Veterinary Nurses

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Some people think that veterinary nursing is all about cuddling fluffy animals while the vets perform their examinations, but it isn’t always that glamorous! Animals and their caring owners are wonderful to work with and are a huge part of the job but Veterinary Nurses (VNs) work very hard caring for pets and this includes dealing with poo, wee, snot, vomit, blood, body organs, parasites, nasty smells and the occasional challenging patient or owner. Veterinary nursing can be an extremely emotional and physically demanding job, but all of the VNs at Castle Vets agree that it is also an extremely rewarding one.

Veterinary Nurses, like human nurses are highly skilled professionals in their own right. VNs work alongside Veterinary Surgeons to provide the highest standard of care and treatment for your pet. This treatment includes skilled supportive care for sick and injured animals, nursing clinics, monitoring anaesthetics, assisting with operations, performing minor surgery, providing medical treatments and carrying out diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. VNs also play a very important role in the education of pet owners.

A veterinary nurse’s job includes

Nursing roles

  • Skilled supportive care for sick and injured animals
  • Ensuring that patients receive appropriate care
  • Monitoring vital signs, such as temperature, heart rate, pulse  and breathing rate
  • Holding and calming animals while a vet examines and treats them
  • Post operative care
  • Monitoring and maintaining  anaesthetics, to ensure your pet is safe and pain-free during the operation
  • “Scrubbing in” and assisting vets with operations
  • Performing minor surgery
  • Providing medical treatments
  • Administering medication in the form of tablets, liquids, injections or topical treatments
  • Taking blood samples
  • Administering intravenous fluids
  • Wound management and changing dressings
  • Taking X-rays
  • Recording ECGs
  • Assisting vets to perform diagnostic techniques such as ultrasound and endoscopy
  • Carrying out diagnostic tests  (urine tests, blood tests, faecal tests, examining samples under a microscope etc)
  • Maintaining and sterilising equipment and instruments
  • Cleaning up after the patients (and the vets!)
  • Keeping the surgery clean and tidy
  • Looking after the needs of and advising the pet owner

VNs also play a very important role in the education of owners with regard to good standards of patient care during their nursing consultations, over the phone or via blogs and articles  such as this one.  We do this by

  • Providing advice and guidance to the owners of the animals on all aspects of their care
  • Offering nursing clinics for services such as
      • General advice on things such as health,  growth, training, nutrition, aging, behaviour, housing and husbandry, weight management and dental care.
      • Nail clipping
      • Emptying Anal glands
      • Microchipping
      • Diabetic monitoring
      • Blood pressure monitoring
      • Post operative checks and suture removals
      • Wound management and bandage changes
      • Taking blood samples
      • Giving medications
      • Clipping out mats
At Castle Vets all of our qualified veterinary nurses are listed and/or registered with the Royal college of veterinary surgeons. We NEVER rely on support staff to perform veterinary nursing roles and all of the nursing care for your pet is performed by qualified veterinary nurses or registered student veterinary nurses under strict supervision as part of their training.

To be a successful VN you will need to have all of the following skills

A strong desire to work with animals and people

Just liking animals is not enough;  at times being a VN can stretch you to your emotional limits and your day to day work may include seeing animals in a great deal of pain, putting an animal to sleep or dealing with horrific cruelty cases and at all times you have to do what is best for the animal. In just a few minutes  you can  go from receiving a hug from a client because you have spent that extra bit of time to explain what the problem is with their pet and reassuring them that everything will be ok, to putting an animal to sleep because there is simply isn’t enough money for treatment or it has no home to go to.

Sympathy, compassion and understanding 

You need to be able to relate to the owners of the animals as well as understand the animals themselves. You have to remember that the animals you deal with are much loved by their owners and are sometimes their best friend in the world.

The ability to work hard and commit to your patients and their owners

If you are in the middle of an operation, dealing with an emergency, or talking to an upset client you can’t just down tools at the end of your shift. This is not a normal 9-5 job, we often go home thinking about our patients or even end up popping into the surgery to  check on them on our days off.

 Patience and understanding 

Your patients  cannot tell you what is wrong with them and some will be in pain and frightened when they visit the practice. Patience is also a requirement when dealing with clients and colleagues.

Intelligence

You will need to be good at maths because you will need to calculate dosages several times a day and the ability to communicate with pet owners and colleagues verbally and through writing is essential. 

Initiative and problem solving skills 

You need to be able to work under your own initiative to get things done – there’s no time for idling around in a busy veterinary practice. 

A love of cleaning!

A huge part of vet nursing is about cleaning, you need to keep your patients and their environment clean to prevent the spread of disease.

A supportive network of family and friends

Veterinary nursing is not a very well paid job despite the qualifications we have and a student nurse salary is usually minimum wage. You will also have to work shifts and some of those may be overnight if your practice provides its own emergency cover.

Becoming A Student Veterinary Nurse

Training to become a VN is intensive and takes between two and four years to complete. A large proportion of this time is spent gaining clinical experience by working in practice, with the rest spent attending college, completing assessments and coursework, many hours of personal study and, of course, passing the theory and practical examinations.

