Veterinary specialists can work with your veterinarian to provide the latest in care
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
I was talking to one of my stepmother’s friends recently, and she mentioned that her dog had been diagnosed with a heart murmur.
“You should take him to a veterinary cardiologist,” I said.
“I didn’t know they had cardiologists for dogs,” she replied.
“They have every kind of specialist for pets that they do for people,” I told her.
I should know. Over the years, my seven dogs, past and present, have been to a number of them.
Veterinarians with a string of letters behind their name and DVM or VMD title are board-certified. They’ve put in long hours and years of study to earn the designation of diplomate and membership in the specialty organization, after passing tough certification exams (boards). For instance, an internal medicine specialist’s designation is DACVIM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. If you were to see the letters DECVIM, it means the veterinarian was certified through a European internal medicine organization.
Besides an assortment of veterinary cardiologists, one or another of my dogs have been treated by a veterinary dentist, an ophthalmologist, internal medicine specialists, a neurologist, oncologists, radiologists (who specialize in imaging techniques) and a dermatologist. And although we didn’t see this particular specialist in person, we’ve also had the services of a pathologist, who identified Harper’s tonsillar mass as cancerous. My bird Larry went to an avian specialist.
Beyond the specialists I’ve mentioned, pets and their people can benefit from veterinarians with advanced education in anesthesiology, behavior, emergency and critical care, nutrition, preventive medicine, sports medicine and rehabilitation, surgery and theriogenology (reproductive medicine).
People with working and sports animals are likely to take their pets to orthopedic or rehab specialists. They may also see veterinarians trained in acupuncture, chiropractic and massage, although these are not recognized specialties.
Breeders consult theriogenologists when they have questions about genetic disorders or if their animals have issues with low sperm production or require insemination or a cesarean section.
Surgical specialists may focus on soft tissue traumas or orthopedic problems, minimally invasive techniques, or neurologic, oncologic or cardiovascular procedures. Anesthesiology specialists assess and reduce anesthetic risks, especially for special-needs pets, and provide good pain management before, during and after surgery.
Some veterinarians specialize in particular species. They are certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, which recognizes specialties in avian, beef or dairy cattle, canine and feline, equine, exotic companion mammal, feline only, food animal, reptile and amphibian, shelter medicine, and swine health practices. For avian veterinarian Brian Speer, there’s so much to know about birds -- he has treated approximately 350 species during his career -- that he limits his practice to them. Other veterinarians care for his own dogs and cats.
Veterinarians who specialize in microbiology study organisms that cause infectious disease. Pharmacologists help to develop new medications for animals or ensure safe use of medications. Toxicologists may be employed in veterinary emergency rooms or by diagnostic laboratories.
Not every type of veterinary care is recognized as a specialty. Integrative, or complementary, care certainly requires additional study by veterinarians who want to learn techniques such as acupuncture or chiropractic or become experts in herbal medicine, but for now there’s no specialty in holistic medicine.
General practice veterinarians may not have a specialty, but they can acquire special skills or knowledge through courses or programs such as the Cat Friendly Practice, offered by the American Association of Feline Practitioners; Fear Free certification; and Human-Animal Bond certification by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. Or they may meet the requirements for their practice to be certified by the American Animal Hospital Association.
Specialists can be rare birds, but with greater use of telemedicine, a joint consultation (your veterinarian, the specialist and yourself) is just a phone call or Zoom meeting away.
Q: Why do dogs chase their tails?
A: A search on YouTube turns up thousands of videos of dogs chasing their tails. Usually we laugh when we see dogs performing this seemingly normal and entertaining behavior. But dogs don’t necessarily perceive their tails as furry prey or chase their tail just for fun.
In fact, science tells us that the behavior may be linked to an actual medical condition. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice found that dogs who are tail chasers had significantly higher cholesterol levels than dogs who didn’t chase their tails.
Turkish researchers looked at 15 dogs with a tail-chasing habit, looking at their behavioral history, clinical signs, and results of lab work measuring total cholesterol, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL, known as “good cholesterol” in humans) and low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol). None of the dogs had medical conditions that would account for the tail chasing. Fifteen control dogs had normal physical exam results and lab work. It may be that dogs chase their tails because the high cholesterol levels have blocked the flow of brain hormones controlling mood and behavior.
Other possible reasons include discomfort caused by dermatitis or anal sacculitis; welfare problems such as boredom, insufficient exercise or stress; or canine compulsive disorder, which may have a heritable component. Breeds prone to compulsive tail-chasing include bull terriers, German shepherds and Anatolian shepherds. If genetic factors are involved, it may be that the behavior was accidentally selected by way of being linked with a desirable trait.
Last but not least, some dogs simply enjoy chasing their tails, and there’s nothing at all wrong with them. But if you’re concerned about your dog’s tail-chasing -- because it’s excessive or he’s injuring himself, for instance -- talk to your veterinarian. There could be a fixable cause. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
The cat’s meow?
There’s an app
-- If you’ve ever wondered what your cat is saying, a new app called MeowTalk may be able to enlighten you. The translation app listens to feline vocalizations and uses data science and machine learning to suggest what cats are demanding -- once you train the app to understand your particular cat, that is. The basic model, on iOS and Android, categorizes cat sounds into 10 universal feline commands such as “feed me” or “open the door.” Users can personalize the translation when they already know what a particular sound means. They can also create profiles for individual cats.
-- In many parts of the country, the weather outside is frightful. Make sure pets who spend time outdoors have everything they need to stay safe and comfortable. For starters, they need protection from the elements. Be sure they have a well-insulated structure just large enough so they can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The doorway should have a wind-block to prevent icy blasts from swirling inside. It’s also a good idea to provide an outdoor-rated pet heating pad or other warming device. A heated bowl ensures a supply of fresh, unfrozen water. Indoors, make sure pets with arthritis have soft, heated beds. Indoors or out, animals with short, smooth or thin coats will appreciate a sweater or coat to help keep the chill away.
-- While most of us are aware of the challenges of rehoming cats and dogs, long-lived parrots often need help, too, especially if they have medical and behavioral issues. The nonprofit Gabriel Foundation in Colorado (thegabrielfoundation.org) maintains a model shelter and sanctuary for these birds, with a variety of services, including lifetime care for parrots who cannot be successfully transitioned to new homes. Bird lovers who can’t adopt can help by fostering and by donating. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.