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Just Looking…

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By Terry Spencer, DVM

When I am shopping and a clerk asks whether I need any help, I almost always reply, “No, thank you.  I’m just looking…”    My response implies that “looking” is not going to lead to anything important, such as a purchase that day, so don’t waste your time helping me.  However, that isn’t necessarily true.  “Just looking” is an important part of the process of shopping.  If I didn’t begin shopping by” just looking,” then I would never find what I need. 

“Just looking” is also an important part of the process of completing a physical examination of an animal.  Determining whether a pet is healthy or ill all begins with looking.  As a veterinarian, I look with my senses, and also with tools of my trade to extend my senses.  I watch the animal walk.  I listen to the sounds of its heart and lungs using my stethoscope.  I smell the odor given off by its breath or its skin.  I feel for lumps in its belly.  I collect body fluids to analyze in the lab, which helps me “look” inside the animal.  I take X-rays or perform an ultrasound exam to “look” at body parts under the skin.  Frankly, I’m “just looking” all day when I do my job.  And in this context, I expect looking to pay off for the pet.  I expect to find what is working correctly and to detect any problems early when I can still help the pet owner keep the animal healthy.    Prevention of disease and early detection of disease are vital to helping pets (and people) live long, healthy lives.

When I can’t look, I can’t help.   It is important for pet owners to appreciate that.  

It is increasingly common these days for pet owners to take their pets to “low-cost” vaccine clinics.  These clinics are everywhere, every weekend.  You can find them in the parking lots of the local grocery store, drug store, pet store, groomer, and sometimes even at auto parts stores.  Vaccine clinics for pets can serve an important role for pets that otherwise would never get any vaccinations.  However, the “looking” part of the veterinary visit is lacking at these clinics.  The reason the vaccines are “low-cost” is because you get what you pay for—vaccines without a complete physical exam.  You can save a few dollars by not paying a veterinarian to “look” at your pet.  Is that really the best value for your dollar?

Vaccines against infectious diseases are very important for puppies and kittens.  But, vaccines aren’t necessary every year for every adult animal.  In fact, most vaccines if boosted properly in the early years give protection for at least three years, and some give protection for the life of the pet.  There is no standard vaccine package that is appropriate for every pet.  And over-vaccination of your pet can be just as harmful for pets as is under-vaccination.  That is why most veterinary practices don’t offer “low-cost vaccine clinics” in their parking lots on the weekends.  It isn’t annual vaccines that keep your pet healthy.  It is the veterinarian who completely examines your pet from head-to-toe, monitors its weight and temperature, and helps the pet owner set a customized vaccine protocol based on the pet’s risks of disease exposure determined after taking a history from the pet owner. 

At some annual visits, I don’t recommend vaccines at all. I know, that sounds like heresy.   Instead, I might recommend treating an ear infection, cleaning off dental tarter, removing a lump, or giving medication for back pain you might not have known was there.   Remember, your veterinarian is your other family doctor.  But you need to let me just look….

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435

Kitten Season

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Kitten Season

It must be “kitten season” because the last four appointments kept me busy dealing with feline reproduction issues.

In Room 1:  A very cranky 9-month- old cat presents because last night she delivered 4 dead kittens.  The queen seems healthy as she swats my stethoscope with her razor-sharp claws.    I understand her irritability.  She went through 63 days of pregnancy and the attentions of a tom cat for this?  It is time to spay her so this can’t happen again. 

In Room 2:  A Good Samaritan found two orphaned kittens under her shed.   One is a male and the other is a female.  They weigh only 12 ounces each—so tiny!  But things don’t look so good for these kittens.  They are weak and refusing to eat.  They are covered with fleas, likely anemic, and have diarrhea.  Poor little orphaned babies.  Have to warm them, force feed them, and rid them of fleas fast!  What a way to start life. 

In Room 3:  A very pregnant recently adopted cat.   She has been hanging around the neighborhood for weeks.  Nobody claimed her until a young woman decided to take her in.  The ultrasound shows that all the fetuses are viable.  It is too late to vaccinate now.  Will just test the queen to be sure she is negative for feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline heartworm disease.  It will be an ethical dilemma to deal with if she tests positive. 

In Room 4:  A new kitten.  Someone was giving away free kittens in front of the grocery store.  Isn’t he cute?  But now he needs vaccines, deworming, flea control, heartworm prevention, treated for ear mites, and neutered.  The free kitten no longer looks like such a good deal to the adopters.  They cannot afford the medical care needed to keep the kitten healthy.   Nothing in life is ever free, especially when it is a very young pet or a very old pet. 

I think of myself as the “spay/neuter Nazi” on days like this.  Each of these cats is suffering because of lack of sterilization.  I’ve done my fair share of sterilization surgeries to try and prevent tragedies like these.  Last year I personally sterilized more than 5000 cats and dogs.  But they just keep coming.  I am on a mission to help my clients sterilize their pets before they can reproduce. 

Did you know that intact female cats all go “in heat” together?  Their reproductive cycles are tied to daylight cycles.  As the days begin to lengthen, cats go into season!  And, they stay “in season” until they are bred.  Unlike dogs, cats only ovulate when they are bred.  Then they carry the fetuses for 63 days, give birth, and go back into season.  Each queen can produce about three or four litters during a “kitten season.”  That is a lot of kittens!  I better get busy in surgery….

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435