Category Archives: Animal Health

Farm Animal Basics

One of my greatest joys so far in this job has been helping hobby farmers with their herds and flocks. I love working with these clients because they have so much love for their animals and want to know as much information as possible about health and welfare. I really enjoy listening to our clients’ goals for their animals and then providing support for any problems that come up.

The first thing I do when I meet a new client is get to know their housing, nutrition, and preventative medicine plan. I wanted to provide my typical “spiel” in a public place so everyone has access to the basics. You can give us a call to schedule a farm visit for a consultation during which we can advise on all the following subjects as they relate to your animals and your needs.

Housing

Orthopedic or lameness problems are common issues for farm animals. Instances of injury, arthritis, foot rot, or bumble-foot can be minimized by good, safe housing. Individual results may vary – lambs and kids are pretty wily and even the best fencing or barn siding can cause injury…

Sheep and goats need good sturdy fencing that is escape-proof. There should be no nails or wire jutting out that could cause injury and tetanus infection. Fill in “ankle-breaker” holes as they appear to keep the pasture nice and level.

Bedding in barns or coops should be cleaned regularly to decrease risk of parasitism and infectious disease, and to improve hygiene. Preferred type and depth of bedding varies by species but overall rules are: avoid potentially harmful substances, avoid substances that give off lots of fumes in enclosed housing, and keep depth somewhat thick to provide ample cushion.

Predators are managed differently for the species as well. Hens can be entirely protected by housing if they are enclosed on all sides in their coop/run (roof included! Ground level predators are not the only things that will try and get at your flock). Many of our clients will free-range their hens so if you choose to do that, I recommend locking them up at night when you are not watching them. Dog bite wounds are common reasons for hens to visit us for urgent care – please ensure your dogs do not think your small farm animals are for them to chase.

Nutrition

Feed is never a one size fits all. You shouldn’t feed your layer flock feed for meat birds nor should you feed your dairy goats feed that isn’t specifically for goats. Protein, fiber, macro and micro minerals, and caloric needs are different for each species and each “job” an animal might perform. Some animals are what I call “unemployed” and need very little or no grain besides good pasture, a nice grass hay, and a mineral block or mix.  Wethers or bucks that aren’t breeding are a great example of “unemployed” animals and can actually suffer negative consequences if fed too much grain. Since they are getting more calories than they need they are at a higher risk of developing urinary stones and becoming blocked (not being able to urinate) as well as obesity leading to orthopedic problems.

Mixing scratch and pellets for hens can lead to malnutrition because they may preferentially eat the yummy scratch over their balanced pellets. This is problematic because scratch doesn’t provide balanced nutrition and they will often fill up on scratch and not eat their complete feed. Over time you will see the negative effects of malnutrition.

Preventive medicine

Yearly physicals are very important for us so we can compare the individual animal’s health from year to year. That wellness exam time is a perfect opportunity to correct any issues and hopefully prevent any avoidable emergency visits.

We will be checking FAMACHA scores on all sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas that we see, and teaching you that skill if you don’t already feel comfortable. FAMACHA is a scale that was developed to estimate levels of anemia (red blood cell levels) which is a good indicator of how heavily parasitized a sheep, goat, llama, or alpaca is by pole worms, or Haemonchus contortus. This assessment will help your vet advise you on a deworming protocol for your herd.

I really really strongly advise against deworming every animal in your hobby farm on a regular basis without consulting a vet. There is a large amount of resistance to our traditional dewormers and frequent deworming without a protocol contributes to this problem. The bottom line: if there is resistance to dewormer(s) in your herd, it will be near impossible for me to help you treat a heavily parasitized animal when it comes time. By that point, the stakes may be life or death. Besides FAMACHA there are several other measures including regular and specialized fecal testing as well as management tools you can use to decrease parasite burden for your herd. Our large animal vets will help you develop a plan specific to the land and resources you have available.

Chickens also suffer from internal and external parasites. Good housing, hygiene, fecal testing as needed, and physical exams will help reduce the risk of heavy parasitism in your flock.

Other parts of the wellness visit include some combination of hoof trims, disbudding, castration, and vaccinations. Adult sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas should get yearly vaccines if appropriate. If you are breeding we may recommend boostering the females before giving birth as well as several boosters for the babies. Rabies should be given once yearly and can only be administered by a veterinarian. Other vaccinations are risk-based and a veterinarian can advise you on their use if necessary.

Give us a call to discuss your animals needs and we can schedule a farm visit consult or physicals on any animals of concern to help you maximize their quality of life as well as help you achieve your farm goals!

Dr. Eliana Greissworth,  DVM

Equine Gastric Ulcers

It is believed that between 50-90% of adult horses and 25-50% of foals may have gastric ulcers. In adults ulcers are more common in athletes, particularly racehorses and show horses; while in foals those that may be sick or are orphans and are fed less frequently than when they have access to the dam are at a higher risk for developing ulcers.

Why are ulcers so common in horses?
Athletes are usually fed large meals two to three times daily and stalled at least part of the day for management purposes or because of weather/bugs/etc. This management style may lead to ulcers for several reasons; a horse’s stomach is smaller than most other species and is designed to have an almost continuous intake of forage. Constant intake of forage helps to neutralize the acid that the stomach is continuously producing. Mechanical aspects of exercise can cause enough pressure in the abdomen such that parts of the stomach can be exposed to acid for prolonged periods of time. Transportation and chronic administration of NSAIDs such as bute or banamine also contribute to gastric ulcers.

