7th Dec 2020 @ 10:04 pm

Lanzarote vet Jane Burke remembers some Christmas callouts and reminds us of a few festive no-nos.

My earliest memories of Christmas are those of the terrible anticipation of Christmas Eve, always punctuated with tears and argument, and the unbelievably distressing delay on Christmas morning whilst we all had to eat breakfast before present-opening.

Eventually, mum, brother, myself and the dog would get settled on my parents’ bed where Keltie was allowed to tear the wrapping off each one of our presents as my father fetched them. Her giddy, delighted destructiveness is still more memorable to me than any of the presents.

My parents’ constant affection for her and their endless patience with us and each other makes me feel sad for the many grim Christmases my own children endured. I am very aware, looking back, that I was (and still am), very much a ‘glass half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ person. I was late to start a family and I worked too much, I was too often overwhelmingly tired, and occasionally hungover. Increasingly, I found Xmas crowded with absent friends.

I’ll share some of my more memorable callouts below, aware that my tales of Christmas emergencies are not amusing, exciting or even remotely interesting to my kids who had to largely make their own entertainment with elderly grandparents as I was on call every Christmas throughout their childhood. Maybe I can make amends with my grandchildren?

Christmas callouts

One puppy started them early with repeated periods of severe disorientation and aggression. His troubles waxed and waned until a visit on Boxing Day (designed to discover who was actually feeding the poor creature booze). As I walked into the front porch I commented on the strong smell of varnish and the family explained they had revarnished the mantelpiece three times already as the puppy kept licking it off. Yes, people are really that thick! Still, they loved him dearly, paid his bills and they lived together happily for 16 years with no further Christmas calamities! Their daughter later came to see practice with me and qualified as a veterinary surgeon.

One beloved Birman cat jumped on her owners extravagantly laid table and set her tail alight on the Christmas candles. In excruciating pain and panic she leapt into the crystal glass chandelier and sliced her tummy open as she struggled and fell. Sadly heroic surgery failed to save her, but my English setter nursed and reared her two kittens who both grew up to play fetch and bark at the front door – I kid you not!

A pony in nearby stables got colic from eating chestnuts after a clueless owner decided to offer them, cooked and shelled. I spent long, cold hours rectally evacuating her and massaging the spasming intestines, holding her head, walking her round and administering unbelievable quantities of liquid paraffin down a stomach tube. It was a long Christmas, but she lived.

The local blacksmith had volunteered to assist and keep me company on Christmas day and later insisted he fell in love with me whilst I was doing a rectal examination of that pony. We became close friends, and I have fond memories of his parents. He lives in Malaga now.

If you find my cautionary tales annoyingly self righteous, I have to tell you that, when I was lodging at a friend’s house in my first year in practice, we woke up on Christmas day to find someone had stolen the Christmas cake she had lovingly baked and iced so beautifully the night before. It was gone, including the lovely decorative reindeer and sledge I had contributed to the occasion. We were gutted!

It was Boxing Day evening when my English setter pooped the first reindeer out. She didn´t even suffer indigestion, just a squeak or two of discomfort when the sledge was expelled! I was incredibly lucky. Don´t leave it to chance, and keep pets away from decorations.

I hope you all find some joy in the last weeks of this truly dreadful year. I hope we all find a way to appreciate the friends and families we share this fabulous island with, and make certain to share some of our luxuries with those that have none, find a way to give some of your Christmas excess food and drink to less fortunate families.

Never, in my life here, have so many had so little and lived with such fear. Pets are luxuries and all the welfare communities are struggling but they will help! DO NOT BREED ANY MORE CATS AND DOGS. Do not stay friends with those that do. Do not hesitate to ask your vet for help to get your pets neutered or vaccinated. If they can´t, they might know someone who can. And, when we have checked the pets’ water bowls are sparkling clean and full, let´s all raise a glass and be thankful for living here, sharing our lives with our families & furry family and genuine human friends.

Jane’s Christmas no-nos

Poisoned, dying or extremely sick pets are not very festive. Keep things merry by following these rules:

NO LILIES. In houses with cats. All parts of the plant and even the water they are in and the dust from the stamens are poisonous to them!

NO GRAPES. For the dogs, (including dried grapes such as raisins) in Christmas cake/pudding, mince pies.

NO CHOCOLATE. It really is deadly to dogs in excess. Even tiny tree chocolates can add up quickly to a ruined Christmas or a dreadful death

NO CHOPPED BONES. I have seen every bone you can name cause fatal obstruction in the throat, chest or intestines of some poor creature! Cooked or raw, dispose of them with extreme care!

NO ALCOHOL OR DOPE. Keep pets away from inebriated guests and ensure they cannot drink from disregarded glasses or steal the cannabis stash. Alcohol will kill – the smaller the pet the lower the tolerance and, whilst cannabis is not fatal, a stoned pet can ruin everyone´s day.

NO LARGE QUANTITIES OF ONIONS/GARLIC, such as stuffing! Very sick pets with massive abdominal pain and occasionally death!

NO MILK (OR DAIRY) AS A TREAT. Whilst many pets are fine with a little, some are really not and some are dreadfully ill. Violent retching, explosive diarrhoea and huge vet bills don’t make for a very merry Christmas!

TAKE CARE WITH WAX PAPER, ALUMINIUM FOIL, SKEWERS, TOOTH PICKS etc All these are attractive to pets who can smell the food and do not realise the terrible consequences of swallowing indigestible items.

NO OVERFEEDING. Especially this year, as I’m already seeing animals with lockdown love handles.