There is an urban legend at vet school that students always have the unluckiest and sickest pets. It seems like I am always hearing stories from classmates whose dog just had a second cruciate ligament surgery or was diagnosed with their fifth problem in as many months. I would like to think that vet students just notice when things are “off” with their pets and are responsible enough to bring them in right away, but I wonder if luck may have a little more to do with the high numbers of problems.
Last fall, my cat Mr. Fuzzybottom, who has never been injured or sick in his life, started to have a string of problems that got me thinking about luck and coincidences. The week after the class learned about urinary system problems, Fuzzy became blocked and was rushed in to the emergency room. Then, a few weeks later we were studying orthopedic injuries and Fuzzy scrambled over the couch and ripped a ligament in his knee. Our next subject was neurological disease, and though I watched Fuzzy closely, luckily his run of misfortune seemed to have stopped.
My other cat, Twinkletoes, was not as lucky. The semester I started vet school, she started having mysterious symptoms that, four years later, we are still trying to control. Through years of diagnostics and trial treatments, it appears that she has atopic dermatitis. This is an inflammatory disease of the skin and rarely can it be cured. We have been trying to manage it for years and have just started yet another treatment.
To make matters worse for vet students’ pets, not only are they the unluckiest pets, but they also are guinea pigs for future vets. My cats have been ausculted after cardiology lectures, restrained in towels after fractious animal lectures, had enrichment exercises after behavior lectures, and been put on diets after nutrition lectures. They have been thoroughly palpated and had to withstand a million thyroid-slip tests, had bright lights flashed in their eyes and gone through neurologic exams over and over, and been brought in and shaved for an ultrasound wetlab.
After all of this, Twinkletoes got her revenge. She needed to go into the vet teaching hospital and undergo general anesthesia for immunological testing. When I came in to get her after she had woken up and recovered, I was told that she was a little upset. “A little upset” turned out to be an angry cat that hunkered in the back of her cage and growled at the nurses when they tried to approach. “A little upset” turned out to be the evil cat that took two nurses, a vet student, and several thick towels just to get a catheter in. My sweet little cat had decided she had had enough of being a vet student’s cat, and it was time to go home.