The field of study in veterinary medicine is wide open these days for people who love animals and want to pursue a career working with household pets, wildlife, farm animals or other animals. Advances in technology are helping pets live longer, and changes in the way animals are viewed have created a need for more specialized studies. Veterinary medicine is no longer just about caring for pets in an office. There’s even a field of study that helps protect our food supply. There are some surprising opportunities available for someone with a degree in veterinary medicine besides working as a veterinarian or vet technician.
The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation is open for veterinarians from around the world to get an advanced degree in the science of sports medicine. Its main focus is on the structural, physiological, medical and surgical needs of working and athletic animals. Currently there’s two fields of study: Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Canine) and Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Equine).
Vets who care for shelter animals deal with the health and welfare of pets in a unique environment. In an effort to improve quality of life for pets that have been abused, neglected, homeless or given up because of medical issues or age, shelter medicine is an important and necessary field of study which also promotes the bond we share with pets, and improves the treatment of animals.
Many cat owners cite their kitty’s fear and loathing of the cat carrier as the main reason they don’t visit their vet more often. I can totally relate to that. I know annual checkups are important for pets, but I dread the day. Now, I have heard of cats going into their carrier without a struggle, and some that regard it as just another cozy napping spot. I’ve even heard of cats who enjoy car rides and don’t wail like they’re being mercilessly tortured. However, I’ve been a Cat Lady for a long time, and I’ve never had anything close to a carrier/car-ride-loving feline. Hence I liken them to unicorns, dragons and other mythical creatures born from imaginative minds.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t take some steps to lessen the drama that ensues when the “evil PTU” (Pet Transport Unit) comes out. In addition to taking kitty to the vet, cat carriers are vital for moving, traveling and evacuating in an emergency, so it behooves us to make using them as stress free as possible. Your cat may not ever come to love the carrier, but there are things you can do to help them accept it. The goal is to ensure they don’t have a full-blown panic attack at the sight of the carrier, or go into meltdown mode in the car.
The first thing you should do is consider the context of the carrier. If it only comes out right before your cat goes to a place where they have a not-so-fun experience (to put it mildly), it’s easy to see why your cat would fear the PTU and run for their favorite hiding spot at the mere sight of it.
The solution is to make the carrier part of your cat’s surroundings, by leaving it out somewhere in your home. It doesn’t have to be conspicuous, like in the middle of the living room – just where your cat will see it often and become used to its presence. Additionally, the cat carrier will then smell like your home instead of a musty basement or dusty garage. The carrier may even eventually smell like your cat if they become comfortable enough to rub against it. You might also want to use a synthetic feline pheromone spray in or near the carrier. You won’t smell anything but your cat will, and the pheromones are said to have a calming effect.
Since the aim is to get your cat to view the carrier as nonthreatening, you should begin to create positive associations with it. First, place an old towel or t-shirt where your cat normally sleeps. Let them sleep on it for a few days so it smells like them, then place it in the carrier. Next, begin to play with your cat near the carrier. Use “fishing pole” type cat toys to encourage your cat to jump over the carrier or on top of it. You can also throw catnip toys near the opening and eventually, inside the carrier.
Veterinarian visits used to be difficult for us. Our dog would revert back to her shy and fearful behavior whenever we had an appointment. In fact, she would start trembling and whining when we pulled into the parking lot. While we had mostly conquered her insecure behavior in other areas, vet visits brought it all flooding back. It was an effort just to get her out of the car and through the front door. We knew we had to get serious about helping her. Our goal was to make trips to the animal clinic seem as natural as trips to the dog-friendly pet supply store.
The emotional state of your dog during a vet exam is particularly significant. If your dog remains stressed or fearful during a vet visit, anything that happens to her while she’s there can become something she will want to avoid forever. This unfortunate belief can result in the dog overreacting to even the simplest, most non-confrontational handling by the vet staff. With patience and training, however, veterinary visits can be less stressful. Now our dog actually looks forward to going! Here’s how we did it.
