My Dog Timmy

Michelle's Dog: TimmyThis is my family dog, Timmy.

Every time I visit my parents’ home in Hurst, I can always rely on him to greet me as if I have been gone for a century when it’s really only been a week. It’s definitely cold days like these when I miss his warm dog cuddles and appreciate how my furry companion has improved my life!

Timmy somehow stumbled into my life when I was just 13 years old. A close friend of my family’s had just had a baby and were uncertain about how the puppy would do around a newborn, so they decided to surrender Timmy and offered him to our family. Worried about the time constraints and responsibilities of raising a puppy, my parents, of course, said “No!”

But, somehow, Timmy still managed to get into my duffel bag and made it home with us that same night. It took a lot of dedication and puppy-training classes for Timmy to be the good dog that he is today, but I loved growing up with him and every challenge along the way!

The thing I value the most about raising a dog is that they teach you responsibility and empathy. Caring for Timmy forced me into a position where I had to consider the needs of another living being over my own. Pets, obviously, cannot vocalize their wants and needs, and, therefore, owners must rely on their pet’s nonverbal cues to determine what to do. Growing up with Timmy, I was able to discover the importance of human-animal bond, and his existence in my life solidified my passion to become a veterinarian.

Timmy is now 15 years old and still going strong. He enjoys staying healthy with my parents through their daily walks. He has definitely lived an adventurous life and has managed to put a smile on our faces every step of the way!

Tracking Food Animal

Michelle M.Now that Christmas break has come and gone and we are now back at school this week for spring semester, I am finally in the homestretch of my path of becoming a veterinarian. After my spring semester finals, I will be going straight into my clinical year this May. During our clinical year, each student takes a core set of rotations in both the small and large animal hospitals, since as veterinarians we are licensed to work on all species.

But for the remaining rotations, we get to pick a track that most closely follows what we are interested in doing once we graduate. I want to work primarily with dairy cattle, so before break I chose the food animal track. I will spend several rotations in the Food Animal Department, where they treat food and fiber animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, and even the occasional camel. I then have the opportunity to conduct externships that will give me more experience in my chosen field.

Because I am hoping to get a job as a dairy veterinarian when I graduate, last summer I spent time in the Texas Panhandle working with dairy veterinarians. There, I worked to develop skills in areas such as diagnosing a cow as pregnant, hoof care, drawing blood for testing, and surgical techniques. I also participated in an externship back near my home in Pennsylvania, where I got more dairy and small ruminant experience.

My externships this next year will be across the country so that I hopefully will gain a better idea of how dairy medicine is done throughout the United States.  I will be going to California, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and the Panhandle again to get more experience under different veterinarians.  I’m looking forward to what the next year and a half will hold for me. It’s hard to believe how soon I will be making medical decisions and helping patients, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn!

My Fall as a ‘Veteran’ Pet Trainer

Angelica F.Fall finals are done and out of the way for undergraduates!!

Yay! I survived…barely. Finals take an emotional and physical toll on just about everyone.

But looking back on this semester, I would say the fall was, overall, successful. Throughout this semester, things got a little crazy in my house with my roommate’s two pets, an 11-month-old Great Pyrenees, Toph, and a 7 year-old-cat, Moo, as well as the service dogs I’ve been training that came in and out of the house.

Back in August, I started off with a white Labrador Retriever named Pokey. He got along very well with the other pets, rough housing and keeping Toph company and even bothering, with mutual respect, of course, Moo. Training a service dog during the semester can be difficult; however, what made it harder was my replacement dog for Pokey, who returned to the headquarters of Patriot Paws of Aggieland to learn more advanced training. He may graduate as soon as spring 2018 to a veteran in need.

In his place, I received a white English Golden Retriever named Woodward (or Woody, for short) in late September. Woody was a puppy of 7 months and only knew the command for “sit.” I had a handful in trying to balance training a puppy, keeping up with academics, and continuing my active involvement in my organizations like Pre-Vet Society and as an MSC Hospitality tour guide.

