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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Going Green with Large Animals: Part 1

As the New Year rolls around, we inevitably start to think about New Year’s resolutions. I am not immune to this habit and although I struggle with keeping said resolutions each January, I still have the best of intentions. One recurring resolution common for many people I think is to be more environmentally friendly.

Being greener at home is vastly different than greening it up in my line of work. Sure, I recycle whatever I can get my hands on in the kitchen and use re-usable bags at the grocery store, but at work? In the medical field, this type of environmentalism is far more difficult. Most of this has to do with issues of sterility. I don’t think clients would be too thrilled if they saw me re-using a syringe and needle because I didn’t want to waste supplies! To go along with single-use medical devices, there is also the packaging that goes along with it. Have you ever seen all the plastic caps and wraps and bags that encase a single IV catheter?

In the large animal veterinary world there is a device called a drench gun. For small ruminants such as goats and sheep, a drench gun is a device that allows someone to administer oral medication (usually a dewormer) to a large group of animals in rapid succession. This "gun" is really just a syringe in a plastic or metal holder with a hand squeeze. When connected to a bottle of medication, the syringe, when deployed, will fill with a pre-selected volume of medication based on the animal’s weight. In fact, the term "drenching" is used to mean giving an oral liquid medication to a farm animal.

Automatic syringes are another device often used in large animal husbandry, most often on large cattle operations. These devices are similar in nature to the drench gun, but administer subcutaneous or intramuscular injections. Often connected to a large bottle (usually either a dewormer, vaccine, or antibiotics in the case of a large herd disease outbreak), the self-filling syringe measures the volume dispensed per your prescribed setting. Measurements will not vary too drastically when treating a herd of beef cattle all within roughly the same age and body weights, making the automatic syringe extremely efficient when working herds of hundreds of animals. With this tool, the only thing changed between animals is the needle.

Although both the automatic syringe and drench guns are nice, these inventions were made purely on the basis of efficiency, not with the environment in mind. And while I still haul all the cardboard boxes that once contained medical supplies to the recycling center, along with empty plastic bottles that used to contain IV fluids, I feel there’s not much more I can do.

Even more depressing is the fact that methane, a by-product of the fermentation process going on in all ruminant digestive systems, is a greenhouse gas. In fact, the EPA estimates that globally, ruminants produce about 28% of methane emissions. That’s a lot of belching and farting cows!

However, as I was becoming increasingly despondent over my hole-in-the-ozone-creating patients and feeling as though my pitiful attempts at recycling a sterile saline bottle here and a plastic IV catheter cap there were really all for naught, I came upon some enlightening news. It appears that some enviro-friendly farms are really trying to make a difference and not only slash their methane mark but also have their cows produce their own electricity!

Stay tuned next week to meet some of these ingenious farmers!

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: Syringe X-Ray by Kevin Collins / via Flickr

Comments  5

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  • Next Week
    12/28/2012 11:58am

    I'm anxious to read how some farmers are producing electricity, assumption is that it's from methane!

  • Recycling bag-lady
    12/28/2012 12:13pm

    Although my recycling does not involve large animal medicine, I think any effort to recycle, re-use, and prevent waste is a good practice.

    I am an emergency-room RN who volunteers one day a week in an animal shelter as a veterinary assistant. There is a tremendous amount of waste in hospital settings; in my ER alone I collect several bags of "stuff" every week that gets new life and saves a lot of much-needed dollars in a shelter setting. Our hospital 4x4" gauze packs come in plastic containers of 10; usually we only use one or two for a dressing; the rest is discarded. I collect the unused ones to be autoclaved at the shelter; the plastic containers make great disposable food and water dishes.
    Our saline IV flush syringes come in plastic boxes that are 10x10x4"; I collect empty ones to make disposable litter pans for kitten cages.
    Disposable suture-kit stainless-steel instruments get disinfected, autoclaved, and re-used at the shelter as well...the hemostats are good for pulling ticks, the scissors for suture-removals, etc.
    Our ER patients who come in for nausea/vomiting are given a 10x12" plastic bath basin "just in case you need it"....even if unused, they would be thrown out...these again get new use as disposable cage-sized litter boxes for smaller cats.
    And then there is equipment....by cultivating a friend in the supply department, I have obtained perfectly good cardiac monitors and IV controllers that were headed for the dumpster simply because they had been replaced by newer models.
    It may not be much on a planetary level, but it is my small way of reducing waste and helping the animals I love by saving money the shelter can better use toward food, medicines, and other supplies.

  • 12/28/2012 08:35pm

    You are just wonderful, not just for your volunteering but for making sure perfectly good medical supplies are "repurposed" to help animals.

  • 12/29/2012 01:52am

    Wow - you are awesome!

  • 12/29/2012 02:04am

    I don't think it's particularly awesome, it's just that I hate wasting anything that could be put to good use; and our shelter is woefully short on cash as our budget is less than 15% supported by the county...the rest is donations.

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