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Illustration by Valentina Talijan

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

COVID-19 a year later: How the veterinary profession adapted

The COVID-19 pandemic caught many off guard, but in some ways, veterinarians were better prepared for the pandemic than most. Veterinarians keenly understand how viruses infect hosts and can mutate over time.

So Dr. Rob Conner, a practice owner in rural northern Arkansas, took matters into his own hands by partnering with others to form a company that makes N95 masks. He remains convinced that veterinarians should have been put in charge of the response to the coronavirus given the U.S. Department of Agriculture's efforts with animal disease traceability.

“It's a little befuddling to me to watch our government not know what to do or corral it (COVID-19),” Dr. Conner said. “It is a very complex thing. Fortunately, kind of like any problem, you study it, dissect it, learn details about it, and figure out how to battle it.”

Indeed, veterinarians have been involved in cuttingedge research on SARS-CoV-2, not only helping develop potential vaccines, but also studying how the virus affects humans and animals. Veterinarians in the clinic quickly figured out how to continue to meet the needs of their patients while keeping everyone safe.

Equine veterinarians have had to limit how many people attend an appointment and more rigorously disinfect their vehicles and equipment, among other protocols. Zoo veterinarians, too, had to take extra precautions, particularly for certain species in their care after lions, tigers, snow leopards, and gorillas have caught the virus from asymptomatic staff members.

Swine veterinarians encountered a uniquely difficult situation early in the pandemic when processing plant workers’ exposure to COVID-19 led to a backlog of market swine.

Farmers and swine veterinarians responded by attempting to hold animals in place, slow growth, repurpose vacant facilities, adopt nontraditional marketing strategies, and alter breeding programs to enable producers to avoid or delay much of the anticipated depopulation.

Ultimately, however, depopulation was unavoidable for thousands of animals.

And throughout this time, the AVMA and others have worked relentlessly to keep veterinarians apprised of the latest information and what it means, from whether SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted to animals or vice versa to how practice owners could apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans, all on the site avma.org/coronavirus.

So here we are, a year later. Veterinarians remain as resilient as ever, even through these difficult times. On the one hand, many practices are doing better than ever, and the number of pets continues to increase. On the other hand, clinics have gotten so busy they're doing what was once unthinkable to many—turning clients away.

Dr. Michael Longoni is medical director of Diamond Veterinary Hospital, a 24-hour emergency and general practice in Everett, Washington, where the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were documented. He said business slowed for two weeks when the pandemic first hit. Since then, he said, “We got even busier because a lot of practices that could have theoretically stayed open, a fair amount just closed. Their clients ended up coming to us for emergency care and chronic illness things. … It's gotten to the point where we've added a midshift ER (emergency room) doctor and started calling capacity,” not seeing more emergency cases until the staff catches up, except for certain critical cases.

Despite the challenges, curbside pickup and dropoff along with telehealth have allowed veterinarians to maintain services and interact with clients quickly and efficiently while also reducing their risk of exposure to the virus. Their dedication to the veterinary profession has helped ensure the health and safety of animals and people alike.

Condensed from March 15, 2021, JAVMA News

Veterinary medicine and COVID-19: ‘A lot of lessons here’

Veterinarians had already been through a coronavirus pandemic prior to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has plagued swine operations in Europe and Asia for three decades, but in 2013, the virus arrived in the United States, infecting millions of immunologically naive pigs. By the time the PED outbreak was contained the following year, the virus had already spread to 29 U.S. states, killing an estimated 7 million pigs.

During the early months of 2020, as another novel coronavirus was burning across the planet, veterinarians weren't consulted regarding their experiences with managing this particularly nasty family of viruses in animal populations.

“No one from the human medicine side of things thought to reach out to ask, ‘How did you stop the PED epidemic?'” said Dr. Laura Hungerford, head of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “There are a lot of lessons here.”

One of those must be a better understanding—by the public and members of the public health community—that veterinary medicine is much more than a career for people who love animals. Veterinary medicine is also a public health profession protecting people at every point of contact with the rest of the animal kingdom.

The COVID-19 pandemic confirms what one-health advocates have been saying for years: Multidisciplinary collaborations among veterinarians, physicians, and public health professionals are necessary to address the growing public health threat associated with zoonotic diseases.

“The very real threat from these zoonotic diseases is practically shouting at us that a one-health approach is essential,” said Dr. Bruce Kaplan, co-founder of the One Health Initiative team and website.


Illustration by Valentina Talijan

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

Condensed from March 15, 2021, JAVMA News

Racing to save humans through animal research

Veterinary scientists’ work in SARS-CoV-2 research is ubiquitous, essential, and hard to quantify. These scientists describe their fears SARS-CoV-2 could multiply and mutate in animals, their admiration for the genius of their colleagues and collaborators, the pull to work on multiple urgent studies on public health and animal health aspects of the pandemic, and the expertise veterinarians bring to controlling disease spread in any animal population.

Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said nearly all AAVMC member institutions are part of SARS-CoV-2 research enterprises. The work includes efforts to improve understanding of transmission within and across species, public health, and diagnostic testing.

Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention One Health Office and captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, said veterinarians play a crucial role in studying SARS-CoV-2 in animals at the CDC and other federal and local agencies.

A spokesperson for Pfizer said several veterinarians worked on safety studies for the company's human-use COVID-19 vaccine, specifically in its comparative medicine group.

Isaac Pessah, PhD, associate dean and professor of molecular biosciences at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, described the pandemic as a hallmark moment for veterinarians working in the one-health area, especially for those working on viral infectious diseases. Past research into infectious immunologic disorders shows the benefits of interdisciplinary approaches, embracing the study of diseases in animals to understand their effects in humans, Dr. Pessah said.


Illustration by Valentina Talijan

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

Condensed from March 15, 2021, JAVMA News

AAVSB releases standards to assess international veterinary technicians, nurses

A certificate program aimed at assessing the education equivalence of veterinary technicians and veterinary nurses trained outside the U.S. and Canada—for which there is currently no existing coordinated program—debuted late last year.

The American Association of Veterinary State Boards released standards and policies for the PAVE for Veterinary Technicians certificate program in December. PAVE is the AAVSB's Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence for graduates of foreign veterinary colleges. The AVMA Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates also offers a certification program.

The PAVE for Veterinary Technicians certificate is not a credential to practice as a veterinary technician in the U.S. or Canada but does, in areas where it is accepted, indicate that the holder meets the educational requirements for credentialing eligibility.

Kenichiro Yagi, president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, said there has been a need for an avenue for veterinary technicians and nurses trained abroad to enter the U.S. and Canadian workforce.

“We're happy to see AAVSB offering the PAVE program for the members of our profession,” Yagi said. “In an ever-increasingly mobile world, moving across country borders is not uncommon. Practicing in the U.S. is often seen as an attractive option for individuals with the desire to hone their skills, and we hope to see the influx add to the diversity within our field.”

The PAVE program was originally developed for veterinarians who wanted a pathway to practice in the U.S. and Canada, and the additional certificate for veterinary technicians and veterinary nurses will expand on that program.

Condensed from March 1, 2021, JAVMA News

SAVMA hosts panel connecting new veterinarians with 2021 graduates

The Student AVMA hosted its first panel of recent veterinary graduates in January, with five veterinarians who graduated from various institutions in 2020 answering questions from upcoming veterinary graduates. The panelists discussed what their first day on the job was like, what life is like after graduation, and how to choose between an internship and going into practice.

Dr. Laurie Mangeli is a 2020 graduate of Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine who is working at a small animal veterinary hospital in Nevada. She said during the panel that she was torn between doing an internship and going into practice.

“I was very interested in surgery and internal medicine,” she said. “I was not sure about finances, and it took a bit of thinking. I found a hospital where I could get the mentorship in surgery and the medical aspect so I can expose myself to it and figure out what I have a passion for. I found it wiser to be able to learn in the field before pursuing an internship.”

The panelists also suggested the following advice and tools for new graduates:

  • Talk to the other doctors in the practice or people with whom you graduated if you need help or have a question.

  • Use the Veterinary Information Network's simulator of student loan repayment, watch the VIN Foundation's “Climbing Mt. Debt” videos with Dr. Tony Bartels, and try using a budgeting app such as Mint.

  • When interviewing for a job, ask yourself, “If I have to come to this person and tell them I screwed up, how comfortable would I be to do that?”

The full SAVMA panel is available at jav.ma/recentgrad.

Condensed from March 15, 2021, JAVMA News

Veterinary colleges continue to prepare students to enter profession

Dr. Sandra Faeh, AVMA vice president and part owner of four small animal veterinary hospitals in Illinois, wouldn't hesitate to hire a 2021 veterinary college graduate.

“Schools have been able to do an excellent job,” Dr. Faeh said. “These students will be better prepared in different ways.”

Despite receiving an education amid a pandemic, which—because of public health measures—has led to more virtual classes and curriculum changes, the majority of students have learned the same skills as previous classes, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Academic Affairs Committee. The working group has done some analysis of whether the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised the quality of veterinary education. It concluded pandemic-era veterinary graduates are well trained, according to an AAVMC newsletter.

The AVMA is also fully supportive of the class of 2021. The Association released a statement commending and congratulating the soon-to-be graduates.

“The AVMA offers its congratulations to the Class of 2021,” according to the statement. “We are confident that these new graduates are prepared to thrive as they embark upon their professional careers. In completing their educations during the COVID-19 pandemic, they demonstrated exceptional resilience and adaptability that will serve them well in their future endeavors. We also salute veterinary college administrators, faculty, and staff who, in the face of unprecedented challenges, worked tirelessly to ensure that their students received the excellent training expected from the AVMA Council on Education–accredited colleges.”


Dr. Amanda Fales-Williams (center), professor and chair of veterinary pathology at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, participates in a laboratory with second-year veterinary students. (Photo by David Gieseke/Iowa State University)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

Condensed from March 15, 2021, JAVMA News

When should we neuter dogs?

