Category Archives: human interest

Thursday News – Benefits From Pets

Today’s news link will take you to an article that discusses the positive personal and social impacts of owning a pet. There’s a link to another article in this one that leads to an interesting read, too.

Can Pets Make Us Better People? By Sarah B. Weir, Shine Senior Writer

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harmony [ˈhɑːmənɪ]
1. agreement in action, opinion, feeling, etc.; accord
2. order or congruity of parts to their whole or to one another

Pet Authority is open on Saturdays. That’s not likely a surprise to any of you, nor would it be to most clients out there. Very few vet hospitals aren’t open on Saturday. It’s an important day for many people to have available for appointments. We understand that you have jobs that coincide with most of our regular hours. Not everyone can take a half day or a day off, nor even leave early, nor come in late. (Some of you can do those things, which is great! We’d be pretty bored Mon-Fri otherwise. 🙂 ) Additionally, a pet getting sick rarely happens according to a convenient schedule.

Saturday isn’t a “normal” day for us for a few reasons. First, there’s only one doctor on duty. Normally, we have two. With only one doctor, we have fewer support staff as well: two receptionists, three techs, and one or two boarding employees. Most of the time, this is plenty of people to keep the hospital running smoothly.

From my perspective, Saturdays are a great work environment. I get to be the captain of the ship. I’m responsible for all of the patients. I have a staff on hand that knows how I like to get things done, so they’re able to anticipate my needs. I can give directions to them to carry out with the confidence that they’ll do exactly as I’ve asked. I also tend to see more of “my” clients — the people that regularly choose me to care for their pets.

Once in a while, we have an insane Saturday. There’s more work to be done than we properly have time for. My attention is pulled in too many directions at once: phone calls, emergencies, urgent-care-level sickness, regular health care, phone calls with questions, medication refills, pharmacy refills, pharmacy call-ins, lab work interpretation. It’s way too much to handle on my own.

I’d be completely sunk if I didn’t have a staff I could trust. There’s literally no way for me to be in more than one place at a time. Sure, I can work in 2-3 rooms at once by juggling. I still can’t defy the laws of physics and reality. There’s no cutting of corners, either. I can’t decide to do a crappy job with anyone’s pet, nor to limit a client to a certain number of questions. Each pet deserves my full attention. It’s also critical to me on a personal level to retain good bedside manner.

That’s where harmony comes into play. I mentioned already that the staff knows what I need and how I like to work. The situation goes well beyond that. The reception staff begins prioritizing files for me so I know what to attend to immediately and what can wait for a small free moment. The technicians will often get things started for another appointment that they are certain I will want done. Our boarding staff offers to help with whatever needs doing. Everyone comes together to accomplish the necessary tasks in the proper way. That’s harmony.

When I was an intern in Hollywood, Florida, I had one particularly horrible night. From about 10pm to 4am, I had eight rooms going at one time. Yes, eight. From vomiting to a broken leg, as soon as I had one patient squared away, anther would arrive to take its place in the exam room. At that time, I was still pretty green. I didn’t have the experience I do now, so handling this level of stress was not easy for me. I was slower, needed to look things up more often, and wasn’t sure how to direct an extremely capable staff to get things done. One of the techs at that time responded to my grumbling by saying, “Just think about how much you will have accomplished by the time the sun comes up.” I was livid at that particular moment and snapped, “That’s three hours away. What am I supposed to do until then?” She calmly replied, “Just keep working.”

Her wisdom was that with harmony, you can make it through. By the time the sun had come up, I had everything settled. The patients were stable. Reports had been written. Orders had been created for the techs. The incoming receiving doctor took the cases from me and sent me home to sleep. All of that was according to plan. As much as I wanted the sun not to set again, which would waive my responsibility for another night, it did so. I went back to work with a better understanding of how to view a day’s work. I was able to pass that wisdom on to the incoming crop of new interns.

You may start at a given time. You may have the goal of finishing at a certain time. In between, you will work as hard as you must work to get done what you must get done. Your staff is there to help you. Empower them to do so. Your clients need your best regardless of the simplicity of the vaccine or the complexity of the trauma case. You do not have time to worry about you. You must worry about your patients instead. The sun will rise and set independent of your wishes, so let it do only what it does: mark the passage of time. Today may be horrible. Tomorrow is a new opportunity.

We had a rough Saturday yesterday. Last night, the sun set. This morning, it … lit up the rain, more or less. Thanks to my staff, we completed what needed to be done. I worked hard. The staff worked harder, without complaint, and supported me by performing admirably well with each case.

Saturdays: a lesson in harmony.