All in all, having to train a service dog, or even deciding to have a pet of one’s own, is a very difficult challenge while in college. It takes a lot of responsibility and time to care for a pet and, perhaps even more so, to train one. My word of advice is to wait before you get a pet and do some research on budgeting both the time and money that will be required to invest in one. If you already have a pet, look up ways to maintain your pet’s health by exercising, training, and feeding them healthy, correctly portioned food.

Best of luck to everyone still finishing exams and have a very Merry Christmas!

Looking Back and Ahead

Sydney M.Wow! This semester has just flown by! It seems like I just started classes again, but, instead, I just completed my finals.

In my last block for the semester, I took two electives, “Clinical Pathology” and “Emergency Medicine.” Clinical pathology is understanding disease processes and how they commonly present themselves using diagnostic tests such as blood work or cytology. Knowing how often veterinarians in practice read bloodwork, I was excited to be able to practice those skills and increase my confidence level before my fourth year. Emergency medicine was great because it helped me create a plan for the worst outcome, in hopes of saving lives. Having a basic idea of what to do in emergency situations helps give you a framework and the confidence to face those challenging cases head on. I have really enjoyed my electives this semester because I love how clinically relevant they are and how much they are preparing me for not only fourth year, but when I am out in a regular, practice setting.

Also during my last block was the Veterinary Job and Externship Fair. The Dean’s Office is great at making sure we are given a ton of opportunities to meet veterinarians and find great places to work for summer jobs, fourth-year externships, or even potential future employment! The fourth year of vet school is the clinical year, which means you work at the Small and Large Animal Hospitals to get tons of on-the-job training from the clinicians who work there full time. However, we are not confined to just one hospital for training; we also do externships for two weeks at a time at other veterinary clinics. I found one externship in New Braunfels, but I need to find another clinic to work during my fourth year, so this job and externship fair was a great way for me to do it.

While I have been able to do some hands-on and exciting things this semester, I still have a lot to look forward to during winter break, not only because I get to see my family and get some much needed rest, but also because I have an elective over the break at a clinic in Seguin, where I will focus on the client-communication aspects of veterinary medicine, as well as hone some basic veterinary skills. A veterinarian will be my mentor and will help me work through cases and put all of my lecture knowledge to good use. This winter break elective counts toward the total amount of elective hours I need to fulfill my veterinary degree, so the veterinarian at the clinic will evaluate my progress and send it back to Texas A&M.

There were so many fun and important things happening at the end of this semester and more that will happen over winter break. I am excited to be a part of it all!

Finals, Coffee, and Bears—Oh my!

Finals week is upon us!

Ali C.There is truly nothing like a finals week in veterinary school, where it seems you learn an entire semester in one night! There is so much to remember and never enough time, so you are forced to learn as much as you can, do your best, and still be satisfied with never knowing all of the information.

Third-year vet students are lucky and only have three finals this year—but they are all worth a LOT of points, so they cannot be taken lightly. The first final exam is in “Large Animal Medicine,” over 29 hours worth of lectures. No pressure, right?! Our second exam is in “Small Animal Medicine” and ranges from placing external fixators on bones to how to tell if a female dog is pregnant. Our third exam is over “Radiology,” and since it is cumulative, we have to study things from all the way back in August.

Finals week and veterinary students are like hibernating bears and winter. We stock up on food and supplies, wear our comfiest clothes, and lock ourselves in our rooms/library for a week straight, only emerging from the cave for refrigerated items and the scheduled cup of coffee at 6 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. Our hair always seems to be disheveled, no matter how much we comb it down. We may be sensitive to sunlight and show signs of aggression. Every now and then a friend or family member will check in to make sure we are still eating and sleeping an acceptable amount.

The end of the semester is when we really appreciate those gift cards for Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A that we get in our stockings every year (hint hint, Santa). While it is OK to cry during finals week, I encourage relieving stress in ways like yoga, running, singing Adele songs unapologetically loud in your car, or studying
outside in your favorite park. Resist your innate hibernating instincts. The good thing about December in Texas is the low temperature is usually around 65 degrees and sunny; you basically have no excuse NOT to go outside. It is also important to find a reliable friend who will share their dog with you; hugging a dog will increase study motivation by 200 percent. I have tested and proven this scientific fact my entire life. You also may want to keep the TV playing in the background while you study to stay minimally connected to the outside world.

