What’s the Weirdest Animal Treated by Downe Vets

What’s the Weirdest Animal Treated by Downe Vets?

A question that I often get asked at parties is “What’s the weirdest animal you have treated?” When asked this question, I often pause, knock back my cosmopolitan cocktail and start picking my teeth with the little umbrella from the glass.  I need this stitch in time because there have been many weird and wonderful animals to cross our threshold.

        We could start with the wombat.  One night one of our loyal clients presented us with a truly strange beast for Lecale.  When he walked into the clinic all I could see was a long leathery tail hanging over his shoulder.  Draped around his neck was a giant wombat, wheezing away like he had just smoked 40 cigarettes and finished Jimmy’s 10K in record time.  As far as I could tell the nearest animal we have to this antipodean import is the large black rat.  Thankfully we were able to cure this beast’s pneumonia with drugs commonly used in dogs and cats.  He made a full recovery.

        On another occasion I was called out to assess a lion.  Yes, you read that correctly dear reader, a lion.  In Downpatrick.  The circus had come to town and one of the show lions was poorly.  Unfortunately he was old and beyond my help.  It became apparent that his suffering needed to end and I needed to put him to sleep.  This posed a problem:  how does one put a lion to sleep?  I was considering discovering my inner Magnum-PI when one of the handlers piped up “Fluffy is really quite civilized”.  “Fluffy” was indeed very civilized and permitted me to help him shuffle off his mortal coil with the minimum of fuss.  Lions are basically cousins of our domestic cats and this cat particular cat was a big softy.

        I could go on but space is limited.  Finally, I got a call on April Fool’s Day many moons ago.  A python had swallowed a yard brush, handle first.  I thought someone was pulling my leg.  But no, this was true.  I had to perform a house call as apparently snake + brush does not equal the space available in the back of a Renault 5.  I arrived at the house and all I could see was an 9 foot snake with the bristles of a brush sticking out of its mouth.  The solution was in fact simple: one person held the brush and two of us gently pulled the snake off the handle.  It made a full recovery.

        As you may have picked up from reading this article, there are many weird and wonderful beasts in Lecale.  You never know what’s just up the street from you.  As vets we are trained in comparative anatomy and physiology.  Just because we have never seen an animal before, this does not mean that we don’t know what to do.  Many animals are closely related and the treatment that works in one species will often work with another.  It has been a privilege to work with so many species over the years, and it definitely makes me more interesting at parties!

Cows Get Sunburn Too

Cows Get Sunburn Too!

It isn’t just people who can get sunburnt in this hot weather that Lecale is enjoying.  Did you know that cows can get sunburnt too?  It’s true!  Cows are as susceptible to sunburn and heatstroke as we are.  This means that farmers need to be aware of these diseases and take precautions to prevent them happening.

        Sunburn is damage to the skin caused by UV rays.  Cows with light-coloured coats or large white patches are particularly at risk.  E.g. the white patches in a black & white dairy cow are areas where sunburn is likely to happen.  Strong sun rays can kill the skin cells of these animals causing patches of skin to fall off.  This is painful and can result in further infection as well as reduced weight gain or a fall in milk yield.  Down the line it can cause fertility issues for the affected animal.

        Heatstroke is simply overheating of the animal.  This time it is black cattle that are more at risk.  They can overheat and start panting, slobbering and progress to collapsing and in extreme cases, death.  This too is a disease that we see in the summer in Lecale.  The weather doesn’t even have to be particularly warm.  An animal can become heat-stressed by over-exercising on even a moderately warm day.

        Treatment of both of these conditions is often unsuccessful.  Prevention is the key.  Farmers should ensure shade is provided for their cattle.  Either in the form of natural shade like trees or hedge-rows, or sheds.  Ensure plenty of water is available in the fields, noting that sometimes natural sources like streams can dry up in hot weather.  Try to refrain from moving animals in the heat, this can cause them undue stress.  If an animal does come down with sunburn or heat stroke, call your vet and try to provide emergency shade and water in the meantime.  Identify suceptible animals in advance, like very pale animals, and perhaps house them during the hottest part of the day.

        Enjoy the summer, you have earned a good rest after a long winter!  If in doubt, as ever, contact your vet.


Summer’s Here!  Time to apply sun lotion to the cat.

Thank God we finally have great weather.  It has been hot and sunny for the past few days, and this is likely to continue for the next few months.  FInally, a real summer season. Our furry friends enjoy summer as much as we do, but there are a few dangers lurking in on an otherwise beautiful day.


Previously we have dealt with issues like not leaving dogs in hot cars, and making sure all your pets have shade and water.  This week I want to talk about the dangers of UV rays to your cats. Yes, cats can get sunburn too!


