Letters to the Editor

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Experience with Western University CVM graduates

I read with interest the recent commentary1 from Dr. Phillip Nelson regarding the curricular model used at the Western University of the Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and would like to add my thoughts to the accreditation debate, specifically regarding accreditation of the Western University CVM.

At my practice, I have hosted fourth-year veterinary students on a regular basis for more than five years. These students have come from about a dozen US veterinary schools and several international schools. The students stay with me for two to eight weeks and see feline practice in real life. The longer they stay, the better I am able to assess their training and suitability for private practice. My externs have included five students from Western University; each stayed for four weeks, and one was employed for two years following graduation as an associate veterinarian.

I am not able to evaluate Western University's program from the perspective of the AVMA Council on Education. However, I am able to evaluate its product (ie, its soon-to-be graduates) and I have consistently been impressed with the training the Western University students have received. Like students from every school, they have gaps in their education, as I myself did when I graduated. However, these students have a solid knowledge base built on a strong ability to find the information they need. I suspect their problem-based learning system is responsible for this.

When I graduated, my class was told, “We have bad news and worse news. The bad news is that half of what we taught you is wrong. The worse news is that we do not know which half it is.” It should be obvious to all of us that one's veterinary education has just started at the time of graduation from veterinary college. Those who do well in practice or any other aspect of veterinary medicine are the ones who have the ability and desire to constantly expand their knowledge base. It is this ability that I find to be a consistent asset of the graduates of the Western University CVM.

I have great respect for the Council on Education, but I also know that first-hand experience is necessary to fully understand a topic. From my perspective, the curriculum at the Western University CVM is on par with any other veterinary curriculum in the country.

Gary D. Norsworthy, dvm, dabvp

Alamo Feline Health Center, San Antonio, Tex

1.

Nelson PD. Veterinary college accreditation: setting the record straight. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2012; 240:810814.

Support for AVMA position on animal welfare standards

I would like to congratulate the AVMA Executive Board for its difficult decision to support proposed federal legislation setting welfare standards for laying hens.1 Veterinarians are divided on farm animal welfare issues, which puts the AVMA in the unfortunate situation of having to take positions with which a part of its constituency will disagree. In the past, the AVMA has often seemed to side with those who resist improved animal welfare practices, which is not a position that reflects leadership in the field of animal welfare. In this case, I believe the AVMA made the ethical decision, difficult as it might have been.

I certainly understand the concern over government regulation of farming practices, especially the concern over legislators setting welfare standards and the resulting difficulty of amending such standards. However, I believe that agriculturalists have brought this problem on themselves. Most of the American public believes that it is not ethical to confine animals to enclosures that are barely larger than the animals themselves. Rather than looking for ways to address such concerns by improving industry standards, farm organizations chose instead to attack the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the organization that was successfully getting public initiatives passed against such enclosures. However, the HSUS did not create the public sentiment against close confinement of farm animals; it merely made use of such sentiment. The only way that agriculturalists are going to stop initiatives to legislate farm animal welfare such as those of the HSUS is to address the public's concerns themselves so that the public no longer feels that legislation is necessary to protect farm animals.

The United Egg Producers wisely recognized that it had been backed into a corner and that the only way out was to agree to national legislation so that egg producers would not have to deal with different requirements in different states. In my opinion, the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, and other farm organizations are merely going to look ridiculous in the public eye by opposing an animal welfare bill put forward by egg producers to regulate egg producers. I believe the AVMA would have looked equally ridiculous had it opposed the bill, and I am glad it chose the much more defensible position of supporting the legislation. I understand that the decision was a difficult one, but I believe it was the right one, and I am glad the Executive Board had the courage to come down on the side of animal welfare. Although some constituents are opposed to the decision, many more of us are in favor of it. The Board has our heartfelt thanks and support. May we see even more such decisions in the future.

V. Wensley Koch, dvm

Loveland, Colo

1.

Nolen RS. The henhouse. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2012; 240:910912.

Pet owner's pledge

A recent J AVMA News story1 mentions that, during its November 2011 meeting, the AVMA Executive Board adopted new Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership. This comes approximately one year after the board revised the Veterinarian's Oath, adding the word “prevention” to indicate that veterinarians will use their scientific knowledge and skills “for the benefit of society through…the prevention and relief of animal suffering…”.2

Over the years, much has been written about what to do with stray and abandoned dogs and cats after they have become strays or been abandoned. However, not enough has been done to prevent dogs and cats from becoming strays or being abandoned in the first place.

I believe that veterinarians and veterinary technicians could and should be on the frontline of preventive educational programs and that they, along with animal control and humane organizations, breeders, trainers, and educators, should work together to develop educational and awareness programs specifically designed to prevent dogs and cats from becoming strays or being abandoned.

