Letters to the Editor

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AVMA policy on responsible pet breeding

The AVMA's new policy “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals”1 is a diluted statement that does little more than call for continued research and education of breeders and owners. As a long-standing supporter and Honor Roll member of the AVMA (Fox) and as the producer of a widely viewed documentary on this issue (Harrison), we are extremely disappointed that this new policy does not specifically address serious inherited abnormalities, both physical and behavioral, in purpose-bred dogs and cats in the same way that they are addressed in position statements from the British and Canadian veterinary medical associations and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association.

For example, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's dog breeding position statement2 states that “The CVMA opposes the selective breeding of dogs resulting in changes in body form, function or temperament, that are detrimental to the health and quality of life of the dog or that have a negative impact on its behaviour towards people or other dogs.” The policy position from the British Veterinary Association3 indicates that “We believe that out breeding programmes should be considered in breeds with small gene pools that have major health and welfare problems associated with hereditary diseases, namely, those unable to mate or give birth naturally.” Finally, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association's statement on inherited diseases and exaggerated characteristics4 states that the association “strongly recommends that animals which show extremes of conformation that negatively affect their health and welfare should not be used for breeding.”

We question why the House of Delegates modified the statement proposed by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, which contained assertions closely aligned with those from Canada and the United Kingdom. The AVMA policy statement could have, we believe, appealed for a reduction in the prevalence of inherited disorders in companion animals in general, without condemning or stigmatizing specific breeds, by naming some of the serious adverse inherited conditions, such as extreme physical deformities and unstable temperaments, that are ethically unacceptable to propagate regardless of breed.

The current policy does not reflect the kind of leadership and initiative that we expect from the AVMA. Admittedly it took until August 2008, when the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed was first aired on the BBC, to galvanize a response from the dog show industry, dog breeders, and the veterinary community in Great Britain to address the serious health and quality-of-life issues associated with selective breeding. We would strongly urge the House of Delegates to revise this statement and incorporate some of the suggestions from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and others to keep this momentum going internationally for the good of the profession and the animals it serves.

Michael W. Fox, bvetmed phd, dsc

Golden Valley, Minn

Jemima Harrison

Marlborough, Wiltshire, England

Questioning diagnosis for bucking bull

As a small animal surgeon, I read with interest the report “Diagnosis of lumbosacral diskospondylosis in a bucking bull assisted by high-definition thermal and nuclear scintigraphic imaging.”1 However, I would suggest that the term diskospondylosis is confusing, as it confounds two distinct entities: diskospondylitis and spondylosis. The former is an inflammatory (usually infectious) condition of the intervertebral disk and adjacent vertebral endplates, whereas the latter is usually considered a noninflammatory, degenerative condition affecting one or more spinal motion segments. I note that the only place the term diskospondylosis appears is in the article's title, making me wonder whether this was something that originated with the reviewers or editors rather than the authors. Although diskospondylitis can result in alterations that are largely indistinguishable from degenerative spondylosis, these two terms should not be intermingled.

I also question the authors’ conclusion that the spondylosis itself was the principal lesion causing the clinical signs in the bull of this report. The published literature for many species (including humans) suggests that spondylosis (both ventral and lateral) is a common condition associated with intervertebral disk senility or mechanical wear and tear that is usually not associated with specific signs or symptoms related to neck or back pain, radiculopathy, or myelopathy. Although the authors cite a report by Weisbrode et al2 as support for their statements that “[p]ainful lumbar lesions have been previously shown to affect libido in 2 breeding bulls” and that “[b]oth bulls had evidence of bridging spondylosis,” they also state, again citing Weisbrode et al,2 that “[v]ertebral osteophytosis was prevalent in a study of 2- to 8-year-old dairy bulls at postmortem examination, but such lesions were often clinically inapparent even when grossly severe.”

The authors cite a textbook by Greenough and Weaver3 to suggest that “ankylosing spondylosis with complete intervertebral bridging may be a predisposing factor for hind limb ataxia.” However, comparative studies from nonbovine species would indicate that spondylosis itself is generally not considered to be a primary factor causing radicular or myelopathic signs. In addition, although spondylosis and radiculopathy or myelopathy can be seen in the same patient, this is not proof that one causes the other.

I would add that we should avoid using the term ankylosing spondylosis to describe these lesions, so as to avoid confusing them with the ankylosing spondylitis seen in some human patients with rheumatic disease. Bridging spondylosis is a more apt term. It is also important to avoid confusing spondylosis with foraminal or vertebral canal stenosis, as the latter conditions can cause neurologic signs, including pain. Although it is possible that the spondylotic lesions described in this bull resulted in foraminal stenosis, the authors did not prove this was the case. The authors state that “[b]ucking bulls have extreme dorsiflexion [sic] and ventroflexion [sic] while bucking, in addition to complex lateral and rotary movements” and suggest that the forces generated by these movements “could explain the development of the extensive degenerative changes observed in the bull of the present report.” However, unless the authors can demonstrate that the spondylotic changes in this bull were substantially different from changes in other bucking bulls without clinical signs of weakness or pain, caution should be exercised in concluding that the spondylotic lesions were directly related to the clinical signs.

