Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So, You Think You Want To Become A Veterinarian?

On occasion I am asked by young people what all is involved in becoming a veterinarian. Most are aware that some higher education is required, which is a considerable improvement from the time about 25 years ago when a client asked my employer, "Where down at city hall does my (teenaged) son go to get his veterinary license? He just LOVES animals and wants to be a vet!"

CVMA has put together a list of recommended high school school classes to take to put you on the road to this very rewarding career, along with the typical university-level prerequisites for applying to vet school. You will need a solid core of science, math, and communications skills, and good grades from the very start are extremely important.

Applying to veterinary school is a highly competetive process. The human medical profession is full of physicians whose first career choice was veterinary medicine, but they couldn't get accepted to vet school. I was shocked to find this last bit out, but a few physicians have confessed as much to me in the privacy of my exam room.

AVMA also has an excellent page on careers in veterinary medicine. Here's a bit from that page:

"Students should perform well in general science and biology in junior high school and pursue a strong science, mathematics, and biology program in high school to prepare for pre-veterinary coursework at a college or university. Before applying to veterinary college/school, students must successfully complete university level undergraduate prerequisites. Each college or school of veterinary medicine establishes its own pre-veterinary requirements, but typically these include demonstrating basic language and communication skills, and completion of courses in the social sciences, humanities, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics.

"Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive with the number of qualified applicants admitted varying from year to year. Applicants may be required to take a standardized test (for example, the Graduate Record Examination).

"There are presently 28 AVMA Council on Education accredited colleges/schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, four in Canada, and nine in other countries. Each school is regularly evaluated by the Council on Education and must maintain the quality of its program to remain accredited.

"Most veterinary schools require applications through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS). For information about application requirements, applicant data statistics, and other admissions resources, visit www.aavmc.org/vmcas/vmcas.htm.

"After completing the required veterinary medical curriculum (usually over four years), many graduates choose to pursue additional education in one of 20 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties such as surgery, internal medicine, animal behavior, dentistry, ophthalmology, pathology or preventive medicine."

I personally needed four years of full-time study plus two summers to complete my BS and all the vet school prerequisites - this was at Colorado State University in the 70's. If anything, things are tougher now, so plan accordingly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Make Food Safety Part Of Your Holiday Menu

Those of you who have known me for a while probably know that, in addition to feline medicine and surgery, and zoonotic diseases, I also have a professional interest in food safety. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the largest employer of veterinarians in the country, providing slaughter and packing facility inspection and supervision. FSIS also serves the public by providing educational outreach on food safety issues. They have published a web page on making your holiday dinner safe at this link.

If you are wondering why all the fuss about food safety, here's the FDA's web site known as The Bad Bug Book - it's all about the nasties you can catch from eating formerly living things. Our main concerns with turkey appear to be Salmonella and Campylobacter.

And be sure to keep that dangerous turkey wishbone well out of the cat's reach. I have seen them involved in near-disasters.

H1N1 Update

I was able to get my H1N1 shot this past weekend, so within a few days I won't have to worry about catching it and then passing it on to (and possibly killing) one of my patients or my own cats. Whew. What a relief.

It didn't hurt, and I feel fine.

The American Lung Association's flu locator can help you find the H1N1 vaccination if you are interested.

LA County Health Department doesn't have any more H1N1 shot clinics planned until the beginning of December, probably because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

We Need Newspaper

For the 20th time today I reminded myself to post a request for newspaper, and I finally remembered to do it!

We need your discarded clean newspaper for lining cages in the hospital ward. We don't need mountains of the stuff - just a stack of a few weeks' accumulation of LA Times is sufficient once in a while. We also only need the newsprint and NOT the glossy insert material.

Thanks for your help! I used to buy the Times every day and so we had plenty, but now I get my news off "teh intertubes" and we find ourself running out of newspapers too often.

Time To Adopt Another Cat!

It's the time of year when hearts and minds turn toward gifts. And what better gift could you get your cat (especially if it's an only kitty) than ANOTHER CAT? Please do consider adopting one of the many homeless waifs currently housed at one of the city animal shelters.

The West Valley shelter has 60 cats listed as of this moment. If you click on the hyperlink you'll find a page that helps you narrow your search by gender, age, size, and color. Please think about making this a very happy holiday season for a cat in need of a home! And remember to bring kitty in within three days of adoption for a free exam at Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic (we suggest two days of home observation before the exam).

