Because I love taking care of animals, people sometimes tell me: “You should have been a vet!” It is very clear to me though, that I should have been no such thing. I witnessed friends sweat through veterinary and medical school and it is obvious to me that I could NEVER have done this! I am hopelessly challenged when it comes to things like physics, chemistry and other logical stuff. Also, words like surgery, dissection and autopsy make me feel nauseaus. Actually having to perform these things would make my fight-and-flight instinct kick in. So, there is no doubt in my mind that I should definitely NOT have been a vet.
However, when you keep animals, you can’t escape being confronted with illness and injury from time to time. So you’d better learn how to deal with it, up to a certain point. Vets are not always around or knowledgeable about small animals, so you sometimes need to do stuff yourself. No matter how scary it is.
One of our rabbits, Peter, has badly misaligned teeth. Rabbit teeth never stop growing, and when they are not aligned or don’t get enough roughage to constantly chew on, they grow out of the mouth or sometimes into the flesh, which is extremely painful and dangerous. The vet used to clip Peter’s teeth at every visit, but he comes by only once every 3 months, and Peter’s teeth need clipping at least every month. So I learned how to do it myself.
This skill came in handy today, when I realised our hamster’s teeth were going the same way as Peter’s. He was losing weight lately and had a wound on the side of his face. At first, I thought one of the cats had managed to scratch him and banned the cats from the children’s room. But the hamster wasn’t getting any better. He was very thin and inactive. I wondered if he might be starting to hibernate, but then, I doubt that temperatures here ever fall low enough to trigger hibernation for a Siberian hamster.
So today, I subjected him to a thorough examination. He is so tiny and wriggly that it is very hard to see what is going on inside his mouth, but at last, I realised that his teeth were growing into all directions except the right one. One of them had grown so long that it curled backwards and actually grew THROUGH his cheek out of his mouth. Gasp. The poor thing must have been in so much pain and unable to eat. He kept squirreling away all his food so I didn’t see he wasn’t actually eating any of it!
So, I pushed aside my squeamishness, grabbed a tiny nail clipper and, after much struggling to hold his minute mouth still and open for long enough, I eventually managed to cut his teeth back to a more reasonable length. It was such a pleasure to see him gobbling up bits of apple! Suddenly his mouth worked properly again! What a relief! I’m so glad I noticed it in time. Now we just have to keep clipping his teeth every few weeks or so. Ack.
We also have a chicken problem. Our Silkie Roo is in a bad state. It’s very upsetting. He is one of our favourite birds. I found him on Wednesday morning, lying on the floor in a heap of furry feathers. I thought he was dead at first, but when I touched him, he started thrashing around wildly. His neck was twisted to the side so badly that for one awful moment, I thought his head was missing. That’s when I wanted to get up and run away very fast.
To my credit, I didn’t. I picked him up and tried to find out what was going on. He looked bad. His eyes were open and full of sand and dirt from when he’d been thrashing around on the floor. I cleaned him up as well as I could, then put him in a basket in the hospital cage. I was at a loss. There were no wounds, no blood, but he was acting as if his neck was broken or he was stuck in some kind of seizure.
I fully expected him to die during the day, but he didn’t, and the next morning he was still alive, too. I phoned our vet and he said it could be either Newcastle disease or nerve damage from an attack. If it is Newcastle, he’ll die soon and so will most of our other birds. If it is nerve damage, there is no way to fix it and he will have to be put down. In short, the prognosis was bad.
I don’t think it is Newcastle, because we vaccinate against it and none of the other birds are sick. It could be nerve damage, but there is another disease that fits the symptoms and that – surprise, surprise – Silkies are especially susceptible to: wry neck. And that’s treatable.
So I’ve been Googling, internet-researching and self-diagnosing. I’m syringe-feeding him an electrolyte solution and wet chicken food. He swallows and tries to move his head. He blinks now and I think his right eye is ok, although he might have lost the use of the left. He sits up straight, but his head still sinks down uselessly to the left.
Poor boy. If it is nerve damage, I am just putting off the inevitable. But I if there is a chance he could survive this, I have to try. Keeping all my fingers crossed and using all my limited amateur vet skills..!