The Hospital Pen

A sick animal has a greater chance of recovery if it receives a high standard of nursing during illness. An animal that is ill or wounded is under stress. It runs the risk of catching secondary infections and diseases. For example; a simple cut could expose an animal to invading bacteria and lead to tetanus. A slight cold could pave the way for the tuberculosis or pneumonia bacteria.

To compensate for the strain which the sick animal's body is under, the farmer must provide as stress free an environment as possible. This will encourage rapid healing and recovery as well as protect the animal from further infection.

Natural environmental stresses come from extreme heat or cold, lack of water, flies and biting midges. In addition, ill or wounded animals are often bullied by the herd or flock. If the sick animal is under any of these stresses, it should be removed to a hospital pen so that it can recover in peace. The sick animal will benefit from being in a kinder environment, and the farmer will find it more convenient to monitor the animal.

The animal in a hospital pen can also receive medication and special food to promote recovery. This would be difficult if the animal was left with the herd or flock. Another advantage of the hospital pen is that the animal might be harbouring a disease that could spread rapidly to the other animals. If the animal is isolated at an early stage, the chance of the disease spreading is reduced.

The hospital pen should provide shelter from the elements. A deep bed of straw or wood shavings will encourage the animal to lie down and rest. There should be plenty of fresh, clean water. If flies are a nuisance, areas of the animal's eyes, nose and anus should be wiped with anti-fly lotion or petroleum jelly. If the animal has a discharge (i.e. abnormal secretion from the eye, nose, vulva or anus) it should be wiped with cotton wool. The cotton wool should be burnt, in case the discharge carries any infection that might spread disease. Noise and movement should be kept to a minimum around the hospital pen to avoid distressing the animal unnecessarily.

Monitoring the Animal in the Hospital Pen

The farmer should note the number of times the animal passes dung, and whether it is constipated (indicated by dry, small dung), or if it has diarrhoea (indicated by loose watery dung). The farmer should also check whether the animal urinates normally; and whether the urine is discoloured. The animals reaction to food should be noticed and the colour of the mucous membranes should be checked regularly.

In addition, the farmer should monitor the vital signs at regular intervals as described below:

Taking the Temperature

A thermometer is lubricated with Vaseline and inserted with a twisting motion into the anus. It must be left for 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the make of the thermometer - read the instructions). The thermometer is withdrawn carefully, wiped free of Vaseline and debris, then read accurately. Make a note of the temperature and the time when it was taken.

Make sure you keep a tight hold on the end of the thermometer, or better still, tie a strong piece of string to it, and hold the string firmly. There has been more than one veterinary student horrified by a thermometer disappearing into the animal. The strong anal muscles can tend to suck the thermometer into the rectum, out of reach.

Taking the Pulse

The pulse can be counted where a large artery passes across the bone on the inside of the upper foreleg of a mammalian farm animal. As the heart beats, it sends a surge of blood along the arteries causing them to enlarge slightly. This enlargement can be felt if you press your fingers firmly, but not too heavily, against the artery.

You must count the number of enlargements (or beats) that take place over 1 minute. Alternatively, you can count the beats for 15 seconds, the multiply by four.

The Respiration Rate

The respiration rate can be determined by watching the animal's flanks and counting the number of times they rise over a given time period. Each rise in the flanks corresponds with an intake of air. Note also, if the animal makes a noise when it breathes. This indicates difficulty with breathing.

All of the information gathered when monitoring an animal can help a veterinary surgeon make a diagnosis of a disease. This is especially valuable if the vet cannot get to the farm to see the animal in person.

Not all wounds or illnesses require "hospitalisation".

In the case of simple or minor wounds, the farmer can reduce the threat of secondary infection by prompt washing of the wound and application of fly protection. He may want to dress the wound and apply antiseptic; and perhaps give a tetanus booster to provide maximum protection. The animal could then return to the herd or flock provided no bullying occurs, and provided flies don't become too much of a problem around the wound. The farmer should monitor the progress of healing until it is complete.

Separation of the wounded or sick animal from a herd, in itself causes stress. The farmer must balance up the pros and cons of using a hospital pen. Quite often it is better that the sick animal endures separation from the herd in order to give its body every chance of recovery. If the farmer is not sure of the cause of the sickness, they place the entire herd at risk of an infectious disease, by leaving the affected animal with the others.

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