We're going to be adopting a new mascot sometime after the holidays and may wind up getting one from the West Valley shelter.

We Have Aquarium Of The Pacific Discount Coupons

The Aquarium of the Pacific, located in Long Beach, has a promotion on between now and March 31 2010. We have discount coupons good for one free child's admission with one paid adult admission. Quantities are limited. We will have them available at the front desk until they run out or expire, so be sure to ask about them next time you are in.

I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific a few years ago and had a wonderful time. While it is not as fabulous as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is quite the facility. The moon jellies and shark-petting pool are my favorite exhibits!

LA Metro can take you down to Long Beach if you don't feel like driving all that way and hassling with parking. From the Valley you take the Red or Orange line bus to the Red line subway, into downtown, then take the Blue line (light rail) to Long Beach, where local shuttles will get you around.

If the economy has forced a change in your plans and it's a "staycation" this year, the Aquarium would make a perfect holiday excursion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Uh Oh. Like We Don't Have ENOUGH Timewasters....

Catwash. A new game for bored office workers and such. Need I say more?

Cat Declawing Banned in Los Angeles

Well, talk about being blindsided. While we were all worried about this sort of nonsense in San Francisco, Los Angeles City Council was busy behind the scenes, and without a breath of notice to affected parties such as veterinarians, plotting to outlaw a certain surgical procedure which, in my humble opinion, has saved more than a few cat's lives.

I've already expressed how I feel about meddling busybodies trying to interfere in the doctor-client-patient relationship. This has been a rare procedure at Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic over the years. I think I have done one declaw in the past 12 months. I spend a lot of time trying to discourage it, but recognize that there are times when it is the most appropriate solution to a legitimate problem. The California Veterinary Medical Association agrees with my stand, as does the AVMA and AAFP.

So there you have it. Declaws are now illegal in the City of Los Angeles. If you don't like it, call your city councilperson to complain. And while you're at it, ask him or her why the hell Ventura Blvd is so full of potholes and cracks it is almost unsafe to drive sections of it at any speed. Or why they are backpedalling in violation of state law on medical marijuana.

Cat Dies of H1N1 Flu in Oregon

AVMA just emailed me today about the first reported feline death due to H1N1 (swine) influenza. This comes on the heels of the first reported case in cats just last week (that cat, in Iowa, recovered uneventfully). Confirmatory testing in this feline death is pending.

This just reiterates how serious some human diseases can be if they infect our pets. PLEASE, if you are at all able to get the H1N1 vaccine, do so if for no other reason than to possibly save your cats life. If you think you have flu,PLEASE practice good hygiene (handwashing, covered cough, use tissues only once then toss where kitty can't get) and DO NOT LET YOUR CAT SLEEP WITH YOU.

Additionally, because I have not had the H1N1 vaccine yet (I cannot get access because I am not in a priority group), I am at risk of catching it and then possibly spreading what is now proven to be a deadly disease on to my patients. So I DO NOT wish to be unnecessarily exposed. If you think you have the flu, or are not well on the road to recovery from it, PLEASE refrain from coming into the clinic for non-emergencies (obviously if you have a sick cat this does not apply).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Iowa Cat Diagnosed With Swine Flu (H1N1)

It seems we have a little excitement in the news this morning - here is the text of an alert I received from the Los Angeles County Public Health Veterinarian:

On November 4, 2009, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a press release reporting that a 13 year old indoor cat was confirmed to have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus (see attached press release). The cat became ill after two household members had developed influenza-like illness. Both the family members and cat have recovered from their illness. There was no evidence that the cat spread the infection to any people or other animals.

People who are sick with H1N1 influenza may spread the infection not only to people, but to some animals too. Recently, there were reports that swine, ferrets and turkeys have also contracted the virus from infected people. Thus, it is important for individuals with influenza-like illness to take precautions which will minimize spread of the virus to both humans and animals.

People can keep their pets healthy by washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, and minimizing their contact with their pets when they are ill. If a pet becomes ill, they should consult their veterinarian. Veterinarians should report any suspected cases of influenza in animals to our program.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 877-747-2243 or 562-401-7088. Completed case reports may be faxed to 562-401-7112. Thank you for your assistance with local animal disease surveillance.

