Earlier this week I was invited to Anton Vets in Andover to speak to vet John Chitty, one of a select number of veterinarians in the country to specialise in exotic animals.
As soon as you walk into the practice waiting room it’s evident that it is hugely popular among pet owners. The phones are ringing almost continuously, the staff are regularly calling patients in to clinic while others are reuniting pets with relieved owners after surgery.
The reception staff are very welcoming and seem to know both pet and owner by name without needing to ask. Having the opportunity to sit and watch the practice working gives me a unique vantage point. Without my own dog taking my attention – it’s striking to see how busy it actually is. The astonishing attitude of the staff, attempting to rush in and out of the waiting room but constantly stopping to chat to owners (and pets), says a lot about the practice ethos – they put their clients first, plain and simple.
The practice has clearly been designed for a purpose, the waiting room is filled with natural light and is fitted with high cat and bird areas to ensure the animals feel comfortable and aren’t too stressed. There is also a separate, air-conditioned side-room for particularly nervous animals. While waiting I notice a staff member from a local college waiting to collect a bullfrog who has had an amputation, this isn’t a scenario that is likely to be repeated at any other practice in the area, when it comes to reptiles, amphibians and exotic animals John Chitty is the man to see.
After a short wait John asks me through to the operating theatre, it’s a large room with three operating tables, each with an array of equipment at the head of the table. The room has been fitted out with the best possible equipment based on the evidence that ventilation during procedures on animals makes them much safer. There are also a selection of other monitors, endoscopes and surgical instruments on hands.
John then awaits the arrival of a white rabbit who has a heart condition. She has routine ECGs every few months. The machine John uses downloads the data onto a computer for analysis later as rabbit’s hearts, he tells me, beat very fast making it difficult to analyse on the monitor. By using a computer he can look at the ECG in much more detail ensuring the best care for the rabbit, who is asleep during the procedure which lasts a couple of minutes.
As the rabbit wakes up from her anaesthetic she is sent up to the ward to recover. The rabbit ward is upstairs away from the hustle and bustle below. There are 5 hutches with runs one side and smaller beds the other side. Many of the rabbits have companions with them as they feel more comfortable with another rabbit, so owners are encouraged to bring another along during their stay.
Back downstairs another rabbit is being anaesthetised ready for a dental procedure. John tells me that rabbits, like horses, can suffer from dental issues if they have low fibre diets. This rabbit has exactly that issue along with a small abscess. He is relatively quick to induce, John firstly injects antibiotics, pain relief and fluids as well as a medication to promote gut movement and prevent a condition called gut stasis which, in rabbits, can be fatal. John then opens the rabbits mouth and uses a small file to wear away part of the hook that has formed on a tooth. Within 2 minutes the procedure is complete, and the rabbit is waking up ready to be whisked up to the ward to recover. It’s a very quick process.
With only time to scrub in for the next procedure, John is ready again for another tooth filing on a rabbit, much the same as before but this time the rabbit takes a long time to anaesthetise due to it holding it’s breath. This is by far the longest part of any surgical procedure.
The setting throughout the operations is like a medical drama, the constant beeping of machines monitoring the dog who is waking up across the room, the movement of nurses and vets in and out of the room asking questions, the sound of the ventilator, clicking and puffing. It’s a unique setting to be standing in.
The last patient before lunch is a parrot with a lump that needs to be removed. John is convinced it’s a lipoma, a fatty benign tumour, however he ensures that a pot is close by, to send it off to the lab if necessary.
The parrot is sedated and put on a ventilator, John removes a small number of feathers to allow access to the area, he tells me he must be careful not to remove too many to ensure there are no problems later. A tiny blade is used to make the incision and the lump is immediately visible, John carefully cuts around it and removes it, there is very little blood. He then finds another larger lump which he removes too, it’s around the size of a grape and John feels they should be sent off for further analysis at the lab as they look slightly unusual.
The parrot is stitched and wakes up quickly, it is then taken to the exotics ward which is also upstairs. By the time it is in it’s cage the parrot is quite alert, seeming to enjoy being back with others.
The exotics ward is particularly interesting, filled with tortoises, parrots and a bearded dragon, it’s not something most veterinary practices are kitted out with. One parrot has had an external fixator attached to it’s leg after breaking it in multiple places. It looks very painful and the bird is regularly given strong painkillers. Veterinary nurse, Sam, tells me that he should make a full recovery however.
After numerous operations throughout the morning John now allows himself a short break, I asked him why he decided to specialise in exotics. To my surprise he tells me it was an accident. He worked as a vet at the Hawk Conservancy, a position he was successful in getting just two months after qualifying. John then continued training becoming more specialised in exotics as time went on because there was a need for someone to do it.
John stresses that he doesn’t find treating dogs and cats boring as some suggest when vets work with exotics, it’s simply that he can’t possibly keep up to date with the training for all animals.
Just as I ask my next question John’s wife Kate pops in with a book to show him, I ask what makes Anton Vets different and they both ponder it for a moment and answer at almost the same time. “We put our clients first” they both say. John elaborates telling me that client communication is the biggest part of his job, he can’t treat patients successfully unless he has taught clients how to manage their pets conditions. Treating clients individually is also important they tell me, the same condition is often treated differently in two dogs, tortoises, parrots or any other animal and therefore it’s critical that each case is seen in it’s own way.
As we are wrapping up our interview Kate also makes the point that clients are never treated differently depending on where they live or how they look. For me this sums up the staff and the ethos of the practice, they want to treat animals, they want to ensure that clients have the best information to keep their pets healthy and they want to do all this in the most ethical way, for both human and animal not matter their personal situation.
Anton Vets is continuing their support of National Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month by inviting the public to tour their impressive facility with one of their very knowledgeable nurses. They are also supporting the British Veterinary Nursing Association’s chosen charity ‘Nowzad Dogs‘ who rescue animals from the war in Afganistan. ‘Bras for Nowzad‘ is their scheme by which they ask people to donate old bras which they can then use to raises funds per kilo of bras collected.
If you would like to tour the facility you can contact the practice on 01264 729165.