The Highlights of 2012 – Happy New Year! (Day 113)

Giving a stray kitten a bath to wash the dirt of her

This year has been an amazing year for me, and I am scared (still need to raise £2000 to continue studying next semester) yet excited for I am closer to becoming a vet. One of the highlights of this year was achieving a upper second class degree with honours in BioVeterinary Science, and since my arrival in Slovakia keeping my grades at the A-C level.

Just a few short months ago I packed everything I owned into bags, got on a plane and left the UK for hopefully the next 4 years. It feels like only yesterday yet so much has happened, I’ve learnt so much, and experienced so many new things.

I knew Slovakia would be different, however did not realise how much! The people I have met have been amazing – though if you do not understand them they have the idea shouting louder will help – and it is definitely a very beautiful country. We had our first snow nearly a month ago, and it is now here to stay until spring. I’ve never experienced such cold before, and it is apparently going get a lot colder before it starts getting warmer!

First snow at vet school in Slovakia
The first snow here in Slovakia!

Vet school started as I believe it intends to continue, it is really intense in the amount that you need to learn. Since September I’ve learnt every part of every bone, joint, muscle and ligament in the horse, cow, sheep, pig, dog and cat! It’s amazing how similar they are yet at the same time how small differences can completely change the way they work. I know more about milk then anyone should, have collected bone marrow from the pelvic bone of a cow, blood from a chicken and urine from a cat.

My first bone marrow collection sample in vet school!
My first bone marrow collection sample!

I’ve also taken the time to try and learn the culture, and have been theatre (which costs just 3 euros!), on a road trip to Poland and have plans to visit the mountains in a couple of weeks’ time between exams.

Giving a stray kitten a bath to wash the dirt of her
Giving the kitten a bath to wash the dirt of her

I also had my first “patient” in the form of this very cute 6 week old kitten that ran onto a friend’s shoe. After deworming, flea treatment and antibiotics she has had Christmas with her new forever family.

Hopefully I will raise enough for my tuition over the next month to allow me to continue following my dream and studying here! If you can help at all it is very much appreciated, and to all those that have helped already, thank you! It means the world to me being able to do something everyday where I am making a difference!!!


Chris x

[youtube_sc url=”vE_pH9L82c8″ title=”New%20years%20eve%20fireworks%20in%20Kosice%20Slovakia”]

Merry Christmas!!! (Day 106)

Vet School Diary Christmas Card 2012

Well this is my first ever Christmas outside of the UK, I was hopeful with the snow the past few weeks that I would have my first “White Christmas” however that was not to be. However that said I did get to have a rather long walk with my new four legged friend Tys which was pretty cool!

To keep it short as I am trying to write as many fundraising letters as possible today…

Vet School Diary Christmas Card 2012I hope each and every one of my friends out there 2 legged, 4 legged or 3 legged has an awesome day!

The truth about Chocolates being poisonous to dogs (Day 96)

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs

Todays diary entry is sponsored by Waggy Tail Dog Bakery

Most dogs owners will tell you that chocolate is poisonous, yet many can not tell you why, or how much is needed so hopefully I will clear up some of the myths here.

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs

The reason chocolate is poisonous to dogs is because it is produced using seeds from the Cocoa Tree (Theobroma cacao) which contains a chemical called theobromine.In addition many choclates contain other ingredients such as raisins or coffee beans which are also toxic to dogs.

Theobromine belongs to a class of drugs known as methylxanthines which act upon the central nervous system. In addition they also cause muscular contractility in the muscles of the heart and skeleton which can lead to irregular heart rhythms and heart attack.

Some people mistakingly believe that white chocolate is safe for dogs, however this is not the case. Whilst white chocolate has a lower concentration of theobromine than dark chocolate it still contains this toxic ingredient and so remains dangerous.

How much chocolate is poisonous to dogs?

Current research indicates that just 1.25 grams of dark chocolate per kilogram can be lethal to dogs and needs urgent veterinary treatment. This means that for a 20Kg dog, just 25grams of dark chocolate is enough to cause serious problems. Milk and White chocolate have a higher tolerance however veterinary advice is still urgently needed, and if there is extra ingredients in the chocolate such as raisins or coffee then its even more urgent.

Signs and Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

The signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs commonly show within 4 hours from ingestion, however can take up to 24 hours to show in some cases. The signs including vomiting, increased salivation, increased drinking and urinating, exciteability, tremors, convulsions and muscles going rigid.

What should you do if your dog eats chocolate

If your dog has eaten chocolate you need to contact your vet immediately, try to work out how much they have eaten, and the type of chocolate it was. Also if it contains any other ingredients such as raisins or coffee you should tell your vet this. If you get your dog to the vet fast the prognosis is usually very good, however delaying seeking veterinary attention gives the chocolate time to enter the system and cause further problems.

Todays diary entry has been sponsored by Waggy Tail Dog Bakery, bakers of handmade dog cakes and cookies from the finest  human grade ingredients!
Waggy Tail Dog Bakery are dog bakers that produce handmade dog cakes and cookies in addition to the most stunning “theobromine free” dog chocolates I have come across! Their processes have been approved be DEFRA and they use only the finest human ingredients with no articifical colors, flavourings or preservatives!

Gastric Juices, Bird Digestion, and the end of Anatomy 1… (Day 94)

Snowy white owl bird digestion

Today waking up and thinking that it was my last Anatomy credit this semester was pretty weird. It feels like only yesterday that I arrived here in Slovakia yet I am now supposed to know all the different bones, parts of bones, muscles, joints and ligaments. Before Anatomy though I had to get through Physiology.

Today was my turn to present a short seminar to my group, and I had selected to this on the physiology of digestion in birds. Now birds are different to mammals in that their bones are hollow and their red blood cells are different and have a nucleus. In terms of digestion they have an extremely high metabolism, a different structure of digestive tract, and no teeth. This means that the average bird needs to eat 80% of its body weight each day just to maintain its bodyweight.

Snowy white owl bird digestion

The digestive tract for birds starts at the beak, which is adapated in shape and size to the birds environment and the type of food that the bird eats. Birds do not have teeth, though evolutionarily it is believed that they once did (this is backed up by research into their genetics). The next difference is that they have a widening of the eosophagus called the crop which allows birds to store food for later to eat themself or for their young. This also in some species such as pigeons is the milk glands and produces milk for their young.

The stomach organ within birds is called the ventriculus or gizzard and is split into two parts; the pro-ventriculus which is at the front is a chamber where acid is used to break down food, and then the ventriculus or gizzard is two strong muscles which break down food mechanically by grinding (as birds cannot chew). They then have small intestines where most of the absorption takes place, before two chambers at the join between the small and large intestines called the cecum (pl. ceca) where fermentation takes place.

Fermentation is the process by which plant matter is broken down as most animals struggle to break down the cellulose in the cell walls. Within birds this is done by microbiological fermentation where bacteria in the ceca excretes enzymes which can then break down these walls. The large intestine then reabsorbs the water content as this passes through before it is then excreted through the vent. In birds the large intestine is relatively short, however the actual length differs between different species of birds.

The physiology practical was looking at how gastric juice breaks down food, and we used boiiled egg to exam its breakdown in different solutions and under different temperatures.

This afternoon we had our final anatomy session for the Anatomy 1 module, as we had a bank holiday on one of the sessions todays exam was two credit tests combined into one as the joints and ligaments are actually normally taught seperately. There was however no practical other than the test. Todays test went really well with me being on the ball and getting every question correct, seems I can now say I know all the joints and ligaments which is a scary thought. Next semester is Anatomy 2 where we start looking at the organs, blood vessels and brain…

The end of Slovak Language… (Day 93)

It really is cold when fast flowing water freezes

You really can tell winter is here, there’s been snow on the ground for the past week or so now and the temperature is generally in the minus figures. Its beautiful, yet just shows me how I need to get some proper winter boots instead of my trainers and maybe a winter coat. We think its cold, however we’ve been warned that this is just the start and that it is expected to get so much colder before it gets warmer again. The fast flowing water on the way to uni (I think its a storm drain or something) has been frozen for the past few days…

It really is cold when fast flowing water freezesToday is my last day of Slovak Language, and the day of the exam, I am a little bit nervous as I have never been good at written exams due to my dyslexia and especially when I am getting marked on my spelling. Todays exam however went ok with filling in the missing pronouns into sentances in Slovak, the most difficult part was the possesive pronouns.

