Nine “Dirty Jobs” I Dread in Vet Medicine

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As a veterinarian who works with plenty of pre-veterinary students, I’m often treated to a newbie’s perspective on veterinary medicine. For most, euthanasia ranks highest among the procedures they expect will be most difficult to get used to.

The truth, however, is that I’ve never gotten used to performing euthanasia. But neither do I dread it. After all, I’m performing what I consider a necessary and valuable procedure. Trimming toenails, though? Not so much.

The Gross and the Gruesome

As entertaining and rewarding as our careers as veterinarians can be, there are, nonetheless, plenty of common procedures we veterinarians detest. Here’s a smattering of my least favorite “dirty jobs” for your consideration:

1. Trimming toenails. Pets hate it (dogs, especially). And people should learn how to do it at home, anyway. So why is it I get stuck with the mundane and stressful job of trimming the toenails owners haven’t touched for months? I mean, if it’s only getting done once a year or so, it’s not as if I’m helping much, anyway.

2. Expressing anal glands. Predictable, I know, but it’s nonetheless true that few of us like expressing anal glands. It’s smelly and messy and just plain gross.

3. Talking about weight. Worse, even, than expressing anal glands is the discussion of weight that needs to happen altogether too often in my practice. It’s just uncomfortable. And sometimes maddening (as when clients deny their pets are fat or when they outright refuse to change their habits). Trust me. You’d hate it, too.

4. Rectal exams. I had a professor who used to quip, “There are only two reasons not to perform a rectal exam: no rectum and no fingers.” But he wouldn’t have needed to make a joke out of it if this simple procedure weren’t so commonly abhorred. Why? Because pets loathe it, too. And no one wants to make their patients — along with their owners — feel bad.

5. Plucking ticks. Ticks are nasty. Whether slender and scurrying or bloated and embedded, no one appreciates a tick.

6. Pyometra surgery. Pus doesn’t normally get to me. Even the nastiest, smelliest kind (yes, it does vary). But there’s something about knowing that the uterus you’re about to remove is full of pus (a condition called pyometra) that makes this kind of unseen pus seem especially worthy of revulsion and dread.

7. Maggot detail. I can handle almost any nasty thing you want to throw at me, but maggots still give me pause. Wounds aglut with fly larvae are my most reviled sight (and smell) in veterinary practice. Can you blame me?

8. Fat dog spays. For some reason, plenty of pet owners think of a spay as an easy procedure. The truth, however, is that it’s not. Just because most of us have done enough spays to paper our walls with sterilization certificates doesn’t mean it’s a skill we’ve acquired with ease and alacrity. Quite the opposite. And the fat dog version is even more difficult, complex and complication fraught. I don’t know one vet who likes ’em.

9. Phone calls. As much as I hate fat dog spays, there is one thing I hate even more: making callbacks. Text, email, person-to-person contact. They all best the telephone for me. Don’t ask me why.

The good news is that if this is the worst veterinary medicine has to offer me, I’ve done a pretty good job of choosing my career. Wouldn’t you agree?

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