Do I need to have my mini pig spayed? Or my bird? Or my rabbit?

mini pig

Spaying, or ovariohysterectomy, is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in dogs and cats. On my April 6th SiriusXM Stars Channel 109 show, “Ask the Vet,” I was asked a question about spaying and I admit I could not readily come up with an answer. The question was: “Should I spay my mini pig?” Fair question, but a bit outside my personal day-to-day veterinary practice. This blog post expands on the answer to the caller’s question in various non-traditional pets.

Mini Pig Spay
The short answer to the caller’s question is yes, your female mini pig should be spayed. A female mini pig (also known as a gilt) in heat is moody, destructive and potentially dangerous because of elevated hormone levels. She may pick a fight with your other pets or do something even worse. Once a gilt reaches full adult size, her desire to mate can lead to injuries for human family members. Pigs gain a tremendous amount of body fat as they mature, making any swine surgery challenging for your veterinarian. The current recommendation is to spay mini pig gilts quite young, as early as 6-8 weeks of age, before your piggy packs on the pounds. The American Mini Pig Association has lots of great information about mini pig health on their website.

Bird Spay
Unlike mini pigs, routine spaying of birds is not the standard of care, but AMC’s Avian and Exotic Pet Service does spay chronically egg bound female birds. An egg bound bird is one who has eggs stuck in her reproductive tract. A bird spay is different than a dog or cat spay. Instead of a right and left ovary, a bird has only a left ovary and oviduct (the bird version of a uterus). In dogs and cats, a spay includes removing the ovary and often times the uterus, but in birds, the ovary lies very near major blood vessels and only the oviduct is removed. Read about Scarlett, a bird saved by a spay.

Rabbit Spay
Two reasons to spay your doe, or female rabbit, are to decrease destructive behavior associated with the urge to mate and to prevent reproductive tract cancer. A doe looking for a mate will dig a nest, making a mess of your pretty garden, or worse, your carpeting. As they mature, does can become aggressive and will bite. She will spray urine to mark her territory. Spaying your girl rabbit before about 6 months of age will eliminate these unwanted and unpleasant behaviors. Approximately 80% of female rabbits will develop uterine cancer between the ages of 2-5 years. To keep your bunny healthy and happy, spaying is a must.

I will close with another interesting exotic pet reproduction tidbit. Snakes, depending on the species, lay eggs, like other reptiles, but certain snake species give birth to live snakelets. This means that on occasion, AMC veterinarians perform a c-section to deliver a baby!

Sharing Turkey Day Dinner with Your Pets

Thanksgiving is all about food and family. Many of us consider our pets family members and want to include them in the holiday celebration, but menu selection for pets can be tricky. For example, dogs love chocolate, but it will cause vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity if Fido indulges his passion with a few foil wrapped chocolate turkeys. Your cat may find the raw turkey trimmings sitting on the counter a tasty treat. Raw poultry can be teeming with organisms such Salmonella or E. coli and give Fluffy a nasty case of food poisoning. So here are simple suggestions for taking food from your holiday table and creating a healthy and safe buffet for the family pets. More difficult will be figuring out if seating Fido next to Grandpa and Fluffy next to Uncle Ray will provoke a family fracas!

Doggie dishes
When choosing Thanksgiving food for your dog’s dish, stay away from high fat dishes, such as gravy or sausage stuffing, which can provoke an episode of painful pancreatitis. Steer clear of raisins and grapes, whether in a fruit salad or stuffing, as these delicious fruits can cause serious kidney problems. A spoonful each of nice white meat turkey, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes minus the butter, sour cream, nuts, and marshmallows would be safe turkey day fare for your dog. Fruit often appeals to dogs, and while recreating grandma’s apple crumb pie, save a couple of apple slices for your dog.

Reptile recipes
If you have a vegetarian reptile, such as an iguana, bearded dragon or a tortoise, the Thanksgiving side dishes provide an opportunity to share the bounty of the season. Winter greens such as collards and mustard greens make a tasty holiday treat. While you’re setting aside the greens for your special scaled friend, save some raw squash, yams and even a few fresh or boiled cranberries to create a colorful and healthy reptile dinner. In addition to the vegetables and fruit, your turtles might like a bit of white or dark meat turkey added to their plate.

