What does Christmas make you think of? Presents? Roast turkey? Mulled wine? Games of monopoly that go on far too long? Family arguments? Well, for me and many other vets like me, when I think of Christmas, I think of the above things. But also chocolate and raisin toxicity, pancreatitis, and removing baubles from places they shouldn’t be! So what’s it really like to be a vet over Christmas?

A few years ago, I was asked by a friend who is a teacher “when do you break up for christmas?” 

My response was a snort of laughter  – in the veterinary industry “breaking up for Christmas” is not a thing! Sometimes people who don’t work in veterinary don’t realise that pets continue to get ill and get themselves into mischief every single day of the year. And so we are there for them – every single day of the year!

Luckily for me, this year I will be enjoying Christmas with my family in Ireland, without the constant threat of an on-call phone. But that hasn’t always been the case! In the 11 years since I graduated, I have worked Christmas day 3 times, boxing day twice and new years eve 4 times. When I worked out of hours, I was “on call” which meant I could go home between calls; but had a pager or a work phone on me, ready to respond and go back into work at any time if I were needed. 

There are still some practices who work like this. But the more common scenario these days is that there is a fully staffed emergency clinic that is open 24 hours. So the staff stay there for the duration of their shift. These clinics will be covering several different practices. And they will be very well equipped to deal with any emergency at any time of the day or night. The staff in these clinics have often done extra training in emergency medicine and critical care. So they are best placed to help you with whatever misfortune your pets have got themselves into! Remember that these people are already up and waiting to help you. So please don’t hesitate to call if you are worried at all about your pet. 

I have had some very memorable Christmasses at work

Interesting cases included exploratory surgery for a dog that had eaten a length of tinsel. This causes an effect called a linear foreign body in the guts, which can be very dangerous! And more cases of chocolate or raisin ingestion than I can remember! There was also one memorable boxing day; I spent most of the day looking after a colleagues beloved dog with acute pancreatitis after he had been given some roast dinner leftovers the day before; not all dogs are used to eating high fat foods like us. So when they do it can cause havoc with their digestion! 

My husband is the chef in our house. He has had to be very adaptable at times with last minute changes to dinner timings due to my pager going off! Luckily he has the patience of a saint and completely understands what I do, so it is never a problem. 

My most memorable Christmas veterinary situation was not actually when I was working, but when I ended up being the client! 

We were staying with my in-laws for Christmas, so we were not near my workplace; when my food obsessed and very sneaky boxer, Aoife, managed to snaffle a whole tray of mince pies that had just come out of the oven! It was around 8pm on Christmas Eve. And the pies had been left on the side in the kitchen to cool down. My in-laws didn’t realise just how resourceful my little delinquent could be as they thought the pies were safe up there… But when she sniffed something that she fancied, it took a lot to stop her. So she climbed up onto a nearby chair to access the worktop and scoffed the lot. 

I walked into the kitchen and got that familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. I found her standing in the middle of the kitchen, pleased as punch, with the tray on the ground and not a single crumb of mince pies left! As you may know, raisins, grapes and sultanas are highly toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure. So immediate action was necessary. Kicking myself that we weren’t at home and I couldn’t just take her into work myself, I called the local emergency clinic. They were more than happy to help and we headed straight over there. 

Obviously, the emergency clinic is not where I wanted to be on Christmas Eve night

We actually had plans to meet friends in the pub, but that had to be shelved! However, the staff at the local clinic were so lovely and helpful, that they made it as easy as possible. Obviously it was very embarrassing that I, a vet, had let my dog get into this situation. But it just shows that these things happen to everyone! 

Vetster option 01 (Blog)

Poor Aoife had to have an injection to make her vomit; to get all the toxic raisins and sultanas out of her stomach before they could get to the intestines and be absorbed. Thankfully, because we got her there quick enough, none of the toxins had been absorbed. So she made a full recovery. It took my husband slightly longer to forgive her for ruining his night in the pub. And it took me a lot longer to live it down with my work colleagues!

So if your pet seems unwell or gets their teeth around something they shouldn’t this Christmas – do call for advice, it’s what we’re here for!

That said… here’s wishing all our readers (and our colleagues!) a very merry PEACEFUL Christmas for 2021!

You might also be interested in: