Monday, June 18, 2007

Two weeks in...

...and I've been woefully tardy in updating you all on my adventures in veterinary medicine. The short, quick story is that I've seen a lot, and learned a lot. Too vague? Perhaps, but so much happens in a day that it gets difficult to get it into some concise, understandable statement. So, I'll just focus on a few cases with big lessons that we all can learn.

Lesson: Vaccinations are a good thing
For most of my first week on the job, I didn't have my official license. This limited a lot of what I could do. I couldn't officially diagnose, treat, or prescribe any medications. I couldn't even vaccinate anything. Therefore, when we had two puppies come in on the same day that tested positive for parvovirus, I volunteered to take care of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with this disease, here is a brief overview. Parvo is caused by a nasty virus that primarily affects puppies. It's main target is rapidly dividing cells in the body, specifically the cells that line the intestinal tract, and bone marrow cells which produce red and white blood cells. As one may expect, the primary signs of this disease are vomiting and diarrhea. These are very sick puppies! The most optimistic survival rates are no better than 50/50. Puppies quickly become depressed and dehydrated, and they simply due not have the body stores necessary to survive for long with the combined anorexia and fluid loss. Due to the bone marrow effects, these puppies have a profound "neutropenia" (low numbers of neutrophils, the "front-line" of the white blood cell defenders). This makes these puppies extremely susceptible to secondary infections on top of the terrible toll the virus itself causes. The virus is very hardy and extremely contagious. It should be considered present in most environments, particularly those in which a puppy with parvo has lived before. Even a puppy that is not yet clinically ill with the virus can shed large amounts in their feces, contaminating even clean areas with large loads of virus. The virus can live for years in soil, not overtly affected by many disinfectants or weather changes.

There are only two good things about parvovirus: (1) it is easy to test for, and (2) it is easy to prevent. If a puppy is suspected of having the disease, all that is needed is a rectal swab and a handy SNAP test. A typical SNAP test is pictured at left (I won't talk more specifically about how those work unless someone asks!)

As for prevention, the current vaccinations -- if used appropriately -- are highly effective in inducing protective immunity in puppies. There are some tricks to it, though. When puppies are nursing, they typically receive a high level of protective antibodies from their mothers. These antibodies do a pretty good job of protecting the puppy. However, they also interfere with vaccines, and will actually prevent the puppy from being able to mount their own, protective immune response to the virus. The end result is that puppies are typically recommended to receive three vaccines one month apart starting at about 8 weeks of age. The idea is that puppies of this age have typically been weaned for about two weeks, and the antibodies they received from their mom are waning. As those antibodies decrease, the puppy will be able to respond to the vaccines and produce their own antibodies.

That is the idea, anyway. So how did my two patients catch parvovirus? Well, one hadn't received their last booster on schedule, and there was some question as to when she had last nursed from her mom and received her first shot. The other puppy had never been vaccinated. He actually came in because he "wasn't feeling good, and, oh, by-the-way, can we go ahead and vaccinate him while he is here?"

Well, long and messy story short, both puppies received treatment and both went home! However, the owners of both puppies certainly received a hit to the wallet as well. Due to the intensive care, fluids, etc, required for treatment, beginning estimates on treating a dog with parvovirus hover around $500. The final bills on both of these puppies were above that. And remember: you can expect to pay all of that and still end up with a dead puppy. These cases are typically very "up-and-down." A puppy that looks like it is doing well one moment will be crashing the next.

So, the lesson here is to make sure you vaccinate your puppy! Vaccines are a lot cheaper than the disease. Even though no vaccine is guaranteed to provide protection 100% of the time, the vaccines to protect against parvovirus are generally thought to be very effective. And your puppy (and your checkbook!) will thank you!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mutt Dog Derby

The Mutt Dog Derby is an annual fundraiser for the local humane society in which anyone can bring their dog down to the local greyhound park and let them race on the track! We haven't done it for several years for whatever reason, but we decided to go this year. We took 5 of our 6 dogs and ran 4 of them. Bibi, a winner in her division about 5 years ago, stayed home because it was very hot, and we didn't want to stress her with her heart condition and all. Laika has had some dog aggression issues in the past, so we took her to expose her to a bunch of other dogs on neutral territory. She did fantastic, and we will likely run her next year.

The event is organized in a fun manner. The dogs are divided by size (small = <25 medium =" 25" large =" ">40 lbs) and run in several preliminary heats. The dogs start in the actual starting boxes that the greyhounds use and run down the homestretch to the wildly calling and cheering owners. The winner of each heat will return in the evening and run against the other winners in their size class. These races are run as something of a "half-time show" between actual greyhound races. The first, second and third place winners in each division get a trophy and $75, $50, and $25, respectively.

Anyway, our dogs had a pretty pathetic showing. Teddy (Yorkie) and Schatzi (long-haired dachshund) ran in the fourth small dog race of the morning. Teddy was in the number 7 position and Schatzi was in the number 8. In all the dogs' defense, sound doesn't carry very well down to them and the addition of the cheering and yelling of the spectators further confuses them. Additionally, there are "helpers" all over the track to keep an eye on the dogs and help them along, which is also disorienting.

Our newest addition, Cozi (Pomeranian), and Shiba (long-tailed Yorkie) ran in the fifth small dog race. Cozi was in the number 1 position, and Shiba in the number 2. Entertainingly enough, Cozi - the dog we figured was the least likely to go anywhere - was the only one of our dogs who actually finished the race!

All in all, a fun event! We will try to train with a loud whistle or something and have a better showing next year!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Red-ruffed Lemurs born

Six red-ruffed lemurs were born at a Florida conservation center. Considered very endangered like most of Madagascar's species, the birth of these lemurs will hopefully help keep the captive populations healthy and genetically diverse, particularly since the mothers are the daughters of a wild-caught female.

Wild caught animals that are part of conservation programs are termed "foundation stock" since their genetics are considered distinctly unique from captive stock which tends to get inbred and similar across different groups of animals fairly quickly. The goal of any conservation program is to preserve as many "foundation" genetics as possible, meaning that all founders are equally represented in the captive population in the comparison of numbers of descendants. This will maintain a genetically diverse population, which is a much healthier population, overall. For this reason, even within a highly endangered species, animals that are descendant from a founder with fewer offspring are considered more valuable, genetically, since their genetics are not as widespread throughout a population.

Almost there!

Nearly a month since I last posted! I've officially graduated from vet school now, and finally have my diploma to make it official. Irritatingly enough, now I have to wait for my license so I can't do things like give rabies vaccinations yet. I had to wait until I received my diploma to apply for that. And I can't get federally accredited until I get my license, so I cannot fill out health papers. And I can't use or prescribe controlled drugs until I get my pharmacy license....which I can't apply for until I have my license! It is very irritating, especially since I went to school for eight years and still can do little more than trim nails and look in ears for the time being. Ah, well, this too shall pass!

So, my official start day is on Monday! I will try to post interesting experiences and stories as I come across them. Judging from talking to other vets, it doesn't take long to accumulate a fairly large and varied number of those. I will certainly change names and, where appropriate, breeds, specifics or even species in these stories to make sure that patient privacy is protected. Still, it should be fun!

I'll end this post with the oath that we all swore at our graduation:

The Veterinarian's Oath

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.