It is especially important for families who are making the decision to obtain a pet to understand the realities of owning that particular pet and to consult with reliable professional sources.

The essential elements of a successful pet-human bond are embodied in the following pet owner's pledge:

  • • I recognize that having a pet to love, enjoy, and respect is a privilege.

  • • A pet is a living animal with whom we share the earth, not a throwaway item.

  • • My family and I are aware of the daily responsibilities associated with caring for a pet and the changes this will make in our lives.

  • • My pet needs a safe shelter, fresh water, proper nutrition, suitable grooming, proper veterinary care, and appropriate training. I will learn about these and provide them to the best of my ability.

  • • When selecting a pet, I will take into consideration the life expectancy, physical characteristics, and behavioral differences among the types of pets.

  • • I will properly socialize and train my pet beginning at 8 weeks of age or as soon as possible if the pet is older.

  • • I will control my pet's ability to reproduce to prevent overproduction of unwanted animals that will be abandoned and possibly euthanized.

  • • I will know and obey all laws pertaining to my pet to prevent it from being a burden to society and to keep it from becoming annoying or dangerous to others.

  • • My pet will be properly identified in the best manner at all times. If my pet becomes lost, I will make every effort to find it.

  • • If for any reason I can no longer keep my pet, I will not abandon it. I will find it a suitable home, take it to an animal shelter, or, if no other choice exists, have it euthanized by a veterinarian.

  • • I will think of the life I am offering a pet and put myself in its place.

Programs for prevention can and should be designed to help produce more knowledgeable and responsible adults and children who are more committed to their pet's well-being. This will result in happier pets, happier owners, and a better society. The pets themselves will benefit greatly. There is a need for everyone's commitment, help, and understanding of preventive efforts to improve the humane treatment of pets.

Robert Mahr, dvm

Bonita Springs, Fla

  • 1.

    Burns K. Policy changes relate to pets, livestock. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2012; 240:1112.

  • 2.

    Nolen RS. Veterinarian's Oath revised to emphasize animal welfare commitment. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2011; 238:1516.

Spotted hemlock poisoning in a herd of Angus cattle

We wish to alert veterinarians and those who raise cattle to an emerging threat of hemlock poisoning in cattle. Because this toxic plant is becoming more common in no-till areas, especially in soybean and corn fields,1 hemlock poisoning should be considered in the differential diagnoses for any cattle found dead during the winter months when unseasonably warm climatic changes have occurred and for any cattle found dead during the early spring that may have had access to the plant.

On January 20, 2012, after several days of unseasonal warm temperatures, 4 cows in a herd of 120 pregnant, purebred Angus heifers on a farm in East Central Nebraska were found dead early in the morning. Four other cows in the herd were found to be unable to stand on their own, and an additional 31 cows had signs of illness, including excessive salivation, muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, and incoordination. The downer cows could stand with assistance and walk a short distance but would immediately lie back down. They walked with a jerking motion with their hind legs carried slightly forward. One of the four downer cows aborted, and all four downer cows subsequently died within 24 to 48 hours.

A field necropsy of the four dead cows revealed congestion of the lungs, with no other clinically important gross lesions. Examination of the abomasal and ruminal contents did not reveal any identifiable poisonous plants. Samples of the lungs, liver, spleen, and contents of the abomasum and rumen were preserved for subsequent laboratory analysis. Histologic examination of the lungs, liver, and kidneys did not reveal any important lesions of disease.

While cleaning the water tank to ensure no toxic substances were present in the water supply, the owner identified a single 2-inch-long twig with 5 to 6 leaves in the water. This twig was subsequently identified as spotted poison hemlock (Conium maculatum L.), and it was suspected that a cow had had the plant in her mouth and dropped it in the water tank while drinking. During an examination of the corn field where the herd had been pastured, newly emerging poison hemlock plants were found growing at the edge of the field. There was evidence that the plants had recently been eaten. In addition, a deer carcass was found near the hemlock plants.

Because poison hemlock is spreading to corn and soybean fields, hemlock poisoning should be considered as a differential diagnosis when cows are found dead without any obvious cause. The clinical signs caused by the toxic piperidine alkaloids in poison hemlock are characteristic.2

But, when cows are found dead, it is difficult to diagnose hemlock poisoning without finding the plant in the gastrointestinal tract or evidence that the plant was recently eaten. The cause of death is respiratory paralysis followed by cardiac arrest. There are no characteristic gross or microscopic lesions of disease.

Thomas W. Swerczek, dvm, phd

Lexington, Ky

Steve J. Swerczek, bs

Cedar Rapids, Neb

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