Similarily to Latin the Slovak language also uses gender with its words, with different words and endings depending on if you are talking about a male, female or in general. This part of the test meant reading the sentance to work out which it should be and then putting the correct word.

The test then finished with the translation of some english words into Slovak which was kind of interesting. Ever since my previous failure of a language experience in the clinic I have been making as much effort as possible to learn as many words as I can especially related to animals. I am getting there slowly and surely and this module has been a great introduction for me.

Todays test score was around 95% meaning that I achience an A in this test! Whoooop! Now back to revision for Anatomy tommorow…

Hypersensitivity (allergic reactions) and washing cats… (Day 92)

Drying a cat

Today was the last Immunology lecture and was looking at hypersensitivity reactions in animals. Hypersensitivity is when the immune system exagerates the response to allegens (which is the name for antigens involved in hypersensitivity reactions) and is the cause of most allergic responses. There are four different types of hypersensitivity reactions…

  • Type I – Reaction mediated by IgE – atopy
  • Type II – Reaction mediated by IgG and IgM -cytotoxic
  • Type III – Reaction mediated by immune complexes
  • Type IV – Reaction mediated by cells – delayed type hypersensitivity DTH

Now type 1 hypersensitivity is usually caused by genetic or environmental factors, with the levels of IgE (a immunoglobulin responsible for the immune response) being higher than normal. The reactions are usually localised and form your general allergic reactions such as hayfever, asthma, conjunctivitis, food alergys and atopic dermatitis. This is usually tested for using intradermal tests where small amounts of the substance are placed under the skin and the results monitored or by using serum tests in a laboratory.

Type 2 hypersensitivity usually involved IgG and IgM and the complement pathways (the cell interactions for destroying cells). The IgG and IgM cells are produced that act against the bodies own cells, with the activated complement pathway which then destroys the cells. This often occurs with transfusion reactions or against red blood cells in new born animals such as foals which are born healthy and then sicken several hours after suckling for colostrum. This is tested for by a direct or indirect coombs test which works by testing the blood against the antibodies showing agglutination (cells sticking together) when it is positive.

Type 3 hypersensitivity involves soluble immune complexes, the complement system and neutrophils. These soluble immune complexes are deposited in tissues and organs which then activates the complement pathways causing inflammation and distruction of tissues. It is often responsible for pneumonitis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatic fever and associated conditions. There are ELISA tests available to test for this in addition to testing of the levels of the immune complexes or the presence of antibodies.

Type IV hypersensitivity (also called Delayed Type Hypersensitivity) involves Th1 memory lymphocytes, macrophages and cytokines. As it is cell mediated it has a prolonged onset (hence the “delayed type”). Generally this is contact allergy where as exposure to a substance for a second time causes a exageratted inflammatory response. The most well known of these is the response to TB, if the body has been previously exposed to TB, then when the skin test is taken an abnormally large response is recorded.

I am at the stage now where I can see the stuff I am learning being directly beneficial to me when I reach practice and start seeing animals which is pretty cool. Animals are fun when they are well, however sometimes they are not. This evening (well more like 10pm) I helped a friend wash her cat after he laid down in his own urine. Most cats would try to kill you if you washed them, however this guy is so tame that he barely objected, and most definately enjoyed being toweled dry…

Cat being washed = I'll get youAnd off course the cuteness here makes it all worthwhile…

Drying a cat

Selective Breeding and what it takes to be an AI Sire… (Day 88)

UVM Kosice Campus Snowy and Deserted

The only lecture I had today was Genetics this afternoon as Milk Hygiene is finished pending the exam and there was no power on campus this morning because they were doing work on the mains. Campus today was looking very nice yet was practically deserted when I arrived for the lecture…

UVM Kosice Campus Snowy and DesertedTodays lecture was on health and disease according to genetics, starting with looking at the Simple and Multifactorial causes of genetic diseases before then moving onto Health Hereditary Care (HHC).

To understand why HHC is important we need to consider how genetics are managed now. Previously where dairy farms each had their own bull (which is a dangerous animal to keep and work with!) many farms now use artificial insemination. Artificial Insemination (AI) is safer, faster and also gives the benefit of widening the gene pool as semen can be collected the other side of the world to be used if necessary. The question is how do you know that the animal that donated this semen doesn’t carry a genetic disease? This is where HHC comes in, and most countries have very strict legislation here, this can be based on four basic principles:

  • Phenotypic (physical) expression of the disease
  • Pedegree Analysis
  • Health Status of the Progeny (children)
  • Cytogenetic and DNA tests

The downside to genetics is that it is just not the sire that needs to be tested, but for the offspring as well for a minimum of at least two generations (some diseases skip a generation).