Practice visits coupled with positive reinforcement. The veterinarian we use is sympathetic to our dog’s shy and fearful behavior. He kindly allowed us to bring our dog around for random informal visits, without having an actual appointment. On these unscheduled visits, we always had plenty of her favorite CANIDAE treats on hand. We passed the dog treats out to the receptionists, technicians and other staff members so they could offer them to our dog.
Originally, she was not interested and stood statue-still in a crouching position. On subsequent visits, she finally started tentatively sniffing around. Progress! At least she wasn’t frozen in one spot, trembling and crying. As she gradually became more accustomed to the sights and smells of the clinic, she started to relax. Finally she began accepting dog treats from the staff. This took awhile, but she ultimately became familiar with the facility without the association of shots/handling/scary stuff.
This technique works best if the only people offering treats to your dog are the veterinarian staff members. Avoid the temptation to give the dog treats yourself. You want the dog to connect going to the vet with getting treats from the staff.
As responsible pet owners, we know how important veterinary exams are for keeping our dogs and cats healthy. However, just because we know it’s for their own good doesn’t mean our pets will enjoy the vet visit. In fact, most pets don’t like going to the vet, which makes sense when you consider how stressful it must be for them. Aside from the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment, they encounter peculiar smells and sounds, other animals, and strangers in white coats touching, prodding and poking them. What’s to like about that? Nevertheless, there are things you can do to help your pet tolerate vet visits and keep their stress level down, which will help you stay calm too.
If the only time your pet rides in a car is on the way to the vet, it’s only natural they’ll become agitated. For dog owners, the solution is to bring them along when you run short errands (just don’t leave them in the car in the summer!), take them to a dog park often or to places that allow dogs such as pet stores. This can help curb their anxiety on trips to the vet. I’m not sure the same holds true for cats, aka notorious haters of cars in motion. I haven’t tried “practice rides” with my cats, mostly because subjecting myself to more of the heart-wrenching wails they make in the car doesn’t seem wise.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
As you’ve probably noticed, our pets are very much in tune with our emotions. If you are stressed and anxious about going to the vet, your pet will pick up on that – so try to stay as calm as you can before you set off, during the car ride and while you’re waiting to see the vet. Speaking words of encouragement in a soothing voice can help your pet to relax in the strange environment.
Pets find themselves in animal shelters for a number of reasons, but too often, they’re surrendered because of behavioral problems their owner couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with. Qualified veterinarians are applying their specialized knowledge in animal behavior and working with pet owners to help them solve bad behavior so a pet and his owner can stay together. Like an applied animal behaviorist, veterinary behaviorists are helping to solve behavioral problems and keeping pets out of shelters.
Dealing with a pet that has a behavioral problem is extremely frustrating for an owner who has no idea why their pet’s behavior has suddenly changed. When a once quiet dog barks insistently for no apparent reason, it can drive a loving pet owner, and their neighbors, up the wall. However, the dog does have a good reason and to him, it isn’t an unnatural behavior. A cat refusing to use her litter box may have a medical problem or is upset because of a change in the home. A veterinary behaviorist can step in to help a pet owner solve the mystery of why their dog is barking or why the cat isn’t using her litter box.
Have you ever looked at the framed certificates on your veterinarian’s wall? Do you know what it takes to become a vet? Anyone interested in becoming a vet should have a love of animals and be able to deal with the emotions of their owners or caretakers. You need to be good at math, psychology, English, physiology and anatomy of many species and understand numerous medications (both capabilities and side effects) and when to prescribe the right one. You need to like school, taking tests and studying a lot.
For vets in rural areas there can be emergency calls on nights, weekends and holidays. Imagine a call in the middle of a cold winter night for a farm animal with a breech birth in an unheated barn. You need to be able to perform surgery, both routine and emergency; blood and needle phobics need not apply. One vet, when queried about the hardest part of practicing veterinary medicine mentioned euthanasia; whether an animal was too ill and it was the kindest thing or because there were no loving homes for them. The same vet said the most rewarding part of their job is working with animals and seeing the happy faces of pets and owners.
