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A day in the life of a charity vet at Christmas

Written by: Kirsty Warren
Published on: 13 Jan 2023

Image: © Anna / Adobe Stock

Image: © Anna / Adobe Stock

Life as a veterinary surgeon in the charity sector is challenging, varied and, above all, extremely rewarding. There is nothing better than treating a pet so it is well enough to make it home – especially at Christmas.

Our pet hospital cared for more than 15,200 animals in 2021. With more than half (53%) of our clients older than the age of 55 and almost 80% of them either pensioners, disabled or living with a serious illness or health condition, they are often those who rely on the companionship of a pet the most. Our work makes a difference to every pet we treat – and their loving families, too.

In 2021, across our 48 pet hospitals, PDSA vets and nurses treated more than 370,000 pets – 4,300 pets every day – and saved the lives of 134,000 with life-threatening conditions.

No two days in our hospital are the same. Whether it’s overseeing routine treatments or carrying out life-saving surgery against the clock, we are mindful to make best use of the resources we have available.

We harness a pragmatic approach, which relies on the wealth of clinical experience within the organisation to ensure best outcomes.

A day in clinic during the festive season


I begin the day with a handover from the out-of-hours veterinary team on the night shift. I have a registered nurse and a veterinary care assistant helping me to assess the inpatients and put together a plan of action for the day.

My two main patients today are both cats: one has a suspected pelvic fracture and the other has a urinary catheter, which was placed the preceding day after presenting with a blocked bladder.


An inquisitive Labrador retriever pup has just been admitted for vomiting and a painful abdomen. During examination, my colleague was concerned there could be a mass in its abdomen, so we’re naturally suspicious of a foreign body.

The dog is placed on IV fluids by our veterinary nurses to correct its dehydration and given analgesia ahead of further diagnostics.


My next port of call is elective surgery and my first operations are both routine neutering procedures. Part of my role is educating our clients on the benefits of these important preventive measures to help ensure a healthier life for the pets we treat.

After having to halt such elective procedures during the pandemic to prioritise urgent cases, it was good to be able to start offering them to our clients again.



While I’ve been in theatre, the young Labrador retriever has been x-rayed by our nurses, which shows a likely obstructive pattern and a soft tissue opacity in the intestines. Coupled with the outcome of the clinical examination, the findings mean the puppy is going to need surgery.

At exploratory laparotomy, the culprit – part of a Christmas decoration the pup had managed to get hold of – is identified and removed from the dog’s small intestine via enterotomy. Luckily, no resection is needed, and it is left in the dependable hands of the nursing team to be cared for during its recovery.

The festive season can bring added risks to inquisitive pets from decorations, to poisonous plants and potentially toxic foods. PDSA works hard to educate owners about pet well-being and safety, including seasonal dangers. We have lots of free information and advice on our website to help owners.


My final patient before lunch is the young cat that was brought in the previous night with a suspected fractured pelvis. It is a lot more comfortable after a few doses of analgesia, but my suspicions are confirmed by its x-rays. Luckily, the fracture is non-surgical and the dedicated nursing team can continue to monitor the cat and make sure it remains stable.

Having a talented and dependable team of registered nurses and veterinary care assistants at my side leaves me confident in the knowledge that all our patients are in safe hands while they recover.


To provide our patients with the very best care, we need time to refuel ahead of the afternoon. Our veterinary team is always covered on the rota to ensure we can take a well-earned lunch break during our shift.


After lunch, my first job is to check the status of the inpatients. The cat with the fractured pelvis that I assessed this morning seems comfortable and is able to urinate independently, so it’s good news for her owners, who can come and collect her this afternoon – just in time to enjoy the festive period at home with her family while she fully recovers.

The whole team working closely together is what allows us to make a difference for so many pets. Pragmatism and efficiency will become ever more crucial going forward, given the expected rise in owners needing to seek the charity’s support for their pets’ veterinary care. As the cost of living crisis continues, our pet hospitals are a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable owners and their pets.


My afternoon, along with a team of four other vets, is spent consulting. In these 10-minute slots, I see everything from itchy skin and painful ears to diarrhoea and vomiting, along with management of chronic conditions and follow-up appointments. As ever, the support team of nurses and veterinary care assistants is essential for the efficient running of a fully booked consulting afternoon.

We see people from a range of backgrounds and circumstances on any given day, and our veterinary skills are often challenged with complex cases, which ensures we are continuously evolving our skillset.



After a busy day, it’s time to hand over my inpatients to the late vet, who will be caring for them until the OOH team takes over. The curious little Labrador retriever is still recovering from surgery, but doing well, and some of my consultations from earlier need to be kept in overnight for close monitoring by the OOH team.

After making my final observations, I head out the door on time at 5pm, ready to unwind and be well rested for my shift tomorrow.

As a vet in the charity sector, each day is different from the next. We focus on a pragmatic approach to care, which allows us to support hundreds of thousands of vulnerable owners each year, whose pets may otherwise go without treatment or, sadly, even have to be rehomed.

To find out more about a career that pushes your confidence, fosters your veterinary skills and helps to keep families together when they need it most, visit