Karen Ehnert, DVM, MPVM
Senior Veterinarian
County of Los Angeles
Department of Public Health
Veterinary Public Health & Rabies Control
(phone and email deleted)


Here's the Iowa press release:

Protecting Pets from Illness
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) remind Iowans that in addition to protecting their families, friends and neighbors from the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, it’s important to remember to protect family pets from the illness, as well. People who are sick with H1N1 can spread the virus not only to humans, but to some animals.
The Departments are sharing this message following the confirmation of a case of H1N1 in an Iowa cat.
The 13-year-old indoor cat in Iowa was brought to the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where it tested positive for the H1N1 virus. The diagnosis is the culmination of collaborative efforts between IDPH, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Advanced Host Defenses, Immunobiotics and Translational Comparative Medicine, USDA, and IDALS Animal Industry Bureau.
“Two of the three members of the family that owns the pet had suffered from influenza-like illness before the cat became ill,” said IDPH Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Ann Garvey. “This is not completely unexpected, as other strains of influenza have been found in cats in the past.” Both the cat and its owners have recovered from their illnesses.
People can keep their pets healthy by washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and minimizing contact with their pets while ill with influenza-like symptoms. If your pet exhibits signs of a respiratory illness, contact your veterinarian.
“Indoor pets that live in close proximity to someone who has been sick are at risk and it is wise to monitor their health to ensure they aren’t showing signs of illness,” said Dr. David Schmitt, State Veterinarian for Iowa.
For more information about H1N1, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/h1n1/ or call the Iowa Influenza Hotline at 1-800-447-1985.


Los Angeles County Health Department has put out a FAQ sheet about pets and H1N1:

What is the latest information about the H1N1 influenza virus in animals? On November 4, 2009 the Iowa Department of Public Health reported that a 13-year old pet cat had contracted the virus from its owners, who were also ill. Everyone in the household recovered completely. This was the first report of H1N1 influenza causing illness in a cat. There is no evidence that cats are carriers of the H1N1 influenza virus.

What other types of animals can catch the H1N1 influenza virus? The H1N1 influenza virus has been reported in pigs in 10 countries, turkeys in Canada and Chile, and ferrets in Oregon and Nebraska. In most cases, the infection appeared to cause mild signs. There is a separate strain of influenza that dogs can catch from other dogs called Canine Influenza H3N8. People cannot catch the Canine H3N8 Influenza virus.

What symptoms would I see in my cat if it developed H1N1 influenza infection?
Since only one cat has shown signs of illness, this question cannot be answered with certainty. Symptoms are expected to be mild and include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, and reduced appetite. Please note that there are many more common infections that can cause these same symptoms in cats and other pets.

Can I catch H1N1 influenza from my pet? At the moment there are no reports of any person contracting the H1N1 virus from a pet. Nonetheless, pet owners may take simple precautions to prevent transmission of the virus, especially if your pet is ill. Read below for details.

Can animals catch this virus from each other? Currently, there are no reports of this virus spreading from pet to pet. However, pet owners should read more below for simple steps can reduce the spread of any germs between pets.

How can I protect my pets and myself against H1N1? Good hygiene and sanitation help protect the whole family.
• Cover your cough with a sturdy tissue or sneeze into your elbow
• Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, before or after touching your face, or before eating
• Wash your hands before and after handling your pet or your pet's food bowl, water bowl, bedding, or other supplies
• Keep sick pets in a separate area, away from healthy pets
• Do not allow your pet to sit or sleep close to your face, especially if you or your pet are ill
• Contact your veterinarian or veterinary clinic if your pet becomes ill.
o Call your veterinary clinic before bringing your pet in to them
• Keep your pet's bedding, food and water bowls clean
• Keep your pet up-to-date on vaccinations and other preventative care recommended by your veterinarian

Can my pet be vaccinated against H1N1? No. There is no vaccine created for pets against this virus. Human vaccines cannot safely be used on pets.


I was half expecting something like this to happen eventually. So far it's a yawner, but given the propensity of flu viruses to mutate and become more virulent, we can't afford to ignore this.

The main take-home message is THIS: Keep your kitties safe the same way you keep other people safe from your flu infection by handwashing, covering your coughs and sneezes, and social distancing. If you are home sick with the flu, don't let kitty sleep in bed with you.

A number of human cold viruses are already known to cross into cats, where they invariably dead-end with the primary cat, and don't generally cause more than mild disease.

I haven't been able to get the H1N1 vaccine yet, not being in any "high-risk" group, but I sure would like to. The last thing I want is to get sick with it and have to stay home and NOT be able to cuddle with the boys.

If anything new develops with this disease, I'll keep you advised.

Here's a link to the AVMA's page on H1N1 reports in domestic animals.