Holiday Gifts for Pets

December 3, 2014

Sharing Turkey Day Dinner with Your Pets

November 26, 2014

Happy ThanksgivingThanksgiving is all about food and family. Many of us consider our pets family members and want to include them in the holiday celebration, but menu selection for pets can be tricky. For example, dogs love chocolate, but it will cause vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity if Fido indulges his passion with a few foil wrapped chocolate turkeys. Your cat may find the raw turkey trimmings sitting on the counter a tasty treat. Raw poultry can be teeming with organisms such Salmonella or E. coli and give Fluffy a nasty case of food poisoning. So here are simple suggestions for taking food from your holiday table and creating a healthy and safe buffet for the family pets. More difficult will be figuring out if seating Fido next to Grandpa and Fluffy next to Uncle Ray will provoke a family fracas!

Doggie dishes
When choosing Thanksgiving food for your dog’s dish, stay away from high fat dishes, such as gravy or sausage stuffing, which can provoke an episode of painful pancreatitis. Steer clear of raisins and grapes, whether in a fruit salad or stuffing, as these delicious fruits can cause serious kidney problems. A spoonful each of nice white meat turkey, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes minus the butter, sour cream, nuts, and marshmallows would be safe turkey day fare for your dog. Fruit often appeals to dogs, and while recreating grandma’s apple crumb pie, save a couple of apple slices for your dog.

Reptile recipes
If you have a vegetarian reptile, such as an iguana, bearded dragon or a tortoise, the Thanksgiving side dishes provide an opportunity to share the bounty of the season.  Winter greens such as collards and mustard greens make a tasty holiday treat. While you’re setting aside the greens for your special scaled friend, save some raw squash, yams and even a few fresh or boiled cranberries to create a colorful and healthy reptile dinner. In addition to the vegetables and fruit, your turtles might like a bit of white or dark meat turkey added to their plate.

Kitty cuisine
Because cats think of you as their servant, dishing up what you believe to be a special holiday meal without asking their permission may result in rejection of your best culinary efforts. Perhaps just serve up the turkey flavor of your cat’s favorite canned cat food and call it a day in the kitchen! If you must cook for your kitty, consider simmering the giblets from the turkey until they are cooked through. Once they are cooled, mince them finely for a feline Thanksgiving Day indulgence.

Pocket pet provisions
If you have a small mammal, such as a rabbit or guinea pig, save some salad fixings, like lettuce leaves and carrot pieces, to make Thanksgiving extra special. While you are making the pie, save a small piece of apple before it is mixed with sugar and cinnamon as a rabbit dessert. The family ferret can feast on small bits of plain turkey meat without gravy or seasonings.

Bird buffet
Before you add the butter, sugar or marshmallows to the steamed or boiled sweet potatoes, save a small portion for your bird’s Thanksgiving dinner. If you garnish your vegetable dishes with pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds, they too can be added to your bird’s holiday fare. Selections from the vegetable side dishes, such as carrot pieces, green beans and Brussels sprouts, make a tasty and healthy addition to your bird’s plate, but be sure to set them aside before butter or salt is added!

The Animal Medical Center wishes a happy Thanksgiving to all! “Bone” Appétit.


What Does a Vet Tech Do?

October 8, 2014

SAVE Saves a Bird

August 13, 2014
Scarlett's x-ray

Scarlett’s x-ray shows her stuck egg

As her name suggests, Scarlett is a pet that is red, but not a red setter, a redbone coonhound or a red Abyssinian, she’s an African grey parrot with a red tail. This 25-year-old parrot is also an artist, creating colorful abstract works of art in the bathtub. She was referred to The Animal Medical Center to see Avian and Exotic specialist Dr. Kathy Quesenberry for an egg that wasn’t being laid, an avian condition known as egg binding, putting a damper on her artistic endeavors.