High school students interested in becoming a veterinarian should concentrate on getting good grades. You need to have a great head for memorizing facts. Vet school selection committees require good grades in science, biology and math, and look at your background situation and previous experience with animals. To be considered for admission to a vet college, a student must complete pre-vet medical course work as an undergraduate. This takes three to four years of college study; courses required include physics, English composition, chemistry, math and biology. While a Bachelor’s degree may not be required, a large percentage of students entering vet school have them. Many students with an eye on vet school select an undergraduate major in agriculture, biology or animal science, as the courses overlap vet school requirements. If you’re interested in specializing in a more exotic species (e.g., lions, dolphins, elephants) you will need to take courses in marine biology or zoo medicine.
Each vet school’s admission requirements are different, and contacting the college closest to you is suggested. Before entry to vet school, each applicant is required to take the (GRE) Graduate Record Examination. Evaluation letters from people you’ve worked with help the school evaluate your work ethic and character. A vet hospital work history and letter from a veterinarian documenting this can assist you and may be required. Some vet colleges are affiliated with the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) and require this form from an applicant as well. The deadline for the VMCAS is almost a year in advance of when you start the vet program.
There are 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States. They receive their accreditation from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). These are the only schools recognized where a veterinary medical degree can be attained in the U.S. The vet schools are usually located at state colleges, and preference is given to applicants of the state, though some accept a limited number of non-resident applicants. Veterinary students take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in their final year of school. If they pass the NAVLE, meet state license requirements and finish their veterinary degree program successfully, a student becomes a licensed vet eligible to practice veterinary medicine in the U.S.
A vet school teaches many subjects and a graduating veterinarian can go into many fields. The majority of veterinarians go into private practice, but there are also openings in teaching and research (at vet schools); regulatory medicine (the elimination or control of animal diseases that can affect humans, testing animal vaccines, as food inspectors for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service; public health (help control and prevent diseases that affect both humans and animals, FDA employees testing food additives and medicines, the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service); United States Military (biomedical research and development, care of government-owned animals, food safety and public health officers), private industry (biomedical and pharmaceutical research).
Vets never stop learning, as the needs of their patients are constantly changing. They need to keep current on new medications and drug therapies, new treatments and techniques, as well as diseases and infections that can affect our pets and possibly us. Vets take continuing education courses to keep their knowledge up to date, and some of these are required to keep their license current. Most vets read several medical magazines and books every month, not just veterinary ones. Some vets may go on to study for a specialty (behavior, orthopedics, geriatrics, cardiology, dermatology, nutrition) and there are exams to qualify for these as well. Many vets pass on their knowledge to other vets by speaking at conferences after they have been certified in their given specialty.
I have been blessed with most of the vets that have taken care of my animal companions over the years. A few had a lousy bedside manner, “dumbed down” their conversations with me, and had a “do as I say” attitude. They didn’t last long. A good vet will listen to all your concerns and discuss them with you. They will explain any procedure that needs to be performed and why. Any time you need to speak with them about an issue with your pet they will talk with you in a language you can understand. And their care and compassion for your animal will be evident.
CANIDAE “Ask a Veterinarian” Page
Do you have a question you’d like to ask a vet about your pet’s diet, nutrition or health? Visit the “Ask a Veterinarian” page on the CANIDAE website to read articles written by a specialized team of veterinary consultants. If you don’t see your question listed, you can submit it. The most popular questions and their answers will be posted.
CANIDAE 2010 Scholarship Recipients
CANIDAE has awarded their 2010 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Scholarships which supports applicants that have chosen to pursue a career path and life dedicated to the health and welfare of our pets. The program winners are Rebecca Tanaka Reader (Tufts Cummings School), Stephanie Heilman (Ohio State University), Kendra Creighton (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) and Richard Boisvert (University of Calgary, Canada). Each winner received $2,500 from the $10,000 program.
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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.