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Veterinary Technician Specialists – Extraordinary Partners in Your Pet’s Care!

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Like human medicine, veterinary care has made some fantastic strides in both knowledge and technology in the last few decades.  Pet owners and general practice veterinarians increasingly look to specialists, such as veterinary oncologists or veterinary dentists, to help resolve complicated problems.

Veterinarians who specialize undergo a multi-year process of work ending in a board exam and what is known as “board certification”. In many cases, it is the equivalent to another doctor’s degree.  Working alongside these specialists are growing numbers of Veterinary Technician Specialists who carry the designation: VTS.

Most people are aware that veterinarians need a knowledgeable and helpful staff for the day to day running of the hospital, but many don’t know that some team members are actually credentialed professionals – usually identified as a CVT, or certified veterinary technician.   Beyond that, some techs have taken additional time to advance their knowledge and skills and have been awarded certification in one of several areas of technician specialization.

In 1994, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) granted their first provisional specialty to the newly formed Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians.  In this case, the term “academy” designates an organization that administers a formal process of education, training and testing prior to awarding recognition to individuals as “specialists”.   Only registered, licensed or certified veterinary technicians can be part of any academy.

Credentialed technicians can now choose from 11 different academies of specialization.  These range from anesthesia to dentistry and internal medicine to behavior, equine care and even zoo animal medicine.   A complete list of approved academies can be found at the NAVTA website (www.navta.net).

Technician monitoring patient Veterinary News NetworkTo accomplish this, veterinary technicians will need to work thousands of hours in their chosen area and log dozens of cases for review.  In the case of Veterinary Technician Specialists in Anesthesia (VTSA), these individuals must work at least three years as a veterinary technician and submit more than 4500 hours of work with anesthesia.  During the calendar year of application, the technician must also submit 50-75 case logs, including at least four cases submitted in full detail to highlight the applicant’s knowledge and skills.

Even after all of this, extensive continuing education credits must be proven along with two letters of recommendation and the completion of the certification exam.  Some academies also call for annual examinations to insure that their specialist technicians are staying up to date with the changes in veterinary medicine.  Although each academy has slightly differing requirements for their applicants, the Anesthesia Academy’s example details just how challenging this career path can be!

Whatever specialty they choose, VTSs are crucial in helping the veterinarian specialist provide the highest level of care to patients.  As a case in point, veterinary emergency and critical care technicians (VECCT) will function to triage animals coming into the hospital as well as manage the patients present in the ICU ward.  These highly organized individuals function well under the pressure of a chaotic emergency room atmosphere and can be an island of calm when owners are frantic and worried about their pets.

Technician explaining heartworm prevention to client Veterinary News NetworkClient interaction and education is another important task for veterinary technician specialists.  Often, the patient’s condition is complex and serious and worried owners may not remember all of their questions or concerns while speaking with the veterinarian.  By being available and knowledgeable enough to handle these situations, technician specialists will help lessen client’s fears, provide a higher level of patient care and increase their veterinarian’s efficiency.

Beyond specialty hospitals, veterinary technician specialists can also be found at general practice veterinary clinics, helping to educate staff members and increase the hospital’s expertise.

There’s no doubt that everyone who works in any veterinary practice, from the smallest country clinic to the largest specialty hospital, has a passion for helping pets.  But, when your regular veterinarian talks about the need for a beloved fur-friend to see a specialist, it can be unnerving and stressful.  Rest easy and know that dedicated doctors, along with compassionate and knowledgeable technician specialists, will do all that they can to ease your pet’s ills and send him back home to you.

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Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Owners

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Every holiday season, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center fields calls dealing with several common holiday situations that put pets at risk.

Wrapped Presents
Gifts are a surprising source of toxicities during the holidays. If you are going to wrap any food (especially chocolate), dog treats, or dog toys, keep the items in a safe place and well out of your pet’s reach until they are ready to be opened. Pets have a keen sense of smell and will often unwrap presents early and eat all of the contents.

Snow Globes
Some snow globes contain ethylene glycol, a highly toxic substance to all pets. If a snow globe is broken, either by a person or a pet, the sweet smell can attract a pet to lick it up, leading to a potentially fatal intoxication. Snow globes should be kept out of reach of pets.

Holiday Food
Pets are often not shy about taking food that is left sitting out on counters or tables. Pets should be kept away from food preparation areas or places where food will be left out. A few of the more concerning common food exposures during the holidays are chocolate, bread dough, fruitcake and alcohol.

Medication
There are often a large number of visitors during the holiday season, and pets often get into medications that friends or family have brought with them. These exposures can be prevented with a little advance planning. People who are not used to having pets in the house can often be unaware of how curious they can be. Pets will often investigate suitcases and can get into pill vials or weekly pill minders. It is safer to have the visitors put their medication in a closed cabinet that is not accessible to pets. Be sure that when they take their medications that they do so behind a closed door, such as the bathroom, so that a dropped pill can be found before the pet has a chance to eat it. A prewritten list of the names, milligram strength, and number of pills that visitors have brought is very useful in an emergency situation as well.

Salt
Ice melt, homemade play dough, and salt-dough ornaments (even when dry) can all be a tempting salty treat for pets, but can cause life-threatening imbalances in the electrolytes.

Pet owners should, of course, contact their local veterinary professional or the Animal Poison Control Center if their pets get into any of these substances.

Blog post, picture and safety tips provided by the ASPCA.

Also check out our other blog article on how to protect your pets from holiday hazards.

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Bordetella…The Misunderstood Vaccine

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It’s a common comment heard in many veterinary hospitals…”we don’t need the kennel cough vaccination…we never board or kennel our dog”.  Despite the owner’s insistence that their pet isn’t at risk, most people would be surprised to find out that this disease can be found in a wide variety of places.

Infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as “kennel cough”, is a communicable bronchitis in dogs that is often found anywhere dogs congregate.  Naturally, boarding kennels come to mind, but quite often, people will forget that grooming salons, dog parks, pet superstores or even their favorite veterinary hospital can also be potential sources of infection.

Dogs who contract tracheobronchitis will produce a rough, hacking cough that many owners will describe as the pet trying to cough something up or even retch.  Spasms, or coughing fits, are not uncommon and some people relate that their pets seem worse at night.

Kennel cough can be caused by a wide variety of organisms, including canine adenoviruses, canine distemper virus and a bacterial species that goes by the name of Bordetella bronchiseptica.  Other viruses, such as canine herpesviruses or reoviruses are also thought to contribute to the disease and it is not uncommon to see more than one pathogen involved.

Infected dogs will spread viruses or bacteria through airborne particles where healthy dogs can inhale them.  In some cases, the germs can also spread via toys or food dishes.  Dogs that are exposed will generally show signs of illness within two to fourteen days and may act sick for an additional two weeks.  In many cases, the disease is very mild and your pup may never run a fever or act as if anything is wrong.  However, this is a disease that can progress to pneumonia and be life-threatening.

What’s even worse is that a pet who has recovered from this illness could potentially infect other dogs for up to two or three months!  So, that normal looking dog at the busy city dog park could, in fact, be sharing some nasty germs as he plays with his doggie pals!

Like many diseases we see in pets, proactive prevention is the key to stopping kennel cough.  Most dogs will receive vaccinations against canine adenoviruses and parainfluenza when they receive their canine distemper and canine parvovirus vaccines.  In addition, Bordetella vaccination is available and can help limit the severity of the illness if your pet is ever exposed to this bacterium.

The Bordetella vaccine is considered to be a “non-core” vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association.  This means that not all pets need this vaccination, but the choice to vaccinate should be based on the pet’s risk factors.  As mentioned above, if your pet is routinely groomed, enjoys trips to the local dog park or even gets to go shopping with you at the big box pet food store, he is likely being exposed to the agents that cause kennel cough.

Vaccination against the Bordetella bacterium will generally provide immunity for about one year.  So, pets at risk will need annual boosters and some pets who board frequently or visit grooming salons regularly may actually benefit from re-vaccination every 6 months.  Experts also recommend getting your pet a booster vaccination five days or more prior to possible exposure, if more than six months have passed since the last vaccination.

If your pet is dealing with any sort of cough, the best advice on treatment will come from your veterinarian.  Although antibiotics may or may not be prescribed, your pet could receive a cough suppressant or even a recommendation to let the dog stand in the bathroom while you shower!  Just like with kids, the warm, humid air in the bathroom can loosen congestion and help your pet to breath more easily.

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Why is Your Veterinarian Fascinated with Pets Feces?

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It might be the look on the person’s face or maybe the way they are carrying the bag, but staff at a veterinary office can always tell when their clients arrive with a stool sample for testing.  Dozens of specimens arrive each day, some in Ziploc baggies, others triple wrapped in aluminum foil and some are tucked neatly in plastic containers.  The clients may not realize it, but that smelly sample brought in for testing may help prevent an illness in their pet…or in them!

Why does your veterinarian have such an interest in your pet’s stool?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 3,000 to 4,000 human serum samples are sent to their labs every year with a presumptive diagnosis of toxocariasis, or, infection with roundworms or hookworms. The illnesses caused by these parasites are not reportable in the United States, so true numbers of human cases are not known.  What is known is that 36% of dogs across the country and 52% in the southeastern states carry these zoonotic worms.  Many pet owners are unaware that their furry family members are capable of harboring these parasites.

Some clients don’t believe that their pet could have worms.  But, pets can come into contact with these parasites in the yard, in potting soil, at the dog park or even on our hands or feet after we come inside from working in the garden or after taking a walk.  The larva and eggs of these parasites are simply abundant in many places.

