As a vet nurse of some 30 years, the recent Vet Nurse Awareness Month caused me to reflect on how my career as a Registered Veterinary Nurse has evolved.
I trained in two very conventional veterinary hospitals. Thirty years ago, there were no degree level courses for prospective veterinary nurses. I quickly developed an interest in nutrition. Even then, I could see that this was important for our companion animals, but my education – in common with many colleagues – came from the big pet food manufacturers with a heavy emphasis on which of their products suited what sort of patient.
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and keep a few cattle and sheep that I started to think a bit harder about nutrition. Simplistically, I believed that cattle and sheep lived in fields and ate grass – let’s face it, a three-year-old child could tell you that! My livestock had the good fortune to be kept in this way, but not the cattle at the nearby dairy farm, where the poor creatures were on very nearly a zero grazing system (not at all uncommon). I felt strongly that this was wrong and was chatting to the herd manager one day when he asked me why I fed my dogs biscuits. Well, to say this was a lightbulb moment would be putting it mildly!
It was also interesting that my large animal vets were telling me NOT to worm my sheep and cattle, but rather to look at faecal samples for parasite eggs. On the other hand, my dog vets were telling me to deworm and flea treat them monthly. How did this make sense?
I started to ask a LOT of questions and to read and learn about a more holistic approach. My dogs had always had meat and vegetables, but it wasn’t the main part of their nutrition, and having had the importance of a balanced diet drummed into me for so long, I was nervous of changing. However, I was lucky enough to attend a talk by the well-known and highly regarded vet Dr Nick Thompson on raw feeding, and there was no looking back from there. Ever since, my dogs have been entirely raw fed. Some of their meals are complete from a raw food manufacturer, and some are not, because I believe it’s important to give them a wide variety of foods over time. They are remarkably fit for their ages (older than 15, 13 and almost 13) and are deemed outstanding by my conventional practice colleagues, particularly with regard to their teeth.
Another turning point was the opportunity to attend the Homeopathy at Wellie Level course, introducing farmers to using homeopathy as part of their stock management. This course absolutely blew my mind. I’d been interested in homeopathy for ages, largely due to hearing vets talking about what rubbish it was ~ I am rather contrary! It made so much sense to work WITH the body rather than against it, wherever possible, and I have seen astonishing results with my livestock, my dogs and myself.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had my eyes opened in these ways. It makes me very sad that my professional governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, is so un-supportive of vets who are open minded enough to explore the whole gamut of ways to help keep animals well – that’s all their guardians want, and surely the animals themselves too. I am lucky to work closely with vets who focus on the importance of real, species appropriate foods and to have my own animals treated by vets offering acupuncture, homeopathy and many of the other treatment modalities frowned upon by the RCVS.
My own experience certainly isn’t statistically significant, but losing my first dog aged nine who was absolutely riddled with cancer and having been fed on kibble, compared to losing my second dog aged just short of 17 and having been raw fed, not vaccinated (but regularly titre and worm tested) and rarely having any pharmaceutical medicines, convinces me that I have followed the right path, and I am determined to do what I can to encourage others to do likewise.
I am looking forward to popping in here from time to time to give you more Vet Nurse stories and information. Meanwhile, you can find more information here:
Morag Sutherland RVN, DMS Cert SAN
Morag is a Registered Veterinary Nurse and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) and the Association of INTO Dogs. Morag has a special interest in nutrition for dogs and horses, particularly in how it affects their behaviour. She is the owner of Gelert Behaviour Training, offering advice for dogs and other pets, as well as regular workshops, talks and events in west Wales and other locations by invitation.