James M. Fingeroth, dvm

Senior Staff Surgeon

Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center

Orchard Park, NY

  • 1. Caldwell M, Passler T, Purohit RC, et al. Diagnosis of lumbosacral diskospondylosis in a bucking bull assisted by high-definition thermal and nuclear scintigraphic imaging. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017; 250: 554559.

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  • 2. Weisbrode SE, Monke DR, Dodaro ST, et al. Osteochondrosis, degenerative joint disease, and vertebral osteophytosis in middle-aged bulls. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1982; 181: 700705.

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  • 3. Greenough PW, Weaver AD. Lameness in cattle. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1997; 200.

How pharmacologists invented modern medicine

Pharmacology has an ancient heritage that deserves more recognition than it gets. The struggle of humankind against physical and mental illness began so long ago that its beginnings are lost in time. However, archaeologists have recovered a variety of pharmacologically active plants and related artifacts (eg, ceramic images) at prehistoric human burial sites indicating the importance of botanical resources in early society, including the use of plants to treat disease.1 The first healers were priests who treated humans and animals alike.

My interest in the history of pharmacology began with a remarkable course in medical botany I took at the University of Edinburgh in the 1950s. Then, after receiving my veterinary degree, I was fortunate enough to spend a year in the medical school's pharmacology department. The Edinburgh medical school began in 1670 in a surprising way.2 A group of doctors planted an herb garden as the initial step in founding a college of physicians. Medicinal therapy still mostly depended on botanical preparations, and the best way to obtain reliable materials was to grow your own. The new college hired professors of botany to teach materia medica to medical students, an arrangement that lasted for the next century. In 1768, an independent Department of Materia Medica (later, pharmacology) was formed, and its first professor was appointed, undoubtedly one of the earliest of its kind.2

The oldest known medical writing is a veterinary text—the Egyptian Kahun Papyrus (c 1800 BC)—that describes the treatment of clinical abnormalities in several animal species. Ancient cultures in China, India, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and South and Central America all had their own peculiar brands of primitive medicine, many of which were later adopted by European cultures and remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. Indeed, therapeutics was scarcely influenced by scientific progress until the mid-19th century when the chemical nature of drugs was discovered and the first critical experiments were conducted to measure their effects on the functions of the body.3 Thus, pharmacology became a rational science.

During the 20th and 21st centuries there was tremendous progress in pharmacology, and medicine became dependent on research and development by the pharmaceutical industry for its most valuable drugs. Great advances may be anticipated in the future, especially in pharmacogenetics.

Obviously, pharmacologists do not do everything by themselves. Other disciplines—chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, pathology, immunology, genetics, and many others—supply essential bricks and mortar to build modern medicine. But, therapeutics is based on pharmacological thinking; the application of exogenous substances to correct functional abnormalities in patients. From this point of view, veterinarians and physicians all turn out to be pharmacologists without realizing it. It is time to let them in on the secret.

Peter Eyre, dvm&s, bvms, bsc, phd

Blacksburg, Va

  • 1. Day J. Botany meets archaeology: people and plants in the past. J Exp Botany 2013; 64: 58055816.

  • 2. Gaddum JH. The pharmacologists of Edinburgh. Annu Rev Pharmacol 1962; 2: 111.

  • 3. Levine RR. Pharmacology. Drug actions and reactions. 5th ed. New York: Parthenon Publishing Group Inc, 1996.

Preveterinary requirements and student debt

Back in 1967, when I graduated from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the admission requirements included a minimum of two years of undergraduate coursework covering prerequisites aimed at veterinary medicine. In almost 50 years of practice, I have not had a single client ask whether I have a bachelor's degree to go along with my veterinary one. As it happens, I do. But, many of my classmates do not, and yet I believe that, by and large, we have all been productive assets to our profession.

It is often suggested that a bachelor's or advanced degree better prepares students for entry into the veterinary profession. I agree that more education is typically a good thing. But as typical student debt continues to increase, extensive undergraduate education prior to veterinary college is often no longer affordable and, in too many cases, probably not necessary. I would argue that most qualified candidates can be identified after three or even two years of undergraduate work.

Identifying those capable of the tasks involved in veterinary medicine and starting them in the profession at an earlier age would be a positive step to help control student debt with little or no obvious downside. Unfortunately, starting salaries for new graduates have not kept up with the increase in educational debt.

James C. Franzek, dvm

Buffalo, NY

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