JAVMA News Digest

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Speak my language

Dr. Kayla Sample grew up wanting to be a veterinarian. As a Spanish and English speaker, she didn't realize until much later how beneficial being bilingual would be in her career.

“I am by no means as fluent as I want to be, and there's definitely medical terminology that I struggle with, but I feel that anytime a client has the ability to communicate in the language they prefer, the language they feel most comfortable with, that they are more likely to come to the veterinarian,” Dr. Sample said. She is executive director of the veterinary clinic run by the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, a high school program in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, that offers 21 different vocational programs, including veterinary science, alongside a high school education.

Across the United States, people speak an estimated 350 different languages. According to Access to Care, a report from the Pet Health Equity Program at the University of Tennessee, only 2.6% of barriers to veterinary care are related to language. However, language barriers may become a bigger issue over the next few years as the population of the U.S. continues to become more diverse. By 2044, more than half of all Americans will belong to a minority group, and by 2060, about one in five of the total U.S. population will be foreign born, according to U.S. Census projections.

“Anytime we have any kind of barrier, we are creating a reason why animals do not receive health care. And so, whether that's financial, language, or transportation—whatever it is—my goal as part of the community outreach field that I am in is to reduce any barriers that we have and keep animals healthy and inhibit relinquishment,” Dr. Sample said.

Dr. Ruth Landau, owner of Dr. Ruth's Veterinary Services in the Indianapolis region, said communication can be difficult enough even when people speak the same language.

“I think being able to meet someone in their own language is very empowering. They're already coming in worried about their pet and not a native speaker. It's important to empower them,” she said.

Dr. Landau is a house call and relief veterinarian. She received her doctorate in epidemiology and public health at Purdue University; her thesis was on the preparedness of veterinary professionals to work with non-English speakers. She describes herself as a communicative Spanish speaker with a high level of social and medical Spanish. Even still, Dr. Landau keeps a medical English-to-Spanish dictionary in her pocket and uses online resources such as Google Translate when necessary.

Dr. Landau led a study that investigated whether small animal veterinary personnel are prepared to communicate with Spanish-speaking pet owners with limited English-language proficiency. The study used a survey to obtain information from 383 U.S. veterinary practices in 10 states with large established or fast-growing Latino populations. Dr. Landau found that only 8% of the responding practices had staff that could converse in Spanish (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016;248:690–699).

Further, the responses showed that making Spanish-speaking staff available and offering Spanish-language resources were associated with an increase in the number of Spanish-speaking clients with limited English proficiency seen on a weekly basis.

Dr. Landau suggests hiring bilingual staff members if a practice has a high volume of clients who are non-native English speakers and always asking clients what language they would like to speak in and what language they would like their materials in.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Hunting for detection dogs as demand spikes

Well-trained detection dogs can locate drugs, bombs, people buried under rubble, smuggled food, pipeline leaks, game animals, and cancer.

But their versatility is driving a global spike in demand. Dr. Cynthia Otto, executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said branches of the U.S. military and federal government are having trouble getting ahold of sufficient numbers of dogs to meet their needs.

The Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the American Kennel Club are leading projects to make it easier for domestic dog breeders to sell to federal agencies and police departments, although through separate models. Dr. Otto favors a cooperative of U.S. dog breeders who could sell detection dogs primarily to federal agencies and maybe eventually to local police departments, private companies, or other governments if more dogs are available.

Carmen Battaglia, PhD, chair of the AKC Detection Dog Task Force, said the AKC favors, instead, helping breeders find more information on how to breed, raise, and socialize dogs, along with helping them find buyers. That includes providing a marketplace where breeders can advertise potential working dogs and—depending on whether they have gone through the process to become approved government vendors—sell the dogs either to middlemen or the agencies themselves.


Bobbie, a German Shepherd Dog that now is a cancer detection dog, is shown while searching a bus during training with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. (Photo by Kaleb Germinaro/Penn Vet)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

The AKC estimates the U.S. has about 15,000 working dogs in government or private hands. About 20%—3,000 dogs—retire each year.

Condensed from Nov. 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Owners of brachycephalic dogs are a complicated lot

Most owners of Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs believe their dog to be in “very good health” or the “best health possible” despite documented health and welfare problems associated with brachycephalic breeds, according to a PLOS One study published in July.

Researchers reported responses from 2,168 owners of brachycephalic dogs in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada—789 Pug owners, 741 French Bulldog owners, and 638 Bulldog owners—to an online survey about veterinary diagnoses, conformation-related surgeries performed, veterinary costs, and emotional bonding.

The most common owner-reported disorders in their dogs were allergies, corneal ulcers, skin fold infections, and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. One-fifth of owners reported that their dog had undergone at least one conformation-related surgery, 36.5% of dogs were reported to have a problem with heat regulation, and 17.9% were reported to have problems breathing.


Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs remain popular among dog owners despite documented health problems associated with brachycephalic breeds.

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

Despite these health issues, 70.9% of respondents considered their dog to be in very good health or the best health possible. Paradoxically, just 6.8% of owners considered their dog to be less healthy than average for its breed.

Dog-owner relationships were extremely strong across all three breeds. Emotional closeness to their dog was highest for owners of Pugs, female owners, and owners with no children.

Despite the high levels of disease reported, the dogs in this study were generally young, with a median age of 2.17 years. It is likely that the prevalence, spectrum, and severity of disorders in these dogs will increase as the population ages.

Condensed from Nov. 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Bird population sees massive decline

The breeding bird population in North America has decreased by 29% over the past 50 years. That means since 1970, the U.S. and Canada have lost 2.9 billion breeding birds, according to “Decline of the North American avifauna,” published Oct. 4 in the journal Science.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenberg, PhD, the lead author of the study, in a press release. “We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results also showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.” Dr. Rosenberg is a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy, two of the organizations involved in the study.

More than 90% of the losses—more than 2.5 billion birds—come from just 12 families, including the sparrows, blackbirds, warblers, and finches. The losses include species often seen at bird feeders, such as dark-eyed juncos—down by 168 million—and white-throated sparrows—down by 93 million. Eastern and western meadowlarks are down by a combined 139 million individuals. Even red-winged blackbirds—a common sight across the continent—have declined by 92 million birds, according to the study.


Cactus wren (Photo by Brian Sullivan/Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

The study analyzed 143 weather radar stations to detect migratory birds in the air and collected data from independent sources such as the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count, according to the press release.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Veterinary scientist advocates for endangered whales

As a veterinary scientist, Dr. Michael Moore sees himself as an “objective advocate” for the marine mammals he's made a career of studying.

“The veterinarian is, by training and expectation, an advocate for their patient, whereas a scientist is more of an objective assessor looking at the factors involved and what the results are. The two (roles) together are very powerful because it allows you to be something of an objective advocate,” he explained.

Dr. Moore has worked for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts since 1986, first as a graduate student and now as a senior scientist and director of its Marine Mammal Center. His research on the health and welfare aspects of human interactions with marine mammals—namely shipping and fishing—have shone a much-needed spotlight on a previously unrecognized animal welfare crisis.


Dr. Michael Moore has spent his career educating the public about the plight of the North Atlantic right whale, one of the world's most endangered large whale species. (Courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

Necropsies by many people, including Dr. Moore, of endangered North Atlantic right whales and other species revealed that a large majority of whale deaths are caused by fishing line entanglements and vessel strikes. These findings, along with diverse, sustained public advocacy, resulted in fishing regulations by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, and the International Maritime Organization changing the path of shipping lanes within the right whale's habitat.

Dr. Moore's research brought to light the suffering whales and dolphins experience from entanglement-inflicted wounds such as amputations, lacerations, and infections. As such, he is a proponent of ropeless fishing, an admittedly expensive alternative to buoy lines that uses wireless modems to mark lobster traps on the sea floor.

“If only the average consumer of a lobster roll knew the risks of the gear being used for their culinary interest,” Dr. Moore said. “‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is definitely a challenge we deal with. Nobody wants to hear it because they don't really understand the consequences.”

Condensed from Nov. 1, 2019, JAVMA News

EPA plans to reduce animal testing

Environmental Protection Agency officials plan to reduce the use of animals in studies assessing the risks of pesticides and other potentially hazardous chemicals.

Alternatives include in vitro studies on human or animal cells, organ-on-a-chip models, and computer-based models.

Under a directive from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, agency officials will reduce requests for and funding of studies that use mammals by 30% by 2025 and allow them only in exceptional cases by 2035. The agency is giving $4.25 million toward research on ways to reduce, refine, and replace testing on vertebrate species.

Pesticide makers have to test their products for effects on humans and the environment before they're allowed to sell the products in the U.S., and that currently includes tests on animals such as rats, mice, rabbits, dogs, birds, and fish. EPA officials evaluate the resulting data and decide whether to grant product registration.

An EPA spokesperson provided a statement that laboratory animal testing gives a sense whether pesticides and patterns of use could cause maladies such as cancer, chronic disease, or reproductive and developmental toxicoses. Pesticides may be tested on hundreds to thousands of vertebrates, depending on the toxicity and complexity of the chemicals.