Within the Czech Republic and Slovakia the HHC testing is based upon the health status of the progeny, this means that breeding of a test group of animals (this is usually 1000 animals) is required. These then need to be grown on to sexual maturity and a second group inseminated to test for diseases that skip a generation This not only takes time (in cows gestation is around 9 months, plus 2 years for sexual maturity) so this process takes around 4 years before the collected semen can be used in production animals.

During this testing the fertility of the semen is checked, offspring for genetic diseases and fertility, and the pregnancy and delivery of the calves are monitored. The semen is then graded on a scale of C – A depending on the outcome of this.

  • C – Is pretty bad with lots of problems in pregnancy and with diseases in the calves. The sire is not used for AI and the offspring are sent to slaughter
  • B – The sire is acceptable to be used as a father for non-breeding stock only
  • A – The sire is breeding standard, and progeny is suitable for further development of the breeding line

One of the most important things that I have taken away from this is the great responsibility that vets have. When looking at this testing it is important to consider the entire population and not just a single animal, and the wording used when reporting is also crucial. Neglecting the word “suspected” when dealing with a uncomfirmed animal with a genetic disease can send a thousand animals to slaughter unnecessarily.

With that week 12 has ended, I have one more week of lessons remaining, and just weeks left to find the tuition that I need to raise to continue in vet school. Please if you can help, whether it is just £1 of more, please do! You can make a one off donation on the right of the page or set up a monthly donation securely by paypal. If you want to do a bank transfer or direct debit please contact me for banking details.

Crop Feeding Chickens, Taking Blood, Digestion, and the Joints…. (Day 87)

Chicken dissection tools and materials

Well today I got a suprise when I walked into Physiology and was told we were going to feed a cock starch solution and then take blood from it before we euthanised it and inspected the digestive tract.

Now the starch solution was to look at the different areas of absorbtion within the avian digestive tract which is important in our knowledge of animal nutrition. As with any practical in vet school anywhere it is important that animals are treated with respect and do not suffer unnecesarily. This is something that is at the front of my mind at all times as I am here to learn how to relieve suffering and each animal that helps me on this path will be remembered forever.

Now avian species (birds) have a different digestive anatomy to mammals, it starts with something called a crop. A crop is like a storage pouch at the end of the esophageus before the stomach (called a gizzard in birds) allowing it to store food for later, and also soften food before feeding it to their young. Within veterinary medicine birds are often fed by crop feeding, which is where a tube is passed down the esophageus into the crop (it is painless to the animal!!!) for liquid food to be directly given to birds too weak to feed themselves. This is the method that was used today to allow the starch solution to be inserted into the digestive system.

Crop feeding chicken a food solutionThe solution was given 20 minutes to pass through the digestive tract, during this time we took blood samples from the chicken to analyse for white blood cells. I was the first person to do this, and with my previous disasters was a little nervous. I attempted to collect blood from the metatarsal vein which is located on the foot of the chicken and shows as a really thin darker line. With this I was determined to get it first time! Following aseptic techniques I cleaned the area with antiseptic, before then inserting the needle at 45 degrees and with the point towards the skin. I was amazed when I immediately got the needle into the vein and was collecting blood for my sample. This really has been one of my highlights as I finally managed to collect blood first time!!!

After the 20 minutes required for the solution to pass through the entire digestive tract were up the chicken was then humanely slaughtered for dissection. Something at the forefront of our minds is animal welfare and we requested to observe this for ourselves and were allowed to watch. Whilst happy it was humanely done, one of the observations was it really is a humbling when considering how few people can relate the pack of meat obtained in a supermarket to having been a living breathing animal.

Chicken dissection tools and materialsSomehow I ended up being the person that dissected the digestive tract from the chicken, one of the things I was most suprised about was how much of the body cavity was actually given to digestion in relation to the size of the bird. Previously I had watched the dissection of a quail on my previous degree and remember the tract being a lot smaller and less defined then it was in this chicken.

