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Friday, November 21, 2014

How Small Is Too Small?

Here's a question I received from Ashley...
My question now is about the weight of my Newfoundland puppy, Olive. She was born 26 March and when I picked her up at 10 weeks, she only weighed 8kg (17.6lbs), a bit small for a Newfie of that age. Well, now at 22 weeks she weighs 21kg (46.3lbs), and people are commenting on how small she is for her age. Despite the fact that she has consistently been gaining 1kg/week since I picked her up, I am starting to worry that maybe her lighter weight is due to a deficiency or improper feeding. I know this may come across as a daft question (as she has always been on the smaller side), but do you feel my concerns are justified?
I wanted to answer this question because the basic principle can answer a lot of client concerns.  I will often have clients ask me if their dog is too big or too small.   The question then becomes "what is too small?  What is too big?"  And really it's not as simple as most people think.  Even within a breed there can be big differences in sizes of healthy, normal dogs.  Some individuals will be outside of the normal size range, yet still be healthy.
Think about human heights and sizes.  I stand about 5'7".  My wife is 2 inches smaller, and her sister is about 5'2".  Her father is around 6' tall, as is my best friend.  I'm sure all of you know people with similar differences in height.  Yet we wouldn't consider the 5' person to be extraordinarilly abnormal, any more than we would someone at 6'6".  yes, those are outside of the typical heights, but these people aren't likely to be unhealthy due to the size alone.
So what about dogs?  Yes, each breed has a certain typical weight and height range.  But this doesn't mean that every individual within the breed will be exactly in that range.  To me this is like a human couple who are both 6' tall having a child that grows to 5'4".  It's not expected, but it doesn't have to be bad.  That smaller person or dog can be just as healthy as the bigger one.
Most vets use body condition scoring (BCS) systems to determine proper weight.  These are systems where we look at certain physical characteristics to determine whether a pet is underweight, overweight, or at an ideal weight.  Because it deals in proportions and physical features, the height of the pet in comparison to others is irrelevant.  Personally I use a 5 point scale, where 3 is an ideal weight, 1 is severely underweight, and 5 is obese (as in this example on the Hill's website).  I've also seen 7 point and 9 point scales, but the prinicple is the same. 
If I was seeing Ashley's dog I'd look at her proportions and compare it to a BCS system.  If the dog was at an ideal score, I'd consider her healthy even if she was smaller than her littermates or others in the breed.  An unusually small dog like this may not meet breed standards and therefore shouldn't be bred, but she can certainly be healthy and normal.  Dramatic differences in size are typically due to genetic factors rather than nutrition, so as long as her BCS was normal, I wouldn't worry about changing the amount or kind of food she gets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Disney's "Feast" Shouldn't Be One

The last time I went on a rant about animal/vet portrayal in popular entertainment was way back in 2009.  Unfortunately, I feel the need to do so again.  In this case it's especially bothersome to me because it's Disney, a company whose products and movies I love.
Recently my family went and saw the movie Big Hero 6.  It was a great movie that we all enjoyed, and really appealed to our geek side (stay until the end of the credits for a great cameo scene!!!!).  Disney has taken a lesson from Pixar and now shows animated short films before most of their feature films.  I've really liked a lot of them and one of them won an Academy Award.  The one before this movie, however, made me cringe and squirm, simply because I'm a vet.
The short film is called Feast.  It starts with a stray Boston terrier puppy in the rain being enticed by a man with a few french fries.  He takes the puppy home and begins to care for it, giving him a good home.  The puppy was obviously starving, so he gives it a big bowl of dog food.  Then he slides a plate of bacon and eggs on top of it.  Over the next several scenes we see the dog getting spaghetti and meatballs on the food, pizza, and lots of other food.  Eventually we see the dog only eating these sorts of things, with no dog food anywhere to be seen.  The man meets a woman, and when she comes into their lives the dog ends up getting brussel sprouts and a little sprig of parsley on the dog food.  The dog is disgusted by this change in events and the lack of "good stuff", obviously pining away for the pizza and fries while he only reluctantly eats his food.
The couple breaks up and the dog realizes that his master is miserable.  He goes running back to the woman and in a cute scene is able to make her realize that they need her in their lives.  The couple gets married and the dog is eatining only dog food.  You can see that he does it because he wants his master to be happy, but it's not his favorite thing.  Then the couple has a child and food drops onto the floor.  We see the dog getting cake and other things from the child, and everyone is happy again.
From the moment the bacon and eggs landed on the dog food in the early scene, I started cringing.  Then it got worse and worse.  I was wriggling in my seat and my wife immediately knew what was bothering me.  I even admitted to her that I was already formulating my blog post about it, which earned me a chuckle from her.  She knew why I was upset.
You never give human food to pets!
My medical training was silently screaming "pancreatitis" and "nutritional imbalances"!  I was seeing this man doing the exact opposite of what my clients are told.  He was the kind of guy that I want to sternly lecture and tell him how bad it is for his dog.  I know it's common in movies and TV shows to see people give their own food to the dog.  But this was one of the worst examples I've ever seen, because the joy of the human food was the entire point of the film!  The dog was happiest when he was being given things that would significantly and negatively impact his health.  And that was the point!  Kids watching this would take home the idea that loading a dog's bowl with steak, tacos, and ice cream is the best thing you can do for your pet.

Yes, I know it's just a cartoon, and an admittedly cute one.  Disney is still great at telling stories and I love how recent shorts don't seem to have much dialogue and just let the storry flow through the visuals.  I also know that kids won't automatically do what they see in cartoons.  I grew up on Looney Toons and I've never felt the need to strap myself to rocket-powered roller-skates or hit my friend with a frying pan.

I really think that Disney dropped the ball on this one and set one of the worst examples of pet care you can have.  I really hope I won't have to do damage control when people see this film.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The News Gets Worse...New Veterinary Degrees May Not Pay Off

Yes it's time for more bad news for aspiring veterinarians.  However, I think it's more of a reality check.  An article was recently published through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) about a current study on the economic prospects of a veterinary career.  It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the field, or anyone who has followed my blog for the last couple of years, that the news wasn't very encouraging.  Here are some choice quotes from the article (read the full article at the link above).

Michael Dicks, who heads AVMA's economics division, reported that based on projected lifetime earnings potential, the average college graduate may do better financially to take a job immediately after earning a Bachelor of Science degree rather than attend veterinary school and work a full career as a veterinary associate. That is, the increase in lifetime earnings conferred by the DVM degree for the average associate in a companion animal practice will not make up for the average cost (including the loss of potential earnings during veterinary school) of a veterinary education. [emphasis mine]

Despite increasingly prominent warnings about the economics of the profession, student enrollment has continued to grow. New schools as well as class size increases have raised the number of available seats domestically, while a growing number of U.S. students are attending veterinary colleges in other countries. In 2013, more than 25 percent of the 4,460 new U.S. veterinary students were attending foreign colleges, according to data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The growth in student enrollment has not been accompanied by a proportional increase in applicants. Counting international seats, the ratio of applications to first-year enrollment has fallen to 1.64 to 1, according to figures presented Tuesday by Lisa Greenhill, AAVMC’s associate executive director for institutional research and diversity.

Greenhill also noted that veterinary school applications have in the past followed a strong cyclical pattern — peaking every 16 to 19 years — and that applicant numbers now appear poised to fall. As a result, she said, the applicant-to-seat ratio could fall below 1 to 1 within the next five years, meaning seats would go unfilled.

Yes, the outlook really is that bleak.  Anyone considering a career in veterinary medicine needs to know the reality of the situation. Unless things change soon, you are going to be spending more money on your education than you'll be able to recoup.  A great desire to be a vet is not enough.  Just because you really, really want to do something doesn't mean that it's a good idea to actually go through with it.  I recently hosted a veterinary student for an externship, and she will graduate with over $300,000 in student loan debt, with the prospect of making about $60,000 per year at graduation.  That's a 5:1 debt ratio, far greater than the typically recommended 2:1 ratio.  And it means that she's going to struggle to simply make ends meet with her monthly loan repayment.

