and we can’t get the head out. Then it will be like that last puppy.”

 With the cow taken care of, I started washing up. I exhausted my water supply in the truck, and my arm still smelled.

 “Maybe you should come in the house and wash again,” Dave suggested.

 I was quick to take him up on that. I scrubbed and scrubbed on my arm before I felt comfortable putting my shirt back on.

 The next morning, the view from Dave’s place was eerie, Sweet Home was covered with a dense layer fog. Standing beside the barn and looking out over where you knew the town was, and it looked like you were looking out the window a jetliner at 20,000 feet: nothing but a layer of clouds.

 The cow was in the chute, and it was an easy trip. I scrubbed up the old cow and ran an arm in, and there was the head. She probably would have delivered it if I had given her a little more time. Removing it was no problem. I put some more antibiotics into the uterus, and the cow was good to go.

 In most cases, that would be the end of the story. But when I stepped into the shower on Saturday morning, I noticed that I had little pustules at every hair shaft on my left arm. Had I lived by myself, I would have taken antibiotics off the shelf at the clinic. But Sandy would not hear of that, so it’s to the doctor of me.

 On Saturday morning, I have a little trouble convincing Dr. T that I should be looked at today rather than Monday. I think he relented more out of professional courtesy than real concern for my arm.

 Dr. T looked at my left arm carefully. The pustules ran almost to my shoulder. They were small pustules, and there was no real discomfort.

 “If you want my opinion,” I said. I always gave the MDs my opinion. “I think I just need some antibiotics and a few good scrubs.”

 “I can’t figure this out,” Dr. T says. “This arm looks just like someone who was in a real dirty hot tub. But the rest of you looks fine.”

 “Vagina, Doctor, this arm was in a real dirty vagina,” I said.

 Dr. T shook his head, “What you guys go through, I will never understand.”

Photo Credit: Photo by Harry Cunningham @harry.digital from Pexels

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