Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spaying A Tomcat

You are not a real veterinarian until you have spayed a tomcat. 

CAVEAT: This piece contains gross, and is not for the squeamish.

Veterinarians are human too. We make mistakes. And we laugh at them. Might think that means we don’t care. Nope. We care. We care so much we cry in the car on the way home sometimes. Over the things we see, or have to do in the passing of our days doing our job. We care because we cannot fix em all, and we never will. And we cry about some of the horrid things we have seen our public do to their animal friends.

Laughter is the medicine we take to make all that horrible stuff go away. 

A uterus full of near term puppies or kittens we gently place in the freezer so they stop moving in there as quickly as possible. Maggots on anything. That time where the entire staff put in unpaid time to try to save the puppy some jerk couldn’t be bothered to vaccinate, and they watch it die from parvo, spewing bloody diarrhea and then jerking until it stops. And the check bounces because that jerk was also a liar and a thief. 

Asking to charge is, after all, presumptive evidence of fraud.

Crying in the car doesn’t fix anything. Laughter does. Some of my friends hate this blog for they think it paints veterinarians in a bad light. They think. We shouldn’t mention all that bad stuff in public. We shouldn’t make jokes about it. Pretend it doesn’t happen. The world will think badly of our profession if we confess that this stuff gets to us. Well, if we truly didn’t care, if we truly were just in this for the buck, none of this tragedy would get to us. We’d just cash the checks and go down the path dancing and singing. I don’t know. Maybe my friends do precisely that.

I don’t. I find a way to laugh, instead.

We don’t spay tomcats. We spay those female cats, the queens. We neuter tomcats. So when you “spay” a tomcat, what you really do is surgically invade the abdomen looking for two ovaries and a uterus, and not finding such, you belatedly look under her tail, and her ovaries are right there. Just like in a tomcat. 


This is a mistake. It is easily corrected, by simply changing the gender of the cat in the medical record, and then you remove her testicles from under his tail, and all is right with the world, until you have to explain to the client that Jill is really Jack, and I am an idiot for not checking first. So I laugh, and the other doctors tip a cup to me at the next meeting when I confess, and they laugh too, because they are real veterinarians, too.

We turn other un-pleasantries into humor too. We lance an abscess on a cat, and the foul smelling pus roils out, and somebody asks, “Where’s the crackers?”

We spend an hour picking maggots from the skin of the old collie, and somebody always mentions that when the maggots are busily eating the live dog, they sound like rice crispies. Because, how else to you cope with the horror?

The gross drunk calls the office from the tavern, over and over again, from two phones and using all three of our phone lines, shouting and swearing and insulting my female staff members for three hours, while his low-life friends laugh in the background. And then sober, he shows up the next morning to pick up his dog, and I get to talk with him. And I explain how to do the home care for his dog, and which pills to give when, and then when that’s all done, I quietly ask him if he has the balls to say to me, face to face, even some of the crap he threw at my staff the day before. He hems and haws, and shuffles back and forth, and then he says he is sorry. And I reply: “You’re not sorry…you are an asshole. You are a sub-human primate.” And I proceeded to fire him, to toss him from our practice for eternity. Goodbye. And now, I can laugh about it. 

Every time I perform a euthanasia, deliver a humane death, provide the release from intolerable when that is the only thing left to do, and I stand there with the grieving folks left behind, and I tell them they did the right thing, that they did the only thing left to do, to provide a gift for a friend, I always tell a joke. Or six jokes. Because nobody goes home after parting with their friend, without laughing. 

Because that is how we heal.

They care. So I owe them that.


  1. I feel like the best thing to do is say...Thanks! How else can you get through life's tough moments without trying to take something from it and move on? Laughter helps.

  2. Hehehe, I knew there was a reason my boss had me check the real gender of a cat, and then double checked it himself. He must have done this at one point.

  3. I have "spayed" a tom cat before. It was my first year out of vet school and it was an orange tabby...we get so used to those being almost all male. Yep, egg on my face.

    However, a couple of years later, it almost happened again. A lady brought her registered *insert fancy breed* cat to be spayed. She had bought a male and a female with the intent to breed them. For over a year, these cats refused to reproduce. The female never seemed to go into heat. She took it to an area veterinarian for a breeding soundness exam and he told her that there was no reason why this cat could not get pregnant.