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Filed under human interest, practice

Resources for information on Canine Circovirus

Many of our clients have called and sent email to ask about Canine Circovirus. The news has picked up the stories of dogs in Ohio, California, and Michigan. New information is somewhat hard to come by. The virus isn’t thoroughly understood at this point in time. Investigators are working hard to bring us more information. In the meantime, here are a few links that lead to more info on Circovirus.

Circovirus FAQ from the AVMA

Guidance for Veterinarians about Circovirus

Information from Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health:

LANSING, MI – Based on recent cases in California and Ohio that may indicate the emergence of a new canine circovirus, the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (DCPAH) at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine has added two real time PCR assays for canine circovirus to its test catalog. Running two PCRs for this virus is important as the initial research on the virus indicates some genetic variation. The PCR assay can be run on fresh or formalin-fixed tissue. DCPAH has received requests for canine circovirus testing from Michigan clients and two positive results have been found. However, both animals also had simultaneous infections with other organisms; therefore identification of the circovirus was not necessarily linked to the cause of the disease shown by the animals. DCPAH is currently working on an in situ hybridization (ISH) technique which is a crucial next step. ISH is a method that uses DNA or RNA probes to detect virus in microscopic lesions.

“It is important to note that circovirus has been found in the feces of healthy dogs. Also, the initial research shows that nearly 70% of dogs showing clinical signs of illness and found positive for circovirus were also infected with other viruses or bacteria known to cause disease. Currently, circovirus by itself is not associated with a specific disease process. However, coinfection with canine circovirus and other pathogens may have the potential to cause disease as has been demonstrated in other species, for example pigs,” says DCPAH acting director Thomas Mullaney.

Matti Kiupel, section chief for DCPAH’s pathology laboratory adds, “In order to link circovirus to the cause of a disease process, a full diagnostic work-up (including a postmortem in the case of deceased animals) is essential. This also allows diagnosticians and pathologists to identify the full spectrum of infections and/or diseases that are present in a specific case.”
Recent publicity about circovirus in Michigan dogs is not cause for panic. Veterinarians should consider possible circovirus infection in animals showing clinical signs including vomiting, diarrhea (possibly hemorrhagic) only after other more common causes have been diagnostically excluded. Ascites, pleural effusion, hypovolemic shock, bicavitary hemorrhage, and disseminated intravascular coagulation may also be present, but as with gastrointestinal symptoms, more common causes should be excluded. According to the early research by Li et al, circovirus “should be considered in cases of unexplained vasculitis in dogs.”

Dog owners whose pets show signs of illness, including vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, should contact their veterinarian and seek diagnosis and treatment. There is no evidence to-date that canine circovirus can be transmitted to humans or cause human disease. Since many pathogens are transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases such as rabies, leptospirosis, salmonellosis) thorough hand-washing should be standard practice after handling animals, especially those showing signs of illness, or animal waste.

Additional information on circovirus developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for veterinarians and the general public is available on the DCPAH website at

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Filed under diagnostics, dogs, emergency, human interest, immunology, infectious diseases, news, pathology

Do Pets Grieve?

I’m frequently asked if pets experience grief at the loss of an owner or another pet in the household. The short answer is “Yes, they do.” Linked below is an article from the Green Bay Press Gazette, written by written by William Hageman, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Studies suggest some animals grieve loss of owners, housemates

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Filed under behavior, human interest, human-animal bond, news

AVMA Convention – Chicago & Shedd Aquarium

Last Sunday, I was in Chicago for a national veterinary conference. Every year, the American Veterinary Medical Association hosts a gathering of top-caliber speakers to provide continuing education for veterinarians and vet techs. We attend hour-long lectures to increase our knowledge and skills, and to update us on what the most current information is telling us about treating our patients. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to hear about the cutting edge being researched in veterinary schools and industry world-wide. There are also lots of wet labs, which are hands-on training sessions so vets can learn/practice techniques and skills. We also have opportunities to connect with veterinary product manufacturers, which allows us to see what equipment, medication, etc. is out there for us to utilize in our practices. That part is, more or less, a trade show.

The best part about the conference, for me, was to see that there were literally thousands of veterinary professionals there. Each and every one of those people attended this conference with the goal of improving skills, of offering better care to their patients. It’s a strong commitment to good practice. I’m really proud of my profession when I see things like that. Some of the lectures had to be given an overflow room with remote video of the main lecture hall due to the overwhelming number of people in the lecture.

Chicago was a great venue for the conference. I’ve been there before, but I haven’t stayed in the downtown/loop area since I was about 10. I managed to navigate on the public transportation system (that’s a near-miracle for a “Detroiter”!) to see some of the sights in the city. The food was superb, too. I can highly recommend the experience as a destination city for a vacation.

When I was little, my family went to the Shedd Aquarium. I clearly remember a few of the things I saw there. The day before the conference started, I took myself back to Shedd to experience it again. I can happily say that the things I remembered were exactly there again in real life. It’s a great facility. Don’t miss it if you’re in Chicago! Naturally, I took a ton of photos, so I’ll share some of them with you today. This dovetails with an upcoming series of posts that I’m planning to detail out the setup of a 150-gallon freshwater aquarium in my home office.

Each photo is a link to the larger version on our Flickr gallery.

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Filed under fish, human interest, travel

American Origins

Today’s news article is a discussion about the origins of “American” dog breeds. Since the discovery of the origins of the domestic dog (in Southease Asia, incidentally), scientists have continued to investigate the origins of dog breeds and populations. It’s an interesting read!

Alaskan breeds — such as Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog — are the only canines with actual American roots, according to DNA analysis. All of these pooches hail from the 49th state and nearby areas, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B


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Filed under dogs, human interest, research, science

A Special Bond – Cats & People

Cats pose more mysteries to us than answers most of the time. Cat owners undoubtedly have a bond just as strong with their pets as dog owners do, and they learn to interpret the signals that cats provide. Relationships with cats are subtle and complex, but scientific study has revealed a few interesting facts about how cats interact with their owners.

Both of these articles are at the Discovery News page.

Cats Don’t Actually Ignore Us by Jennifer Viegas

Cats may try to hide their true feelings, but a recent study found that cats do actually pay attention to their owners, distinguishing them from all other people.

The study, which will be published in the July issue of Animal Cognition, is one of the few to examine the cat/human social dynamic from the feline’s perspective. Cats may not do what we tell them to, but they usually adore their human caretakers.

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it’s not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.


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Thursday News – What to call a group of animals

Today’s link comes from the Mother Nature Network. Eco-journalist Russell McLendon researched the official names for a group of a certain type of animal. (For example, a group of wolves is called a pack.) The list is huge — 99 animal groups — and covers most every commonly known animal.

Here’s the link to the list of 99 Strange Collective Animal Names

By way of example, here’s a Romp of otters!

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Filed under human interest

Food Stamps for Pets

The recession taught us a lot about doing our best to care for pets on an extremely tight budget. Owners sometimes face unexpected financial hardship. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of charity organizations out there that can help with the absolute basics like food and medical care. Our main veterinary organization, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), ran a small news article about a Food Stamps program that helps pets. I wanted to share the web page and some basic info with you so that you can help a pet owner in need.

Pet Food Stamps :
Non-Profit, operating on donations
Owners can qualify if they are on Food Stamps or are below the official poverty level
Food is automatically shipped to the owner on a regular basis
Benefits last up to 6 months
Applications take at least 6 weeks to be processed

The application can be downloaded at this link.

To apply by mail, submit the following information:
Phone #
Email address
Award letter from a state agency verifying they are a recipient of public assistance

Mail the information to:
Pet Stamps Food Program
391 S. Main St.
New City, NY 10956

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Today’s post will be short and sweet. 🙂 I want to wish all moms – whether your kids are 2-legged or 4-legged – a Happy Mother’s Day.

This link goes to the Huffington Post and an article showing some moms at the Smithsonian National Zoo. The babies are beyond adorable.


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Say what, now?

I was chatting with the boss yesterday about communication. She’d mentioned that recently she’d seen a talk show on TV with Alan Alda as a guest. Alda was talking about how he’s been working with human med school students about how to speak to people so they understand what’s being said. The boss and I disagree a little about how technical we can be without overwhelming a client, but she made an important point: sometimes we forget how alien medical terminology can be.

Interestingly, the site I host the blog with (WordPress), gives me a lot of data from search engines that people use to find the blog and/or the topics of my posts. I can see what some of the common search terms were that led people to the blog. This ties in because the posts that have gotten the most hits are the posts in which I explain more about particular diseases or detail out terms or concepts.

The short list below is a selection of things that came right to mind as being confusing items. I hope it’ll help get you thinking about other things that just don’t click for you. Ask away!j

•A heartworm test is done with a blood sample.

•A fecal exam / stool check / parasite check is done with a poop sample and looks for intestinal worms. (Hookworm, roundworm, whipworm.)

•A Distemper shot doesn’t have anything to do with a dog’s temperament. It’s also referred to as a DHPP or DA2P vaccine. The abbreviated letters indicate which diseases are in the vaccine. Distemper, Hepatitis (Adenovirus type 2), Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus.

•The kennel cough vaccine comes in 2 forms: injection and a liquid squirted into the nose. The full name for the vaccine is Bordetella. (Bore-duh-tell-uh) We often hear “bordello” vaccine, which is … a term we wouldn’t cover on a family blog. 😉

•Heartworm prevention products all cover pets for heartworm prevention, AND some of the intestinal worms that they can get. The different products cover a different selection of intestinal parasites. We decide which product is best by looking at a pet’s lifestyle and activities.

•When we find a lump/bump on a dog, we’re likely to call it a tumor or a mass. These words do NOT indicate that that we know whether it’s cancerous or not. A lump or mass is an easier way to say “neoplasia,” which means “new growth.” In order to know whether a mass is cancerous, we need to take a needle sample or a piece to send to a pathologist.

•With those tumors, a sample that we take with a needle is called a “Fine Needle Aspirate.” We poke a needle and syringe into the tumor and suck out some cells. We squirt the cells onto a glass microscope slide and then examine it under the microscope. We can sometimes tell what a tumor is based on how the cells look. When we surgically take a chunk of the mass and send that off to the pathologist, that’s a biopsy.

•When we remove the ovaries and uterus of a female dog or cat, that’s a spay. The full name is ovariohysterectomy. The past tense version would be spayed, which sounds like ‘spade,’ but a spade is a shovel. We will often abbreviate the surgery as OHE or OVH.

•When we remove the testicles from a male dog or cat, that’s called a neuter, or orchiectomy. That surgery is often abbreviated as an OE.

I think that’s a pretty good start. What has your vet said that just wasn’t that clear? We can work on making it more understandable.


Filed under communication, human interest, practice

Sunday Post Early – Altruism

I’ll be out of town tomorrow, so I saved up an interesting topic that we can get started on this week and continue at some point in the future.

Understanding our own social behavior, ethics, and morals is a monumental challenge. Human behavior is complex, to say the least. We can still learn a great deal about our own social conventions by examining the behavior of animals.

There have been a few articles (in Nature, Smithsonian Magazine, and online) recently that deal specifically with our tendency to identify altruism. Altruism, the act of helping others, is something that seems to be understood by human babies as young as 3 months. It’s fascinating to consider.

This article talks about a study and what it may imply about our own behavior. Have a look. I’m curious about what you’ve observed from your own pets or other animals. Do you think they understand altruism?

Here’s the article.


Filed under behavior, communication, ethics, human interest, nature

Sick Days

There are some sacrifices we all make to work in the veterinary field.  Working in close quarters, as well as being exposed to clients, makes the hospital something of a human Petri dish.  We do a fair bit of gentle teasing at the hospital when someone’s sick.  “Patient Zero,” “Typhoid Mary,” “Plaguebringer,” — names kicked about all in good fun.  While we agree that working while sick is a bad idea, the fact remains that when we take a sick day, we affect the ability to see patients that need care.

I’m nearly paranoid about washing my hands, using only my own office phone, getting enough sleep, etc.  It usually works.  This year?  My number was up.  I caught a nasty case of bronchitis.  In the 8 years I’ve worked at Pet Authority, I think I’ve taken less than 4 sick days.  Friday I took a half-day and hauled myself to the doctor’s office.

Whenever I visit a human medical office of any sort, I can’t help but compare my experience to what pets and clients experience at our hospital.  I was pleasantly surprised that the doctor was able to run a test for influenza right there at the office.  We have a few tests that return results in ten minutes or so as well.  I don’t have the flu, thankfully!  (Having that swab crammed way up in my nose wasn’t cool, though.  Not at all.)  Otherwise, everyone was very nice.  I was given some medications and sent home to rest.  I think I’ll be in good shape to return to work on Monday.

How we determine when we’re sick enough to go to the doctor is easy to figure out.  We each have a certain tolerance for various symptoms.  Our pets, however, can’t really distinguish between mild, moderate, and severe signs of disease.  Most pets will act as normally as they can manage no matter how bad they feel.  This has the effect of hiding the illness from owners.  That can lead to a delay in treatment, in turn affecting how successful we are in making a pet well again.

Admitting that I’m a bad example, I’d like to make some amends by sharing some signs that your pet should see the doctor “today.”  Putting off a visit could worsen problems and lead to poor outcomes.  Remember, pets don’t think about what their symptoms could be caused by.  We have to do that for them.  Each sign will also have some of the possible causes listed.

