Anyone who has read James Herriot’s immortal novels about veterinary practice knows that much of the work he did with animals and pets he did by himself. The owners in the stories were either unable or unwilling to help and having any sort of assistant was reserved for extreme situations, like a difficult calving.
Fast forward to today and many pet owners will see a wide range of people working at the veterinary hospital. Are these veterinary technicians just like nurses in a human hospital?
The answer to that question is, to some extent, yes, but the reality is technicians actually perform a wider range of duties than do most nurses for people. Veterinary technicians end up being the nurse, laboratory technician, dental hygienist, phlebotomist, radiology tech, anesthetist and surgical assistant for your pet as well as helping provide essential information to animal owners.
Although the first attempts to certify veterinary assistants go back more than 100 years, the very first program to provide training was actually started by the United States Air Force in 1951. This was followed by a civilian program in 1961 at the State University of New York. Now, interested individuals can find more than160 programs available across the US and even enroll in online education courses.
To earn certification as a veterinary technician, a student must attend either a two year or four year accredited program in veterinary technology. This education will provide a broad background in everything from medical terminology and anatomy to pharmacology and animal nutrition. Some schools even include business and management courses.
Although the term “technician” is often used to describe any veterinary assistant, most states’ practice acts do define a veterinary technician as someone who has obtained the education described above and then passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam. These folks are designated as Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVTs).
Veterinary assistants, on the other hand, are usually trained on-the –job, but often have similar skills and duties. Again, each state defines what types of responsibilities and procedures assistants or technicians can perform.
In either case, both of these vital team members function as the right hand for many veterinarians. By performing tasks such as collecting blood samples, capturing x-rays or even providing important education to clients about parasites, the technicians help make the veterinarians more efficient. Your pet’s doctor can now focus on doing examinations, prescribing needed medications, diagnosing problems and performing surgery. Of course, the overall well-being of your pets is a primary concern for all technicians. This means they are also very skilled at providing exceptional levels of nursing care to pets who might be scared, in pain or simply anxious about being at the hospital.
Some technicians will even further their education and skills by specializing in areas such as anesthesiology, nutrition, behavior, dentistry or even zoo medicine.
According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA; www.navta.net), there is a strong demand for graduates of veterinary technology programs. In fact, the Department of Labor lists veterinary technology as one of the top twenty fastest growing careers where education makes a difference. Another fun fact…95% of all veterinary technicians are women!
You know that your veterinarian is an important partner with you in the healthcare of your pets, but it is also crucial to get to know the other vital members of the veterinary care team. These are the folks who will be insuring that your cat stays warm after her spay surgery or that your dog’s pain medication is delivered on time. In many cases, veterinary technicians and assistants can also provide you with some rock solid advice about vaccinations, parasite prevention and even nutrition. More
Dental disease is the most common diagnosis veterinarians will make on any dog or cat over the age of one year. Despite a Pet Dental Health Month each February and constant reminders from veterinarians, some owners simply overlook or are unaware of what’s happening inside their pet’s mouth. But it is a real problem. Left untreated dental disease can lead to serious problems like heart or kidney disease, not to mention the horrible bad breath!
Even pet owners who do routinely try to brush their pets’ teeth or look at the mouth can be fooled. A study in the American Journal of Veterinary Research found that almost 30% of dogs and more than 40% of cats whose mouths were clinically normal actually had significant problems under the gumline. In addition, if the pet had visible dental problems, veterinary dentists found additional pathology more than 50% of the time using dental X-rays.
Some very serious problems can be found under the gumline. Root abscesses, fractures, jaw bone loss and even cancer often aren’t apparent with a visual examination. Dental x-rays (radiographs) are needed to find and successfully treat these painful and significant issues.
The use of radiology for veterinary patients is not new. Just like human dentists, veterinary dentists have long had the ability to use x-ray film and dental radiographic machines. However, long delays in getting the right shot and developing the film meant that dogs and cats were under anesthesia for long periods of time.
Fast forward to today and we see a great leap in technology. New digital sensors are replacing dental x-ray film and hand-held dental x-ray units are being used instead of large, wall mounted or floor units. Images are captured by computer using very special software instead of saving and filing lots of film.
The benefit to all of this is that skilled veterinary dentists and technicians are now able to get a set of full mouth radiographs in less than 15 minutes. That means less time under anesthesia for your pet and better imaging for diagnosis and treatment of problems in the mouth or around the teeth and roots. It also means that problems in your pet’s mouth can be found more easily and treatment started sooner.
Using sophisticated software, veterinarians can manipulate these images to look at a tooth or root in great detail or magnify a suspected lesion. If your veterinarian is using digital dental x-rays, areas of concern can be saved and even sent via email to a board certified veterinary dentist for review.
For some pet owners, the thought of having their four legged companion anesthetized for this is troublesome. But, it is important to remember that our pets will NOT hold still while someone tries to place a sensor in their mouth or position their head in exactly the correct position. Further, if a diseased tooth is found that needs extraction or a root canal, the pet is already for the procedure.
