Snakes, hamsters and a tiny tortoise smuggled from Africa
It never ceases to amaze me the wide array of wonderful animals we get to see as vets.
My first job in the UK was with a practice that specialised in snakes, amongst the more regular pets, and I quickly had to learn how to safely handle and take blood from a python and how to get a grass snake to take medications. This was no mean feat, and it got me over any fear I could have had towards reptiles. They really are remarkable creatures.
I also remember a consultation I had where the client appeared to not have a pet with him at all when I entered the room. I warily asked him what he wanted me to look at and he produced from his pocket a small matchbox. When he opened it I saw the tiniest tortoise I had ever seen. It looked like a matchbox toy, just missing the big key on its back. I couldn’t believe it.
It turned out that this gentleman, in his wisdom, had recently returned from a trip to Africa where he had picked this poor creature up from the wild and put it in his pocket as a keepsake. I was horrified.
One of my favourite ever curious appointments though, was visiting the local Falabella horse farm. Falabella is a breed of miniature horses which grow to about the size of a large dog. The owner had over 30 of these adorable little horses, in all sorts of lovely colours, and they would come running across the fields at full pace when they heard him coming with a bucket. It looked like a magical scene from TheWizard of Oz seeing these munchkin-sized horses with their flowing manes and tails and mini hooves. You couldn’t help but smile.
If you ask most vets which animal they are nervous to examine you might be surprised to find that it’s not the snakes and spiders that give us pause. Many of us feel the icy chill of dread when examining a hamster. I know to you these would seem small, harmless childhood pets, but to vets they are the tiny stuff of nightmares.
Hamsters are nocturnal by nature so when they are woken during the daytime to be examined by the vet, they are already, understandably, in a bad mood. Their small size makes them difficult to hold without feeling like you’re squishing them, and they have disproportionally large teeth, which they are happy to sink into your finger for no reason whatsoever. The problem with this is that vets have a natural reflex when getting bitten by anything to pull their fingers back in a rapid motion. It’s a survival instinct which keeps our fingers out of trouble. This reflex does not serve us well when handling hamsters, which, if we are not very careful, can find themselves quite accidentally flying through the air.
In Bermuda too I’ve seen a range of strange and wonderful pets. We have examined parrots and cockatoos, bluebirds and cardinals, koi carp, chinchilla, mini donkeys, terrapins and turtles to name but a few. It certainly keeps us on our toes and keeps the job interesting. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda