Exotic companion mammals and pet reptiles and amphibians are not as popular as pet cats, dogs, and birds are, but they number in the millions in the United States. Veterinarians who work with these exotic pets say each species has its attractions as well as its challenges—and say owners of exotic pets seem somewhat more likely to seek veterinary care than in the past.
The AVMA's 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook estimated that, at year-end 2011, 10.6 percent of U.S. households owned “specialty and exotic pets,” or pets other than cats, dogs, birds, and horses. Americans kept nearly 8 million rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, and other rodents as pets. Americans also kept more than 5 million turtles, lizards, snakes, and other reptiles as pets.
“People do like something that's different,” said Dr. Angela M. Lennox, owner of Avian & Exotic Animal Clinic in Indianapolis.
Dr. Lennox believes people have become more aware that exotic companion mammals make good pets, partly because many of the species can live in small enclosures. She said the care of reptiles and amphibians is not too time-consuming for owners who can manage the husbandry needs.
Many exotic companion mammals are appealing partly because they are so cute and fuzzy, said Dr. David E. Hannon of Avian & Exotic Animal Veterinary Service at Memphis Veterinary Specialists in Cordova, Tennessee. He said reptiles and amphibians have a wow factor because they can be beautiful.
“Most of the pets that we see have personalities; some may be more subtle than others,” added Dr. Chris Griffin, owner of Griffin Avian and Exotic Veterinary Hospital in Kannapolis, North Carolina.
The Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians, and the Exotic Companion Mammal specialty and Reptile and Amphibian specialty under the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners are advancing medicine for exotic mammals and for reptiles and amphibians.
Veterinary practice is not routine when treating these species, said Dr. Eric Klaphake of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado, previously in private practice with a focus on exotic pets. He might be seeing a previously unreported condition in a species or a known condition that has manifested in an unusual or new way. He might have to figure out how to assess an eye problem in a small snake or figure out the dosage of a medication on the basis of the physiology of a species.
According to the AVMA's sourcebook, veterinary care for exotic pets varied by species in 2011. Among owners of exotic companion mammals, the percentages of households that had veterinary expenditures were, for ferrets, 30.7 percent; guinea pigs, 19.0 percent; rabbits, 16.7 percent; gerbils, 9.6 percent; and hamsters, 6.7 percent. The percentages of reptile-owning households that had veterinary expenditures were, for lizards, 7. 9 percent; snakes, 5.7 percent; and turtles, 5.0 percent.
Dr. Susan Horton, founder of Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital in suburban Skokie, said there is still an overall need for veterinary care for exotic pets.
“It's a part of veterinary medicine that, I don't want to say has been ignored, but has been diminished in importance,” she said. “All of the exotics deserve to have the opportunity to get excellent veterinary care, the best available, and be treated as an important part of the family, as an important individual.”
3-D printing makes its way to veterinary medicine
The future is here as veterinarians explore the clinical applications of 3-D printers, mostly at veterinary teaching hospitals for the moment.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine may have been one of the first veterinary institutions to use 3-D printing, back in 2009.
Dr. Ursula Krotscheck, assistant professor of small animal surgery, prepared for a surgery on Bekka, a young German Shepherd Dog with an angular limb deformity, by using fabricated medical models of the dog's bones based on CT scans. Dr. Krotscheck used these 3-D printed models to better plan the operation and customize metal plates that would be needed during surgery.
“I knew what plate to use, how to contour the plate, where it should sit on the bone, and where the cuts should be made,” Dr. Krotscheck said. “Having access to the models prior to surgery decreased the length of time Bekka was under anesthesia, decreased the time surgery took from start to finish, and ultimately decreased the risk of infection.”
The use of 3-D printing has been reported in the scientific literature for use with dogs only once, in 2008, according to Cornell. Since then, the technology has gained some popularity.
Auburn University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital purchased a 3-D printer in July 2013 and uses it to print models for complicated surgical cases and to teach students the anatomy of various animals. The University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has been using 3-D printing technology to help in the area of maxillofacial surgeries.
AVMA pushes for enhancement act passage by year's end
The AVMA has hired a lobbying firm as part of a push to see Congress pass, by year's end, bipartisan legislation eliminating the federal tax on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.
Program participants receive up to $25,000 per year to repay student debt in exchange for working in veterinary shortage areas designated by the Department of Agriculture. Contracts are awarded for a three-year period, with the option to compete for a fourth year.
The VMLRP has made awards to 205 veterinarians since 2010 to serve in shortage areas in 45 states, in Puerto Rico, and on U.S. federal lands.
Unlike awards made by the counterpart in human medicine, each VMLRP award is subject to a 39 percent tax. As a result, the cost per participant, including taxes over a three-year contract, can be as much as $104,250.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (S. 553/H.R. 1125) would give taxexempt status to VMLRP awards and to the veterinary student loan repayment programs offered in 20 states.
