Rat-Bite Fever and Pet Rats: How Concerned Should We Be?

April 16, 2014
Photo: freeinfosociety.com

Photo: freeinfosociety.com

The recent report of a 10-year-old boy that died from rat-bite fever in San Diego has raised concerns about the risk of contracting this disease from pet rats. The family of the child is suing Petco, where they bought a pet rat two weeks before the boy died after a 48-hour illness characterized by flu-like symptoms. This incident has brought into discussion the rare but real risk of this zoonotic disease, which is caused by two different bacteria that are carried by rats. The type of rat-bite fever that is most common in North America is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis. Another form of rat-bite fever is caused by Spirillum minus and occurs primarily in Asia. Rats can carry both bacteria as part of the normal flora of their respiratory tract. Because of this, rats do not usually exhibit any outward signs of illness from these bacteria. People are infected with the bacteria through rat bites or exposure to urine, feces or saliva of rats that carry the organism.

Illness after the bite of a rat has been described for thousands of years in Asia in poor populations that are exposed to wild rats. With the increased use of large numbers of laboratory rats in the last century, this disease has been seen most often in laboratory animal workers in the US, as well as in poor populations. However, the growth of the pet industry and the increased popularity of fancy pet rats in the last 30 years have shifted the disease incidence so that now more than 50% of the cases in the United States are seen in children. Rat-bite fever is not a reportable disease in the US, so the actual number of cases that occur annually is unknown. However, the incidence of the disease in the US is very low, and death from rat-bite fever is also rare. The cases that are known are those that are documented in the medical literature. To complicate matters, the clinical signs of rat-bite fever in people are nonspecific, and the tests to isolate or identify the organisms involved are not routine. Often, a history of exposure to a rat, in combination with the clinical signs, is the clue that doctors use to suspect rat-bite fever in patients, and then diagnosis is based on specific testing methods. If the disease is suspected or diagnosed, treatment with antibiotics is curative in most cases. A good review of this disease is available – see Rat Bite Fever and Streptobacillus moniliformis.

So what is the risk of this disease if you or your children have a pet rat? Fancy rats are very popular as easy to maintain, social and gentle pets. They are common children’s pets but also have an avid following among adults who can’t afford or don’t have the lifestyle suitable for a dog or cat. Fancy rats are widely available from both pet stores and private breeders in different colors, sizes and conformations. However, few, if any of the pet rats sold are tested for the bacteria that cause rat-bite fever. The prevalence of the bacteria in rats can vary, from as few as 10% to as many as 100% of rats in a breeding colony or laboratory that are infected. Any pet rat can carry these organisms, but the risk of actually contracting the disease from the rat is very low.

What should you do? As with any animal that carries a risk of zoonotic disease, hand-washing after handling is of utmost importance. Using either soap-and-water or an alcohol-based hand cleanser after handling the pet rat and cleaning the cage is mandatory. Children should be instructed to always wash their hands after playing with the pet and to always tell parents about any bites that occur when handling the pet. Owners of pet rats should immediately report unexplained fevers, illness or rashes to their healthcare provider. Specialized screening tests to see if your pet rat is a carrier of S. moniliformis are available from veterinarians, but make sure you call ahead to see which veterinarians provide this test, as it is not routinely offered.

This blog was written by:
Katherine Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian)
Head, Avian and Exotic Pet Service

The Animal Medical Center


Making a Specialist Visit Special

April 2, 2014
A French bulldog is examined by AMC's Ophthalmologist

A French bulldog is examined by AMC’s Ophthalmologist

Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?

Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.

Specialist Agenda
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:

  • Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Make a list of possible diagnoses
  • Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
  • Interpret the test results once they become available

Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.

Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.


The [Veterinary] World is Flat

February 26, 2014

digital x-raysThe title of this blog takes its name from author and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The book’s thesis explains globalization in the 21st century as a result of wide accessibility to personal computers and fiber optic cables which make communication via email and information gathering via the internet nearly instantaneous. This form of globalization renders geographic divisions between countries irrelevant.

Friedman describes “ten flatteners” including: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Netscape and workflow software. My own observations of the world of veterinary medicine indicate that it is not much different than the global economy Friedman describes in his book. Paying tribute to the Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman, here are my veterinary flatteners.

A New Workflow
Digital radiography has changed the workflow of daily veterinary practice. In the pre-computer days, each x-ray was a piece of film, not easily copied and very easily misplaced. Now The AMC and many other veterinary hospitals have switched to using digital radiography, using a machine that looks like a regular x-ray machine but which takes digital images similar to those taken with your smart phone. These x-rays can’t be lost because the images are stored in a picture archiving and communication system (PACS). The image files are very large, but can be transported by burning them onto a CD or transferring them through any number of file sharing systems.

Electronic Medical Records
As it has revolutionized the global economy, the personal computer is revolutionizing veterinary practice. Electronic medical records systems (EMRS) allow rapid dissemination of medical information between specialists and primary care veterinarians. I can write a letter to a patient’s primary care veterinarian after I have completed my consultation with their patient. Through the magic of the EMRS, I can have the letter in that veterinarian’s inbox for his/her review before the pet has returned home.

Board Certification
Twenty-five years ago when I started the process of becoming a board certified veterinary oncologist, there were only about 25 veterinary oncologists in the world. The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine now has certified over 300 oncology diplomates and there is a European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine which certifies oncologists as well. Board certified specialists all over the world form a healthcare network that trades patients back and forth when pet owners relocate or go on vacation, just as I described in a previous blog: “Clea’s International Healthcare Team.” Since veterinary oncologists and other specialists have expanded their reach worldwide, specialist veterinary care no longer has geographic boundaries.

Multinational Veterinary Companies
Specialists are not the only international flatteners. Because international companies provide veterinary products and services, veterinary specialists can access information about pets seen by a veterinarian practicing on a different continent! Take for example my patient Gigi. She came to The AMC from Kuwait, but because the biopsy of her tumor was sent to the European branch of the same laboratory used by The AMC, I was able to ask additional questions about the biopsy result. The biopsy sample was retrieved from storage and then reviewed by a pathologist in Europe. The answers to my questions were sent via email.

Real Time Communication
The internet has changed the face of veterinary education. Today, veterinarians no longer have to travel to earn continuing education credits necessary to maintain their licenses. Continuing education comes to them though their computers. This year, the keynote speaker addresses at the annual Veterinary Cancer Society Meeting were streamed live to members unable to attend. Additionally, several internet based companies offer on-demand veterinary continuing education opportunities.