One thing I have noticed about vet school is that every finals week seems to get better:

  • First year was the hardest: between anatomy, immunology, and histology, there’s a lot of nuances to learn, and you’ve never done it before—therefore, it is completely intimidating and foreign.
  • Second year gets easier: the material is quicker to master and you also have gained the confidence that “if I survived first year, I can get through anything.”
  • Third year we are barely even phased: we have done this MULTIPLE TIMES before, and there is also the hope lingering in the air that this is the second to last finals weeks we will ever have for the rest of our lives!

It’s amazing that another semester of vet school has flown by so quickly; nevertheless, I do not yet wish for it to slow down. Although we may emerge from our caves on Dec. 8 sleep-deprived and wired on caffeine, we also emerge smarter, more resilient, and one step closer to being the veterinarians we were born to be.

Wish us all good luck!

Terra, the ‘Service Dog’

Mikaela and Terra
Mikaela and Terra

Recently, I was able to bring my dog, Terra, to school! That is one of the perks of being a veterinary student—sometimes we get to all bring our pets to class.

We needed her for our orthopedics laboratory, in which we were learning to do a proper orthopedic exam and how to apply a splint. Nothing beats the real thing when it comes to practicing, and Terra was a willing patient (for a lot of treats).

We started out by just watching her walk in a straight line from the front, back, and sides to see her gait and how she moves. This can help you identify if there is a lame leg and which one it could be. Then you do the same thing at a jog. After that, we do a standing exam and you feel over all the joints for anything that is out of the ordinary. It is important to feel both sides at the same time to compare the two sides.

Following the standing exam, Terra got to lay down and we went through all the ranges of motion on each joint to make sure she had full movement in each without pain. Through this whole thing, she was just getting pets and treats and thought it was the best thing. Turns out, she is a pretty good patient.

After the ortho exam we went to the bandaging lab! But, first, we needed to give all the pups a chance to relax, so we went outside for a puppy party! Terra played with a 6-month-old Whippet named Goose, and they are now best friends. We also played fetch for a while so she would be tired and lay still for the bandage.

When we went inside, each of my group members got to practice making a splint and securing it to the body. We did Terra’s front legs, one at a time. There is a lot of padding and you need to make sure the placement of everything is correct so that there is no way for the animal to get hurt from the bandage that is supposed to be helping heal.

Once we wrapped the leg she was allowed to stand to see how she would move in it. At first, she tried to go backward; apparently all dogs do this to try and walk out of the bandage, but once I showed her some treats in front of her, she was basically running to get them. The splint was not going to slow her down. We took it off after a couple minutes and then the other leg was done.

All in all, we had a great day of learning, and it’s always fun to bring your dog to school. Because we are veterinary students, many of our animals are used to being handled, having their hearts listened to, and being our models. We love them so much, and they are willing to help us with our education.

So, really, for Terra, this lab was just another day as a veterinary student’s dog.

Making Time for Myself

Jana with her sorority sisters at SongFest
Jana and her sorority sisters used their study breaks to prepare to participate in SongFest; their theme “Game of Thrones.”

As the semester moves from Thanksgiving break into finals, now is a better time than ever to stress the importance of self-care, which has a reputation of being a glamorous luxury that requires a lot of time and money. While this is far from the case, it is also more than just mentally checking out and watching Netflix for a few hours.

As an average college student, I find myself under a lot of pressure to perform well in school, be involved in extra curricular activities, hold a job, maintain a social life, stay healthy, and keep my room clean. Even though that last one tends to fall lower on my list of priorities, I still struggle to make time for all aspects of my busy life, let alone to take care of myself.