Kitty cuisine
Because cats think of you as their servant, dishing up what you believe to be a special holiday meal without asking their permission may result in rejection of your best culinary efforts. Perhaps just serve up the turkey flavor of your cat’s favorite canned cat food and call it a day in the kitchen! If you must cook for your kitty, consider simmering the giblets from the turkey until they are cooked through. Once they are cooled, mince them finely for a feline Thanksgiving Day indulgence.

Pocket pet provisions
If you have a small mammal, such as a rabbit or guinea pig, save some salad fixings, like lettuce leaves and carrot pieces, to make Thanksgiving extra special. While you are making the pie, save a small piece of apple before it is mixed with sugar and cinnamon as a rabbit dessert. The family ferret can feast on small bits of plain turkey meat without gravy or seasonings.

Bird buffet
Before you add the butter, sugar or marshmallows to the steamed or boiled sweet potatoes, save a small portion for your bird’s Thanksgiving dinner. If you garnish your vegetable dishes with pecans, walnuts or slivered almonds, they too can be added to your bird’s holiday fare. Selections from the vegetable side dishes, such as carrot pieces, green beans and Brussels sprouts, make a tasty and healthy addition to your bird’s plate, but be sure to set them aside before butter or salt is added!

The Animal Medical Center wishes a happy Thanksgiving to all! “Bone” Appétit.

Rabies: An Ancient Disease, Still Important Today

Rabies is an ancient and universally feared disease. The first known description of rabies occurred before 2300 BC in Egypt. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote about rabies around 350 BC. Louis Pasteur developed the first successful rabies vaccine in the late 1800s and widespread vaccination programs have greatly decreased rabies in domestic animals; although wild animals continue to be a reservoir for rabies in the United States.

Still Important Today Despite the development of excellent and safe vaccines against rabies, every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, a person dies of rabies, most of them children. The majority of cases of human rabies occur in Asia and Africa, regions of the world which lack the resources to implement rabies vaccination programs. For these people, every interaction with a dog is a potential exposure to rabies. Every year on World Rabies Day (September 28), stakeholders work to raise awareness about the disease and encourage appropriate vaccination. Because we live in a global society, rabies can pop up anywhere. All it would take is the inadvertent transport of a rabid animal into a previously rabies free area to set off an epidemic.

Rabies in NYC In the United States, the primary reservoir for rabies is bats, but, always the trendsetter, NYC’s reservoir is the local raccoon population. In 2013, 56 rabid animals were identified in NYC, a number four times the 2012 number. Of the rabid animals, 46 rabid raccoons were identified, mostly in Staten Island. A rabid dog has not been identified in NYC since 1954, but for three of the last four years, a rabid cat has been identified in our city. This trend is especially alarming since cats see the veterinarian less than once a year, and lapses in rabies protection are becoming more frequent. Although NYC has a plethora of rats, mice and squirrels, these rodents are typically resistant to rabies. Groundhogs, another member of the rodent family, can contract rabies and a rabid groundhog was identified in NYC in 2007.

Protect All Family Members Against Rabies Vaccinate your pet against rabies, as recommended by your veterinarian. Educate your children about safe interactions with dogs and other animals. Don’t feed wildlife because it may attract a rabid animal into your neighborhood. If you or your pet are bitten by an animal, seek medical attention immediately. For the most up to date information about rabies in NYC, check the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s website.

SAVE Saves a Bird

As her name suggests, Scarlett is a pet that is red, but not a red setter, a redbone coonhound or a red Abyssinian, she’s an African grey parrot with a red tail. This 25-year-old parrot is also an artist, creating colorful abstract works of art in the bathtub. She was referred to The Animal Medical Center to see Avian and Exotic specialist Dr. Kathy Quesenberry for an egg that wasn’t being laid, an avian condition known as egg binding, putting a damper on her artistic endeavors.

Like many medical problems, egg binding occurs in overweight birds with a sedentary lifestyle or a diet lacking adequate calcium. Medical treatments can be effective in resolving a stuck egg – calcium, fluids, lubrication and keeping the bird warm may cause the egg to pass, if not, then manual or surgical removal of the egg may be necessary. These treatments had been tried in Scarlett, but they were unsuccessful.