The veterinary world is indeed flat and that means your pet can get excellent veterinary care from a veterinarian in your neighborhood or from a specialist somewhere a long way from home!


AMC Resident Research Abstract Presentations

January 15, 2014

veterinary researchJust before Christmas, The Animal Medical Center held its annual residents research abstract presentations. As part of their specialty training, residents are expected to design, execute and report on research in their area of clinical specialty, and this mini-conference provided a forum for exchange of the knowledge gained from research between members of The AMC medical staff. The AMC performs a very specific type of research – clinical research. This means we study diagnostic testing, new treatments and procedures in the patients we care for as part of our effort to improve the health and well-being of our patients. We do not test or treat any animal for the sake of “research.”

Caspary Research Institute
Research at The AMC is not new; when The AMC moved uptown in the 1960’s from Lafayette Street to its present location, a decision was made to locate the new veterinary research institute right in the middle of the Upper East Side’s strong human-focused biomedical community. The AMC became the fifth biomedical institution in the neighborhood, joining The Rockefeller University, Cornell University Medical College, Sloan-Kettering Institute and Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. Early architectural drawings of the AMC building show a sign on the north side of the building saying, “Caspary Research Institute.” When The AMC opened on 62nd Street, research and patient care were its main focus areas.

Short and Sweet
From a research point of view, an abstract is a very short presentation – 12 minutes, followed by a 3 minute question and answer period. Resident research abstract presentations are commonly preliminary reports which allow discussion of data and help formulate the interpretation of results prior to the writing of a manuscript for publication. Because the information presented was preliminary, I have a few interesting tidbits to report.

Lookalike Medicines
One study evaluated treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs with an anti-seizure medication compared to dogs treated with a placebo. In order to help veterinarians and owners make an unbiased assessment of patient response to the actual medication, our colleagues at Best Pet Rx Pharmacy made every dog’s medication look exactly the same. No one could tell which dogs were getting the medication being studied and which dogs were getting placebo pills. This is called double blind study design. Double blind because two people, the patient and the researcher, don’t know the treatment group assignment because it is hidden by the look-a-like pills.

Challenge of Science
Most research projects do not proceed exactly as planned. A study of ICU patients was designed to follow the effects of treatment on dogs with low blood protein (hypoalbuminemia). Dogs were to have a blood sample prior to treatment and 48 hours later. The study did not meet the enrollment target. Why? Despite an impression that dogs stayed in ICU longer than 48 hours, most dogs did not stay that long and fewer dogs than projected entered the study. Of course, we were happy your dogs went home earlier than expected, which was a scientific finding on its own.

Changing Protocol
The AMC’s ICU patients often need to be fed intravenously. We use a commercially available product called Procalamine. This product provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein and glycerin, as a source of glucose for energy. One emergency critical care resident studied patients receiving Procalamine as part of their treatment protocol. Patients receiving Procalamine through a catheter in their leg had more inflammation of the blood vessel than patients who get Procalamine through other, larger blood vessels. Although the directions for Procalamine indicate it can be given in the legs, we now will try and avoid this whenever the patient’s condition allows it.

Helping Pets Everywhere
These types of studies enable AMC veterinarians to improve the level of care for your pet. Through the publications that will result from these and other studies performed here, the knowledge will improve the care of pets everywhere.


National Veterinary Technician Week 2013

October 15, 2013
Christina and a patient in ICU.

Christina and a patient in ICU.

This week, October 13-19, is National Veterinary Technician Week when we honor veterinary technicians or nurses for their role as critical members of the veterinary healthcare team. The technicians at The Animal Medical Center are a unique group in many ways.

A whole lotta’ techs
The AMC employs 75 technicians, each and every one licensed by the State of New York. These critical veterinary team members provide exceptional care to your pets no matter if it is high noon or 3 o’clock in the morning. The lowest number of technicians on duty in the hospital at any time during a 24 hour cycle is at 3 am when there are eight licensed veterinary technicians on the premises. These multi-tasking technicians run lab tests, take x-rays and provide compassionate patient care 24/7.

Trish and a canine patient.

Trish and a canine patient.

Big skill set
Because The AMC is a specialty hospital, our technicians learn specialized skills to support the veterinarians and patients on their team. We have technicians trained to perform hemodialysis, administer chemotherapy, prep patients for surgical procedures and assist in the operating room. Technicians maintain our delicate equipment like endoscopes and cage-side laboratory equipment to keep us ready for any emergency situation. Some of our long term technicians have worked in multiple areas throughout the hospital and have multidisciplinary skills, including care of exotic pets, plus administering radiation treatments or evaluating intraocular pressure and blood pressure!

Frankie assists Dr. Quesenberry with an examination of a swan

Frankie assists Dr. Quesenberry with an examination of a swan

Lifelong learning
Continuing education is required to maintain a veterinary technician license in New York State. To facilitate continuing education credits for our technicians, The AMC sponsors lectures on topics important to technicians, such as diabetes and heatstroke, through our Partners in Practice lecture series, and welcomes the participation of technicians from other veterinary practices as well. On a national level, the numbers of specialty certified technicians is small, but growing. The AMC is leading the pack with some of the first North American Veterinary Technician Academy (NAVTA) certified specialty technicians in the country. We currently have a total of five NAVTA certified technician in emergency critical care and anesthesia. The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service has two technicians certified as Canine Rehabilitation Assistants and more in training.

A heartfelt thank you to vet techs everywhere
On behalf of veterinarians and the patients who benefit from the skills and knowledge of our technician team members, thank you for your hard work and dedication. Pets and vets need techs because we can’t do it without you.


Choosing a Veterinary Hospital

July 31, 2013

Exotics1Is there a new puppy in your family? Has the backyard cat installed himself on your family room sofa? Have you inherited grandma’s piano and her parrot? If so, you won’t want to leave the important decision regarding the choice of your new pet’s healthcare provider to chance. Here are some tips for choosing the right veterinarian and veterinary hospital for your pet.