It is important to remember that most of the pet’s teeth and the problems they have are under the gumline where it can’t be seen in an awake animal. Mis-leading marketing campaigns try to tell you that non-anesthetic pet dental scaling is best. But experts and veterinary dentists highly discourage all pet owners from falling for these scams. Anesthesia is entirely necessary for proper evaluation of the pet’s mouth and for a a complete cleaning or even looking deeper should a serious problem be hidden.
Your veterinarian can help you understand that good oral care for your pets is more than scraping off tarter. Proper dental care is good imaging, complete cleanings and then treatment and correction of the underlying problems. And don’t forget, your help is then needed to provide the right type of at-home care, such as daily brushing. More
Using treats as a means of reward or distraction for our pets is not unusual. “Roxie”, a Yorkie, was owned by a wonderful lady who had long suffered from severe hip arthritis and therefore could not get to the store very often. She relied on friends to buy her groceries and even food and treats for her beloved canine companion.
Happily her veterinarian agreed to make house calls for her special situation. During a call for an exam and vaccinations, she returned from her kitchen with a bag of treats for reward. Unfortunately, she held in her hand a newly opened bag of dog treats of a brand that has been associated with numerous complaints to the FDA. Thankfully, the veterinarian stopped her from giving the treats and explained this serious situation.
Jerky treats have been an extremely popular treat for pets because of their high protein, low fat composition and dogs love them. Also, the fact that the ingredient list is generally very short (chicken and some flavorings) allows people to feel good about giving their dogs something “natural”.
But somewhere along the way, something has gone terribly wrong. Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued numerous warning about pet illnesses and even deaths associated with these jerky treats. The most recent figures show more than 2,200 reports on file and these include more than 360 deaths thought to be linked to these treats! In many cases, kidney failure was the primary reason for the sickness, death or euthanasia of the pet. What is even more disturbing to most people is that almost without exception, the country of origin of the product is China. The memory of the nationwide pet food recall caused by tainted ingredients from China is still fresh. Thousands of pets became very sick and even died in 2007 from this serious problem.
Unfortunately, despite rigorous and continued testing and FDA inspections of manufacturers in China, the source of the problem is still unidentified. Without knowing what the exact problem is, the FDA is powerless to compel any sort of recall. Manufacturers of the treats are all reluctant to pull their products from shelves and this has led to a strong backlash from consumers and has social media buzzing. Even now, several law suits are in progress.
According to Laura Alvey from the FDA, there are productive discussions happening with pet food firms at this time in the hopes of finding a cause for this on-going issue. The latest testing of the treats is focused on problems stemming from irradiation of the ingredients.
So, what can you do to make sure your pet is not adversely affected?
First, and very simply, avoid buying any sort of jerky treat that is made in China. Although that sounds easy, it is often difficult to determine exactly where a product is made. Even products that are “Made in the USA” may source ingredients from China. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer and ask them if the treats are wholly made in the US from US sourced ingredients. If you don’t get a definitive answer, don’t buy the product!
Next, consider alternatives for the jerky treats. Many dogs will happily accept baby carrots or green beans as a snack or reward. Reputable companies, like Hill’s, Iams and others, also offer a variety of safe treats we can trust. Other pet owners have found homemade recipes like the ones at DogTreatKitchen.com for making their own special home cooked goodies.
Remember, treats should only make up a small portion of the calories your pet receives each day. While this sounds like common sense, in many of the complaints on file with the FDA, owners were feeding too many jerky snacks far too often.
Finally, it’s important to see a veterinarian if you’re pet shows any odd symptoms or has persistent vomiting and diarrhea. In a review of the complaints to the FDA, a fair percentage of pet owners never saw a veterinarian or had any blood analysis done. Without that information, it is almost impossible to say that the treats are the definitive cause of the illness or death. Your pets rely on you to make sure their food and treats are safe and they need your help.
If you believe your pets have been affected by these products, please tell your veterinarian and file a report with the FDA online. More
From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases. Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.
Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well. Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.
Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity. One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours. That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.
Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts. Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.
So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?
Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile. Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.
CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood. Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues. White blood cells are the microbial defenders of the pet. These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms. When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection. Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.
Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs. Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.
Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis. When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google. It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.
It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories. In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet. That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs. More
Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”. So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a trip to St. Louis. Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions. As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car. It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.
As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives. More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals. So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?
Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet. Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed. Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo. Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.
Jessie says, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian no when asked about the microchip…all because I wanted to save $30.”
Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed. Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.
Regardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing. Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal. Websites like HelpMeFindMyPet.com or PetAmberAlert.com also offer services to registered members. These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.
“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found. I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.” Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.
Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home. In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail. The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation.
If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home. Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.
Jessie’s story does have a happy ending. Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back. Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends. More