According to PsychCentral, self-care is defined as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. That can mean different things to different people, but there are a few things to consider when thinking about your own self-care:

  1. Self-care is a way to recharge and replenish, not take away.
    As much as I love watching of all my TV shows, I found that I was not getting the relief I needed from a chronically stressful environment by mindlessly turning on “The Office” for the seventh time. Rather, activities that are engaging, yet still relaxing, have proven to be the better option. By reading a book has been my go-to downtime activity this past semester, for example, I am able to give my eyes a break from screens and lose myself in a story that is not visually presented to me; it is a personal, cozy pastime that also gives my brain some exercise. Be it reading a book, spending time outside, or even watching something different on TV, the time set aside for self-care is precious and is meant to be a way to give back to yourself.

    Jana and her Friends at Messina Hoff
    Jana and her friends enjoyed a Sunday afternoon at Messina Hoff after a long week of tests.
  2. Instead of an occasional treat, self-care is most effective when incorporated into everyday life.
    Some people meditate for a few minutes every morning; others hit the gym everyday after class. This aspect of self-care requires establishing a routine and knowing how you work most efficiently. Most days I feel like a ping-pong ball bouncing between school and work and friends and studying. The name of the game for me is frequent, short breaks. Right before classes started, a friend told me about this wonderful app from NPR called NPR One. Since downloading this free app, I have discovered that NPR is so much more than morning news and documentaries about obscure subjects (though those have proven to be really, really cool). Ranging from three to 45 minutes, incredibly enriching podcasts and radio shows that cross dozens of subjects serve as perfect intermissions to my day. Now, I look forward to my drives across town and walks between class buildings. Integrating self-care of any form into daily practice reduces and prevents anxiety and stress, leaving room for positivity and productivity.
  3. Self-care is not selfish.
    This final point addresses the perception of self-care. From a young age we are encouraged to give to and care for the people around us, to always work our hardest and try our best. It can be uncomfortable to bring something new into your lifestyle that seems to be solely for personal relaxation and pleasure. As a student working toward attending veterinary school, I have drilled the ideas of working hard, pushing my limits, and not stopping until the letters D, V, and M are behind my name; it has become the core of my undergraduate career. While determination and giving 100 percent are keys to success, I have learned you cannot get there running on fumes alone. In order to reach my full potential as a student, employee, ambassador, daughter, friend, and vet school applicant, I must take care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. In doing so, I am able to put my best foot forward when it comes to supporting the people in my life.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of self-care characteristics or activities, I hope this serves to stimulate delving further into understanding the importance of self-care and discovering which techniques work best for you. Start that journal, make time for that fitness class, or stop being afraid to talk to a counselor.

Self-care is meant to build healthier, happier people, and healthier, happier people tend to do better on finals.

A Glimpse into the Vet School Curriculum

Mary W.As the new curriculum is implemented here at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine, more and more courses are designed to be fully clinically relevant. For the students, this means we get to play doctor from day one, as overwhelming as that may be. Here are some examples of what my fellow second-year veterinary students and I have seen among some of our classes this semester.

“Charlie is a 6-year-old MC Boston Terrier who presented to your clinic with a one-month history of seizures that have been increasing in frequency and duration. After reviewing the following complete history and introductory blood work, write a prescription for an appropriate drug for Charlie.”

Thus begins another pharmacology lab.

My classmates are split into groups of five or so, each with a different case profile. For this lab, the groups are paired, with one acting as the emergency service and the other as the neurologists.

While every case is different, they all have seizures, as we are focusing on anti-convulsants in lecture. We will spend about half an hour combing resources and notes trying to come up with an appropriate treatment plan before going over all of the cases with the clinician who is presiding over the lab.

We discuss why certain drugs must not be given to certain patients and why one option may be marginally better than another. The clinicians also try to emphasize that sometimes there is no one correct choice; sometimes they are all bad and you may just have to choose the one that is least offensive.

Every pharmacology lab unrolls in much the same way, covering most of the cases we are likely to see in practice and emphasizing those where the decision-making process is not easy.

Parasitology is fairly similar to pharmacology lab.

The beginning of the semester felt like we were studying an entomologist’s encyclopedia: “Here are a dozen ticks (or mites, or lice, or fleas, or nematodes); figure out the best way to tell them apart under a microscope.”

