Monday, December 29, 2003
Specialty vets going to the dogs– and cats
By VICKY KOREN
It was by accident that Eleanor Ciancetta got the news that her precious golden retriever Gypsy Rose Lee had hip problems.
Ciancetta had plans for Gypsy to be a breeding golden retriever. After a trip to the familys veterinarian for the pets physical checkup of heart, eyes and hips for certification as a breeding dog, Port Orange vet Dr. John Bass broke the news.
“We werent quite sure at the time what we wanted to do. I was downhearted because he said her hips would continue to get worse. I really didnt think there was anything in the future we could do to correct the problem,” said Ciancetta, a Daytona Beach resident.
After a follow-up trip back to the vets office, Ciancetta was alerted that Gypsy could be a prime candidate for a hip replacement.
Bass referred Gypsy to Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in the Orlando area – the nearest specialist capable of performing the intricate surgery.
After the preliminary visits, which included X-rays and a health evaluation, Gypsy was on her way to getting a $3,500 hip replacement. Ciancetta said her dog was hospitalized for four days, which included the initial surgery and then recovery time.
Upon arriving home, Gypsy was given pain medication as needed, and, within a few weeks, returned to have her 22 stitches removed. The pet was ordered to stay in a confined area at home for 30 days, and avoid any slippery surfaces.
Within a few months, Gypsy was on her way to a healthy dogs lifestyle again, with several follow-up visits that same year for X-rays.
The surgery took place in 1999 and today, Gypsys hips are in good shape.
“Shes doing great and she can do everything,” Ciancetta said, with the exception of being asked to jump. “Shes fine if she jumps on her own,” the pet owner added.
Ciancetta uses Gypsy as her demo dog when she teaches dog obedience classes for the Obedience Club of Daytona.
Maitland-based Affiliated Veterinary Specialists (AVS) is one of many thriving veterinary specialty practices around the country – with at least one such facility now in every large city.
The 10-year-old practice employs nine specialists and sees 5,000 patients annually. The next nearest specialty group – North Florida Veterinary Specialists – is located in Jacksonville.
The demand for these services is on the rise, but veterinary specialists are stepping up to the plate and answering the call.
With board-certified animal surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, neurologists, internal medicine specialists, dermatologists, orthopedics and ophthalmologists, Fido is in good hands.
“Some 25 years ago, a dog that lived to be 10 years old was good. Now we hope all things being equal, they will live to be 15 or 16 years old,” said general veterinarian Bass, owner of Port Orange-based Bayshore Animal Hospital. Hes one of about 60 general vets in Volusia County, who regularly make referrals to specialists.
With animals living longer, Bass said, “There are problems that come up later in life that we never ran into before. We start to see more cancer in the older pets, and more liver and kidney problems just because of the aging of those organs. We encourage people to have their older animals checked more often. Things can change in a hurry. They can have a lump or bump come up.”
Dr. Jacek de Haan, AVS owner and veterinary orthopedic surgeon, said his 24-hour animal hospital serves a 75-mile radius and he estimates 15 percent of his patients are referred from Volusia County. The group exclusively works with dogs and cats.
A veterinary specialist must receive a bachelors degree, attend four years of veterinary school, complete a one-year internship, three years residency, and pass a certification exam within their specialty.
The cost of services vary from as little as $500 to $4,000, de Haan said. If the animal is seen for many years, “the cost may be higher.” Despite a higher expenditure, de Haan said many pet owners do not hesitate to do everything they can to ensure Fido or Kittys health.
“Dogs and cats are becoming a very important part of peoples life. People treat their animals very differently than they used to. They are part of their family now. They expect similar treatment for pets as they do their children,” the specialists said.
At the same time, pet insurance also has made health care more affordable for pets.
The demand has been so profound that AVS currently is under construction to almost double its current space to 15,000 square feet. The practice opened in 1993 with 3,000 square feet, de Haan recalled.
New services will include a radiation therapy suite for cancer treatment, and a physical therapy suite housing an underwater treadmill. The office operation will expand to four surgical suites and to three treatment rooms, de Haan said. The project will be completed in May.
The facility currently houses CT scan equipment, two digital X-ray rooms, ultrasound and endoscopy equipment, laparoscopy equipment, nuclear imaging, and an intensive care unit “comparable to an ICU for humans,” he said.
Tampas Florida Veterinary Specialists (FVS) recently announced the addition of its 6,000 square foot, $1 million Cancer Treatment Center. FVS founder Neil Shaw, said in a press release that “the expansion was attributed to the12,000 patients we treat each year, many of them with cancer.”
This facility was founded in 1996 and now totals 17,000 sq. ft., with 30 veterinary specialists in 12 disciplines on staff.
For Orlando resident Kathy Kerns, her veterinary specialist was no less than an angel dressed in scrubs. Kerns was referred to Maitland-based AVS when her beloved show dog “Champion Kera,” a kerry blue terrier, was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 8.
Kerns drove Kera for weekly and then monthly intravenous chemotherapy treatments and also administered daily steroid medication for her pet. She spent “thousands of dollars,” she said, with follow-up visits continuing off and on through the years.
“She gave us an additional six years of this dogs life we wouldnt have had,” said Kerns of Dr. Stacy Randall, the treating veterinary specialist. Kera made it to her 14th birthday and passed away in August 2002.
“People think we are crazy with the money we will spend on our pets. To me they are like my children. It was a costly effort, but it was well worth it. The doctor who treated her is truly an angel from God,” Kerns said.
Humans are accustomed to todays many medical specialists – opthalmologists, dermatologists, oncologists, neurologists.
But those same specialties are opening up for the family pet, thanks to new board-certified training programs and veterinary specialty centers that serve as referral clinics.
Vet professionals now use MRI, ultrasound, bone scans and all kinds of X-rays to diagnose cats and dogs.
Some light sedation is required for procedures like X-rays and allergy testing, for example, because animals dont know how to hold still. Other than that, these four-legged patients are treated pretty much like folks with similar ailments would be.
In Florida, to become board-certified as a veterinarian specialist, a veterinarian must have extensive postgraduate training and sufficient experience, and must pass a credential review and examination set by the given specialty group.
The postgraduate work typically includes two to three years of clinical training, plus written and practical examinations to determine the scope of a candidates knowledge. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offers certification in more than 20 areas of veterinary medicine.
As for everyday animal care, according to the Orlando-based Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA), there are 298 licensed vets and 134 small animal veterinary clinics in Northeast Florida. FVMA executive director Donald Schafer estimates that on average about half of all Floridians have pets.
SOURCE: Jacksonville Business Journal.