Like many medical problems, egg binding occurs in overweight birds with a sedentary lifestyle or a diet lacking adequate calcium. Medical treatments can be effective in resolving a stuck egg – calcium, fluids, lubrication and keeping the bird warm may cause the egg to pass, if not, then manual or surgical removal of the egg may be necessary. These treatments had been tried in Scarlett, but they were unsuccessful.

IDing an Egg
One of the first steps in treating an egg-bound bird is to pinpoint the egg’s location within the reproductive tract. Because eggshells contain calcium, they can easily be seen using a standard x-ray. In the x-ray image on the right, you can see a thin, egg-shaped structure in Scarlett’s abdomen between her pelvic bones representing Scarlett’s stuck egg.

Avian Endoscopy
The inside of a bird’s vent, called the cloaca, contains multiple openings – one for the intestinal tract, one for the reproductive tract, and two small openings for the urinary tract. Dr. Quesenberry used endoscopy to view inside the vent and was planning to remove the egg at the same time. Endoscopy identified a tear at the end of the oviduct where it entered the cloaca, making surgery urgently necessary.

Scarlett in the tub

Scarlett as a component of her artwork

Bird Spay
During the two and a half hour endoscopy and surgery, Scarlett’s torn oviduct at the cloaca was repaired, and the remainder of her oviduct was removed to prevent another egg binding episode. Unlike mammals, most birds have only a single left oviduct and ovary. Because a bird’s ovary is close to large blood vessels, it cannot be removed safely. A “bird spay,” or salpingectomy, is the procedure of removing most of the oviduct so that an actual shelled egg cannot be formed, even though the ovary still functions normally. Scarlett recovered uneventfully. Two weeks after surgery her sutures were removed and she was given a clean bill of health and she has returned to emulating Jackson Pollack-esque abstract impressionism in her bathtub. The photo seen here shows Scarlett as a component of her own artwork.

Help From an AMC Community Fund
The happy ending to Scarlett’s story would not have been possible without the generosity of those who support The AMC’s Community Funds. Scarlett’s care was covered by the Seniors’ Animal Veterinary Effort (SAVE), which provides free or subsidized general and emergency veterinary services for the pets of the indigent elderly.

To learn about other pets treated through The AMC’s Community Funds, read the heartwarming stories about TikoFrankie, and Baller.

Become a supporter of The AMC’s Community Funds today.


Watch Scarlett at work in her bathtub studio on The AMC’s YouTube channel.


View Scarlett’s virtual art gallery.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

AAHA Certification: The AMC Takes the Test to Meet Veterinary Practice Standards of Excellence

July 30, 2014

AAHAlogoDedicatedThe Animal Medical Center undergoes a triennial accreditation evaluation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA is an industry leader that sets the standards for small animal hospitals in North America, standards which are often emulated internationally. For example, in Japan, the Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA) serves a similar role to AAHA in the United States. Recently, AAHA has added new accreditation categories for referral hospitals and university hospitals.

The Benchmarks
Over 900 different standards are assessed during the accreditation evaluation. The standards focus on the quality of care in the areas of: anesthesia, contagious diseases, dentistry, pain management, patient care, surgery and emergency care. The standards are grouped into 20 large categories covering quality of care in diverse areas such as contagious disease, dentistry, diagnostic imaging, emergency and critical care, and pain management. Mandatory standards detail 46 critical/crucial hospital functions required of every AAHA accredited hospital. These “deal breaker” standards include the requirement that dentistry is performed under general anesthesia with tracheal intubation, and all patient care is provided under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The standards require hospitals to provide diagnostic services (x-ray and laboratory) facilitating quick and accurate diagnosis of your pet’s illness. Accredited hospitals must dispense medications so treatment can begin immediately.

The focus of the benchmarks is not just on patient care, but on how the veterinary team interacts to achieve high quality patient care. Standards pet owners might not expect as part of the evaluation process include an assessment of confidentiality, security and integrity of medical records, fire safety, diagnostic image archiving, continuing education, and referral standards. While not exactly medical standards, these functions are clearly critical to an accredited hospital’s ability to provide top-notch patient care.

