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Vomit and Diarrhea and Pus, Oh My!

Kat Milcke, RVT Nov 6, 2016 3:13:33 PM

Veterinary professionals in clinics tend to love gross things that non-veterinary professionals think are disgusting, we all know this to be true. I have never heard anyone get as excited about a pus filled abscess than people that work in clinics. I remember coming home from my first abscess, pus and blood on my shoes and a big smile on my face. I sat at the dinner table and went to tell my boyfriend all about it, until I realized for non veterinary professions, pus and blood talk is not necessarily the most appropriate topic to discuss over food. But I was hooked from there on out and grew to adore all things gross and messy that happen in clinic. 

I don’t know about all of you, but I very rarely have perfect scrub days in clinic. I’m talking like those days where there’s not a single drop of blood on my shirt, or urine on my pants, or diarrhea on my shoes. I took to wearing crocs because I was tired of trying to wash my shoes and make them look unstained. I’ve become inclined to wearing dark colored scrub pants, and seem to jinx myself everytime I wear a white Supergirl scrub top my parents got for me for my birthday one year; inevitably that day will become an abscess or ‘my dog ate underwear again’ kind of day. But, to me, messy days can be fun! So I’ve made a list of the top messy (and sometimes gross) procedures that vets and techs love doing while in clinic, that we don’t mind getting our scrubs a little dirty over:


1. squishy lumps also known as abscesses

I love a good pus filled abscess. Cat bite abscess? Bring it on. Anal gland abscess? Let me at it! Who wants to help with an infected cut that owners ‘didn’t notice’ until today? Me, me, me! I know that abscesses are painful and can be dangerous for animals, that’s what makes it even better to find one, drain it (look at all that puss!), flush the living daylights out of it and then send the patients home with some good pain control and antibiotics (on doctors orders, of course). I don’t know why abscesses are so satisfying to me, but at least I know I’m not alone: plenty of my tech friends enjoy it as well. I remember my teachers in school telling us that we’ll learn to love them - how right they were!

2. What Did the dog eat part 1  

We all know that some dogs tend to eat everything. I knew a dog once who was 2 years old and had Apomorphine administered a grand total of fifty-six times! We had to have a conversation with the owners about crate training, and I don’t think my clinic has seen the pup since. I’m sure that a lot of you have seen some really crazy things come out of dogs (and cats!). Personally, I have two favorite ones: one dog had eaten an entire pound of Crisco shortening, and when that came up it had expanded in the stomach and  looked like marshmallow fluff! The second was a pair of underwear that the dog had eaten out of the hamper of a teenage girl. Dad was there with the dog and when he saw that it was a rather.. Uh.. lacy, pair of thongs, he turned beet red and high tailed it out of the room. He was a very sweet man and had been telling me that this was his youngest daughter out of a bunch of sons.. Poor dad.


3. What did the dog eat part 2 - the more expensive sequel

Foreign body surgeries! I, personally, enjoy surgeries. How the body works is fascinating to me and I love being able to watch it work from the inside. Foreign body surgeries are especially great, though, because they’re always a bit of a surprise. Some owners come in with their animals and had no idea that their dog ate anything, which makes the reveal in surgery even better. Sometimes, though, you can tell on pre op x-rays what the animal ate. For example, a cat came into the clinic and had a radio opaque mass stuck in its small intestine. The vet and I were puzzled and placing bets on what it was, when we invited the owner in to have a look. She immediately recognized the object as being a rubber doorstopper that the cat had eaten. When we asked her how she knew that, she said that her cat had gotten surgery previously for having eaten the exact same thing. She won the bet that day and proceeded to go home to remove all door stoppers in her house.

4. What did the dog eat part 3 - the flush it out method

Sometimes dogs come in after having eaten something a few days ago, and upon taking an xray, you discover that the object is aaaaalmost out, and is just in the colon. In my experience, vets will take a ‘wait and see’ approach, and hook the dog up to fluids for 24 hours to try and help flush out the foreign body. It’s definitely satisfying, and usually very messy, when you take these dogs outside for walks, and then have to root through their diarrhea to see if they have successfully passed the item. Mind you, sometimes it’s quite obvious. We had a dog in clinic last year that we suspected had a foreign body in its colon, but couldn’t be quite sure. I was taking it out for a walk in -30 degree weather when all of a sudden he stopped, postured, and just shot out a giant stream of steaming diarrhea and sent a mass flying 3 feet behind him. I’m not even joking, projectile diarrhea is a thing guys! The dog looked extremely relieved and pleased with himself, and the mass ended up being a pair of still intact socks that the owners definitely declined taking home.