This is not really news, as this trend has been happening for several years now.  I've been writing about it for at least three years, and each study only supports the previous data, making a veterinary career even less financially appealing.  Anyone in practice knows the reality of this situation.  However, those in academia seem oblivious to it, to the point of opening new vet schools despite strong data that there is a national oversupply of vets, a lowering demand, and growing difficulty in new graduates getting job offers.

What really frustrates me is that there are more studies being done and more analysis of the situation.  There are proposals thrown around and each subsequent study only strengthens the position that we are graduating too many vets at too high of a debt load for it to be sustainable.  Despite this data, I have yet to see anyone actually doing anything to solve the problem.  There is a lot of talk and a lot of debate, including some solutions, but nothing actually gets accomplished and the problem doesn't get fixed.

Those of us in practice can't change the reality of the economics of private practice.  We can't suddenly raise prices or cause more clients to magically flow through our doors.  I feel that the onus of the problem lies on the AVMA, veterinary colleges, and college presidents to lower educational costs, stop opening new schools, and lower class sizes.  By increasing the number of new graduates at higher debt than ever before, they are setting up their students for struggles and failures, without giving them proper warning about the harsh financial realities of life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leeches In 21st Century Veterinary Medicine

I've known about medicinal leeching for a long time, but mostly on the human side.  Even so it still seems a little like something out of the Dark Ages and most people wouldn't expect it to be part of modern medicine.  In the latest issue of one of my journals there was a good article on the practice, and it really got me thinking.  I'm only going to touch on a few points from the article rather than repeating it, so if you want more details click on the link above.  And this article isn't from some left-field pseudo-doctor.  The author is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the article was published in collaboration with that speciality group. 
In human medicine leeches are most commonly used to reduce complication in microvascular or reconstructive surgeries, reduce postoperative swelling from damaged veins, and to reduce bruises or hematomas.  The leeches are beneficial because they feed on the accumulated blood, reducing pressure in the capillaries thus giving damaged veins time to recover.  In veterinary medicine we sometimes face similar problems and leeches may be a good solution.
Truthfully I haven't really thought about it much in my own practice.  But just today I saw a dog who had a tumor removed from its elbow three days previously.  The limb was swelling a little and there was a lot of redness around the surgery site.  I knew it was probably a disruption in the flow of blood in the veins as a complication from the surgery.  Medically there really isn't much we can do other than observe it and give the body time to heal.  But having just read the leech article I realized that this would be a perfect case for such treatment.  Here is a photo from that article showing how a leech would be used.
Unfortunately we don't keep a supply of leeches on hand, otherwise I may have given it a try.  Heck, I'm not even sure how to easily get ahold of them and how to store them for the rare circumstance in which I'd need them.  And I definitely don't know if the practice owners would be supportive of this form of treatment!  Even so, it's really interesting to consider and there are very valid medical reasons for using leeches.  These small creatures actually do a better job in these cases than the most advanced medicine and procedures we have available!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bringing Steampunk To Neverland

As I mentioned in the last post, my family and I made a set of costumes with steampunked versions of characters from Neverland:  Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, and Wendy.  My wife had made her costume a few months ago, which inspired us to make complementary ones for the rest of the family.

We've been working on them for the last few months, and debuted them on the Disney Magic cruise ship during our vacation last week on a Halloween cruise.  

You can see the hook and jetpack that I made and posted about previously.  There are also lots of small details that aren't immediately evident in these photos, such as the star pattern on Wendy's vest, the gears on Hook's, Wendy's and Peter's hats, and Wendy's necklace.  

The costumes were a hit with the crowd, and even several crew/cast members were blown away by them and very admiring.  One guest commented that my wife's costume was "movie-quality".  We really enjoyed them and will be wearing them again in a local Toys For Tots Christmas parade.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

DIY Steampunk Jetpack

I'm very proud of this particular steampunk accessory, and decided to take photos along the way so I could make make my own "do it yourself" post.  I use these kinds of posts a lot when I make my various crafts and thought I might be able to help someone else out.  No, this has nothing to do with veterinary medicine....just the private life of a vet.