Exam Prep
The AMC is continuously prepping to meet the AAHA accreditation standards. Our accreditation team reviews the benchmarks and educates the staff regarding their responsibilities in implementing each standard. When a new standard is issued, the appropriate hospital team writes our policy to ensure the new standards are met. That policy is then distributed to the implementation teams. Each new standard improves the quality and safety of The AMC’s patient care.

A Pop Quiz
On-site examiners perform a full-day thorough and comprehensive review of the hospital. Preparing for an AAHA evaluation is like preparing for a pop quiz; they can ask questions about any of the 900+ standards and they don’t have to give you a heads-up as to which ones are on the quiz. The examiners speak with a variety of staff and review hospital policies to ensure standards are met. If any deficiencies are identified, they suggest methods of improvement.

Perfect Scores
The accreditation process is rigorous and encompasses all aspects of pet healthcare. Only 15% of all veterinary hospitals meet these stringent quality standards. The AMC is proud to say it has been an AAHA accredited hospital since 1976 and passed its most recent evaluation with flying colors. We achieved a perfect score in six of the 20 categories of standards. All of the standards ultimately affect the care pets receive at The AMC, but most important to pet owners are the A pluses The AMC received for management of contagious diseases and emergency and critical care medicine. Overall, we received a solid A, or 94%, which does not mean we got six questions wrong. We scored 30,250 out of a possible 32,310 points! No wonder it took weeks to prepare for this evaluation.

Standards Met
For over 100 years, The AMC has been a leader in veterinary teaching, research and exceptional clinical care. The AAHA is another leader in veterinary medicine whose opinions and stance are relied upon for setting high hospital standards. Achieving AAHA certification is just one way we continue to provide the highest quality of medicine and surgery to nearly 40,000 patients every year.


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


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.


Flu Season 2013 is Upon Us

November 20, 2013

sick dogInfluenza was in the news and on my mind last week. First a new strain of avian influenza was reported to have infected humans. Then, I got my annual flu shot and finally reader comments on an article about canine influenza clearly showed the article was misconstrued by its readers, making me think it was time to write the hard facts about influenza.

Not like avian influenza
Canine influenza is significantly different than avian influenza. Compared to avian influenza virus, the canine influenza virus is relatively new. It was identified in 2004 by researchers in Florida who were studying an outbreak of respiratory disease and pneumonia in greyhounds. Based on research published, the virus appears to have emerged in racing greyhounds in approximately 1999. Subsequently, all dogs, greyhound or not, have been shown to be susceptible to infection by the canine influenza virus. But don’t worry, Fido’s virus does not appear to affect you or the family parrot.

Not like human influenza
Canine influenza is also very different than the human flu virus. I (and millions of other Americans) get a flu shot in the fall because flu infections predictably spike in the fall and peter out in the spring, only to return again in the fall. Canine influenza is non-seasonal, occurring anytime of the year. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is at risk for the flu and should be vaccinated against it.

Flu virus similarities
Flu viruses are usually contagious and spread rapidly in a susceptible population. Children typically bring the flu home from school and infect their parents. Dogs tend to contract the flu in places where there are many dogs in close contact. In a dog’s world, places of close contact include puppy kindergarten, dog parks, doggie day care, shelters and boarding kennels. If your dog visits any of these types of facilities, check on their vaccination policy.

We cover our face when we sneeze to protect others from our viruses and we wash our hands to prevent transmitting viruses on door knobs and other surfaces. As clever as dogs are, they do neither of these things to prevent transmitting canine influenza to their dog friends. If your dog is coughing or sneezing, keep her away from other dogs until your veterinarian gives the all clear sign.

Be flu safe
Right now, flu activity is low in the United States. To keep track of human flu, check the Centers for Disease Control’s flu map.

Get your flu shot today! If you are sick, who will take care of your dog or cat?


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.

Household Cleaning Products: A Pet Danger

May 8, 2013
X-ray of a cat that has eaten a metal mesh scouring pad

X-ray of a cat that has eaten a metal mesh scouring pad

It’s spring cleaning time, but if you have pets please clean cautiously since some of the most common cleaning agents can be toxic to your pet. Birds are especially sensitive to the fumes from household cleaning agents.

Chlorine bleach has an extremely wide spectrum of activity against common bacteria and viruses. Its low cost makes bleach an attractive disinfectant and laundry additive. Bleach disinfects by oxidizing cell membranes, rupturing and killing cells. Bleach has the same effect on the gastrointestinal tract if your pet drinks undiluted bleach or chews on the bleach container. A splash of bleach into the eye of a curious pet can cause tearing, irritation and even an ulcer.

Some websites recommend the use of phenol-containing pine scented cleaners as a deterrent for cats who urinate outside their litter boxes. If you use these products, you may no longer have a healthy cat and the litter box issues will seem insignificant. When walking across your freshly mopped kitchen floor, your cats get phenol on their feet. Phenol is caustic to the delicate paw pads. Then, when cats groom, they ingest the cleaner which damages their liver and kidneys. When compared to dogs, cats are extremely susceptible to phenol toxicity since their liver lacks an important enzyme for metabolism of phenol.

Although not technically toxic, steel wool and metal mesh scouring pads can cause intestinal obstruction if consumed by your pet. At first glance these products do not have much culinary appeal, but when encrusted with steak bits from the grill or some scrambled eggs from the frying pan, a scouring pad becomes a tasty treat for your dog or cat. As you can see in the x-ray, the scouring pad unravels and prevents food from normally passing though the intestine. The sharp strands can also slice into the intestinal wall. Emergency surgery is required for removal.

Quaternary ammonium compounds are disinfectants with a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungus. These compounds are popular cleaning agents colloquially called “quats.” Serious injury can result to both pets and people if they inadvertently come in contact with quats. Caustic burns, convulsions, low blood pressure and even death occur following ingestion or contact with the skin.

The AMC Emergency and Critical Care staff recently teamed up to save the life of a young Yorkshire Terrier with severe oral swelling and respiratory distress from ingestion of quaternary ammonium. Read his story: Yorkie Ingests Deadly Poison and Survives.

Not sure if a product is pet-safe? Download the material safety data sheet for any product you might purchase to prevent bringing a dangerous product home.


Resolve to Be a Responsible Pet Owner

January 2, 2013

woman with dog2It’s that time of year again; the time when we make New Year’s resolutions. I seem to make the same ones every year: eat healthier, exercise more, be kinder. My suggestion for 2013 is for every pet owner to be a responsible one. To achieve that goal, the American Veterinary Medical Association has developed a list of guidelines for responsible pet ownership.

Fur the Love of Pets believes this is a good list for pet owners to review before making their 2013 list of resolutions:

Commit

As the holidays approached, I received several tweets discouraging pets as holiday gifts since a pet is a lifetime commitment and acquiring one should not be an impulsive decision. You must choose the right pet for your lifestyle and should have as many pets you can comfortably care for, both physically and financially.

Good pet care involves more than food and water. A successful pet parent provides exercise, a stimulating environment and training.

Invest

Having a pet requires an investment of both time and money. Preventive healthcare saves money in the long run and helps prevent costly emergency visits.

Although vaccinations are part of a preventive healthcare program, the rabies vaccine protects human health as well.

Identify

Every pet should have both permanent and temporary identification. Permanent identification should preferably be a microchip, but a tattoo is a viable alternative. A collar with tags is a good temporary and immediate method of letting people know where your pet belongs if he should become lost.

Limit

Help decrease the nation’s pet overpopulation problem by spaying or neutering your pet. Preventing unwanted litters limits the number of animals entering shelters each year.

