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The Changing Face of Pet Health: When Specialty Care Matters

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Where would you take your pet with cancer requiring chemotherapy or radiation? Who would you call if your animal became suddenly paralyzed or had a seizure? What about if you came home to find your dog got into a laundry bin and ate a pair of socks? How about if your pet suddenly over heated and was unconscious?

Many of us treat our animals as family members. Due to the growing human-animal bond and advanced veterinary care available today, our furry friends are living to much older ages. Because of this, serious medical conditions arise necessitating specialty veterinary care.

New Tools, New Possibilities

Analogous to medical specialists, veterinary neurologists/neurosurgeons, orthopedic/soft tissue surgeons, oncologists, internists, radiologists, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, dermatologists and critical care specialists are at your fingertips in your area. In the event your pet was diagnosed with a serious illness by your family veterinarian, the next step is typically referral to a specialist for further diagnostics and treatment. Diagnostic tools such as digital x-rays, ultrasounds, CT and MRI scans, endoscopy/colonoscopy, mechanical ventilators and liner accelerators to provide targeted radiation treatments and hyperbaric oxygen therapy are readily available.

“Serious medical conditions arise necessitating specialty veterinary care.”

As a veterinary neurosurgeon I treat many animals for diseases related to the brain and spinal cord such as herniated intervertebral discs, fractured spinal columns, brain tumors, seizures and inflammatory/infectious diseases such as meningitis. Veterinary surgeons perform orthopedic procedures such as hip replacements and ACL ligament repairs in addition to various soft tissue procedures. Oncologists treat cancer in animals with chemotherapy and forms of radiation. Internal medicine and critical care specialists treat very serious medical illnesses and perform procedures such as endoscopy/colonoscopy and blood transfusions. Radiologists perform ultrasound, CT and MRI scans to help diagnose your pets underlying condition.

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Here is a Brief Example of a Case I see on a Routine Basis:

Cody, a 5-year-old male neutered Dachshund suddenly presents as paralyzed in his hindlimbs. After performing a neurologic examination, his problem is localized to the thoracolumbar spine. This is the long part of Cody’s back from his shoulder blades to right before the start of his hindlimbs. The possible causes for sudden onset paralysis in a young dog include a herniated or “slipped disc,” vascular/ischemic events or “spinal cord stroke,” trauma such as a vertebral fracture and infectious/autoimmune inflammatory diseases such as meningitis.

The next step for Cody is an MRI of his back to determine where exactly the problem is occurring. Cody’s MRI showed a severely herniated intervertebral disc between lumbar vertebrae 1 and 2 and severe compression of his spinal cord. The spinal cord in an animal is similar to a highway, taking messages from the feet to the brain and back down again, allowing your pet to walk appropriately. If there is a road block or traffic jam along the “spinal cord highway,” the messages cannot travel appropriately and the animal can become paralyzed. Surgical decompression of Cody’s spinal cord and removal of the herniated disc was recommended due to the severity of his clinical signs.

“The next time your veterinarian recommends a colonoscopy for your cat or a hip replacement for your dog, know that veterinary specialists are available to provide these services in your area. “

Next, Cody had an emergency surgical procedure called a hemilaminectomy and recovered well. He was up and walking the very next day, and you would never know he had spinal surgery, aside front he fact that he now has a scar to prove it. Cody was hospitalized for  days postoperatively and received intensive nursing care and pain management.

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The next time your veterinarian recommends a colonoscopy for your cat or a hip replacement for your dog, know that veterinary specialists are available to provide these services in your area.

Jeremy C. Harper

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