Fortunately, after deciding we had successfully jammed all of that information into our brains, we were able to move on to clinically relevant discussions. Different professors discussed the parasites we were likely to find on the most commonly treated species, emphasizing those that are very common or very detrimental to the animal or the producer’s wallet.

Most of the time, this meant working through a case: “A commercial dairy-goat producer has been having issues with her goats not keeping weight on, and a few have died. She deworms the whole herd with Ivermectin every two months and didn’t have any problems until the rains started a few weeks ago, etc.” Your job as the student is to correctly determine the parasite, treat the parasite, and then educate the client on the best method of prevention for her herd (hint—it’s not “deworm every two months with Ivermectin”).

Throughout this exercise, common parasites of the affected animal are available on slides or in specimen jars, and clinicians are there to answer any questions that may come up. We were also able to do several important clinical diagnostic tests, things vets do every day, like fecal flotation and heartworm tests.

Pathology lab is for those who like getting your hands dirty and staring at gross things; it’s the study of how disease affects tissue, so there’s nothing normal in pathology lab. You’ll see abscesses and cancer, pneumonia and partially healed wounds, nasal cavities that have lost all structure and mineralized vessels.

The best part about path lab is that all of the pathologists love making lesions “relatable” and easy to remember. So, it’s not a lymph node filled with caseous exudate; it’s a ball of your favorite cheese. It’s not chronic passive hypertension of the liver; it’s a “nutmeg liver.” This is made extra fun when they schedule pathology lab right after lunch.

You may get to put your hands on some necrotic intestines and pull fibrin off of a cow heart (wearing gloves, of course), but you will be learning while its happening. Pathology lab is designed as a hands-on, practical workthrough of the disease discussed in class, and we are expected to identify lesions that are placed in front of us.

That can be a lot to ask of a stressed out second-year, but it closely resembles what we will see in practice one day, so we persevere. I appreciate having these labs so that we can hear cases that are actually seen in the hospitals and work through them ourselves with samples and specimens beside us, even if we get it wrong; they’re bringing us one step closer to the dream of doing it all again one day as Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.

Life with a Little Lionhead

Nantika and Joujou
Nantika and Joujou Nibble, her Lionhead rabbit

Yes! It’s a typical thing veterinary students do,” I whisper to myself.

This is a story of the Lionhead and me. It starts one Saturday morning when I am attending the Rat and Rabbit Wet lab, hosted by the Dental Club. The objective of this wet lab is for veterinary students to get hands-on experience with dental care for rats and rabbits. The rabbit breeder brought various breeds of rabbits, big and small, so students can learn to evaluate rabbit teeth. All rabbits are cute, but my eyes stopped at one small rabbit, one with a wool mane encircling the head, which makes it look like a little lion! I had never seen this breed before. Then, the breeder announced that she is currently trying to find a new home for one of her rabbits, and she pointed to that little Lionhead. And…that is the beginning of my life with little Lionhead.

Lionhead is the name of the rabbit breed. The Lionhead rabbit is unique because of its mane, which looks like the mane of a lion. This breed is popular in Europe and is a relatively new breed in the United States. The first Lionhead rabbit was imported to the United States in 2002. The American Rabbit Breeders Association approved the Lionhead Rabbit as an officially recognized breed in 2014.

Before the Lionhead, I had never had a rabbit as a pet. Luckily, as a veterinary student, I have had my fellow vet students and my professors to help guide me through rabbit husbandry, which has made becoming a “first-time rabbit mom” an easy transition. I named him “Joujou Nibble” due to the malocclusion (the misalignment or incorrect relation between the teeth of the two dental arches when they approach each other as the jaws close) of his upper incisor teeth.

Here are some of the first things I learned as a rabbit mom:

Nantika's Lionhead rabbitLesson No. 1 for a rabbit owner is to learn to check the rabbit teeth regularly, because rabbit teeth never stop growing. Therefore, it is easier to get malocclusion, especially when a rabbit does not get the appropriate diet (hay, pellet food, or vegetables). Joujou Nibble goes to the Zoo and Exotic service at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital to get his teeth trimmed. When I first got him, the Zoo and Exotic service kept Joujou Nibble for a couple days while I got his hutch, timothy hay, oat hay, pellets food, bedding, hay rack, toys, litter box, and rabbit igloo (because rabbits like to hide). It was fun to get my house ready for the rabbit.