Coughing: heart failure, bronchitis, pneumonia

Squinting eye(s):  corneal ulcer, inflammation in the eye, glaucoma, pain

Vomiting:  intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, liver disease, kidney failure, toxin ingestion, bloat

Rapid breathing:  heart failure, pain, anemia

Swollen belly:  bleeding, cancer, heart failure, bloat

Pale gums:  bleeding, severe anemia, shock

Seizures:  epilepsy, brain tumor, toxin, inflammation of the brain

Bruising: blood clotting disorder, trauma

There are certainly more signs that we should watch for, but those are some of the most serious. Our pets count on us to be watchful for evidence of a problem, and to grant them a ‘sick day’ to go see the vet.  Don’t hesitate to seek care — it’s always easier to treat small problems than catastrophes!

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Filed under human interest, medicine



A research group at Duke University has created a series of tests that help you identify what kind of personality and cognition your dog has. For a fee of $60, you can buy a kit that will allow you to play games with your dog, which in turn lets you understand how they think and perceive.

There’s a brief CBS news article here.

Visit the Dognition Home Page here.

The Dognition Blog has a lot more interesting stuff, too. Don’t miss it!
Dognition Profiles.
What will you learn from Dognition?
Dognition and Citizen Science

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Filed under behavior, human interest, socialization, training

Necessary Evil?

Domestic pets are frequently spoiled by their owners. Schedules are set to include walks and play time for dogs. Cats often have climbing trees and other toys to play with. We interact daily to enrich their lives and to keep them happy. It’s an instinct on our part to care for our pets’ emotional and behavioral needs just as much as their physical needs. Most pet owners are so well-suited to this relationship that doing the right thing comes naturally.

Our relationship with non-domestic animals isn’t always so easy. Wild things are far enough away from our suburban lives that we don’t think often think about them. It isn’t easy to look at the links we have to the natural world and understand that we are responsible for its preservation. While I believe that “pet people” are more likely to understand conservation efforts, it’s still not an immediate connection the way our pets are.

Zoos occupy a spot between our yards and the greater wilderness. There are very few people that haven’t been to a zoo. The chance to be close to exotic wild animals captures our attention easily. We’re very aware, somehow, that looking eye to eye with a lion or tiger in safety is a rare event. Whatever part of our own survival instinct that survives tells us that is a wild animal and it will eat you if it can! That moment of connection between human and wild may well be enough to encourage a person to support conservation efforts. Zoos, aquariums, and preserves serve as an inspiration.

Captive animals also ignite very, very strong opinions about animal welfare. The stark truth is that we have confined an animal to a given setting for the remainder of its life. Very few zoos are able to release animals into the wild, so the survival of certain species is unfortunately limited to a captive population. We do need to acknowledge that maintaining a captive population in a zoo can provide breeding stock for programs that may in fact be able to release animals back to the wild. I believe that’s a minority of cases, though.

This leaves us in a quandary. If we accept that zoos serve an important function, then we accept that there will be animals in captivity. If we accept that this “ownership” brings the same responsibilities that owning our own pets does, then we have a very clear directive. We must care for the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of zoo animals.

Caring for those needs is easier said than done. I’m honestly not sure if a tiger would chase a laser pointer, but I’m certain that stalking and chasing are natural activities for a big cat. We’re obligated to find a way to provide an opportunity for that behavior. Thankfully, zoos have come up with a lot of great strategies for the well being of the animals. If we accept that zoos are providing for the animals appropriately, then we can accept that a zoo is a “necessary evil.”

I want to briefly raise the topic of non-human primate captivity. The great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) are creatures with intelligence we still don’t fully understand. Some of them exhibit the very foundations of our own humanity. They serve as outreach for conservation in a way that none of the other animals can, thanks to their immediately recognizable human-ness.

The apes’ habitats are shrinking, they’re hunted for non-food reasons, and they’ve been exploited miserably. We must confine them to highly secure exhibits in zoos to prevent their escape. Their intelligence makes care for their emotional and mental welfare a massive challenge. Thankfully, here too, zoos are working on clever solutions. (Remember the iPads for orangutans news post a while back?)

Certainly with all captive animals, but especially with the great apes, we have a massive responsibility to ensure that they are as well cared for as possible. I think we can improve what we’re already doing. As with most issues such as this, publicity and marketing will have to play a role. Without public support (including financial support), zoos and similar facilities will not be able to meet the needs of the animals.

Although we can’t pet the tigers at the zoo, their needs are no different than those of the ten pound cousin using your couch as a scratching post. It’s an easy thing to realize that, and to take steps to help spoil the 400 pound tiger just as thoroughly. It’s the least we can do.

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