Location, location, location
In Sunday’s New York Times, healthcare reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal, talks about choosing a hospital for your own care. She writes, “Indeed, with thousands of good hospitals across the nation, the best selling point for routine medical care may simply be convenience…” Whether or not you agree with her point of view regarding your personal healthcare, proximity may be a consideration in choosing a primary care veterinarian. A new puppy will need several rounds of vaccines and a spay or neuter surgery requiring transporting the pet to and from the hospital on multiple occasions. But if you have a parrot, the closest veterinary hospital may not have a veterinarian with expertise in avian medicine and you will need to choose a clinic providing bird care, not necessarily the closest clinic.

Proximity plays an even more important role in the selection of an emergency hospital. When your pet is hit by a car and in shock, has serious bleeding or can’t breathe, time is of the essence and the closest animal ER is the best ER for your pet.

Assessing hospital quality
If you personally needed a heart valve replacement, for example, you might look for data on outcome for valve replacement surgery at the various hospitals in your area. In New York State we have the New York State Hospital Report Card. You could also search the doctor ratings on the website of your healthcare provider. Since this type of information is lacking for veterinary hospitals, you might turn to online sources to read the opinion of pet owners who have posted their experiences. I must admit, to me, these online reviews can often seem more like rants and may not provide the objective information you need to guide your pet healthcare decision making process.

A better method of assessing hospital quality would be to look for a hospital accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Their website also allows you to search for the AAHA accredited hospital nearest you. Choosing an AAHA accredited hospital assures pet owners that the hospital they select has the staff, equipment, medical procedures and facilities that AAHA believes are vital for delivering high-quality pet care. The Animal Medical Center has been AAHA accredited since 1976, and to maintain our accreditation we voluntarily receive triennial evaluations on over 900 standards of small animal hospital care.

Finding the right specialist
The easiest way to find a specialist for your pet is for your primary care veterinarian to recommend one she works with on a regular basis. This will ensure a good line of communication and seamless medical care. If your veterinarian doesn’t have a recommendation:

  • Search the website of the type of specialist you are looking for, e.g. veterinary cardiology, veterinary surgery or veterinary dentistry.
  • For a cutting edge therapy, you might have to travel a good distance to find the specialist your pet needs. Use a scientific search engine like PubMed or Google Scholar. Search for the procedure your pet needs. When the search identifies a particular hospital where the procedure is commonly performed or a veterinarian who is a frequent author of scientific articles on the procedure, focus your search on this clinic or veterinarian. Examples of this type of procedure include repair to a ruptured ligament in the knee or image modulated radiation therapy.

Quick tips on finding the right veterinary hospital

  • Know where the closest animal ER is and keep its address and phone number in your GPS device, cell phone and on the refrigerator list so you are prepared for an emergency.
  • Don’t be afraid to visit potential veterinary hospitals before booking an appointment. Find out if their clinic schedule matches your availability. Ask the receptionist about their preventive healthcare protocols.
  • In case your pet develops an unusual medical condition or requires specialized surgery, ask your trusted primary care veterinarian about the network of specialists they recommend.

International Health Papers: How to Avoid a Justin Bieber Epic Fail

May 21, 2013
Justin Bieber and Mally

Justin Bieber and Mally

International travel with pets is a complicated affair. Each country has its own set of rules about vaccinations, blood tests, deworming and microchipping. For island countries free of rabies, an elaborate scheme of testing and vaccination is required to prevent a dog or cat from introducing the disease to the country.

Some families handle the international health paper requirements better than others. Take for example Justin Bieber and his pet Chapuchin monkey, Mally. Passports are required for band members on the Believe Tour to enter a foreign country, and Mally the monkey needed special health papers to enter Germany. The problem was, proper papers were lacking and Mally’s concert touring days prematurely ended. Apparently, Mally remains overseas.

Here’s a better story of a family that did their homework regarding international pet travel. Today I saw a cute dog named Avatar, in need of an international health certificate. One of the requirements for entry into her home country is a health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Not every veterinarian is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but this family knew to ask for an accredited veterinarian because they had carefully researched this information.

Avatar came to my office with a pile of papers carefully detailing all her vaccinations. I need this information to be sure she meets the entry requirements and to document vaccinations on the international health certificate. Another requirement for Avatar’s destination country is vaccination against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria spread in the urine of wild animals. Happily, the paperwork indicated a vaccination against leptospirosis and I quickly checked off that requirement.

Avatar’s destination country did not require a microchip, but documentation of a microchip is a common requirement for entry into many countries. Some countries also have their own import paperwork, but Avatar’s accepted the USDA form. Once I signed off on my part of the health certificate, Avatar had another stop: the USDA area office at JFK Airport, where she received the endorsement of their New York area veterinarian.

How can you avoid a Bieber epic fail when traveling internationally with your pet?

  • Start early to ensue you have enough time for required testing or vaccination protocols.
  • Do your homework. Start with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website and the website of your destination country for pet import requirements.
  • If you need the signature of an accredited veterinarian like me, check to see if your veterinarian is accredited or ask for a recommendation.
  • Keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and other preventive health care measures to avoid any delays in getting your pet’s international health certificate.

What’s On Your Veterinarian’s Mind?

November 28, 2012

A recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In this blog, I will write from the veterinarian’s point of view and in next week’s post, the issues from the pet owner’s perspective.

Starting with an exam

In an exam room with a pet owner and a furry, feathery or scaly patient, veterinarians focus on performing a complete physical examination, a pet’s need for routine blood testing, intestinal parasite control and issues related to senior pets and pain management.

Physical examination detects abnormalities in your pet’s body that veterinarians can determine the cause of through blood tests, x-rays, and other specialized tests. For example, crusty eyes will be tested for tear production, or a brown discharge in the ears will provoke an ear swab and a microscopic examination of the discharge to determine the best medication to clear it up.

If your cat is losing weight or your dog has a bad haircoat, thyroid testing might be indicated.

Blood tests

A complete physical examination is just one component of assessing a pet’s health. Veterinarians use blood tests to monitor organ function, monitor drug therapy and discover disease. Without them, we can only guess about your pet’s health. You shouldn’t be surprised that blood tests are high on our list.

Intestinal parasite control

The Companion Animal Parasite Council, a group of parasite experts, recommend all pets be treated with monthly anti-parasite agents. The recommendation stems from the need to keep your pet healthy and also protect humans against infection. Tummy upset is a common reason for urgent visits to veterinarians. Parasite control helps keep these visits less frequent and keep you and your pet happier.

