Have you ever struggled at home tending to your pet after they’ve been poorly or had surgery?
You realise taking them to the vet might be uncomfortable, stressful and even painful but as an owner you need the reassurance they’re ok?
You may have had to treat your pet by giving them medication or changing dressings and felt out of your depth.
It’s a situation most owners have faced. I know I have. As humans, we can rely on district nurses to care for us at home but our pets can’t.
But devoted registered vet nurse Carla Finzel is trying to change this.
She works as a district nurse for pets, treating them under the direction of their vet but in the comfort of their own home.
Carla treats Loki the cat who has an eye infection
Carla, 47, from Brighton, explains: “We expect so much from owners. If their pet has been seriously ill, they’re sent home and expected to do very complex things to help them recover.
“Things like urinary catheters, dressing wounds, giving injections of subcutaneous fluids, even caring for pets recovering from cancer. Seemingly simple things like putting in eye drops is so much more difficult with a pet.
“These are procedures we spent years learning at university but expect owners to be able to understand in just a few minutes. That’s why I wanted to help as I didn’t want them to suffer.”
Carla left her job in 2015 to set up as a district nurse
While a vet call out is around £70, her fee is lower, between £15 and £25 depending on the circumstances of the owner.
She admits it has been a struggle. In her first year, she only earned £5000 - a fraction of her £28,000 former salary - and lost her home.
Carla also volunteers for StreetVet, treating animals living with homeless owners. But now, insurance companies are recognising the importance of nursing at home.
Marks and Spencer, Petplan, Bought By Many, Pet Emporium and Tesco insurance have all settled claims for vet nurse treatment for Carla’s patients.
Now she is hoping more registered vet nurses will join her and she’s in talks with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Nursing Association for District Vet Nursing to be recognised and an option for all nurses.
Teddy having his blood pressure monitored by Carla
Carla says she has lots of support from vets
They feel equally frustrated that animals in pain and distress are being taken to surgeries when they could be seen at home - district nurses have been helping humans since 1868.
She said: “It’s bridging a missing link in pet care. I hope to train more nurses so they can work in their communities, particularly those with families as it can be more flexible.
“Vet nurses have so much passion and empathy, it’s devastating for us to see humans and animals in distress.
“I believe in ‘One Health: One Welfare,’ where the wellbeing of human and pet go together. Even more important is supporting those who can’t deal with their pet.
“People who are disabled, elderly, blind or deaf, owners who are ill or have suffered injury themselves - they need our help and it can avoid the heartache of a pet being rehomed.
“Being a district vet nurse requires strong people skills as clients are so diverse but whatever their background, our support protects the human-animal bond and gives them precious time together.”
Carla and one of her patients Molly
Carla sees several animals every day, and works from as early as 6am to as late at 10pm
Some poorly pets are seen up to six times a day if medication needs to be administered, if they’re being fed through a tube or if they’re in palliative care where they need to be given very strong pain medication.
Inevitably she has a special bond and saying goodbye is heartbreaking for her.
Last month, Working Cocker Spaniel Magic had to be put to sleep after months of fighting cancer at the age of 11.
Carla tended to him nearly every day, while under the care of the oncology team at TV Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick’s hospital, Fitzpatrick Referrals in Guildford.
She said: “Because Magic was having chemotherapy, his immune system was suppressed, so he couldn’t have his regular vaccinations.
“He needed to be checked over regularly, but because of his health, it wasn’t something a dog walker or pet sitter would have been able to do.
“His family are deaf and it wouldn’t have been fair to take him back and forth to the vets, but I was someone they could trust to care for him.
“I would check his temperature, make sure he was comfortable, make sure he was able to pee and toilet, monitor his medication and give feedback to the vets treating him.
“Sadly, he lost his fight at the end of January and I was there when he was put to sleep, with his family around him. I hope it was a comfort to him.”
Carla and Magic
Carla became so close to Magic’s family and the other dogs in the home
The oncology team at Fitzpatrick’s recognised her devotion to the dog and sent a condolence card to her praising her ‘kindness,’ ‘dedication’ and said the impact she had on his life had been ‘huge.’
Talking about the impact of Carla's support, Magic’s owner Kerena said: “With Magic, a district veterinary nurse was essential.
"Carla was able to come to the house and triage Magic, liaise on the phone with the team and carry out their prescribed treatment in the house or bring him in.
“She could monitor his condition from day to day, advise on diet and regime and discuss his case directly with the team at Fitzpatricks.
“She came with us to all his appointments and explained what was happening and the changing treatment plans.
“We were dealing with palliative care and, in humans, a Macmillan nurse is an essential part of that.
“I firmly believe that animals and their human families should have the same level of care and support living with cancer and preparing to say goodbye at the end.
“For my son particularly, this was traumatic. Magic had been his childhood friend, agility dog and also our unofficial hearing dog.
“The looming decision over euthanasia was something Carla worked hard with Fitzpatrick's to prepare Jordan for and supported us both through Magic's death.”
Diabetic cat Monty
Carla’s dedication has seen poorly animals turn their health around too
One of her success stories is diabetic cat Monty, pictured above, owned by an 85-year-old lady who has arthritis, cataracts and struggles to walk.
She wasn’t able to take him to the vets daily and without support, he would have had to be put to sleep or sent to an animal shelter.
Carla said: “If this had happened, imagine the heartbreak for his poor owner? But I was able to go and feed him every day, to make sure he had the right dose of insulin and check his blood sugar levels.
“Now, he’s a healthy weight and is in remission. He no longer has diabetes and, for the lady’s peace of mind, I visit every few weeks to check he’s ok.”
Carla with Molly and her owner
When you listen to Carla talk, her passion shines through
It makes so much sense and pet care, like any industry, has to adapt and change.
As an owner, I’ve felt helpless at times, and having a familiar person to care for me and my pet would have helped.
When I first adopted Patch, he had an eye infection, and I remember struggling to put in eye drops.
He was wuffing and kept running off and I felt like he hated me. He’d only been with me for a couple of weeks, but I knew I had to try to help him.
Had I been able to have a professional help me, I would have jumped at the chance.
And, like Magic’s owner, I made the agonising decision to put Daisy to sleep earlier this year when she had dementia and a suspected brain tumour.
The vet came to our home along with a vet nurse and they were so kind and compassionate.
It’s at moments like this it hits home what a remarkable job they do
When animals are elderly or poorly, or in many cases, both, having a regular nurse to tend for them and be there when they need comfort the most is something you can’t put a price on.
Carla says: “When you give a fellow human being and their animal the dignity they deserve in their frailest moments, you show them they’re not alone.
“I think, ‘What is nursing if it’s not giving part of your soul to carry people through their darkest moments?’
“That’s why it’s my mission for every owner, nationwide, to have access to a district nurse to help keep animals pain free and take away stress for their owners.”
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read Why Jade and Sam founded StreetVet to treat homeless pets or Meet the bereavement counsellor who helps owners cope with the loss of their pets.