MCC pampers furry patients


Taylor Cameron, Calumet editor

By Taylor Cameron

Being a good veterinary technician means caring for various animals with a gentle yet firm hand. Muscatine Community College strives to teach vet techs students the skills they need for success. Lacey Slutts along with her fellow instructors enjoy teaching these students how to succeed in the vet tech field.

Slutts teaches the required courses to become a vet tech. Among those classes are Clinical Technology 1 and 2. In both classes, students become familiar with the job of being a veterinary technician and begin to get hands-on experience, like proper restraint and physical exams. Slutts also teaches Canine and Feline Behavior.

“In Canine and Feline Behavior, students learn the behaviors of animals that may concern clients. This helps the students so they can have a good interaction with the client and veterinarian about how to best help the patient,” says Slutts.

Gage Coghill, under Slutts’ wing, is learning the skills to be a successful vet tech. Coghill always wanted to work with animals. But first he had to get his foot in the door at the veterinarian community, and what better way than to work alongside other vet techs.

“Some skills that I have obtained from the vet tech program include restraining an animal, drawing blood, and many more,” says Coghill.

Haley Coulter is learning to become a vet tech. Her farm upbringing made her familiar with restraining animals. “We use these restraining skills for many things such as toenail trims or giving meds,” says Coulter.

Coulter’s grandma inspired her to become a vet tech. “She taught me a love for animals and made me want to help them in any way possible,” says Coulter.

Slutts also teaches Anatomy and Physiology 1 and 2. “The students learn the inner workings of animals so that later they can learn about the diseases related to different body systems,” says Slutts.

Slutts teaches Canine and Feline Nutrition during the summer months. This class lays the foundation for students to be able to discuss the different foods with clients.

In the class Clinical Technology, the students get the chance to work with animals from the
Muscatine Humane Society.

“The animals stay with us during the week and the students learn to care for and help treat the dogs and cats. In exchange, the animals that the students have worked with on an individual basis, hopefully, make their future veterinary visits a bit easier,” says Slutts.

Coghill says, “We work with Humane Society animals to help with any problems the animals may have.”

The dogs and cats receive some veterinary care including dental procedures and diagnosis of intestinal parasites.

“In the summer the students work with birds, rabbits, and rats that are bought and then are later adopted out at the end of their Laboratory Animal class,” says Slutts.

The students also get the opportunity to work with privately owned cows and horses during their Large Animal Medicine class in the spring. In Anatomy and Physiology, the students work hands-on dissecting animal cadavers and organs.

Students have the most fun with live patients. One exercise is bagging the cats to apply eye drops or trim toenails.  

AJ is an orange cat and very hyperactive.  He wasn’t very happy being in the bag. AJ wriggled around and fought the students. Slutts taught them an easy trick to help get rowdy cats like AJ into the bags: Tuck their tails.

After each time the student rewarded AJ with a treat.

Po is an orange fluffy cat who was very laid back and easy to put into the bag. He just laid on the table and waited. Po also received a treat after each student put him into the bag.

After the students bagged both cats, they learned how to safely and sterilely apply either eye drops or a gel.

Slutts said the treats are important.

“We want the animals to think of the vet’s’ office as a safe place and not a scary place,” says Slutts.

Once the students were done with the cats, they moved onto dogs. The group that had rowdy AJ tended to a dog named Calvin. Calvin is a sweet, medium sized dog just as laid back as Po. The students also had to put drops into Calvin’s eyes. He laid on the table like a good boy and waited for his treat after each student took their turn putting the drops into his eyes.

The group who had laid back Po handled a brindle-colored dog named Coco. She was even more hyperactive than AJ. The students put her on the table to start putting drops into her eyes, but Coco was only interested in treats. The students took Coco off the table and put her onto the floor while bear hugging her into a corner as they put the drops into her eyes.

Coco would have none of it. She wriggled around and slipped out of the student, Emily Hardin, arms. Slutts decided Coco was too rowdy for that day’s class. She asked students to select another dog.

Coghill chose Bogart, a brown labrador who lit up at the sight of students. Bogart seemed to calm down after a few excited kisses to all the students. With Bogart in the corner, each student took their turn putting drops into his eyes.   

Veterinary technicians do the nursing care in the clinic, while veterinarians are the doctors on the team. “This is why vet techs are often called veterinary nurses,” says Slutts.  

Vet techs have an intense two-year education. Veterinarians typically complete their undergraduate degree and then go on for four-more-years of veterinary school.

Slutts says that she believes veterinarians’ jobs are more complex than human medical doctors’ because veterinarians treat many different species. Doctors only treat humans.  

Vet techs aid in surgery, check the patient under anesthesia, collect and run lab tests, take radiographs, and communicate with clients. The veterinarian has the responsibility of diagnosing each patient, giving a prognosis for how the animal will do long-term if it has a disease, and prescribing medications or treatments.

The students do not work with urgent cases at the school, but they do complete an eight-week internship where they are often exposed to emergency medicine and urgent care cases. Also, the second-year students administer and check the anesthesia, which can be a challenging and a time-sensitive task depending on how the animals respond.

The students occasionally are exposed to spays and neuters as needed by the shelter. “There are also spay days about once a semester in which the humane society brings about 20 animals in need of spays and neuters to be done on a weekend day. This gives the students practice in sedating, anesthetizing, and recovering patients that have undergone surgery,” says Slutts.

Coghill says, “I personally don’t help in surgeries because I am a first-year in the program, but as a second-year, I will be able to assist in a surgery.”

Coulter says, “As a first-year student, we do not assist in surgeries.”

The animals that the students practice on are then returned to the shelter so that they can be adopted.

The students also learn how to do dental cleanings. They have several dental days during the second year of their education. Dr. Dan Drahos, the head of the vet tech program, will perform surgical extractions of any severely diseased teeth.

“I personally haven’t experienced any urgent care situations while in the program. However, I have been lucky enough to experience some neuters, and even though dentals are not surgeries, they are still very cool to watch,” says Coghill.

Instructors try to have regular class participation so each student has a chance to practice with the animals.

The animals aren’t the only one who receive treats. “In my classes, participation is rewarded with sugar. In other classes, the students are rewarded with points,” says Slutts.  

Dr. Drahos sometimes records lectures ahead of time so that students can watch at home. In the labs, students handle and practice treatments with dogs, cats, birds, rats, rabbits, horses, and cows depending on the course.

When students graduate from the program, they will have a veterinary technician associate’s degree.

“In Iowa, this will help them get a job, but they can further increase their chances of getting a job as well as have a better income if they take the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam) and a state exam, and then apply for a state license making them a registered veterinary technician,” says Slutts.

In some states, students are required to be registered to work as a vet tech. They need to complete continuing education courses each year in order to stay registered.

Coghill plans to have an internship at a zoo and work with exotic animals. “After getting a feel of the profession, I plan to continue my education and head up to Iowa State to become a veterinarian specializing in marine animals.”

Coulter plans to find a job in a mixed practice working with small and large animals. “I will probably try to stay local for a while, but moving out west to work in a large animal practice has always been something I’ve wanted to do.”