Dr Rory Cowlam aka ‘Rory the Vet’

Hi Rory, you are the author of the best selling book, The Secret Life of a Vet. What inspired you to write it?

Honestly, it was a combination of things. I loved James Herriot as a boy and read those books back to back hundreds of times. Now that I have my own experiences as a vet and some pretty great stories that go along with it, I felt that I could try my hand at writing too. Not only that, I have been trying to find ways to highlight the mental health crisis within the veterinary profession and so this all tied in really well.

Tell us about your CBBC show ‘The Pet Factor’

Oh, it’s just bloomin’ wonderful. I started filming with the team at True North back in 2017, I was a proper baby vet back then only a year and a half qualified. It’s a wonderful documentary-style series showing kids exactly what it’s like to be a vet and everything from vaccination appointments to life-saving surgeries. I am really honoured to be a part of such a great production.

What is the toughest thing about being a vet?

There are so many highs to my job but as you can imagine there can be some real lows too. In reality, everyone expects me to say “euthanasia” to this question but I really don’t think that is it. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a fun aspect of the job but you are often doing it for exactly the right reasons and it’s a privilege to be able to alleviate suffering in that way. For me, it’s the lack of time to process my emotions. On an average day, I will spend somewhere between 11 and 13 hours at the clinic. During this time I am pulled from happy to sad to stressed to concerned to every other emotion you can fathom, all with no time to sit down and actually process how I’m feeling. This can become really destructive if you don’t find coping mechanisms and in my opinion, maybe one of the reasons we see so many mental health issues within the veterinary profession.

What is the best thing about being a vet?

The variety. I see some amazing people, incredible animals and work with the most wonderful bunch of people you could ever think of. It is really exhilarating to know that on my way into work I have no idea what could happen.

Are you worried about what will happen to pets acquired during the pandemic now that their owners are returning to work?

In a word, yes. So many people jumped at the opportunity to get a new pet last year. Don’t get me wrong, it was perfect timing! Loads of time to train and be around to enjoy your puppy or kitten. Unfortunately, though this has lead to a huge number of dogs and cats poorly bred and developing health issues at young ages, pets with real behavioural issues and people in a really tough situation as they return to work and haven’t left their new pet for more than 15 minutes to pop to the shop!

What advice do you have for pet owners who want their pets to adjust to their new routines?

If you haven’t already started some separation training, you should… Now.

Make sure you use lots of positive reinforcement, plenty of time-consuming toys/chews, crate train if that is something that works for you and your dog. But most of all, ask for help. Vets, behaviourists, other pet people all have good advice to try and help you out.

What do you think it is that has sparked a mental health crisis in the veterinary industry?

Oh, where do I start? There is no one thing really. To list a few: long hours, lack of time to decompress, extremely emotional situations, increasing business, angry and stressed clients, dealing with money (we are a private sector after all), client expectation, lack of staff…

All I know is that the veterinary industry has to start changing or there will be no one left in the profession. We are already seeing amazing charities like “VetLife” pop up who I term “the veterinary samaritans” and this is a great and welcome change.

What are some good resources for training your dog?

There are some great books out there. But this really goes back to my earlier point too. If you don’t know, ask for help! Speak to pert professionals and get advice. There are also some really good hints and tips on the APBC website (association of pet behaviour counsellors)

Where would you recommend someone to go (or not to go) if they were looking to get a dog or cat?

I wish it was as simple as this. There are a lot of websites out there that I worry about when I hear people get dogs or cats from them. Facebook marketplace for one! But in reality, as long as you follow a few steps you should be able to avoid buying from unsavoury breeders no matter where you look for a pet.

  • Always have a contract drawn up. If you google puppy contract – this is what you should be getting from a breeder.
  • Always always always see mum. This is non-negotiable and should be in person, with the puppies around her, BEFORE you commit to buying a pup.
  • Get regular Pupdates – ideally weekly with pictures, videos, as much info as you can get.
  • Check that the breeder has done all the necessary testing – this is all outlined on the Kennel Club website – such as elbow scoring for retrievers and hip scoring for German shepherds. Get these scores early and send them to your local vet for interpretation.
  • Make sure the pup has a health check and microchip before you pick them up, you should not be picking them up until at least 8 weeks of age!
  • This last point should be a given but if one more person comes to me and tells me that they got their puppy “home delivered” I will throw something. YOU should go and pick up the puppy. A breeder that home delivers your pup could have a LOT to hide.

The Secret Life of a Vet is available from all good book stores.


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