There are two main routes to becoming a veterinary nurse and for both routes you will need to have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C or above which include Maths, English and a Science subject.

  1. Vocational Training – If you want to start working in practice straight away, vocational training is probably best for you and will take two to three years to complete. During your training you will be working under the supervision of a clinical coach who may be a qualified VN or a Vet and your time will be divided between work in practice (paid or unpaid) and attending college once a week or on block release. You will first need to gain employment as a student nurse at an approved training practice (a website link can be found at the end) and they will then register you with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and at a training college. At the end of this type of training you will receive a level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing.
  2. Higher Education – This is a degree course; it will take longer than a vocational qualification (up to 4 years) and is university based. This course is mostly academic but you will be required to undertake several periods of clinical work placement in an approved training practice.

If you haven’t got the relevant GCSE qualifications, don’t give up hope. It may be possible for you to do the Veterinary Nursing Assistant course or an animal management course to give you the necessary skills to move on to VN training. Contact the British Veterinary Nursing Association for more advice.

A Career As A Qualified Veterinary Nurse

Once qualified, VNs must

  • Maintain their place on the VN register with the Royal College if Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
  • Take part in Continuing Professional Development, in order to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. This can be in the form of attending courses and lectures, research, writing articles, reading articles written by others or gaining work experience in different types of the veterinary nursing profession.
  • Adhere to the professional code of conduct for veterinary nurses (see link below).

Many qualified nurses go on to specialise and develop interests in different aspects of animal health, for example surgical nursing, medical nursing, animal behaviour, exotic pet care, alternative therapies, dermatology or nutrition. Some VNs also go on to achieve an Advanced Diplomas, BSc Degrees or an MSc in Veterinary Nursing.

At Castle Vets we are lucky enough to have veterinary nurses with interests in dermatology (skin problems), nutrition, surgical nursing, behaviour, weight management, diabetes, exotic pet care,  senior pet care and bereavement.

VNs may choose to embark on a career in nursing and work in normal practice, large veterinary hospitals, universities or specialist referral centres. They may take on a veterinary practice management role or become a pharmaceutical or nutritional company representative or follow a career in education and become college tutors and lecturers teaching the next generation of veterinary nurses.

Veterinary Nurse Salary

Salary for a qualified nurse tends to depend upon the size, type and location of the practice you work for. The average salary for a qualified VN is around £19,000*, although this may increase over time depending on your skills, experience and any extra qualifications you may gain.

The average salary for student VNs is approximately £13,000* a year, however this may not include your training, college or exam fees depending on the veterinary practice you work for and some training practices do not pay student nurses at all!

(*Figures based on the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons Salary survey 2013)

 How do you know if a veterinary nurse is qualified, listed and/or registered with the RCVS?

Qualified veterinary nurses are usually identifiable by the badge they wear

UK VN BADGES

You can also  make sure your veterinary nurse has the appropriate qualifications by checking to see if they are on the RCVS register (a link can be found below)

Useful websites and links

  • For more information about training to become a veterinary nurse and what qualifications you will need please visit the British Veterinary Nursing Association website 
  • To find an approved training practice please visit the RCVS Website
  • For information about higher education routes into veterinary nursing please visit  the UCAS website
  • For more information about the Code of Professional Conduct that qualified veterinary nurses must adhere to please visit the RCVS Website
  • To check if your veterinary nurse is registered with the RCVS visit RCVS VN List
  • Castle Vets

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Rabbit Nutrition

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Nutrition plays a huge part in rabbit health and at Castle Vets we find that a poor diet can be responsible for many problems in pet rabbits including bad teeth, weight gain, poor gut motility, tummy upsets and bad skin.
Rabbits have cleverly evolved to extract all the nourishment they need from the poor quality vegetation available to them in the wild. This means that they require a diet that is low in calories and very high in fibre. If a rabbit is fed on a diet that is high in calories and low in fibre it can lead to problems with obesity, soft stools or diarrhoea, bone and tooth problems.

In order to look after your rabbits nutritional health you will need to provide the following,

Water

Fresh water should be available at all times. Even if your rabbits eat a lot of greens and may appear not to drink much, water must always be available. It can be provided in gravity bottles or in bowls (although bowls tend to become soiled very quickly). Bowls and bottles should be cleaned regularly and bottles should be checked for leakage.

Foodwhat rabbits should eat

The following three foods are listed in order of importance:

  1. HAY – low in calories, high in fibre.
  2. FRESH FOOD – medium calories, medium fibre.
  3. DRIED FOOD – high in calories, low in fibre.
Hay

Hay is the staple diet of your rabbits and should be fed AD LIB (as much as your rabbits will eat). The fibre that is in hay is extremely important as it helps keep the food moving through the gut. It also contains other essential proteins and nutrients. Rabbits eat small amounts of food several times throughout the day and good quality grass hay must be available in unlimited amounts at all times. Alfalfa hay should be avoided, as this can contain excessive calcium.