Lesson No. 2—if the rabbits do not poop or eat or drink in 24 hours, it needs medical attention immediately. Because Joujou Nibble was stressed from changing his home and getting his teeth trimmed, he did not eat or drink or poop and I had to take him back to see the veterinarian at the Zoo and Exotic service again. At the teaching hospital, the veterinarian and vet tech taught me to evaluate the degree of dehydration and give IV fluid, to listen to his gut sound, and to critical care feed a rabbit with a syringe.

Nantika's rabbit in his hutch
Joujou Nibble, in his hutch

Lesson No. 3—rabbits sleep mostly during the day and sleep with their eyes open. At night, Joujou is awake. I can hear him chewing his pellet food or running up and down in his hutch.

Lesson No. 4—litter box training a rabbit is challenging. The veterinarian recommends filling his litter box with rabbit litter and topping it with hay, since rabbits like to eliminate in one corner of the box and munch the clean hay. I have not been very successful in getting him use his litter box, but at least now I know which corner is his favorite inside the pen.

Lesson No. 5—do not yell or punish the rabbit for having “accidents” outside of the litter box. I gently patted him when he did not use his litter box, and that is a mistake! I learned my lesson; Joujou Nibble disapproves that, stomping his back legs when I got closer to him. This can mean “look out,” “pay attention to me,” or “I’m really angry.” I now know his stomp means “I’m angry at you.”

As time has gone on, I’ve begun holding him and talking to him everyday. He is finally willing to come to me and sniff my hand, which is a “yay” moment to me. It feels like when a baby says “mama” for the first time. Bonding with my rabbit is rewarding. As a rabbit’s mom and a future veterinarian, raising my rabbit gives me an understanding of the rabbit behaviors, signs of illness, and how to do physical examinations.

Joujou Nibble and I still have many more lessons to learn about each other, but I am enjoying every moment of learning new things about him; that is how my life with the Lionhead goes.

Filling a Puppy-Sized Hole in my Heart

Laine and her dog Karesen
Laine, before her undergraduate graduation, and Karsen, the service dog she raised, who graduated to become a diabtic-alert companion for a woman in Arizona.

It’s funny, the things you look forward to in life as time goes on and things change. Looking forward to the break has always been a constant in my life and now that I’m nearing the midpoint of my second year in vet school, I only have two winters and one summer left to cherish—what a thought!

I’m looking forward to going home and visiting my family, of course, but I’m also excited to go back and work for the veterinary clinic I’ve been helping at since I was 16 years old. They’ve always been a second family to me and I’ve never failed to learn something from the staff there as I practice my new knowledge. It’s never really work when you’re with people you love, doing what you love.

That isn’t the only reason I’m excited to return home this winter, though!

As an undergraduate student, I raised a service dog that is now in Arizona doing diabetic alert for her forever partner. It’s been so fulfilling knowing I’ve made a difference in someone’s life, but there’s been a hole in my heart where a lovable dog once was and for the continual work that kept me ever-busy.

After watching my friends’ dogs recently, I’ve noticed this hole growing even larger. Most recently, I puppy-sat my friend’s two dogs while one of them was recovering from back surgery, performed at none other than the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital. All the extra time I spent taking him out to the bathroom in a sling and medicating him every 12 hours made me prouder of my future profession and the magic it can do. Already he’s gaining mobility back in his hind feet and beginning to wag his tail again.

This experience has also served to remind me just how much I miss having my own dog to care for regularly. So, finally, I decided to fill this hole.

This break I will be picking up the little sister of the service dog I raised to keep as my own pet. I cannot express how I excited I am! I hope to continue working for the community through dogs by either training her for search and rescue or therapy work. I know that with my new best friend, I’ll be able to change even more lives… but I have to make it through the slipper-chewing and the potty-training first, all over again. Wish me luck!