Blood & Guts – Surrey Day 2

Welcome to Vet School. Grab an apron, some gloves, and a scalpel, and come help me slice up this dead horse. At least that’s what we were told when we stepped inside Surrey’s Pathology Centre.

Led by one of the Teaching Fellows and a few students studying Vet Bioscience, we studied the main bones in the forelimbs and hindlimbs of a horse. The biggest job was learning to differentiate between the two, and then it was simple enough to piece together the skeleton from diagrams.


After the anatomy lesson, we assisted in skinning a horse’s leg. This enabled us to get a clearer picture of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that make horses one of the most efficient creatures on earth.

Contrary to popular belief, horses don’t actually sleep standing up. We only think they do because they won’t go to sleep if there’s any possible predators around, and so you won’t ever see the horse lying down. However, they can rest their muscles while standing, which is what they’re doing when we think they’re sleeping. They do this by locking their kneecaps into place. This straightens the leg and puts all the pressure onto the tendons and ligaments. The muscles can then relax and gather more energy, helping the horse to recover.

Our next session covered disease control, which is a crucial role for vets working in association with government agencies. Since vets are the first point of contact when a dead animal is found, it becomes their job to run tests and determine if it’s an isolated incident or if they’re looking at a major disease outbreak.

That’s when the Animal and Plant Health Agency will be called in, and all the samples and analysis will be passed up the chain of command. If people act quick enough to put appropriate measure into place, such as quarantines and treatments, then the disease can be contained before it spreads. Lives would be saved.


We were soon back in the lab. This time, we performed a post morte

m examination on a sheep sent in by a local farmer. Symptoms included coughing and diarrhoea. Pus was discovered in the lungs, suggesting an airborne bacterial infection, and worms were found in the caecum, explaining the diarrhoea. The trouble is worms can be found in all wild or farm animals, and they aren’t necessarily a major problem. We needed to see if there were enough worms to lead to death, and what bacteria may have caused the infection.

The way to test for worms to look at a faecal sample under the microscope. Count all the eggs you can see and times it by fifty, giving you a rough idea of egg count in the organism. Our cut off point was 1000, so above this number would be deemed a threat to the sheep’s life.

Since our sample had an egg count of 900, we decided it wasn’t the worms that were the problem.


We performed a series of tests on the pus (which in true education style turned out to be custard). Gram stain tests can differentiate between two types of bacteria, gram positive and gram negative. Then the bacteria can be grown on various cultures, with their colour colonies corresponding to their species. Two strains were identified: Straphyloccus aureus, commonly found everywhere, and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia.

We had our diagnosis. Next step was to find a fast-acting antibiotic, which can be done by applying different antibiotics to a culture of the bacteria. The one that killed the most was chosen, and we would have sent that information back to the farmer so he could treat the rest of his flock. Job done.

Having skinned a horse, prevented a major outbreak of anthrax, and saved a flock of sheep from pneumonia, it was time to call it a day. We spent the evening relaxing in the cinema, watching The Secret Life of Pets. I’d recommend the film for a good laugh any day.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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