IDing an Egg
One of the first steps in treating an egg-bound bird is to pinpoint the egg’s location within the reproductive tract. Because eggshells contain calcium, they can easily be seen using a standard x-ray. In the x-ray image on the right, you can see a thin, egg-shaped structure in Scarlett’s abdomen between her pelvic bones representing Scarlett’s stuck egg.

Avian Endoscopy
The inside of a bird’s vent, called the cloaca, contains multiple openings – one for the intestinal tract, one for the reproductive tract, and two small openings for the urinary tract. Dr. Quesenberry used endoscopy to view inside the vent and was planning to remove the egg at the same time. Endoscopy identified a tear at the end of the oviduct where it entered the cloaca, making surgery urgently necessary.

Bird Spay
During the two and a half hour endoscopy and surgery, Scarlett’s torn oviduct at the cloaca was repaired, and the remainder of her oviduct was removed to prevent another egg binding episode. Unlike mammals, most birds have only a single left oviduct and ovary. Because a bird’s ovary is close to large blood vessels, it cannot be removed safely. A “bird spay,” or salpingectomy, is the procedure of removing most of the oviduct so that an actual shelled egg cannot be formed, even though the ovary still functions normally. Scarlett recovered uneventfully. Two weeks after surgery her sutures were removed and she was given a clean bill of health and she has returned to emulating Jackson Pollack-esque abstract impressionism in her bathtub. The photo seen here shows Scarlett as a component of her own artwork.

Help From an AMC Community Fund
The happy ending to Scarlett’s story would not have been possible without the generosity of those who support The AMC’s Community Funds. Scarlett’s care was covered by the Seniors’ Animal Veterinary Effort (SAVE), which provides free or subsidized general and emergency veterinary services for the pets of the indigent elderly.

To learn about other pets treated through The AMC’s Community Funds, read the heartwarming stories about Tiko, Frankie, and Baller.

Become a supporter of The AMC’s Community Funds today.


Watch Scarlett at work in her bathtub studio on The AMC’s YouTube channel.


View Scarlett’s virtual art gallery.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Making a Specialist Visit Special

Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?

Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.

Specialist Agenda
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:

  • Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Make a list of possible diagnoses
  • Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
  • Interpret the test results once they become available

Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.

Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.

The [Veterinary] World is Flat

The title of this blog takes its name from author and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The book’s thesis explains globalization in the 21st century as a result of wide accessibility to personal computers and fiber optic cables which make communication via email and information gathering via the internet nearly instantaneous. This form of globalization renders geographic divisions between countries irrelevant.

Friedman describes “ten flatteners” including: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Netscape and workflow software. My own observations of the world of veterinary medicine indicate that it is not much different than the global economy Friedman describes in his book. Paying tribute to the Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman, here are my veterinary flatteners.

A New Workflow
Digital radiography has changed the workflow of daily veterinary practice. In the pre-computer days, each x-ray was a piece of film, not easily copied and very easily misplaced. Now The AMC and many other veterinary hospitals have switched to using digital radiography, using a machine that looks like a regular x-ray machine but which takes digital images similar to those taken with your smart phone. These x-rays can’t be lost because the images are stored in a picture archiving and communication system (PACS). The image files are very large, but can be transported by burning them onto a CD or transferring them through any number of file sharing systems.

Electronic Medical Records
As it has revolutionized the global economy, the personal computer is revolutionizing veterinary practice. Electronic medical records systems (EMRS) allow rapid dissemination of medical information between specialists and primary care veterinarians. I can write a letter to a patient’s primary care veterinarian after I have completed my consultation with their patient. Through the magic of the EMRS, I can have the letter in that veterinarian’s inbox for his/her review before the pet has returned home.

Board Certification
Twenty-five years ago when I started the process of becoming a board certified veterinary oncologist, there were only about 25 veterinary oncologists in the world. The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine now has certified over 300 oncology diplomates and there is a European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine which certifies oncologists as well. Board certified specialists all over the world form a healthcare network that trades patients back and forth when pet owners relocate or go on vacation, just as I described in a previous blog: “Clea’s International Healthcare Team.” Since veterinary oncologists and other specialists have expanded their reach worldwide, specialist veterinary care no longer has geographic boundaries.