5. Happy birth(ing) day!

At the emergency clinic that I work at, for about a year and a half, every single birthing complication that came in would come in on my shift, be put in the same room, and the same doctor and I would be working together overnight, alone. Which meant that there were a lot of ruined-by-placenta scrubs, towels and shoes. Clearly I was jinxed, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Yes, sometimes the puppies don’t make it, especially ones that have been stuck for a little too long, pexels-photo-130766-large.jpegbut the ones that do, make everything worth it. There’s nothing like the thought of ‘Hey. I am the first person in the entire world that held this animal. I am the first person that heard the animal cry and I am the first person to have snuggled this baby and let it fall asleep on me.’ As an added bonus, the momma animals usually realize that you’re there to help them, and are just so grateful because they’re just so exhausted. But these kinds of things definitely make a mess, and if anyone has a trick for getting green and black goop out of my scrubs, please let me know!

6. unblocking blocked cats

Blocked cats make a mess, especially when you’re helping with placing the urinary catheter and flushing the bladder. Just recently we had a case in clinic of a male cat that hadn’t urinated in longer than 24 hours, so his bladder was rock solid and he was getting more and more flat. As
soon as we placed a temporary urinary catheter, and I applied a little bit of pressure, bloody urine pexels-photo-medium.jpgwent _flying_ and almost hit my co worker in the face. I apologized profusely, until both of us erupted into giggles. The vet, my co-tech and I succesfully ended up draining the whole bladder (I think we got something like 300 mls out), and the cat made a good recovery, however my co-tech's scrubs were definitely ruined. Her and I both agree though that it was definitely worth it.

7. Anal gland expressions

Anal gland expressions can be quite routine, but sometimes a dog (or cat) will come in with really full, impacted glands that are just begging to be emptied. If you can get over the smell, these can be fun, but again messy, too! Just watch out, and don't get hit in the face, or hair, because that smell is never leaving. I once got anal gland excretions in my hair and even after washing it four times in the shower felt like I could still smell it for days.

8. lacerations and degloving

I know that laceration are painful and that the animal is in discomfort and shock a lot of the time. However, once good pain control is on board, lacerations can be thrilling. They can be shocking, scary, gross and messy, but they are still a wonderful learning experience and it's truly wonderful when you can get an animal stitched together again. Sure, you may have to clean the clinic for hours after, especially when it's a will-this-bleeding-ever-stop kind of laceration like on an ear, but it's amazing getting to watch a vet work on putting an animal back together. Ear lacerations are quite common, especially when there are dogs in the house that like to rough-house, but I saw a seriously cool non-ear laceration in my clinic just a few months ago. A very hyper active dog got caught on a tree stump, and didn't notice that he had cut himself open and just kept running around. The owner quickly tried to wrap him up in a towel (and failed - I saw her poor car after), and brought him in to us. Turns out that he had degloved most of his skin on one of his hind legs. After hours of flushing, cleaning the wound, placing drains and suturing, then placing a bandage that we crossed out fingers wouldn't fall, the dog went home for some recovery and serious house arrest. He made a full recovery and is as good as new today! pexels-photo.jpg


So there you have it! These are some top messy and gross things that I know veterinary professionals love, that non veterinary professionals just don't understand. My boyfriend constantly makes funny faces at my gross-but-amazing stories, but I will never not find an abscess entertaining, #sorrynotsorry. 

But seriously, if you have any tips or tricks to get stains out of scrubs.. I have quite a few tacky but hilarous seasonal scrubs that I'd love to wear again this winter! Please let me know either by emailing me at or replying in a comment! 

Please also reply in a comment or email me if you agree or disagree with some of these awesome but messy tasks, or if you have new ones to add! 


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