Cat’s skin is in some ways similar to human skin.  White cats in particular don’t have much melanin, and so can be easily sunburnt.  For most of the cat’s body this is not an issue, as it is covered in fur so the sun’s rays don’t reach the skin.  However, the ears of the cat are not well covered in fur, particularly the tips. In cats of many body colours, the ear tips are often white and comparatively hairless.  This leaves them vulnerable to the sun’s rays during hot days.


So what you may ask?  Can’t my cat get a tan?  Unfortunately this is not what tends to happen at the ear tips.  Prolonged exposure to the sun in cats with white ear tips has been shown to result in skin cancer.  Squamous cell carcinoma to be precise. This is a nasty cancer that can eat away at the ear and spread down the cat’s body.  It looks just like a scab to begin with, and you may think that your cat has simply cut its ear, but this may not be the case.  It is wise to bring your cat to the vet to get these symptoms checked. The treatment is radical – it involves cutting the ears off to stop the spread of the cancer.  A serious step I’m sure you will agree.


Fear not, there is a preventative measure that you can take:  Apply sun lotion to the tips of the ears. Your friends and family may think you are mad, and your cat may not appreciate it, but you might be saving his life.  Daily application of high factor sun lotion can block the sun’s rays and help reduce cell damage. This can lessen the likelihood of your cat developing ear cancer and save his life.


If you need further advice, as ever, consult your vet.  And please enjoy the good weather. We had a long enough winter!


Wilbur in the summer 

Note Wilbur resting in the sun in this photograph.  Even a ginger and white cat like Wilbur is at risk of ear cancer and requires application of sunscreen.

Create a Hedgehog Sanctuary in Your Back Garden

Following on from our article a fortnight ago, this week we will discuss how to encourage our spikey friends to take up residence and thrive in your garden, if you are lucky enough to have one.  If you don’t have a garden, never fear, there are excellent facilities in the local area where hedgehogs are likely to explore. The Quoile Countryside Centre springs to mind! We have already noted that this is the season that hedgehogs emerge from hibernation and explore.  So with this in mind read on to see where hedgehogs like to live.



They don’t just live in your garden!  It is important to remember that hedgehogs roam around.  They will likely use your garden as a base if suitable, but will travel next door and beyond in search of food and mates.  With this in mind leave some hedgehog sized gaps in your fencing to allow the critters to escape.



Hedgehogs like to eat insects, slugs and worms.  If you have plenty of these in your garden it will be a cornucopia for our spiky friends.  Don’t use slug poison – consider using beer traps for slugs instead. Make sure the garden has areas where insects will like to live such as compost heaps and corners with long grass.  Compost heaps are like sushi bars for hedgehogs. They love them!



Hedgehogs may well decide that your back garden is their preferred pad.  If that is the case then they would like somewhere to sleep or hibernate over the winter.  Log piles are ideal for this. They provide cool, dry spots where hedgehogs can bed down. Remember not to use them as a bonfire at halloween!  They should be out of the way, preferably in the corner of the garden.



Wildflower patches are becoming increasingly popular in our gardens.  Not only do they encourage bees, they provide the dual function of privacy and food for hedgehogs.  They attract insects which hedgehogs can eat and keep them hidden from predators. They also look nice.


If you have the time and the inclination there is a good chance that your garden will have some spiky friends over the summer.  We wish you luck in encouraging nature.


It’s Time for Our Hedgehogs to Wake up!

Who doesn’t love hedgehogs? They are one of the cutest members of our countryside population. The hedgehog is one of our true hibernators. They spend the autumn and winter in a state of hibernation, and wake up in late spring. Given the cold spring that we have had, this means that our local hedgehog population is waking up now!

If you see a hedgehog in your garden it is most likely the Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), by far the most common type found in Ireland. These little critters are found all over the country. They live on a diet of slugs (yuck!) and other slimy creatures as well as beetles and spiders. On the flip side there are creatures that predate hedgehogs – notably the badger.

Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal creatures so your best chance of seeing them in your garden is at night. They are also quite shy so you may have to keep a close eye out for them. There is some evidence that they are in decline, perhaps either dying during colder hibernation spells or being killed on the road. This is where you come in – you could help to set up a “hedgehog-friendly” garden so that they will roam around your back-yard at night. For information on how to do this, see our next article.

Occasionally we at Downe Vets are presented with hedgehogs to rehabilitate. We find them partial to cat food, and have had a good success rate with returning them to the wild.


Downe Vets on TV!

Downe Vets have been asked to take part in a lovely TV series following the work of several different vets based around the Mountains of Mourne and featuring the wonderful animal life here. The series will be broadcast nationwide and filming will take place from March through to May – one of the busiest and most interesting times of the year for us. There is no obligation at all to take part in any filming but we would love to include as many of our clients and their animals as possible. So if you are due to come in for a check up or need to make an appointment and would like to find out more – then do drop us a note, give us a ring or drop by.

Down Veterinary Clinic – Downpatrick and Newcastle






12 Bryansford Road, Ballaghbeg, Newcastle, County Down. BT33 0HJ

Downe Vets Newcastle