Senior pets

A pet lifetime is compressed into 10-15 years. Once your pet reaches 8-10 years of age, she is considered a senior pet where one year of life represents multiple years of aging. To detect age related conditions, experts have recently increased the recommended frequency of visits for senior pets to a minimum of twice a year. When we see your senior pet, we will consider age related changes such as pain from arthritis.

Pain management

Veterinarians know pain from arthritis is an important issue for their patients and their families, but families and veterinarians alike struggle with how best to diagnose pain and measure response to treatment in pets who cannot talk. Watching them engage or not engage in their normal daily activities provides the best clue. Sometimes a hunch leads us to try pain medications and when we see a positive response, know we have made the correct diagnosis.

Now that you know what’s on your veterinarian’s mind you will be better able to understand how we can collaborate to keep your pet in perfect health. Be sure to take a list of what’s on your mind when you visit your pet’s veterinarian to promote this collaboration.


Animals Were Affected by the Hurricane Too

November 16, 2012

Patches the cat was rescued after Hurricane SandyHurricane Sandy created hardships for people living up and down the East Coast. Residents were displaced from their homes and sent to evacuation shelters or lived in flooded apartments, and life in general was disrupted. Sandy spared few. Animals, too, suffered as a result of the high winds and flood waters inflicted by the storm. The concept of zoobiquity springs from the fact that animals and humans share many of the same diseases. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I would argue we share much, much more.

Animal homes flooded

The ponies of Chincoteague Island have always held a special allure for me, and after visiting this barrier island last summer, I was concerned for the ponies’ safety as the storm surge rose. Before the storm, the pony caretakers opened the gates on the fences around the pony habitat, allowing the ponies to go to higher ground and have free range of the entire island. All the ponies safely weathered the storm, as you can see on this video of their hurricane experience.

The New York Aquarium sits right on the famous boardwalk of Coney Island and is at the epicenter of New York City hurricane damage. Although the aquarium was without power for several days, generators ran filters and staff members pumped oxygen into tanks, keeping the fish, invertebrates, and mammals well cared for in their watery homes.

One of the newest aquarium residents, Mitik, an orphan baby walrus, seemed to enjoy the storm, not unlike many other New York City youngsters who rejoiced when school was cancelled for a full week.

Animals displaced

Aquarium residents were not evacuated from their home, but many New York City pets were. All New York City evacuation shelters accepted pets and Mayor Bloomberg encouraged residents to take their pets with them as they evacuated. The New York Veterinary Emergency Response Team has monitored the census of pets in evacuation shelters in the New York area. As of Veteran’s Day, 141 pets still remained in the city’s shelters.

Other animal displacements were a pair of brown pelicans. Brown pelicans are normally southern birds and are neighbors of the Chincoteague ponies. Wildlife rehabilitators reported two displaced brown pelicans blown off course by Hurricane Sandy and found in Rhode Island.

This time of year, Rhode Island is much colder than the birds’ normal southern habitat and these fellows are currently resting and recovering from their harrowing hurricane experience while awaiting transport home.

Families, animals included, reunited

Despite the upset and havoc Hurricane Sandy caused, there are happy stories too. Neighbors helping neighbors, runners of the cancelled New York City Marathon helping in relief efforts and families reunited. Patches the cat was rescued from the rubble of his home by a dump truck operator and Sandy the dog is back with his family.

My fellow animal lover, Jill Rappaport of NBC News, made this touching video about pet families and the hurricane.

What you can do

Microchips are a large part of the reason why happy post-hurricane stories can be told. If your pet is not microchipped, don’t wait until the next big storm. Now it the best time to get one.

The Animal Medical Center’s friend, Amy Sacks at The Daily News, has posted great information about how you can help pets affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Do you know anyone who had their lives or those of their pets disrupted by the storm? Share your stories in the comments below.

Photo: Matt Stanton


Plan, Prepare and Respond: Disaster Planning for Your Pet

September 24, 2012

September is Disaster Preparedness Month. Whether it is a hurricane, flood, or fire, disasters affect every member of the family, pets included. To help the furred and feathered members of your family weather a disaster safely, here are The Animal Medical Center’s suggestions for disaster planning.

Plan

Advanced planning is critical. Identify a safe place to take your pets in an emergency. New York City shelters will house animals in the event of emergency, but not all shelters will. Check NOW to see if your local emergency shelter plan includes pets. If not, find a boarding facility that will. Make a list of pet-friendly hotels in your area. Visit PetsWelcome.com for a state-by-state listing.

In case you and your pet are separated, be sure you pet is both microchipped and is wearing a collar with ID tags for quick identification.

Prepare

Create a Pet Go Bag for each pet in your household. The Pet Go Bag should contain information about your pet and necessary supplies. These include: your pet’s medical records and contact information for your veterinarian, proof of identification (including microchip number, photo of you and your pets), food, water, medications – enough for one week, pet first aid kit, leash, muzzle, toys, a sheet to use as bedding or to cover the carrier, towel, litter and pan, trash bags. Keep everything together with your pet’s carrier and consider storing your pet’s medical records in the “cloud” using a service like Microsoft Health Vault.

Respond

Remember first responders’ primary goal is helping people, but keep these following tips in mind once disaster strikes: Take your Pet Go Bag if you and your pet are evacuated. If your pet has sustained injuries administer first aid until veterinary help is available. Bathe your pet as soon as possible to clean wounds. Feed your pet only safe food such as that in your Pet Go Bag. Register your family and your pet as “Safe and Well” using the Red Cross website.

For more information about disaster planning for your pet, go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.


The AMC Goes Electronic

August 9, 2012

AMC staff members work on the new EMR system

This past week was a watershed week at The Animal Medical Center. With the flip of a switch, an electronic medical record (EMR) became a new part of practicing veterinary medicine.

What is an EMR?

The name, electronic medical record, does not do this system complete justice. It is definitely electronic. Consequently, we have computers in every nook and cranny of the hospital attached to three types of new printers – one for collar-style name tags, one for cage cards, and one for blood sample labels. A paper medical record includes notes about examinations, results of blood tests and x-rays, surgery descriptions, and diagnoses. Our EMR includes all those components, but it goes further.

