Pet Points: What would past vet think of today's care?

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British veterinarian James Alfred Wight published "All Creatures Great and Small" under the pen name of James Herriot while I was in my second year of veterinary school in 1972. As much as the general public enjoyed his stories of treating animals in the English countryside in the 1940s and '50s, I found it especially entertaining.

The stories are as true now as when he joined a Yorkshire veterinary practice in 1940. I smiled as he described personalities of owners and patients that we could recognize from the hospital at the veterinary school and even from our experiences today.

I wonder what Wight, who died in 1995, would have thought if he had access to today's communication system and sophisticated equipment. On a typical day, I consult with other veterinarians and specialists through texts, emails and faxes to provide the best care for my patients.

He'd also marvel at the sophistication of today's 24/7 emergency hospitals with critical care. MRI and CAT scan studies are now common for animals.

Frequently, I will consult with one of the clinical pathologists at the national lab where I send blood tests. We draw blood and other samples, have them picked and shipped to New York overnight, and get results sent to our computer the next morning. All of our records are paperless.

When I have a problem with nutrition, I frequently call food companies for advice. Radiographs can be emailed directly from my computer to a service that has a board-certified radiologist to review the films, and I can get a written interpretation in a few hours. The same goes for an electrocardiogram that I can fax for a prompt expert evaluation.

Just last week, I spoke to a poison control veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was sent technical information by fax about a puppy with severe symptoms. I also spoke to a classmate who is a pathologist in New England about the case. Just this past Friday, I sent a video clip from my iPhone of a puppy to a local veterinary neurologist for her expert opinion on what to do next.

News travels fast today. Last week, I received an email from the American Veterinary Medical Association about a new illness I had not heard about that was showing up in dogs in Ohio and a few other areas. I consulted the Veterinary Information Network, and this online resource gave me a medical update in minutes. Clients were asking me about this new disease the next day.

All the details about circovirus, including the mode of infection, are not known at this time. Initial symptoms are severe and bloody diarrhea and poor appetite. This disease also seems to cause changes to blood vessels, creating a vasculitis or inflammation. Any dog with severe diarrhea and depression must be treated at a veterinary clinic without delay.

The days reflected in the James Herriot books are long gone. We have replaced old-fashioned medicine with modern and scientific methods that bring sophistication to both agriculture and the pet-owning public. But keeping the human side in veterinary practice would have made James Herriot -- and Wight -- very proud.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.


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