You can use the good quality hay that is sold in bales to feed horses or you can buy dried grass and hay from pet shops which will come in a variety of different types and ‘flavours’. Nice long strands of hay and dried grass are preferable because rabbits have to spend more time chewing the long fibres and this is better for their teeth and digestion. If you do buy large quantities of hay, make sure you store it carefully to prevent it becoming damp or mouldy – we find it lasts longer and stays fresher when stored in a plastic bin or box rather than in plastic bags.

The best way to offer fresh hay to your rabbits is by using a hayrack. This keeps the hay clean and eliminates much of the waste through hay getting trampled or soiled. As a rule there should be a small amount of hay left over each morning, then you know that you have made enough available for your rabbits.

types of hay feeder

Hay can be provided in may ways

 

Fresh Foods
Vegetables

Vegetables should be given to your rabbits daily. The hay can lose some of its vitamins when the grass is dried, therefore it is important to supplement the hay diet with fresh greens. A minimum of 3 types of fresh vegetables should be given daily alongside the hay. Variety is the key so try and offer small amounts of several items. Young rabbits should be introduced to new foods gradually, a small piece at a time.

A carrot or other root vegetable can be suspended from the hutch roof; this helps to increase feeding time and also enriches the rabbit’s environment and creates an interesting feeder toy.

Rabbit veggies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruits

Fresh fruit should only be given in small quantities due to the increased sugar content. Too much can lead to tooth decay and obesity problems. Apples, bananas, kiwis, melons, peaches, pears, pineapples, strawberries and tomatoes are all safe for rabbits.

two rabbits in a basket and vegetables

Only give your rabbit fresh fruit and vegetables. Don’t give your rabbit anything that isn’t fresh enough for you to eat yourself.

 Dried Food

If a dried food is to be offered then a nutritionally balanced food, presented in a nugget form, can be offered every day. We don’t recommend a muesli or mixed flake diet because rabbits fed on these diets can become picky about which bits they eat and therefore may not receive a balanced diet. A pellet or nugget diet prevents picky eating and will ensure your rabbits are getting the right amount of nutrients.

A maximum of 20g per day is enough to feed a pair of adult rabbits of approximately 2.5kg bodyweight. It is important to accurately measure the amount of food to be fed. The aim is to keep adults at a constant weight so regular weighing of your rabbit is essential. Do not estimate the amount you should be feeding – overfeeding of dried food is one of the main causes of health problems in rabbits seen by veterinary surgeons.
Vitamin supplements should not be necessary if your rabbits are getting a balanced diet and an indiscriminate usage of vitamins may lead to overdose and serious disease.

Bunny food types

Nugget-type food may look unappetising to you but it is much better for your rabbits than the muesli-type food

Food Toys

There are many food and boredom breaker toys available for rabbits. Some of these are made of tightly packed grass or hay and others are made from fruit wood. You can also by little ‘cages’ or containers to put fruit and vegetables in so that they hang from the top of the cage. Food toys will ensure your rabbit has lots of variety and provide mental stimulation.

rabbit enrichment toys

Some of the toys we like are both home made and shop bought

Natural Food and Grazing Opportunities

A run or grazing ark is essential to provide exercise and grazing for a few hours each day, weather permitting. If a garden is enclosed and rabbit proofed then your rabbits can be allowed free run of the garden. However, it is important to ensure protection from predators, either wild animals or other domestic pets. Clovers and vetches can be planted for your rabbits to nibble on and can help provide variety to the diet.
Please also be aware that some plants can be poisonous to rabbits, so make sure they do not have access to these.

rabbits

 

How To Change Your Rabbits Diet

It is extremely important never to change your rabbit’s diet suddenly. Gradual changes should be made over a period of at least 2 weeks. This is to allow the rabbit’s digestive system time to adjust to the changes being made. Give your rabbit a healthier diet by introducing hay, grass and greens and change the dried food to a high fibre one as discussed above. Grass and greens should be introduced gradually to reduce the likelihood of diarrhoea.

Mix the new dried food in the same feeding bowl with the original food in a ratio of 1 measure of the new food to 3 measures of the original food. Feed this for 3-4 days to ensure your rabbits are eating all of it. Watch carefully for signs of loss of appetite, abnormally runny droppings, bloating and any changes in behaviour and demeanour as these may indicate that your rabbits are not adapting well to the new diet. If everything is normal, increase the quantity of the new dried food and decrease the quantity of the original food to give a ratio of half of the new food and half of the original food, again feeding this for 3-4 days and watching for any problems as before. If all is ok then increase the ratio to 3 measures of the new food to 1 measure of the original food for another 3-4 days, and finally 100% of the new dried food.

 

Useful links for rabbit care

Action For Rabbits

Rabbit Awareness Week

RSPCA Information Sheet 

House Rabbit Society

If you would like any information on rabbit health or have any questions, please contact us at the surgery and we will be happy to help.

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