    Sadly, Fluffy never got pregnant. So, the owner brought in Hunk, the male to be neutered and the deed was done. Then she brought in Fluffy as she had finally given up the idea of breeding her cat.

    Prior to surgery, in all that fluff, we found testicles. No wonder that Fluffy never went into heat. No wonder Fluffy never got pregnant. However, I do wonder what sort of "breeding soundness exam" the other vet gave the kitty. And I have to wonder how the owner never experienced the problem of two intact male cats either fighting or spraying urine all over the house....not to mention the smell of the urine.

    Was the owner mad? Yep, she was mad, but she also found it humorous. Thank goodness.

  4. Recently came across this blog. Very funny and so true! I was however a little disturbed by the fact that you mentioned euthanizing kittens and puppies (though "only" near term) by placing them in the freezer. From one vet to another, that is wrong. I highly recommend that you take a peek at the most recent AVMA guide on Euthanasia. Freezing is never allowed unless the animal is fully anesthetized during the process. Again, great blog, but you should watch what you write, especially when it is considered inhumane.

    1. Actually, the last time I was talked into spaying a near term cat or dog was decades ago, long before chilling the fetuses became inhumane. Don't get talked into such anymore. Now, I probably would inject each and every pup and kitten, and that would be way more fun. :(

    2. We all know that things change as time goes on. There are still many people that are perfectly fine with hypothermia to induce "anesthesia" in rodent neonates today. This is after they are for thought.

    3. It is true that it is still accepted to anesthetize neonatal mice using hypothermia. I have never been comfortable with that idea, but none the less it is still commonly practiced and accepted by many. It would make you think that one could anesthetize a neonate in freezing temperatures followed by letting them eventually succumb to the hypothermia and expire. It would seem though that the AVMA would frown on this practice. As Dr. Bob mentioned above, an OD of a barbiturate will take care of the animals in a much more humane manner, however this still is not a pleasant experience (though often necessary!).

    4. Agreed. My point was that you were a bit to quick to assume this did not happen before the AVMA came out with their guidelines.

      The fact that you referenced these guidelines tells me that you are likely in a research type environment. If I am correct, you should know to get the entire story before telling a colleague their practices are inhumane.

      The guidelines actually only mention cooling in the text pertaining to ectotherms. It is true that hypothermia is in the chart of unacceptable practices, but the only mention of preneonates/neonates is this:

      "When ovarian hysterectomies are performed, euthanasia of feti should be accomplished as soon as possible after removal from the dam. Neonatal animals are relatively resistant to hypoxia."

      To which I ask, WTB is an "ovarian hysterectomy"? Sigh...guess there is an edit for the 2011 (2010?) version huh?

      We all need to continue to improve our processes as time goes on and we learn new things.

    5. You are correct that I was too fast to assume that this took place prior to the AVMA publishing any guidelines. However, anyone could make that mistake and I just was not sure if that was something that the author would want to admit to unless they stated it was before their were Guidelines about euthanasia. Maybe that is just me being overly cautious. :)

      You are correct, I am in a research environment. As you noted in the table on the last page of the document it states "...freezing as a sole means of euthanasia is not considered to be humane. If used, animals should be
      anesthetized prior to freezing." Additionally, under Hypothermia on the same page it also states "Hypothermia is not an appropriate method of euthanasia." The article above mentioned using freezing as the sole method, that was the only reason I brought it up. Wish I didn't know so much about this document, but it comes with the job! :)

      The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia is silent on anesthesia for neonatal animals. However, there are several published papers on using hypothermia on rodent neonates. I was wondering if the AVMA would then be ok with inducing anesthesia in a neonate through hypothermia followed by just allowing it to freeze. It would seem that that would be allowed by the letter of the law, but I am not sure if that was their intent.

      And about that ovarian hysterectomy... good catch. I think the comment period for the 2011 AVMA Guidelines is open for another month or so. Please let them know so that it can be fixed!

      "We all need to continue to improve our processes as time goes on and we learn new things." Could not agree with you more. I know that I have TONS of room for improvement!

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