Monthly Archives November 2011

The Internet: a pet’s friend or foe?

The World Wide Web – it has broadened our ability to communicate beyond ways imaginable. It has embedded itself in our personal lives, our businesses, in the relationships we have with friends and family. In the veterinary world, the Internet has significantly altered both owners’ relationships with their pets and with their vets. No longer do owners have to call the vet to ask for help when their pet has an abnormality. Owners can jump on line, and with the click of a mouse, find causes for common and not so common clinical signs that their pets may be demonstrating. They can “Google” methods of diagnosis, means of treatment, even drug dosages. The veterinarian is no longer regarded as the only trusted source of pet care information; pet owners can now surf the Web and diagnose their pet’s condition without ever even seeing their vet. And if owners do actually take their sick pets to the veterinarian, they often have researched their pet’s clinical signs and have a tentative diagnosis and possible treatment plan in mind even before they walk through the clinic door.

For veterinarians, the Internet has forever changed the way they practice, as well. General veterinarians can now refer cases to specialists through a simple email. Vets can share any number of x-ray images with the stroke of a keyboard. They can attend continuing education meetings without ever leaving their workplaces. On the one hand, vets can now share information with clients without their having to bring their pets into the hospital or even without having to speak with them on the telephone. They can provide clients with reams of educational material or with their pet’s medical records without ever having to print a page.

While the Internet certainly has been hugely helpful in bringing veterinary care to people in remote places or who have very limited funds and who might not be able to go readily to an animal hospital, it may not always provide the best care available for a sick pet.  As any good veterinarian will tell you, there really is no substitute for a complete physical examination of an ill pet by a well-educated, up-to-date veterinarian. Plus, just because something is in print on the Internet doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the correct or most current information.  Veterinarians constantly have to learn new and better means of treatment to provide the best care possible for their patients, and in fact, most states now have continuing education requirements that vets must fulfill in order to keep their licenses valid. In contrast, once something is written on a website, it is imprinted there forever unless the website is taken down, and readers often have no clue that what they are reading may be outdated or invalid information.

So, the question is, with all the communication now available over the Internet, with more pet owners relying on the Web to help them solve their pets’ medical issues, are pets receiving the same quality of medical care that they have in the past?  And now that more pet owners are emailing their vets with questions about their pets’ health and not always allowing their vets to examine these pets, are vets able to provide the same kind of good medical care that they have traditionally? And how do vets respond to owners who come into the animal hospital after researching their pets’ illness on line and insist that very specific tests or treatments be performed on their animals even before the vet has had a chance to do an examination?  Is the Internet really a pet’s friend or foe? What do you think?

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Multiplying like rabbits: to spay or to neuter?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “multiplying like rabbits,” meaning reproducing like crazy, and that’s what bunnies tend to do when sexually mature female and male rabbits are housed together. So, if you have rabbits that have already reached puberty (the age of which depends on breed, with smaller rabbits maturing at 4-5 months of age and larger ones maturing at 5-8 months of age), unless you want more of them, you will need to separate the males from the females. And don’t think that being related makes it any less likely for them to breed. Mothers and fathers will breed with offspring, and siblings will breed with each other. Our social norms do not apply to the rabbit world.

So, if you have a male and a female, what should you do? Should you have your veterinarian spay (remove the ovaries and uterus) of the female or neuter (remove the testicles) of the male? While both procedures will accomplish the same end – prevention of breeding – spaying the female actually has some significant added benefits. Statistics show that depending on the breed of the rabbit, females over age 4 years have a 50-80% chance of developing uterine cancer if they are not spayed. Therefore, in addition to preventing your female rabbit from breeding, spaying her also eliminates the possibility of her developing a potentially life-threatening cancer. While it is ideal to spay bunnies while they are healthy and young (typically after 6 months of age), before they develop other problems (such as respiratory or heart disease or kidney problems) that make anesthesia for surgery riskier, as long as the rabbit is in good health overall, and your veterinarian has performed the appropriate pre-operative tests (such as blood work and x-rays) to minimize risk, there really is no such thing as too old to spay. Of course, older animals often develop diseases that increase the risks associated with anesthesia, so before suggesting any surgery, a good veterinarian will help an owner weigh these risks against the surgical benefits. But, in general, if a rabbit can be spayed with minimal risk by a veterinarian (such as those at the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics)  experienced with this procedure and with anesthesia in rabbits, the benefit of avoiding such a common cancer usually outweighs the risks of the procedure.  Of course, a rabbit owner and veterinarian should discuss all of these issues thoroughly before proceeding with any surgery.

So, when should you castrate a male rabbit? Certainly, a male rabbit should be neutered if he lives with an unspayed female who is too infirm or ill to be spayed. In addition, a male rabbit that is spraying or marking his territory with urine, “humping” everything and everyone in his environment incessantly, or acting aggressively would be a good candidate for a neutering. Although, some people may take offense at the idea of neutering a male rabbit that lives alone and is not able to breed, doing so may actually make him a less frustrated and aggressive pet in the end.

What is the take home message? If you have a pair of opposite sex bunnies or a humping, spraying, male ball of fur, you should speak to your vet about neutering. Your rabbit will likely be happier and healthier if you do, and you won’t have to buy a dozen or more rabbit cages.

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