Prepare

Prepare for your pet’s future like you prepare for your family’s future. Assemble a “go bag” for your pet. Include your pet in estate planning; don’t assume your family is prepared to add your pet to their household and make provisions for your pet in case you can no longer be the primary caretaker.


What’s On the Mind of Pet Owners?

December 5, 2012

older man with catA recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.

Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.

Intestinal parasites

Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.

Fleas and ticks

These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.

Heartworms

Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.

Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.

Pet medications

Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products. I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.

After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different? Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.


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


Hurricane Sandy: The Animal Medical Center Story

October 31, 2012

The view down E. 62nd Street on Monday night

By Sunday night, the Governor and Mayor had shut down all mass transit in NYC, our schools were already closed for Monday, and by Monday morning even the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading for the day. New York City was silent; everyone was indoors and the wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy had not yet arrived. Despite all the closures, The Animal Medical Center was open for business as usual.

As far back as anyone can remember, The AMC has never closed. We mean it when we say we are open 24/7. When a disaster is anticipated, the staff work together to determine how best to cover shifts and maintain adequate nursing and medical expertise for our patients. During blackouts, natural disasters, and human disasters, our staff comes to work prepared. Many employees came to work on Sunday with food, clothes, and bedding, planning to stay for the duration of the storm. The AMC stores inflatable beds for those employees sleeping at the hospital. The beds got blown up Monday afternoon since the electricity fluttered on and off during the day. Lucky for us, our favorite deli and neighborhood diner were still open.

It was a good thing we were open for business, as really sick animals needed care. Here is a sampling of the Sunday night admission list: a stray cat and a stray dog were brought to The AMC since the shelters were closed for the night; Harley, a cat, came in with complications of diabetes; Lexi, a bulldog, was admitted for serious vomiting; Gus the cat developed heart failure; Monkey, a Pekingese, required an emergency MRI and back surgery; a golden retriever named Aristotle became unconscious and he too required an emergency MRI ; Rysiu was admitted for feline bladder stones resulting in a urinary blockage. On Monday, he had an urgent surgery to remove the stones.

Visits to our emergency room were steady on Monday morning, but most scheduled patients cancelled their visits. The ER continued accepting patients overnight, even though there was at one point a foot of water in the first floor lobby. Our power went out from about 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., during which time our generator kicked in to run essential electrical equipment. Once the high tide began to recede, the lobby was squeegeed dry and, except for internet service that was slow to be restored, we were back to normal. The banners on the north side of the building are in tatters and our awning has a rip, but these are cosmetic only and we feel very fortunate to only be slightly damp around the edges.

New York pets were fortunate, too. For the second hurricane in a row, pets were allowed in evacuation shelters and in his Monday press conference, Mayor Bloomberg announced 73 pets had already been accepted into shelters.

Find more information about Hurricane Sandy and pets here.

For help in planning for the next disaster, click here.


Your Child and Animals: Advice to Parents

October 22, 2012

As parents, we want to raise children who have a reverence for all living things, and what better way to educate them about animals than to spend a day at a petting zoo, a country fair, or a natural science museum featuring live animal displays? Animal events are fun and educational for the entire family, but before you attend an animal event, your children need a bit of advance preparation to protect themselves. Animals in public setting have been associated with some preventable health issues such as infection, injury, and allergic reactions.

Infection connection

Rodents, reptiles, livestock, pocket pets, and even wild mammals visit schools and are displayed at county fairs and science museums. The potential dangers vary from animal to animal. Livestock can carry the bacteria E. coli, which causes gastrointestinal upset in humans. Just last week I read a report of an E. coli outbreak linked to a fair in North Carolina.

Reptiles commonly shed another bacterium causing gastrointestinal upset: Salmonella. This organism is the reason turtles less than 4 inches in size have been banned from sale. Most experts consider turtles appropriate pets for children over five years of age.