But wait, there’s more

With this new system, I can order x-rays from my 8th floor clinic computer and the radiology team on the 2nd floor knows exactly what I want – faster than we can transport the pet to radiology. Previously, the patient and a paper request were transported to radiology. The same software that records patient information also orders blood tests from the laboratory or pills from the dispensary. For hospitalized patients, all medications administered by the nursing staff are now requested on an electronic whiteboard and recorded with the click of a mouse.

My personal favorite

Each patient has an electronic clipboard and on the top is a handy little box. Once I figured out how to use it, I went back into all my patients’ clipboard records from this week and loaded them up. I can write anything I want in the box. My plan is to use it like an electronic post-it note to remind me when certain infrequently performed tests are due. In Vivian’s box I put the date for her next iron injection, for Cleo the date her urine needs a follow-up culture, and I added the dates of scheduled chest x-rays for several more pets. One of the reasons both physicians and veterinarians are moving to EMRs is to help them become better doctors, and this will definitely help me.

New tools

The EMR allows importing of photograph files, a feature particularly useful for oncologists like me who want to monitor the response of a tumor to treatment. The photographs also help the ER doctors who might not know what the tumor looked like before, but now can click open a JPEG file and see the tumor for themselves. The EMR contains dog and cat diagrams ready for annotation to mark the location of abnormalities found on examination.

Improving the health of all animals

In addition to improving care for individual pets, the EMR will help improve care for all pets by facilitating research. Old style paper medical records cannot be searched for information. Our electronic medical record allows us to search and find all patients with a particular diagnosis or disease. Information gleaned from the records will help us to share information with other veterinarians about successful new treatments. Thus, the EMR will benefit not only AMC patients, but patients everywhere.

Transitioning to any new system is hard work and takes persistence, but with all these benefits, we have entered a new era.

If your veterinarian uses an EMR, some store records in “the cloud” allowing you to view your pet’s medical information anytime. Ask about this feature the next time you visit your veterinarian, as the information could be very valuable during an ER visit.


Can I Have a Dog? Pony? Bunny? 10 Tips for Petless Families

July 26, 2012

Recently, the news has featured many stories about TomKat. No, not a story about a feline, but the ongoing saga of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. One story that caught my eye involved their daughter Suri having a tantrum in a pet store because her mother would not buy her a Morkie, a dog she wanted.

In every family without a pet, there is at least one child begging for one. But for health reasons, travel, or time in the daily schedule, a pet does not always fit into the family’s lifestyle. There are, however, other ways, even without owning a pet of your own, that you can bring animals into your family’s life. Here are my top ten tips to add the fun and adventure of animals to your family without actually owning a pet:

1. Attend the local animal show. The owners of dogs, cats, birds and reptiles love to show off their pets and talk to children about responsible pet ownership. In New York City we have the annual Meet the Breeds dog and cat show, but there are smaller local shows as well.

2. Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter or to help socialize the cats residing there.

3. Be a foster pet family. My local rescue group is always looking for host families for cats in need. I wrote about my experiences with my foster cat family last spring.

4. Head to your local library and check out some books on pet care. For the toddler set, try the series about “Sally,” a black Labrador retriever who visits the veterinarian, or for a comprehensive pet care overview, try the Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health.

5. Participate in your library’s reading program featuring certified therapy dogs to promote reading skills in children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) has local programs nationwide. Therapy Dogs International sponsors “Tail Wagging Tutors.” What could be better than helping your dog-loving child read better?

6. Volunteer to pet sit for a neighbor while they are on vacation.

7. Become a member of your local zoo. Many zoos have an area where children can pet the animals. In the New York metropolitan area the Wildlife Conservation Society, which includes the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium, has hands-on programs for various age groups, as well as educational exhibits and free demonstrations daily. Some zoos even have sleepovers!

8. If your child is an electronic wizard, there are a variety of electronic games related to pet care. Games are available for multiple game platforms and on the Internet. Try Hamsterz, Dr. Daisy Pet Vet, Paws & Claws, Pet Vet, or Webkinz.

9. Research the high schools in your district to see if they have a specialized program related to animals, such as the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, or the Kansas State University co-sponsored high school program in Olathe, KS.

10. Volunteer at a pet outreach program at your local hospital, Ronald McDonald House, or senior citizens home. The program coordinator will know of a pet volunteer that you can “borrow” for the visits.

If your child is like Suri Cruise and wants an animal, but your inner Katie Holmes tells you a full-time pet is not right for your family, offer your pet-loving child one of these opportunities until the time is right for your family to love a pet of its very own.


Lost in Translation

May 23, 2012

Veterinarians request a lot of information from pet owners. We interrogate them: What does his cough sound like? We dictate to them: Give these pills three times a day. And we expect them to understand a foreign language — doctor talk. Mistranslated doctor talk results in communication gaps between veterinarians and pet owners. Here are some examples from last week’s patient visits at The Animal Medical Center.

Barfy is regurgitating twice a day.

This “lost in translation” example comes from the innocent misuse of the word regurgitate. Medically speaking, regurgitate is similar to vomiting, but there is an important difference. When a dog regurgitates, a forceful heave-ho and wretch are missing. The food or liquid comes back up without an increase in abdominal pressure. Picky, I know, but, as a veterinarian, this information is diagnostically critical. Dogs and cats that regurgitate have an esophageal problem, and those that vomit typically have a problem further down the digestive tract. This picky distinction directs my diagnostic evaluation, so I have to get it right or I bark up the wrong diagnostic tree, so to speak.

Is Fluffy urinating more than usual?

This translation gap was my fault. The poor cat owner didn’t know how to answer. Was I asking more in frequency or more in volume? I tried to avoid using doctor talk to ask what was really on my mind; was Fluffy pollakiuric or polyuric, the special words for increased frequency of urination or increased volume of urination. Increased volume of urination suggests diseases like diabetes, kidney failure or a kidney infection. Increased frequency of urination suggests a bladder infection, bladder stones or possibly a bladder tumor. Once again picky, but critical.

My cat, Peter, gets dialysis at home every other day.

This comment was made by a patient new to The AMC and it caught me off guard. The AMC is the only center for dialysis between Boston and Philadelphia and this cat was a local from 89th Street in Manhattan. Dialysis happens in the hospital and not at home. What really happened was the owner had been trained by her regular veterinarian to give fluids subcutaneously to her cat to help combat the effects of failing kidneys. Cats with kidney disease often become dehydrated as their failing kidneys waste water by producing excessive amounts of urine. Supplementing feline fluid intake with subcutaneous fluids keeps cats feeling and eating better because they are not dehydrated. Dialysis, also used to treat failing kidneys, filters the blood through a machine to remove waste product since the kidneys no longer perform this function. Same disease, different treatment.

