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When I look back over my 33 years in veterinary medicine, I am stunned at the changes I have witnessed. Just in the past 10 to 20 years, we veterinarians have seen advances in every area of medicine and new ways of caring for animals that I never dreamed of when I was in veterinary school. Here are the ones that I think have had the greatest impact on our ability to give pets the best care possible.
Pain management. When I first began practicing veterinary medicine, a commonly held belief was that animals didn’t experience pain in the same way humans did. It was even thought that pain relief would get in the way of their recovery after surgery: If they felt good enough to move around, they might become active too soon and tear their stitches. Now we know that animals heal more quickly when they’re not in pain, and we have better medications and treatments for pain, including stem cell procedures for joint pain and new classes of drugs for managing pain.
Individualized care. It wasn’t so long ago that we recommended the same vaccinations and the same spay/neuter surgery at the same ages for every animal we treated. These days, vets opt for personalized pet health protocols that take into account breed, size and lifestyle. Not every animal needs every vaccination, and the right time for spay/neuter surgery can vary. For example, in some large and giant breeds, studies show that spay/neuter surgery before full maturity is linked to increases in the incidence of certain diseases. Instead of automatically scheduling these surgeries at the traditional age of 6 months, we now take your dog’s individual needs into account. We are also looking at new ways of vaccinating cats to prevent cancers that form at the injection site of a vaccination. They include decreasing the frequency of vaccines, nasal delivery of vaccines, vaccines that are air-driven into the skin and vaccinating the cat in the tail tip, which can be easily amputated if a vaccine sarcoma forms there. And gene expression profiling means that one day we may be able to create individualized cancer treatments for specific pets.
More specialists. The first two veterinary specialties were pathology and public health, back in 1950. Can you believe that was more than 60 years ago? There are now 40 distinct specialties, including anesthesia, behavior, dentistry, dermatology, emergency and critical care medicine, neurology, preventive medicine, surgery and toxicology. Today, more than 11,000 veterinarians with advanced training are available to work with us to treat animals with unusual or complex health problems.
The Internet. I’ve often said that one of the signs of a really good veterinarian is a willingness to say “I don’t know,” followed by “but I’ll find out.” The Internet has made it easier than ever for us to do that. Email and portals such as Veterinary Information Network give us the ability to quickly pick the brains of experts for second opinions and digitally share X-rays and test results across the country or even across the globe.
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