The bill is categorized as “active pursuit of passage” on the AVMA's Legislative Scoring System. During a May 9 conference call, the Executive Board considered a proposal from the Governmental Relations Division to promote expedited passage of the legislation, which was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in March 2013.
The GRD suggested hiring Capitol Counsel to assist the Washington office in advocating for the legislation. The board approved the GRD plan to secure Capitol Counsel's services through December.
Resources focus on veterinary careers in public service
In May, the National Association of Federal Veterinarians and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine published resources in conjunction with the AVMA about veterinary careers in the federal government.
“Federal Veterinarians: The World Is Our Clinic” is a brochure offering an overview of where veterinarians are serving across the federal government and how they can help fill the country's increasing demand for professionals with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics backgrounds.
The groups also published a white paper titled “Addressing federal hiring needs with veterinary medical professionals,” which provides an in-depth look at how the federal government classifies some of its job series. For some positions not classified as veterinary positions, professionals are sought with backgrounds in the basic sciences, health, agriculture, or the environment, areas in which veterinarians are often uniquely qualified.
The white paper calls on the Office of Personnel Management to expand the veterinary medical officer job series description to include the additional skill sets that veterinarians possess, allow professionals with DVM or VMD degrees to qualify for a more diverse range of science and technology–based federal positions or be given preference for those science-based positions, and consider professionals with doctorates in veterinary medicine for any science-based position that requires a doctorate or other advanced science or research degree.
The AVMA, NAFV, and Virginia-Maryland will provide the brochure and white paper to federal human resources managers as part of a continued effort to place veterinarians in federal service.
Antitrust caution clashes with workforce concerns
When talk of the veterinary job market has arisen, some have said the AVMA should limit the number of veterinary graduates. Or that the AVMA Council on Education should no longer accredit foreign veterinary schools as a result of perceived workforce issues associated with students graduating from these institutions who come to the U.S. to practice. But recent remarks from the Federal Trade Commission indicate those ideas may be a nonstarter.
The FTC issued a release May 1 stating it continues to focus on trade associations’ compliance with antitrust laws and it is watching their activities.
“It is a fundamental principle of antitrust law that competitors—whether businesses or individuals—cannot join together to limit the way that they offer products or services to potential customers, especially where there is no legitimate business purpose other than avoiding competition. Strictly speaking, competitors are expected to compete,” according to the press release.
Isham Jones, the AVMA's general counsel, noted it was “somewhat odd” that the FTC would issue a press release solely to tell associations that it's watching their activities.
“I take this as a lesson that they're watching what associations do,” he said.
Individual veterinarians, too, need to watch for violating antitrust rules, which aren't always intuitive or obvious, Jones said.
“Practitioners shouldn't be banding together with other practices to say, ‘We're going to charge a certain amount for a spay or neuter.’ Or say they're not going to buy (a company's) products because they're selling to big-box stores. That's likely to be viewed as unlawful. Same with dividing up markets; ‘You take everything north of here, and I'll take everything south of here,’” he said.
AVMA names 2014–2015 congressional fellows
The three veterinarians chosen to participate in the 2014–2015 AVMA Congressional Science Fellowship Program were announced in May.
Starting this August, Drs. Elise Ackley, Chase Crawford, and Carolyn La Jeunesse will spend a year in Washington, D.C., as scientific advisers to members of Congress.
Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the AVMA program places veterinarians in congressional offices where there is a need. More than 55 veterinarians have participated in AVMA's program.
AVMA fellows serve in a congressional office or on a congressional committee. This September, the new fellows will receive their year-long placements. AVMA fellows are not AVMA employees or lobbyists.
The 2014–2015 AVMA congressional fellows were selected out of 20 applicants.
Dr. Ackley of Shreveport, Louisiana, is a 2014 graduate of Louisiana State University and a former Student AVMA president. Throughout her veterinary education, she worked for a number of congressional offices and regulatory agencies. Dr. Ackley previously served as a student extern in the AVMA GRD.
Dr. Crawford of Houston, Texas, is a 2014 graduate of Texas A&M University. As a student, Dr. Crawford focused on issues related to one health and has worked at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as well as the World Health Organization.
Dr. La Jeunesse of Port Orchard, Washington, is a 1983 graduate of the University of California-Davis and past president of the Washington State VMA. As a clinician, she primarily practices in the area of small companion animal emergency and critical care.
FDA continues investigating jerky treats, companies react to problems
The Food and Drug Administration had received, as of May 1, more than 4,800 complaints of illness in animals that ate jerky pet treat products, nearly all of which were imported from China.
Petco and PetSmart announced in May that they would stop selling all dog and cat treats made in China. Nestle Purina announced on May 30 that it had offered $6.5 million to settle claims that its jerky pet treat products made in China had sickened dogs.
On May 16, the FDA released an update on its investigation into jerky pet treat products. The complaints of illness involve more than 5,600 dogs and 24 cats as well as three people and include more than 1,000 dog deaths.