If you are not sure what your pet’s veterinarian just told you or can’t understand the question you were just asked, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Don’t let your pet’s diagnosis get lost in translation.


Salmonella in Pets and Humans

May 17, 2012

On April 6, 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced a voluntary recall of Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal and Rice dry dog food. Since the initial recall, several other brands of food manufactured in a South Carolina plant have been voluntarily recalled for possible Salmonella contamination. Voluntary recalls of pet food are not uncommon, but this recall is unusual. Illness in humans, not dogs, prompted the recall.

Outbreak investigation

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control checked the genetic fingerprint of the Salmonella found in the dog food against a national database of foodborne infections and found people infected with an identical bacterium. Because the Salmonella isolated from the dog food and the people is a rare type, the humans were interviewed to determine if there was a common source of infection. These interviews revealed many of the infected people had been exposed to dogs and the brand of dog food included in the initial recall. Subsequent recalls have all involved food manufactured in the same facility.

Why did people get sick?

This medical mystery seemed backwards to me. I could understand if my dog and I both got sick from some food I slipped her at the table, but I would suspect hardly any of us grab a handful of tan nuggets from our dog’s bowl as a quick snack.

So to help me understand, I called my sister, Mary Hohenhaus, MD, FACP, who is also a board certified internist (but for people) with Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization in Boston.

The other Dr. Hohenhaus says:

Salmonella bacteria are a leading cause of infectious gastroenteritis in humans – more than a million cases in the U.S. each year. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, and fever starting anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure.

Catching Salmonella is easy only if the bacteria can find their way into your mouth. I use a scoop to measure out dry food for my cat, but I could just as easily grab a handful of kibble for Sam’s bowl – and if the next thing I did was grab a handful of grapes for my breakfast, I could be in trouble.

Food and water contaminated with animal feces are a common source of Salmonella infection. Outbreaks have been associated with meat, eggs, dairy products, and fresh produce, as well as processed foods. Pet birds and reptiles can carry Salmonella without appearing ill. Feces from infected humans are another source.

Many infections are mild and don’t come to medical attention. Most people get better within a week just with extra fluids and rest. Children, the elderly, and people whose immune systems don’t work well are more likely to have severe cases of Salmonella, where the bacteria enter the bloodstream. These people need intravenous fluids, antibiotics and close monitoring in a hospital.

This current outbreak is a good reminder that Salmonella can show up in some surprising and unexpected places. It also reminds us that contaminated foods look, smell, and taste perfectly normal. The best protection against Salmonella and many other infections is common sense: keep your hands clean (and out of your mouth) and practice food safety.

When should you wash? After using the toilet, before preparing food, and any time your hands are visibly soiled are a must. Don’t forget to wash after playing with pets, not just after poop-scooping. A pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer is a great addition to your daily walk with Fido.

In the kitchen, wash utensils and work surfaces thoroughly after handling raw meat and eggs and before preparing produce – especially important if fruits and vegetables will be served raw. Thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and be sure to serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For more information click here.

This Dr. Hohenhaus is worried about dogs

Although the Salmonella cases making the news are human, dogs can also contract Salmonella after eating tainted food. Veterinarians in New York City are required to report certain diseases to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene just like physicians are. We report zoonotic diseases, diseases transmitted between animal and humans, which include: Salmonellosis, tuberculosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and leptospirosis.

I contacted one of my colleagues at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Sally Slavinski, Assistant Director Zoonotic, Influenza and Vector-borne Disease Unit, and she says no canine cases associated with this recall have been reported to the DHMH. I do have veterinary colleagues out of state who have seen a smattering of dogs they believe contracted Salmonellosis from the recalled foods.

Prevention in pets

For tips on preventing foodborne infections in your pets, click here.


Estate Planning: Providing for Your Pet’s Future

April 2, 2012

I saw a new patient last week; an older cat with many serious problems, including cancer. After we finished agreeing on a plan for her cat, the owner told me this would be her last cat. When I asked why, she cited her age as the major factor. She thought if she got a kitten at her age, it might outlive her and she worried how she would provide for the cat after her death.

This conversation prompted me to think about the options available for pet owners to plan for their pet’s future. So I recently sat down with one of The Animal Medical Center’s long-term clients and pet legal expert Debra Hamilton.

Below is the information I gathered from our conversation to help my readers understand the options open to them and their pets.

Q: What types of legal instruments can be used by pet owners to provide care for them in the event the pet owner dies before their pets do?

A: There are two types of legal instruments that can be used to make provision for pets: your will and a pet trust.

Q: Can I include my pet in my will?

A; Yes, plans for your pet can be specified in your will, but if you are too ill to care for your pet or to make decisions about your pet, provisions in your will do not help you provide for your pet until after your death. Moneys allocated to your pet in your will may not be available until after the will is probated. The lack of funds prior to probate may pose a problem for your pet’s new caretaker.

Q: What is a pet trust? Isn’t that what Trouble Helmsley had?

A: Trouble Helmsley did have a pet trust; although most pets do not require the $12 million dollars bequeathed to Trouble for his ongoing care. A pet trust is separate from and more flexible than your will. It can be set up to be used if you are disabled, unemployed, or die. Money allocated for pet care in a will can only be used if you die and many pets may need a care plan implemented before your death. If there is residual in the pet trust after your pet’s death, you can specify the recipient of those funds be the caretaker or your favorite charity.

Q: My will is already written and I don’t want the legal hassle of setting up a pet trust, is there anything else I can do?

A: A pet protection agreement does not require a lawyer and one can be found on the internet. This document allows you to specify a guardian and a successor with individual agreements for those who will be providing care to your pet. The money set aside by a pet protection agreement can be taken by your creditors or more easily challenged by family members since no attorney is involved in setting up a pet protection agreement. Even so, this type of document is better than having no agreement at all.

Q: Why do I need a document specifying my wishes? My children say they will keep my cat if anything happens to me.