Multinational Veterinary Companies
Specialists are not the only international flatteners. Because international companies provide veterinary products and services, veterinary specialists can access information about pets seen by a veterinarian practicing on a different continent! Take for example my patient Gigi. She came to The AMC from Kuwait, but because the biopsy of her tumor was sent to the European branch of the same laboratory used by The AMC, I was able to ask additional questions about the biopsy result. The biopsy sample was retrieved from storage and then reviewed by a pathologist in Europe. The answers to my questions were sent via email.

Real Time Communication
The internet has changed the face of veterinary education. Today, veterinarians no longer have to travel to earn continuing education credits necessary to maintain their licenses. Continuing education comes to them though their computers. This year, the keynote speaker addresses at the annual Veterinary Cancer Society Meeting were streamed live to members unable to attend. Additionally, several internet based companies offer on-demand veterinary continuing education opportunities.

The veterinary world is indeed flat and that means your pet can get excellent veterinary care from a veterinarian in your neighborhood or from a specialist somewhere a long way from home!

AMC Resident Research Abstract Presentations

Just before Christmas, The Animal Medical Center held its annual residents research abstract presentations. As part of their specialty training, residents are expected to design, execute and report on research in their area of clinical specialty, and this mini-conference provided a forum for exchange of the knowledge gained from research between members of The AMC medical staff. The AMC performs a very specific type of research – clinical research. This means we study diagnostic testing, new treatments and procedures in the patients we care for as part of our effort to improve the health and well-being of our patients. We do not test or treat any animal for the sake of “research.”

Caspary Research Institute
Research at The AMC is not new; when The AMC moved uptown in the 1960’s from Lafayette Street to its present location, a decision was made to locate the new veterinary research institute right in the middle of the Upper East Side’s strong human-focused biomedical community. The AMC became the fifth biomedical institution in the neighborhood, joining The Rockefeller University, Cornell University Medical College, Sloan-Kettering Institute and Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. Early architectural drawings of the AMC building show a sign on the north side of the building saying, “Caspary Research Institute.” When The AMC opened on 62nd Street, research and patient care were its main focus areas.

Short and Sweet
From a research point of view, an abstract is a very short presentation – 12 minutes, followed by a 3 minute question and answer period. Resident research abstract presentations are commonly preliminary reports which allow discussion of data and help formulate the interpretation of results prior to the writing of a manuscript for publication. Because the information presented was preliminary, I have a few interesting tidbits to report.

Lookalike Medicines
One study evaluated treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs with an anti-seizure medication compared to dogs treated with a placebo. In order to help veterinarians and owners make an unbiased assessment of patient response to the actual medication, our colleagues at Best Pet Rx Pharmacy made every dog’s medication look exactly the same. No one could tell which dogs were getting the medication being studied and which dogs were getting placebo pills. This is called double blind study design. Double blind because two people, the patient and the researcher, don’t know the treatment group assignment because it is hidden by the look-a-like pills.

Challenge of Science
Most research projects do not proceed exactly as planned. A study of ICU patients was designed to follow the effects of treatment on dogs with low blood protein (hypoalbuminemia). Dogs were to have a blood sample prior to treatment and 48 hours later. The study did not meet the enrollment target. Why? Despite an impression that dogs stayed in ICU longer than 48 hours, most dogs did not stay that long and fewer dogs than projected entered the study. Of course, we were happy your dogs went home earlier than expected, which was a scientific finding on its own.

Changing Protocol
The AMC’s ICU patients often need to be fed intravenously. We use a commercially available product called Procalamine. This product provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein and glycerin, as a source of glucose for energy. One emergency critical care resident studied patients receiving Procalamine as part of their treatment protocol. Patients receiving Procalamine through a catheter in their leg had more inflammation of the blood vessel than patients who get Procalamine through other, larger blood vessels. Although the directions for Procalamine indicate it can be given in the legs, we now will try and avoid this whenever the patient’s condition allows it.

Helping Pets Everywhere
These types of studies enable AMC veterinarians to improve the level of care for your pet. Through the publications that will result from these and other studies performed here, the knowledge will improve the care of pets everywhere.