Following an October 2013 request for veterinarians to share cases, the FDA received many well-documented reports that are providing valuable information. The agency is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a study to determine whether sick dogs are eating more of the products than healthy dogs are.
On May 20, Petco announced it will stop carrying Chinese-made dog and cat treats by the end of 2014. PetSmart then announced it will stop selling Chinese-made dog and cat treats by March 2015.
Nestle Purina did not admit fault in offering to settle claims that its Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch jerky pet treat products made in China had sickened dogs. The agreement also would require Nestle Purina to undertake enhanced quality assurance measures and modify certain language on product packaging.
AVMA wins World Veterinary Day Award
The AVMA has received the 2014 World Veterinary Day Award for developing an online hub about animal welfare.
The Association launched the hub on World Veterinary Day 2014, April 26, to provide easy access to AVMA resources on animal welfare such as policies and literature reviews. The hub also features a new discussion forum for members of the AVMA and Student AVMA as well as international veterinarians to exchange ideas on animal welfare–related issues.
The World Veterinary Association and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) received about 25 applications for this year's World Veterinary Day Award for the most successful celebration of the date, which falls on the last Saturday in April each year and focused on the theme of animal welfare in 2014. Dr. Faouzi Kechrid, WVA president, presented the award to Dr. Clark K. Fobian, AVMA president, on May 25 during the opening of the 82nd OIE General Session in Paris.
Dr. Gail Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, said in a statement, “We are hopeful that the AVMA hub will serve as a nexus where veterinarians from around the world can not only access the information they need to ensure good welfare for the patients in their care today, but also keep abreast of emerging information and practical applications that will allow them to help develop best practices for tomorrow.”
National Academies of Practice accepts 17 veterinary fellows
The National Academies of Practice, an interdisciplinary organization of health care practitioners and scholars, held an April 4–6 forum on “One Team—One Health” in Alexandria, Virginia. Dr. John R. Herbold is president of the NAP for 2013 and 2014.
The NAP accepted the following 17 individuals as new fellows of the Veterinary Medicine Academy: Dr. Marianne Ash (Purdue ‘77); Dr. Beth Boynton (Minnesota ‘80); Dr. Michael D. Dykes (Auburn ‘82); Diane A. Fagen, AVMA librarian; Dr. Marthina Lee Greer (Iowa ‘81); Dr. Carolyn J. Henry (Auburn ‘90); Dr. Laura L. Hungerford (Michigan ‘80); Dr. Calvin M. Johnson (Auburn ‘86); Dr. Arthur L. Lage (Iowa ‘67); Dr. Michael D. Lairmore (Missouri ‘81); Dr. Julie K. Levy (California-Davis ‘89); Dr. Lila Miller (Cornell ‘77); Dr. Allan J. Paul (Illinois ‘77); Dr. Charles Mark Russell (Auburn ‘82); Leland S. Shapiro, PhD, with Pierce College; Dr. Margaret R. Slater (Cornell ‘86); and Dr. Cheryl M. Stroud (Mississippi ‘81).
Survey to probe veterinarians’ mental health
Anecdotal evidence and a handful of studies have indicated that veterinarians with certain personality traits or exposure to certain risk factors may be vulnerable to mental illness and even suicide. And while the topic of wellness and mental health has been gaining prominence in the profession, a lack of comprehensive data remains a problem.
To assess the prevalence of U.S. veterinarians who recently experienced serious mental illness or contemplated suicide, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians is partnering with Auburn University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other stakeholders to conduct a nationwide survey of veterinarians beginning July 1 and ending Sept. 30.
The research study, titled “Stress and health among veterinarians,” is being conducted by Tracy Witte, PhD, an assistant professor in the Auburn University psychology department. She has created an online survey that asks about stressors related to veterinary practice, past history of depression and suicidal behavior, perception of mental illness, and access to mental health treatment. The survey takes about 10 minutes; participants will remain anonymous.
On completion of the survey and analysis, Dr. Witte plans to share the results with participating entities. The hope is the survey results can better inform key decision-makers to reduce the barriers veterinarians seem to face in seeking mental health treatment and figure out how to minimize the impact of mental health issues on veterinarians.
Share input on welfare practices in global veterinary education
A survey is gathering input on voluntary standards for applying animal welfare principles at veterinary colleges around the globe.
The World Animal Protection, formerly the World Society for the Protection of Animals, launched the survey with the support of the World Veterinary Association.
The standards will help veterinary colleges demonstrate good practices in animal welfare and support the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines for day-one competencies for new veterinary graduates.
World Animal Protection is seeking comments from veterinarians, veterinary educators, and veterinary students. The online survey is at www.surveymonkey.com/s/QCMN7RX. It will run until Sept. 1.
Boehringer Ingelheim invites proposals for equine research
Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. invites proposals for the 2014 Equine Research Awards.
Veterinarians, diagnosticians, and researchers in the United States and Canada are eligible to submit proposals for yearlong studies to help advance the diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of equine infectious diseases. BIVI will award five grants of $15,000 each.