A: Most people assume their family members will take over the care of their pets. Although your kids may want to keep your cat or dog or snake, sometimes the situation is beyond their control. For example, they may have children of their own who are allergic to cats, their own pets may not be accepting of yours, they may live in a “no pets” building, or their spouse maybe really squeamish about snakes. Advanced planning helps to provide options for your pet.

Q: Are there any pets advanced planning is more important for than others?

A: All pet owners should have a written plan for all their pets, but because large parrots and horses have such long lifespans compared to other pets and also because caring for horses is so expensive, advanced planning is critical for these particular pets.

Many thanks to Debra Hamilton for generously sharing her knowledge and for suggesting Petriarch, by Rachel Hirschfeld as a resource for readers of Fur the Love of Pets.

Photo: Stockbyte


Ruptured Air Sac: A Unique Bird Disease

March 28, 2012

Raquel the macaw

In 1984, The Animal Medical Center established one of the first Avian and Exotic Pet Services in a veterinary specialty hospital. At that time, the patients seen by the Avian and Exotic animal veterinarians reflected the most popular exotic pets such as ferrets, iguanas, and exotic cats. Over the years the popularity of various pets has waxed and waned, including the rise and fall of the hedgehog, sugar glider, prairie dog, and an occasional frog.

But the presence of birds in our waiting room has been a constant.

Raquel is a talkative blue and gold macaw that is at least 27 years old. She came to see Dr. Katherine Quesenberry for a dime-sized swelling in her axillary area (equivalent to our armpit) between the base of her wing and flank. Dr. Quesenberry suspected a ruptured air sac and scheduled a CT scan to investigate further.

Evolution made birds lightweight for flying. To lighten their bones, some bones contain air (pneumatic bones) as part of their respiratory system. Like reptiles and mammals, birds also have lungs, but bird lungs function differently than ours. With each breath, our lungs fill and empty with air due to movement of the diaphragm. Birds lack a diaphragm, and air moves through the lungs and into and out of the air sacs in two cycles as their sternum expands and contracts with each breath. While air is in the lungs, exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The air sacs help keep birds “light as a feather” and buoyant for flight.

Even though The AMC’s 64-slice CT scan is lightning fast, general anesthesia is required for the procedure. The bird’s unusual respiratory system makes anesthesia a greater challenge than in dog and cat patients. While birds are under anesthesia, we assist their breathing to prevent a build up of anesthetic gases in their air sacs. The advantage that birds have over mammals is that because their respiratory cycle is so fast, they wake up from anesthesia rapidly once the anesthetic gas is discontinued.

On the right you see a reconstructed image of Raquel from her CT scan. Although you can’t see it, her head is at the top, legs at the bottom. The image clearly shows the abnormal air sac exactly as the examination described it, under the right wing. The image is reversed and the right side is shown on the left.

The cause of ruptured air sacs is unknown; even so, they can be successfully treated. A small stent was sutured into Raquel’s ruptured air sac to remove the accumulated air. A follow-up visit showed resolution of the swelling. Raquel is now doing well and hopefully will stay in good health for at least another 27 years!

Photo: Photo of Raquel courtesy of Lynne Freeman-Gassem

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This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Streamlining a Specialist Consultation for Your Pet

March 8, 2012

I saw a nice new patient the other day. Angus Blue came to The Animal Medical Center for an evaluation of the tumor growing on the side of his chest.

When I tried to call his owner two days later with the biopsy results, the call would not go through. Fortunately, his family called me the next day and I was able to get their correct number. Turns out Angus’ owner was so upset and nervous about the tumor and about seeing an oncologist, she wrote down the wrong phone number on the registration papers.

Veterinary specialists are really nice people, but seeing one can be intimidating because you generally only consult a veterinary specialist when your pet has a big problem, and of course you are going to be upset.

The little snag in communication with Angus Blue’s family made me wonder how pet owners could make their consultation with a specialist go more smoothly. Here are my thoughts:

1. Find the right specialist. The Internet can help locate the specialists in your area since all the veterinary specialty websites have a search function, but your veterinarian is the best source to identify the best specialist for you and your pet. If you have seen a specialist previously with another pet or for another problem, call and ask them about the right specialist for the current problem.

2. Check the website of the specialty hospital. Like The AMC, many of them allow pre-registration online in advance of your scheduled appointment. Pre-registration removes one task from your list on the day of the specialist appointment. If you get lost or are running late, pre-registration will speed the check-in process along. The website may also have helpful information such as directions and parking information.

3. Ask your veterinarian or call the specialty hospital and determine what information about your pet should be sent in advance of the appointment. Most of the time, the specialist will want a copy of your pet’s complete medical record and copies of any diagnostic images. With computer radiography and electronic medical records, getting the information to the specialist may be as easy as sending an email or burning the images to a CD.

4. Bring a list or all the bottles of the prescription and non-prescription medications and supplements you administer to your pet. A list should include the name of the medication, the dose and frequency. Tablet color is not helpful to the specialist since not all brands of tablets are the same color.

5. Write down your questions for the specialist or your goals regarding your pet’s medical care. Putting your thoughts down on paper will help you focus on what is important to you during the consultation and you can refer to your notes to make sure all topics important to you have been covered during the appointment.

6. Take a friend. Having an extra pair of hands is invaluable when juggling papers, a pen and a leash or carrier. Two pairs of ears are better than one to help remember what was said and what the options are for your pet. Finally, having someone to get coffee or lunch with while you wait is priceless.

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This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Pets and Vets Need Techs: National Veterinary Technician Week

October 7, 2011

October 9-15, 2011 is National Veterinary Technician Week.

Because of his firsthand experience with the skilled and devoted licensed veterinary technicians at the AMC, Jack Black the cat volunteered to give a report on the role of veterinary technicians as he sees it looking out from cage #3 in AMC’s ICU.

Jack Black: In His Own Words, Err…Meows

I have inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. When I come to the AMC to have my weight monitored, my blood glucose measured and my fructosamine checked, technicians Sandy and Maria always draw my blood and weigh me while the doctors are talking to my family. Since I am on a special diet they don’t give me any treats, but I see them giving everyone else treats after their blood is drawn, which is a real bummer. They also give me my pills so my family gets a day off.

Christina and a patient in ICU

Recently, an AMC veterinarian diagnosed me with colon cancer using an endoscope. I saw the endoscope cabinet, and it is full of different scopes used to look at internal organs, such as the lungs and intestines. The Internal Medicine Service technician, Lori, is responsible for the care and maintenance of all the endoscopes, so they are always ready for emergency removal of something stuck inside a dog or cat or to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. The technicians were very kind and caring towards me when I got my diagnosis, so I wasn’t worried at all!

