Early identification and quick action saves bull

Saturday mornings can be the time of the week when our vets see their most varied workload.

Farm and equine vets get the opportunity to pull on their consulting tops and see some routine cat and dog cases at our branch surgeries.

Farm vets might see a horse for the equine vets and viceversa.

But we’re always careful to make sure that we’ve got plenty of specialists on the rota for each sector.

Four dedicated small animal vets covering the particular needs of our dog and cat patients.

Another two equine vets servicing our horse patients and three or four vets dealing with the farm calls (five during the busy calving and lambing months).

Our ability to provide specialist veterinary services out-with normal office hours is probably the biggest advantage of working in a practice employing 30 vets.

So it was that a couple of weeks ago, with Jenny scrambled to attend an emergency lambing, I was drafted in to do the Saturday consults at Rothbury.

All was going well until Hazel, on reception, got a call from the Alnwick staff to see if I could attend a bullock with bloat.

Our other farm vets were already busy with calvings and a collapsed cow.

In cattle, bloat occurs when they are unable to belch the gas which is constantly produced from the large fermentation vat which is their stomach.

It can quickly become life-threatening so it was handy that Jenny had finished her lambing, leaving me free to shoot straight off to the stricken

Number 786, as the bullock was christened when he was tagged as a calf, stood in the yard with a belly stretched to the point of bursting and in extreme distress.

Michael and Andrew (owner and stockman) were relying on me to put matters right.

The immediate priority was to deflate the poor animal but my attempts to pass a flexible tube into his stomach failed at the first barrier.

786 refused to open his mouth. Gradually the cogs in this vet’s brain turned and I realised that, actually, he wasn’t being awkward – he was physically unable to open his mouth. He had lockjaw.

It was time to deploy plan B. A life-saving safety valve was applied by way of a corkscrew cannula, surgically inserted directly into 786’s stomach through his flank.

Lockjaw is the layman’s name for tetanus, a normally fatal disease, caused by Clostridium tetani.

It comes from a family of bacteria, many of which are capable of causing rapidly fatal diseases.

So, rapid and intensive treatment must be the order of the day to have any chance of success.

High levels of soluble penicillin and tetanus antitoxin were collected from our branch surgeries.

Michael realised the substantial cost of the drugs but despite a less than 50:50 chance of surviving was keen to give him that chance.

For the next five days, life hung by a thread as his paralysed jaws struggled to take in enough food to sustain him.

But after that he made a little progress every day. Andrew’s quiet and careful approach to administering his treatments meant that 786 came to trust him.

Last week I removed his cannula and he’s out in the paddock enjoying some tasty spring grass.

That outcome would never have been possible without the teamwork of Andrew, Michael and Alnorthumbria Vets’ emergency team.

If that problem had not been identified early by Andrew’s father, attended immediately by our emergency service and had the treatment not been so enthusiastically agreed by Michael and administered by Andrew, 786 would not be with us today.

A delay of even an hour or two would have allowed the symptoms to advance beyond where successful treatment was impossible.

This is just the kind of success which makes the efforts of the vets and our farmers so satisfying.