The idea behind all of this was to do steampunk versions of various characters from Peter Pan.  I had the idea to do a jetpack for Peter as a way for him to fly.  But how do you make one?  I started with a broken vacuum cleaner.  The motor went bad and my wife was going to throw it out, but I thought I could use it for something at some point.  

The main part I wanted was the canister.

Okay, that's a good start, but where to go from there?  So I opened it, planning on getting rid of the top.

I found the cyclone portion to be a particularly interesting piece, and as I stared at it I realized that it could make a good rocket funnel.  So I cut it apart, inverted some of the pieces, and looked at how it fit.

Okay, now that's the start of a jetpack!  But plastic isn't very "steampunk", so I used a couple of shades of metallic paint to get the proper look.

The larger pieces are put together with bolts that I spray painted a nice brass color.  They provide a sturdy connection and don't lose the right "feel" of the Victorian era.

But a simple canister or body isn't enough.  To really look good I needed extra parts.  I also had the idea that the pack would be powered by pixie dust as its fuel, which meant that I needed a way for the pixie dust to get in it.

As I mentioned before, thrift stores are great for steampunk crafting.  In this case the Habitat For Humanity store had some great pieces.

That's the light fixture for a ceiling fan on the left, a cool plastic ornament I found, toilet paper holders, a couple of pieces from a doorknob fixture, and the nozzle for a shower head.  I ended up not using this last piece as it stuck out farther than I wanted, but here is what things looked like as they were coming together.

The light fixture is screwed tightly into the top.  The toilet paper holders cover some molded printing on the sides of the plastic canister, and have some cheap brass sheeting from a hobby store to add to the look.  I ended up using a short plastic pipe, spray-painted to look like metal, in place of the shower head.  I had to use a Dremel tool to widen one of the openings on the light fixture, but then it fit perfectly.

I always imagined the fuel as coming from a bottle containing pixie dust, feeding into the nozzle on the top.  I started to use a glass bottle, but realized that might be fragile.  A cheap plastic Christmas ornament filled with glitter had the right look and wouldn't be as much of a problem if it broke during transit or being bumped.  I used a little glue around the "bottom" half so that some of the glitter would stick to it and make it look more full.

Then I added a few touches such as a tire pressure gauge on top, the handle on a fishing reel, and a few decorative pieces from the jewelry and scrapbooking sections of the hobby store.  I also added a simple light fixture to create an interesting "look", as well as gears in appropriate places to complete the steampunk theme.  Here is the finished piece.

But Peter has to wear it, so I found some great leather with brass studs in the fabric section of the craft store.  A few more bolts and some clips, and we have a jetpack harness with two buckles in front.

And there you have it!  A steampunk jetpack!  And it looked even better as part of the full costume.  But those pictures will be for the next post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Craziest Pet Names

Recently I came across a rather interesting list.  Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) published its 2014 list of the most creative and unusual pet names in their database.  Here is what they listed:
1.  Peanut Wigglebutt
2.  Sir Hog Knucklehead
3.  Sasha Biggiepotamus Fierce
4.  Otto Blitzschnell von Longdog
5.  Zippity Do Dawg
6.  Airbubble McMuffin
7.  Hamburger Patty
8.  Angus T. Brackencrack
9.  Mister Buddy Pickles
10.  Waffle Dots
1.  Snuggles Butt Le Lee
2.  Count Flufferton
3.  Katy Purry
4.  Walter Croncat
5.  Joey Banana Pants
6.  Felix Thunder Paws
7.  Nuttykitty
8.  Senor Meow
9.  Sassy Brat cat
10.  Purrscilla
Having been in veterinary medicine for 30 years, I've seen some rather unique names.  And I'm a bit tired of many of the same names (please don't name your pet Bella, Buddy, or really have no idea how many other pets have the same name!).  But there is "unique" and there is "were you high or drunk when you named your pet?"  Many of the above names fall in that latter category.  However, I'm sure that there are some very interesting stories behind those names.
Anyone want to comment and share the wackiest pet names they've personally come across?