Trish and a canine patient

My surgeon ordered a chest x-ray to evaluate my lungs and a CT scan of my abdomen to help with pre-surgery planning. In the diagnostic imaging suite, technicians Rafael and Corrado operate the AMC’s x-ray machine, CT scanner and MRI machine. The AMC’s CT scanner is so fast I didn’t have to stay overnight again, which made me and my family very happy.

Last week when I came back to The AMC to have the tumor removed from my colon, I met an entire new group of technicians working in anesthesia and the recovery room.

Tracy and Treefrog

Catherine placed an intravenous catheter and wrapped it with some tape that had paw prints on it. Next, the technicians administered an intravenous infusion of an anesthetic agent and, once I was asleep, placed a breathing tube in my windpipe. The tube delivered the anesthetic gas during the surgery. They also monitored my blood pressure, blood oxygen level and blood sugar during surgery. When I woke up after surgery, the technicians gave me pain medication and kept me toasty warm, using the Bair Hugger® in the recovery room. I wouldn’t mind taking that Bair Hugger home with me.

Alana bandaging a dog’s leg

After I recovered from anesthesia, I was moved to ICU. ICU is the AMC’s busiest ward, and I like it here because I have three technicians assigned to meet my every need — Lilia, Stephanie and Amy. I have three because they take care of me 24 hours a day, and even though I am their favorite patient, they need to go home and sleep so they are fresh and rested for their shift. When my family visits, the techs tell them all about what has happened to me that day, and my family feels better knowing how much they care about me.

Thanks, Jack!

Thanks to Jack Black the cat for highlighting the importance of veterinary technicians in animal healthcare. I hope his report helps our blog readers to understand pets need techs and so do veterinarians – not just during National Veterinary Technician Week, but every single day!

Photos: Courtesy of the AMC Veterinary Technicians

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Will My Pet Have Quality of Life?

October 4, 2011

As an Oncology specialist, I am frequently asked how cancer treatments will affect the quality of life for the dogs and cats in my care at The Animal Medical Center. I give these discussions with my clients as much time and attention as they need because I know my explanation will impact the pet owners’ decisions to treat their pets for cancer.

Quality of life is an important topic for most veterinarians and frequently discussed at meetings and professional seminars. It has been the topic of various research studies. For example, veterinary cardiologists studied quality of life in cats with heart disease as perceived by cat owners.

For the cat owners who took part in this study, appetite, litter box habits and sleep patterns were important markers of quality of life in their cat. And, these owners stated they would trade longevity for an improved quality of life for their pet with heart disease.

The study also showed that illness does not only impact the quality of life of the sick pet. Having a sick cat increased the owner’s stress with an increasing number of medications prescribed by the veterinarian.

Making the decision to amputate a pet’s limb, whether for an irreparable fracture or cancer, is another example of a wrenching experience for all pet owners and where the discussion of quality of life is inevitable. A recent study of cats undergoing amputation found a normal quality of life following amputation in nearly 90% of cats.

Dog owners feel the same way about their dog’s quality of life following amputation.

What, then, is the definition of quality of life for your pet? Is there a universal answer? Unfortunately not. Every pet owner has his or her own definition of quality of life for his or her pet. My clients have shown me through the love of their cats and dogs, the knowledge and understanding of their pets’ personalities how they have answered these difficult quality of life questions. The following video, photographs and one endearing text message illustrates how pet owners interpret their pets’ quality of life.

Dakota likes to fish. When his cancer relapsed, and he needed to start chemotherapy again, quality of life came up in our discussions. Here is a video of him fishing shortly after he restarted chemotherapy. As long as he can fish, his family knows he has a good quality of life.

Argos on a successful hunt.

Argos, like his mythical namesake, had superior tracking skills, especially for ducks. In this photo, Argos appears to be more successful at his chosen sport than Dakota! To maintain a high quality of life for Argos, his cancer treatments were scheduled around duck hunting season and, like Dakota, he could still have fun while being treated for cancer.

Penny accompanying her owner on a Maine bike ride.

Penny loves to romp in the Maine woods in the summer. It is her break from the heat and humidity we New Yorkers suffer from in the summer. This past summer, her cancer treatments were seamlessly transferred to a Maine-based veterinary specialist for her vacation in order to maintain both quality of life and remission.

And finally, a text message from an owner who was worried quality of life was waning:

“He played sock today and trotted around with a pair in his mouth. He’s back to himself.”

I think that is what quality of life is: being yourself and doing the things you love to do. I am sure this is true for both man and beast.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


National Pet Fire Safety Day

July 18, 2011

Last Friday, July 15, 2011, was National Pet Fire Safety Day. When we hear about pets and fires in the home, we often think of the dog who awakens his owner, saving lives with a warning bark about a fire in the house.

But pets are also the victims of fire. According to Pet Safety Alert, 40,000 pets are killed in fires annually, most of them in residential fires.

Every year, The Animal Medical Center provides care to pets who have been trapped in burning buildings and rescued by New York’s bravest, our friends at the NYC Fire Department.

As a pet lover, you can take action to prevent pet-related fires and to protect your pet if there is a fire.

To help firefighters find all of your pets, the folks at ADT Home Security Systems offer a free window cling to alert firefighters to the presence of pets in the home. You can request one through their website.

Firefighters want to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation, but the oxygen masks designed for humans are not shaped to fit a pet’s nose. If you are feeling philanthropic, donate a pet oxygen mask to your local firefighting team.

Pet proofing your home can help to prevent a catastrophic fire. Candles are a huge danger for pets. A wagging tail can knock a candle off the coffee table and into a pile of flammable papers. My own cat, who had a big puffy tail, swished it over a lit candle and nearly went up in flames! Space heaters and backyard grills present a hazard, as they can easily be knocked over by a pet and start a fire.

To protect the entire family, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have their batteries changed twice a year. A good time to change the batteries is when you change the clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall.

Like people, pets can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. If everyone in the family is ill and your pet is exhibiting the following signs, see your veterinarian and mention you are concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Loss of exercise stamina
  • Disturbances in gait

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Photo: iStockphoto


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