The number of vertebrates used in toxicology studies submitted to the EPA each year ranges from 20,000 to more than 100,000, an agency spokesperson said. In 2017 and 2018, the EPA granted waivers that prevented use of about 57,000 animals over those two years and reduced costs by about $19 million.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Student loan forgiveness program denies nearly all applicants

The U.S. Department of Education has only approved 1% of requests from borrowers applying to the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. And the figures aren't better for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program as a whole.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the PSLF program and the subsequent TEPSLF program are still denying most borrowers. As of June, of the 102,051 applications received and processed in the entirety of the PSLF program, only 1,216 had been approved, leaving 100,835 applications, or 99%, rejected. Further, the Department of Education only approved 661 of 54,184 requests from May 2018 to May 2019 for the TEPSLF program, an amount totaling about $26.9 million. Congress approved $700 million—$350 million for 2018 and $350 million for 2019—for the temporary expansion of the program.

In September, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment held a hearing on the issue. Several witnesses spoke before the subcommittee. James H. Steeley, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the loan servicer that handles the PSLF program, declined to attend.

The PSLF program was created in 2007 by President George W. Bush's administration. The program seeks to promote careers in public service by forgiving federal student loans for borrowers who have made 120 loan payments, or 10 years’ worth, and work in public service.

The AVMA was one of several organizations that requested the Department of Education improve the PSLF program in 2018 when the low acceptance rates were first reported.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Texas A&M dean to move on

Dr. Eleanor M. Green will leave her position as the dean of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in June 2020 or upon the appointment of her successor. Dr. Green (Auburn ‘73) is joining the Animal Policy Group, a policy and lobbying firm, as a senior adviser and consultant, according to a Sept. 10 press release from the group.

She has been the dean at Texas A&M's veterinary college since 2009. During her tenure, Dr. Green led a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion project, resulting in the opening of the Veterinary and Biomedical Education Complex in 2016—the 100th anniversary of the veterinary college—and an expansion in class size by up to 30 students.

That same year, the veterinary college announced further plans to expand veterinary education, research, and undergraduate outreach into other regions of the state through its own network. The program broke ground in 2018 on the Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach facility, as well as a new Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, to “bring the needed training and research back to the heart of large animal production agriculture in Texas,” according to the university. This includes the veterinary college announcing a 2+2 program with WTAMU, allowing students to spend the first two years at the WTAMU campus.


Dr. Eleanor M. Green

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

In her new position with the Animal Policy Group, Dr. Green will focus on regulatory, policy, and strategic issues, including accreditation of veterinary colleges.

Condensed from Nov. 1, 2019, JAVMA News

FSIS privatizing some pig slaughter duties

Starting in December, workers at swine slaughter plants will be taking over some food safety duties now performed by federal inspectors.


A Triumph Foods pork processing plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, is shown in this photograph taken in April during a visit from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. (Photo by Preston Keres/USDA)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

Department of Agriculture officials finalized plans to shift those safety duties and remove production line speed limits in plants that opt to participate in the new slaughter system, as well as increase requirements for all swine slaughter plants to prevent contamination and test for pathogens. Agency announcements describe those changes as a modernization of the swine slaughter system of the past 50 years and an opportunity to improve food safety and animal welfare. Fewer USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service employees will work on production lines, shifting agency work toward checking sanitation efforts and ensuring animals are handled well.

Opponents predict contamination will rise with higher line speeds and more privatization. FSIS documents indicate slaughter line speeds have been limited to about 1,100 hogs per hour. Companies participating in a pilot program for the new slaughter system have reached speeds of 1,300 per hour.

FSIS officials published the rules Oct. 1 in the Federal Register, and they take effect Dec. 2.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Clavijo chosen to head National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility

Dr. Alfonso Clavijo is the new director of the Department of Agriculture's National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas.

The NBAF is a state-of-the-art, high-security facility for research on foreign animal and zoonotic diseases that can affect livestock. It will replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.

The USDA announced this October that Dr. Clavijo, who started Oct. 13, is expected to play a key role in ensuring the smooth transition of responsibility from the Department of Homeland Security to the USDA once the 574,000-square-foot facility becomes fully operational in 2023.

“As NBAF's first permanent director, his extensive leadership experience will be a great asset in helping NBAF achieve its vision of being a national asset that protects U.S. agriculture and consumers through cutting-edge research, diagnostics, training, and development of vaccines and other countermeasures,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, PhD, administrator for the USDA Agricultural Research Service.


Dr. Alfonso Clavijo

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 12; 10.2460/ajvr.80.12.1060

The ARS partners with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to operate the NBAF, which is currently under construction and overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Prior to Dr. Clavijo's appointment, he was laboratory executive director of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Centres for Animal Disease. There, he oversaw the administration of diagnostic services; research to detect and prevent trans-boundary, emerging, and zoonotic animal diseases; and facilities at bio-safety levels 2–4.

Condensed from Nov. 15, 2019, JAVMA News

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