The afternoon then was our anatomy practical with a different lecturer than usual, todays test was different as instead of being questioned using a cadaver we were asked to describe a area from memory. I did pass however after getting out realised that being put on the spot I had forgotten some things from my description which I knew but totally got distracted from. I think I am going change my revision stragety and get someone to question me each week before the exam from memory as its valuable being able to picture the anatomical structures in the mind.

During the practical we looked at the different ligaments of all the joints of the body, something I found really interesting was being able to see and touch an intervertebral disc as its something I had heard so much about. Something else that got me was just how difficult it actually is to get the cruciate ligaments, this has given me a much greater respect for the vets out there that do CCL repairs!

As the course gets more interesting something I’d like to do is be able to make it so people that want to can see the more graphic photo’s whilst keeping the main posts friendly for everyone. Anyways, until next time 🙂

Official residency, and the lighting of the Christmas tree… (Day 86)

Christmas Lights tuned on at Hlavna in Kosice Slovakia

Something that still strikes me about Slovakia is the different culture, people are so happy here and this evening I went to see the lighting of the Christmas lights in town. The entire main street (Hlavna) has been transformed into a Christmas market, there are then more smaller markets scattered around the different squares in town. Something very popular here is hot wine with cloves and cinnamon which is available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.

Anyways this afternoon started with a trip to town to get some textbooks that are not available to buy printed up from old scans. These books are pretty much essential as they have the latin names for all the anatomy that I need to learn for my final exams in the next month. I then made a trip to the police station to pick up my residency permit which was interesting as my Slovak still isn’t great however I was lucky to have one of the staff from the Foreign office to translate. Now I am until 2017 officially a resident of Slovakia (YAY!) with a shiney new card to prove it 🙂

I then went to get an haircut which was an experience, the person cutting my hair could not speak english, shaver grades are measured in millimeters here instead of the numbered grade that is used back in the UK. With a little help from Google Translate I did leave looking semi-respectable again and with much colder ears than previously!

Christmas Lights tuned on at Hlavna in Kosice Slovakia
Christmas lights being turned on

Now this evening the Christmas lights in town both on the Christmas tree and on the lamposts were all turned on. In addition there was also a free rock concert which I believe is also staying for the next few days as well! Anyways after a good evening I need to get back to learning my anatomy for tommorow, its the Abdominal and the Respiratory muscles this week in addition to the diaphragm.

Phagocytosis, visiting the dairy farm, and snow… (Day 85)

Milking time on the dairy farm

Today has been another long day, this morning went to Immunology and this afternoon has been about cows. Now today in immunology we started looking at phagocytosis, in basic terms this is when a cell “eats” another cell. Usually this is the phagocytes in the white blood cells which then engulf bacterial or foreign cells that have invaded the body. The phagocytic process generally has 5 steps

  • Activation of the WBC
  • Chemotaxis where WBC moves towards the bacteria
  • Adherence where the WBC will stick to the bacteria
  • Ingestion where the WBC invaginates around the bacteria moving it into the cell
  • Digestion where enzymes and chemicals within the WBC break down the bacteria

Testing the ability of the immune system to respond to a antigen is done using fresh blood to which the antigen is then introduced before it is incubated for an hour. Once this is done the a slide is then prepared for examination under the microscope using the Pappenheim staining technique. In the left of the image below you  can see 3 different phagocytes each containing multiple foreign antigens that they have ingested.

Phagocytosis of antigen by leukocytes observed under the microscope
3 different leukocytes having ingested bacteria

This afternoon Milk Production finished on a high note with a visit to the University Dairy Farm which is located outside of town in a small village in the hills. With snow on the ground, we could see mountains and forests stretching for miles…

Stunning Mountains by UVM Kosice Dairy FarmNow of course being a working dairy farm hygiene requirements are extremely high, they supply all the protective clothing including the wellies, labcoat and hairnet which did look rather fetching on top of my beanie whilst I hide in my scarf.

Me and Milk HygieneWith all that over I guess its time for some cows, here some are in the milking parlour (sorry for the poor photo’s, my ipod sucks at them!) which is automated with id tags on each cow to allow computer tracking of the milk yeild and milking times.

Milking time on the dairy farmWith that I really must be getting some sleep, I did however take this picture from the front door of dorms earlier to share with you all!

Snowy view from the front steps in Kosice, Slovakia