Spaying and neutering pet dogs and cats not meant for breeding has long been the standard in veterinary medicine. Yet, recent research linking gonadectomy to higher incidences of certain diseases in neutered dogs is raising questions about a procedure once thought relatively safe.

Earlier this year, the AVMA House of Delegates devoted a portion of its Veterinary Information Forum to this issue after two studies published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science in July reported associations between neutering and higher rates of joint disorders and cancers in some mixed-breed dogs and dogs of particular breeds.

During the HOD's virtual regular winter session held Jan. 8-9, several AVMA delegates shared challenges they've faced related to the timing of neutering canine patients.

The American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology maintain that companion animals not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered unless the procedure is contraindicated. Moreover, any potential consequences to the individual animal must be weighed against the necessity for population management.

The simple fact is that there is no single recommendation concerning gonadectomy that is appropriate for every dog. There are just too many variables to account for, including breed, sex, age, and body type. Whether to spay or neuter must therefore be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“AVMA promotes the professional judgment of the veterinarian in developing an informed, case-by-case assessment of each individual patient, taking into account all the potential risks and benefits of spay/neuter,” said Dr. Kendall Houlihan, an assistant director of animal welfare for the AVMA.

Condensed from March 1, 2021, JAVMA News

Speaker encourages profession to better resemble public it serves

Dr. Priscilla Bowens recalls the time a wide-eyed client asked if she really was a doctor.

In the dog owner's mind, the Black woman wearing blue scrubs and a white lab coat who was explaining treatment options for the dog's urinary tract infection could not be a veterinarian because the client had not seen a Black veterinarian before.

“Not everyone knows there are veterinarians of color. Up to this day people tell me, ‘I've never met a Black veterinarian before,'” Dr. Bowens said during her Jan. 9 presentation for the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference on the need for greater diversity in veterinary leadership and practice ownership.

Unfortunately, the client's surprise is not entirely unjustified. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2017 show that while Black people accounted for 12% of employed people in the U.S., they comprised just 2% of veterinarians. Human medicine and pharmacology are more diverse professions than veterinary medicine, Dr. Bowens said.


Dr. Priscilla Bowens

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

Dr. Bowens cited several justifications for why the veterinary profession should strive to resemble the public it serves. About 37% of Black or African American households owned a pet as of 2016, according to the 2017-18 edition of the AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. The Census Bureau estimates the nation will be majority minority by 2045.

Additionally, diversity is good for business. “People are intentionally looking for doctors of color, especially in light of recent events, such as the killing of George Floyd and other issues of racial and social justice,” Dr. Bowens said.

Condensed from March 1, 2021, JAVMA News

Pest problems? Call a veterinary entomologist

Among the many disciplines that make up the area of one health is veterinary entomology, a field dealing with blood-sucking insects that feed on livestock, pets, and wildlife and are vectors for infectious and parasitic diseases.

Jerry Hogsette, PhD, is a scientist with the Center for Medical, Agriculture, and Veterinary Entomology, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. “When I tell people I'm a veterinary entomologist, they think I'm a veterinarian who cares for insects, which is obviously not the case,” Dr. Hogsette said


The stable fly is a blood-feeding insect with a painful bite and a taste for animals as well as humans. (Photo by Stephen Ausmus)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 82, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.82.4.252

Focused as he is on insects that jeopardize animal health—primarily ticks and a variety of flies—Dr. Hogsette helps livestock producers and zoos with their pest problems. That entails identifying and removing places in the environment where the bugs can breed and deploying traps and chemical repellents that don't involve pesticides.

Innovative solutions are used as well. Dr. Hogsette described one such measure targeting the horn fly, a blood feeder with a painful bite. Horn flies swarm and pester cattle, which spend a great deal of energy defending themselves. Taking advantage of the fact that adult horn flies must remain on a cow host to live, a company created a vacuum that can be placed around a lane that cows are walked through. As the cows pass through, the vacuum sucks up the horn flies.

Horn flies and stable flies together are a bane of the cattle industry and a major cause of reduced productivity. “These critters cause cattle producers lost revenue every year, and they are a perennial problem,” Dr. Hogsette said.

Condensed from March 1, 2021, JAVMA News

Education council schedules site visits

The AVMA Council on Education has scheduled site visits to 11 schools and colleges of veterinary medicine for the remainder of 2021.

Comprehensive site visits are planned for Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, April 4-8; the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, April 25-29; the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Veterinary School, May 9-14; Massey University School of Veterinary Science, May 23-28; the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, July 18-22; Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, Aug. 29-Sept. 2; Utrecht University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Sept. 26-30; Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine, Oct. 10-14; Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Oct. 24-28; Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Nov. 7-11; and The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Nov. 14-18.

The council welcomes written comments on these plans or the programs to be evaluated. Comments should be addressed to Dr. Karen Martens Brandt, Director, Education and Research Division, AVMA, 1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Comments must be signed by the person submitting them to be considered.

From April 1, 2021, JAVMA News

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