In fact, a single female worm can shed more than 100,000 eggs per day and most puppies and kittens are infected with more than just one worm!   That’s millions of eggs spreading through areas where dogs and cats go to defecate.   Pets infected with a protozoan parasite, like coccidia or giardia, can shed over a billion cysts each and every day!

So, what does your veterinarian do with the sample you brought Most people understand that veterinarians are checking fecals as a means to find intestinal parasites, more commonly known as “worms”.  What is less well known is that the veterinarian is not looking for whole adult parasites.  They are looking for microscopic eggs and protozoans that may inhabit your pet.

First, the feces are mixed with a sugar or salt solution, a liquid that is slightly denser than regular tap water.  Breaking up the stool allows any infective eggs to enter the solution.  Next, the mixture is carefully poured into conical tubes that are placed in a centrifuge.   The spinning action helps separate the organic debris of the feces from the parasites and the parasite eggs.

After about 10 minutes, the suspension is then allowed to sit with a microscope coverslip placed on top.  The eggs and most parasites will float to the top and adhere to the coverslip.   A veterinary technician or assistant can then take this sample and review it under a microscope.  Any positive specimens are discussed with the veterinarian and an appropriate deworming medication can be prescribed.

This process may not sound appetizing to most readers, but these tests are an important part of a veterinarian’s dedication to your pets, but also to public health as a whole.  The CDC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association all recommend regular fecal testing for all pets.  This means you can expect to package up a stool sample once or twice each year per pet.  If your pets aren’t on monthly heartworm prevention, your veterinarian may ask for a sample every 1-2 months!

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Is a Grain Free Food Right for Your Pet?

As a society, we have become very concerned about our diet and a number of health issues related to our consumption of various foods.  Gluten sensitivity in people is just one example and it has lead to many looking at “whole food” diets or even eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed.  Naturally, pet owners will translate these concerns to their cats and dogs and look for more natural diets for their four legged friends.

Pet food marketers have been quick to respond to the public’s desire for grain free options in their lines of food.  Catchy brand names like “Taste of the Wild”, “Natural Balance” or “Earthborn” tempt the human shoppers.  But, are these pet owners choosing a diet simply based on marketing hype and the sales pitch in the store?

Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and chose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats.  Gluten-sensitive intolerances are documented in Irish Setters, but, to date, we simply don’t know if other breeds are affected and the problem has not proven to be widespread.

Jack Russel pups eating from bowl - Veterinary News NetworkAnother frequent reason for choosing a grain free pet food is that the owner believes that wheat, corn or some other grain is highly allergenic and causes food allergies for their pets.  The fallacy here is that many dogs are actually allergic to the proteins in the food.  In a review of 267 cases, wheat actually was responsible for fewer canine allergy cases than beef and dairy and corn comes in at a distant 8th, behind chicken, egg and lamb.

Some owners mistakenly believe that “grain-free” equates to low, or even no, carbohydrates.  Dr. Susan Wynn, a well-known speaker on clinical nutrition and integrative medicine, remarks that “if the pet food is a dry kibble, it contains carbohydrates.”  The manufacturing process to produce the dry diets (known as extrusion) won’t work unless a minimal level of starch is present.

Dr. Lori Huston, a Certified Veterinary Journalist and author of the Pet Health Care Gazette blog concurs.   She even mentions that many of the popular replacements for grains, like potatoes, can actually increase the carbohydrate content of the food.

Finally, a common myth is that our pets are unable to effectively digest the grains present in commercial diets.  The reality is that dogs do quite well digesting grains and starches.  Not only has decades of research proven this, but new genetic information shows our domesticated canine friends have many more copies of a gene for amylase than their wolf cousins.  This important enzyme helps cut starch molecules and enables dogs to effectively use grains as an energy source.

All of the above reasons aside, is there a downside to feeding grain free foods?  Overall, the consensus from veterinary experts is that these foods are generally safe and will also provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet.  In some cases, the levels of fat or protein may be higher than necessary for some pets and that could cause health issues.  To quote Dr. Wynn, since “excess protein is not stored by the body, high protein diets are often simply good for producing expensive urine.”

If grain free is an option that interests you for your pet’s diet, talk with your veterinarian.  We can help you sort through the myths and misconceptions that so often abound when it comes to pet foods.  This is especially important when it comes to food allergies.  Over the counter (OTC) “hypoallergenic” foods can often confound a food allergy diagnosis.  Studies have shown that these OTC foods may often contain the very allergens the owner is trying to avoid and cross contamination in the manufacturing process is a common occurrence.  In addition, one well known OTC pet food manufacturer was reprimanded by the FDA after lab analysis showed their lamb diet contained no lamb, but beef instead!

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