Approach animals cautiously

Parents take their children to visit animal displays because they want their children to be comfortable around animals and to appreciate the natural world. Before you go, make sure your child understands if the animals can be touched and, if so, how to approach one safely. If your child is bitten during one of these events, you risk dampening your child’s enthusiasm for animals and simultaneously exposing him to a serious injury or infection.

Even iguanas can cause allergies

If you have a child with animal allergies, check with her allergist about how best to handle an animal visitation. Most children allergic to dogs and cats are likely to be allergic to other furry critters such as guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rodents. Some people even have allergies to iguana scales.

Take home messages

  1. Teach children how to safely interact with an animal before visiting a petting zoo, county fair, or school event featuring animals.
  2. Wash hands after every animal interaction or use hand sanitizer.
  3. Children should not kiss animals or put their hands in their mouth after handling an animal.
  4. Children too young to follow directions about hand washing and keeping their hands out of their mouths should not handle animals in public displays.
  5. Because of the risk of transmitting an infection, hands should be washed after petting animals and before snack time.
  6. Wild animals do not make good pets.

If you are an early childhood educator, guidelines for animals in schools have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control.


National Veterinary Technician Week 2012

October 12, 2012

AMC LVT, Monika Wright

October 14- 20, is a celebration of the contributions to the healthcare of animals made by veterinary technicians. Often called “nurses,” these licensed professionals practice under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. In New York State, veterinary technicians prepare and give medications as ordered by the veterinarian, take x-rays, induce and maintain anesthesia, and assist with medical and surgical procedures. Most importantly, they are critical members of the team caring for your pet. Last year, in honor of Veterinary Technician week, I wrote about the care received by Jack Black the Cat.

Just as in human healthcare, nurses for animals are in great demand. Not only are career opportunities available for veterinary technicians to work in general veterinary offices, but specialization in various disciplines such as oncology or anesthesia, participation in biomedical research, enlistment in the military and even working as a technician in zoo and wildlife medicine are also widely available.

Like all professionals, there is a backstory about the day-to-day life of veterinary technicians. If you are considering a career as a veterinary technician or just know someone whose job it is to be a technician, you may be unaware of what a typical day entails. Hopefully this blog will give you a bit of the inside scoop and provide a greater appreciation for the labors of love they each perform every day for our pets.

Fashionistas need not apply

Looking for a job where you look great and wear fabulous clothes? Unless your skin tone becomes more ravishing when you wear scrub-suit green, being a veterinary technician is probably not for you. However, if you like to change clothes frequently, we can accommodate your needs. A shake of the head can send ear drops flying right onto your freshly laundered ensemble or a pooch with a bloody nose can change you plain shirt into a polka dot one!

Adoption options

Seeing cute animals all day, every day brings a smile to every technician’s face, since like veterinarians, they love being around animals. But loving animals occasionally has a darker side. Every animal hospital provides its employees with plenty of options to adopt a new pet: a basket of kittens left on the doorstep or a dog tied to the lamppost, but every family, even those with a member skilled in providing pet care, has a limit to the number of pets they can handle, both emotionally and financially.

Compassionate technicians may run the risk of trying to help too many of the animals in need that they encounter. Reliable resources for helping these animals are at the tip of the fingertips of the best technicians who know or have learned the limits of their care.

Injury report

Like many businesses, The AMC tracks statistics on workplace injuries. No surprises here: topping the list are bites and scratches, followed by back injuries. Fortunately, licks and kisses are not considered injuries, just part of the fun of being a tech.

A heartfelt thanks to all veterinary technicians

During National Veterinary Technician Week 2012, the veterinarians of The AMC would like to recognize our nearly 80 technicians – and every technician nationwide – for their commitment to their profession and the support of ours.

If you are thinking of a career as a veterinary technician, visit http://www.veterinarytechnician.com.

You will find lots of useful information and even job opportunities in your area.


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