This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I attended the annual Music City Veterinary Conference sponsored by the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association. It was my fourth straight year to attend and congregate with other veterinarians as we seek to further our education and fulfill our state’s continuing education requirements.
I like this particular conference because I can get all 20 of my required annual continuing education hours at this one conference. There is a good variety of courses to choose from (over 100 hours). Each hour there are always three different small animal tracts offered, a lecture in large animal medicine, practice management, and usually a technician’s course. The speakers are generally very good and above all practical. I always come away feeling like I learned a lot.
Friday I attended classes on Chronic kidney disease, Urinalysis, Feline Hyperthyroidism, Managing Difficult Ear Problems, Diagnosing and Managing the Challenging Senior Patient, and Diagnostic Updates for Practitioners with Case Studies.
For the first two hours on Saturday, I attended two OSHA courses which discussed an introduction to TN-OSHA and what OSHA really wants. The second class was on OSHA paperwork and documentation required. I only took these two classes because Tennessee veterinarians are now required every two-year period to take 2 hours of courses that pertain to regulatory issues, controlled substance pharmacology, or professional ethics. Regulatory classes are what was offered this year. The OSHA courses only made me thankful I was not a practice owner because the paperwork and regulations they enforce seem impossible and the fines are horrific if one does not comply.
Saturday, I attended a lecture on Hip Dysplasia in both old and young dogs, Hepatic Encephalopathy (which I was interested in since my mother developed this condition towards the end of her life that was the result of her bile duct/liver cancer), Hypotension in cats, Alternative diet trends, and Dietary Intolerances and Food Allergies.
Sunday was my favorite day because I devoted the entire six hours that day to behavior issues in dogs and cats. The speaker, who was board certified in animal behavior, was great, very practical, and had a good sense of humor. She talked a lot about reading canine and feline body language which is always fascinating to me. She enhanced her lectures with excellent videos and photos.
She showed the following video (which I had actually seen last year in one of the lectures). It’s a police dog with his handler and a reporter. A reporter, who to his detriment, knew nothing about reading canine body language. Honestly, I was a little bumfuzzled as to why the police officer handling the dog didn’t pick up on the fact that this dog was during the entire time of the interaction saying, “I am so NOT comfortable with what is going on here.” It doesn’t end well for the reporter but in my opinion he’s a very lucky man because it could have been much, much worse. This makes me cringe every time I watch it. You’ve been warned.
Why people insist on getting right in a dog’s face when they clearly don’t know the animal is beyond me (and a trained police canine at that). Notice the dog’s lip licking, the flashing of the whites of the dogs eyes (what many people refer to as”whale eye”), the ears pulled back closer to the head, and the panting. All of these are signs that the dog was extremely uncomfortable with this reporter. I knew when the reporter positioned himself above and over the dog, that it was not going to end well for him.
The speaker showed videos of dogs being hugged by owners and by toddlers and children. I cringed at these too because the discomfort of the dog was so obvious. Most dogs find hugging threatening, but since it’s a normal “human” behavior, people often love to hug their dogs. And sadly people and especially children are frequently bitten right in the face and seriously injured while giving their dog a big bear hug. It’s important that we bring public awareness and knowledge of the body language of dogs and how dogs communicate so that we will prevent broken human-animal bonds which lead to people either abandoning their pet or even worse, euthanasia.
Every year at these seminars, I just about always learn about things that have changed since I went to school, i.e., something I was taught that is now considered “wrong.” This year was no exception. When I was starting veterinary school in the early 80s, Parvovirus was just coming onto the scene. It was horrible. Parvo is a highly contagious and very deadly virus. A lot of dogs were dying and let me tell you, this virus was scary. It didn’t seem to matter how fast owners made it to the vet clinic once the symptoms broke or how aggressively we treated them. A good majority of those cases died. It was just heartbreaking. Parvo causes a severe lethargy and depression and vomiting and diarrhea which result in severe dehydration. I was working at a vet clinic just prior to going to vet school when parvo hit and I’ll never forget it. Parvo causes a severe decrease in the white cell count and I was trained how to do white blood cell counts around that time. I got very efficient at doing white blood cell counts because I did a lot of them (we did them by hand then with a manual counter while looking at a gridded slide under a microscope).
I’ll never forget one particular dachshund puppy who came in straight from the pet shop for a new puppy exam. It was displaying some lethargy by this time and when the veterinarian did a rectal temp on the dog and pulled out the thermometer, there was blood on the thermometer which reeked highly of parvo virus (parvo has a distinct odor and once you smell it, you will never forget it). At that time, there were no quick in-house parvo tests like there is today and samples had to be sent to an outside laboratory which took days. So we did WBC counts on these puppies which usually told us our diagnosis along with the characteristic smell and clinical signs. The vet had me do a white blood cell count on this dachshund puppy and I swear I could not find one single white blood cell on that little pup’s slide. I searched the slide high and low and there were none to be found. I’m not sure the vet believed me when I went back to report that news to him, (that the white blood cell count was zero), until he went and looked at the slide himself. After he looked, he informed the owner that their new puppy unfortunately was not going to live. And he was right. The dog died within hours. Pet stores, kennels and shelters were hit hard by parvo because it is so highly contagious.
The parvo outbreak in the 1980s was why vets like myself didn’t think it was safe to enroll a young pup in puppy training classes or socialization classes, or expose puppies to other dogs by taking them to public places like dog parks where unvaccinated dogs might be. I even outright told my clients that it was too risky to attend training classes and puppy socialization classes. I saw so much death from parvo and it affected me. I saw non-responsive dogs with white anemic gums brought in who bled out from their intestinal tract right there on the exam table within minutes of getting to the clinic. And I got tired of bagging up those poor dead puppies. I didn’t hesitate to advise new puppy owners to keep their puppy isolated until all vaccinations were complete. This is what I was taught was safest.
Well, I’ll just say that things have changed 36 years later and it is no longer necessary to advise owners to isolate their puppy until they have had all vaccinations. Socialization is an important process and can be done safely. Puppies can be socialized with other puppies and dogs who are well vaccinated. I still would not recommend taking a puppy to a dog park where unvaccinated dogs have more than likely been. A good puppy class will require that all puppies have at least one vaccination, that any puppy showing any signs of illness not be allowed to come to class, and the class area should be made of a substrate that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. If one waits to socialize a puppy after all vaccinations are given, it can be too late! Puppy socialization classes can be invaluable and studies show it is beneficial for puppies to be allowed to interact with other dogs of their approximate size and age. Serious lifelong behavior issues can occur in puppies who have not been properly socialized.
All of this to say that I enjoyed the conference this past weekend. My brain was overloaded with lot of new and helpful information that I am thankful to know. I can’t wait to purchase and read some of the behavior resources that were recommended. Amazon, here I come.