DEAR READERS: More women than men now graduate from veterinary colleges -- very different than when I graduated in 1962. After winning a county scholarship, my education in England was free. Today, graduates have student loan debts around $150,000, which is not a secure way to start a professional life dedicated to providing the best and most cost-effective care for cats, dogs and other animals.
The clinical challenges in helping animal patients are many and considerable. Rising costs of medications and essential diagnostics strain vets and owners alike. Most vets' animal patients are neutered, variously confined and often live long hours alone, fed highly processed manufactured foods and given over-the-counter anti-flea drugs on a routine basis. Many dogs and ever-more cats also have genetic abnormalities because of selective inbreeding that make them prone to various diseases and immune to vaccinations and anesthesia, which could mean frivolous malpractice suits and rising liability insurance costs. Add having to address the consequences of declawing, lack of understanding of animals' basic needs and post-traumatic stress disorder in abused and traumatized shelter animals, and vets' jobs are more stressful than ever. Highly trained and dedicated animal doctors are seeing a decline in patient treatment hours as the foundering economy affects more people, and causes pet owners to work longer.
Pet health insurance (for those who can afford it) and franchised veterinary services are now a reality. But in my estimation, the future would be more secure and the greater good better served by the professional veterinary sector becoming more deeply involved in local animal shelter, animal rescue, cruelty and protection concerns. Additionally, community vets should promote preventive health care, animal behavioral counseling and even speak to school children about animals and their proper, responsible care. The many dogs who bark for hours, and the free-roaming cats who kill songbirds and chipmunks are symptomatic of some major animal health, welfare and care issues that have not been fully addressed and rectified, in part because of a lack of veterinary expertise being called for in community relations and the establishment of effective municipal animal care and protection regulations.
A more socialized companion animal veterinarian is called for, and many are responding to this call. There is no group of professionals more qualified to share their experiences through volunteering and offering their expertise by beginning an ongoing educational dialogue with animal lovers in their communities. More veterinary students are also being exposed to this community-based orientation by helping in animal shelters and engaging in behavioral counseling and adoption programs. Others elect to invest in postgraduate specialist training and work in referral practices for those who can afford to see a veterinary dermatologist, neurologist or other specialist.
Fortunately, many health issues may soon be greatly reduced thanks to the advances being made in veterinary preventive and holistic, integrative medicine. Vets also help with public education about microchipping and adopting rather than buying pets. Many people now take their pups to puppy classes to socialize and learn animal communication and control, while those with cats learn how and why to make their cats enjoy life indoors and never need or be allowed to roam free off their property.
The best medicine is prevention, which calls for regular wellness examinations and a more holistic, integrative approach to companion animal health. This has already lead to a re-evaluation of vaccination protocols, of feeding highly processed "junk" commercial pet foods and of overmedicating, especially with so-called preventive medications. For further information, contact a holistic veterinarian in your area. A searchable list can be found at holisticvetlist.com. Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, at ahvma.org.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a sphynx cat who is 1 year old. Lately, he has been keeping me up at night meowing and begging to go outside -- he's an indoor cat, but I let him out on my patio when I'm outside. Usually, at 3 a.m., he will stand by the sliding glass door in my room and whine, or climb on my chair and scratch it until I wake up, or he will jump on my head. Closing my door doesn't help, as he stands outside and cries and rips up my carpet. Any suggestions? -- H.H., Reston, Virginia
DEAR H.H.: This is a frequent complaint, and many people with this issue have found that vigorous interactive play with the cat before bedtime and putting treats or dry cat food out, some hidden or in puzzle toys, can help. My book "Cat Body, Cat Mind" will give you more insights and solutions. In many instances, two cats are generally happier and healthier than those who must live alone and are in total confinement without even human contact for many hours during the day.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)