Small Animal Veterinary Medicine Today
Author: Will Fuller, DMV
I have had a career in small animal veterinary medicine for 37 years. The changes in the discipline I have seen along the way have been dramatic just as they have been in human medicine.
When I started, the most common services provided by a general practitioner were parasite control, vaccines, neutering animals, and therapy for ear infections and intestinal disorders, just as they are today. As diagnostic aids, laboratory tests were just coming in to routine use and radiological services and techniques were being developed.
As time evolved, more and more medical conditions were described and treatments developed. These advances set the basis for specialization in veterinary medicine. As in human medicine, it became unreasonable for a general practitioner to know it all; some generalists are more knowledgeable than others in given specialties.
There are now specialists across the board in small animal veterinary medicine: radiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, surgeons, ophthalmologists, behaviorists and so on. More and more diagnostic tools have been developed and employed. Sophisticated laboratory tests are common; ultrasound and CAT scans are no longer uncommon. In the large cities across the USA, all the specialists and sophisticated medical technology are available for the medical service of your companion animal. In our local area, you have to drive quite a distance for most specialists.
Through this era of medical advancement, the companion animal became an important member of the family, with the comfort and love derived from the companion animal hugely important to most guardians. At the same time, the increasing value placed on the relationship between guardian and companion animal created a demand for higher quality and more in-depth medical care for animals.
As an owner/guardian of a companion animal, you have choices to make in medical care. What level of care do you want for your animal? To what extent do you want to protect the animal’s health or treat an illness? What level of sophistication do you want to employ or are willing to buy?
Vaccinations have been the cornerstone of the general small animal veterinary business. When a guardian gets a reminder card to come in for annual vaccines, it stimulates him to bring in his companion for medical care. Just how important are the historically recommended vaccines?
Within the last 10 years, the frequency in which animals are vaccinated and with what vaccines has been challenged by the profession itself. The so-called core vaccines for dogs and cats given at early life are absolutely necessary, but the question now looms: Is it necessary to vaccinate every year? How long immunity lasts from a vaccine licensed for one year is not really known. (The vaccine manufacturers license their core vaccines for one year with the exception of rabies vaccines.) Further, is it necessary to give every vaccine made to a companion animal? Are these vaccines in the best interest of a companion animal’s health?
Epidemiological evidence suggests that core viral vaccines, including distemper and parvovirus, given annually, may be harmful to some dogs. It is thought that they may alter the animal’s immune system, thus creating auto immune diseases or compromising the immune system. Interestingly, cats do not seem to be afflicted with any repercussions of over-vaccinating as with dogs.
There currently is no steadfast answer supported by the veterinary community regarding vaccine protocols; therefore, veterinarians differ in their approach to routine medical vaccine care for dogs. Some vaccinate with these core vaccines annually. Others vaccinate with a core vaccine every three years. Some draw blood annually to check what is called a vaccine titer. A positive titer shows evidence of immunity to the virus and logically means there is no need to vaccinate. Controversy surrounds all three protocols. Rabies vaccines are given on a schedule determined by law.
I believe that to maintain the medical health of your companion animal, younger dogs should be vaccinated with core vaccines annually for two years and then be seen annually for a physical exam and parasite tests. For dogs, after the first two years, I recommend a blood vaccine titer be run annually for evidence of immunity to the core viruses. If there is a negative titer, vaccination should be repeated. (I have been running titers for 15 years and have never had a dog with a positive titer contract the viral disease.) For animals eight years and older, semiannual exams are indicated, with routine blood tests checking vital organ functions run annually.
I believe that the cornerstone of continual care is not vaccines, but routine physical exams and, later in life, laboratory tests to catch illness early. By the time an animal shows signs of illness, the disease may be well advanced. The owner should feel comforted when a test comes back negative just as he would on his own routine health screenings.
You, the guardian, must be the judge of what level of care you want to provide for your companion animal. Call around and ask veterinarians their philosophy so you can be comfortable with the level of care you will receive.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO VETERINARY CARE
By Hilary Kraus
Dr. Julie Snyder’s lifestyle appears to be as conventional at it gets: loving wife, devoted mother, family chauffeur with an oversized van and a bottomless supply of kids’ snacks.
Her approach to veterinary medicine isn’t as typical. Snyder practices integrative veterinary medicine, combining traditional Western medicine with alternative approaches of diagnosis and treatment. Earlier this year, she joined the Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry in Beaufort on a part-time basis, where she helps promote holistic medicine to the community.
“I’m lucky to have her on my team,” said Dr. Mark Guilloud, owner of the clinic who recruited Snyder. “Julie is special because she has a quiet, complete way of practicing. She’s patient with the people and patient with the clients and that’s kind of the way a lot of holistic medicine is practiced.”
Snyder, who is 37, has practiced alternative medicine throughout her career that began 13 years ago in Schuylkill Haven, Pa. She became a business owner in 2000.
A graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Snyder said she was sold on the holistic approach when she witnessed the successful work of a veterinarian who treated an ailing horse through chiropractics and acupuncture. Her beliefs were further cemented when she treated a white dwarf rabbit suffering with a bum hind leg. Physical therapy and medicine weren’t doing the trick, Snyder said. But when she used chiropractics to adjust the animal’s back, the bunny immediately got her hop back.
“I was so amazed,” Snyder said, her voice filled with enthusiasm. “I continue to be amazed by the same thing today.”
Snyder and her husband, Tim, moved to Beaufort two years ago after building a house in the Shell Point neighborhood. The couple had four children at the time, which expanded to six with the birth of twins in January, 2009. Selling her practice and moving to South Carolina was an emotional and painstaking decision. But Snyder turned her commitment to becoming a full-time mom.
Today, she and her husband homeschool their four boys and two girls, who are between the ages of 8 years and 16 months old. Tim Snyder also owns a Tae Kwon Do karate school in Beaufort.
Snyder limits her work schedule to Wednesdays from noon to 6 p.m. Most of her patients are dogs, although she’ll treat all small mammals with spines. (And there’s a place in her heart for hamsters, her first pet as a child.)
“Clients who come to me are not skeptical,” said Snyder, a certified member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. “I’m not throwing out Western medicine. I still use that to a great degree, but I combine the best of all our options.”