What signs might a horse show if they have gastric ulcers?
The clinical signs associated with gastric ulcers can be quite extensive and include:
Poor appetite
Attitude changes
Not performing well
Intermittent colic
Grinding teeth
Acting “cinchy”
Weight loss
Loose manure
And many others

How will we diagnose ulcers?
The only way that we can diagnose gastric ulcers definitively is by performing a gastroscopy, which involves passing an endoscope into the horse’s stomach and evaluating the stomachs lining. This procedure is not invasive and is relatively easily done.

Preventing and treating ulcers
It is unlikely that the majority of us will stop riding, hauling and competing, but there are certainly steps that we can take to prevent ulcers. Free choice hay or pasture is a great way to buffer stomach acid. Reduce the amount of grain your horse is being fed and increase the forage if possible or break grain feedings into more small meals and increase the forage at each meal. Alfalfa can help reduce the risk of ulcers for those horses that may have it. Also try to limit the use of NSAIDS. There are several products on the market that may help to prevent gastric ulcers these include Purina Outlast and SmartPak SmartGut Ultra to name a few.
There is only one FDA approved treatment for gastric ulcers and that is Gastrogard, which you can get from your veterinarian after having your horse evaluated for ulcers.

In the coming weeks we will be posting articles on our Facebook page that will further delve into equine gastric ulcer syndrome.

Caitlin Hutcheson BVMS

 

More in depth information is available here:

https://aaep.org/horsehealth/equine-gastric-ulcer-syndrome?fbclid=IwAR3J-TRO5uAzT3x_COtIeAm3YpyOHQTTcL6pcSBCQ9jLVsE0Iy8HolYyHMw

 

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 2 – The Feed Tag

Welcome to the next segment in our VMC Equine Feeding Blogs!

So now we’ve picked the right feed company.  You are satisfied that you are getting quality ingredients from a horse feed specific mill.  What next?

Pretty much when I ask a horse owner what they are feeding, I get the answer: “It’s a 12 % feed”. Or “I feed low starch feed.  2 scoops a day because my horse is fat”.   When I show them the feed tag, people are usually really surprised to find out that they aren’t feeding the correct feed, or the correct amount.

Let’s start with basics. 

 The Feed Tag

Why read the feed tag?

Well, it’s pretty important.  Have you read the tag on your horse’s feed and do you really know what it says?

First what IS the feed tag?

It’s that little bit of paper attached to the bag.

It tells you:

  • Product name and weight
  • Purpose statement identifying the type of horse intended to be fed. Checking that your feed has been specifically formulated for your class of horse is critical. For example, you would not want to feed a product designed for a “mature horse at maintenance” to a “young growing horse.”
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain nutrients (required by law) – Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Vitamin A, and for feeds that include carbohydrate claims (i.e. low starch, etc.), the sugar and starch levels (when added together, the NSC or non-structural carbohydrates)
  • Ingredient list – this listing may include individual ingredients such as oats or corn, or terms like “grain products”. There is NO information regarding quality of ingredients in a feed. Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of amount present.
  • Feeding directions – Horse feed manufacturers formulate feeds to be fed at a specific range of feeding rates; when a product is not fed according to the directions, the nutritional benefits of that feed won’t be met (as in the example above, if you are feeding 1 lb of a feed designed to be fed at 5 lb daily, you will not be meeting the nutritional values on the bag)

What a horse feed tag does not tell you:

  • Additional nutrients needed by the horse but that aren’t required to be guaranteed
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality. The percentage of protein on the bag (i.e.12%) tells you nothing about the quality of that protein. There are countless ways to blend various ingredients to make a feed with 12 % crude protein. A feed containing 12% crude protein made with high quality ingredients will supply more total protein, and more essential amino acids, to the horse than a feed made with lower quality ingredients. The same principle holds true for fat, fiber, vitamin and mineral sources. Not all ingredients are the same quality, stability or availability for the horse.
  • Just because something is included, doesn’t mean the level is high enough to be meaningful or useful. Even though an ingredient is listed, it could be that just a trace amount was included (yeast cultures for example).
  • Whether or not the guaranteed levels of nutrients are appropriate – when reading horse feed tag guarantees, many horse owners look for the tag with the “most” of everything listed. Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more and sometimes more is worse, possibly even toxic, as in Vitamin A.
  • Quality control – Feed manufacturers have widely differing quality control standards. It’s up to the horse owner to investigate each individual manufacturer’s approach to quality control (see horse feed blog post #1)

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

A Verklempt Moment

It’s funny the things that impress you when you’re young, or at least uninitiated.  I was a barn rat in middle school and high school and I especially loved to be at the stable when the veterinarian was there. Over the years, I watched veterinarians draw blood, administer vaccines, float teeth, and perform pregnancy checks. I watched them treat colicky foals and suture up lacerations. I marveled at the veterinarian’s calm and confident manner as she came and went from her well-supplied vet truck, discussed cases with my trainer, and wrote prescriptions in her neat handwriting. But, somehow, the skill that really awed me was my vet’s ability to firmly and easily stick her forefinger and thumb into the creases of my pony’s eyelids and hold that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine being able to do that myself.

Cut to the present day, sometime around this past Thanksgiving. I am alone in the practice’s vet truck, driving back from a barn. It is dusk and the scene is beautiful, with muted greens and blues and purples spread across the fields and the sky. Christmas music plays on the radio. I am returning from a call to see a horse that had come in from the field with one of his eyes swollen shut. During the appointment, I had done a complete physical exam, then diagnosed a painful scratch on the horse’s eyeball and prescribed treatment.

Driving along, humming to the music, and savoring the view, I suddenly become teary-eyed as a strong current of emotion runs through me.  I think about my middle school self, watching the vet work on my pony, and I think about what I just did for my own equine patient: I firmly and easily stuck my forefinger and thumb into the creases of the horse’s eyelids and held that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. Not only that – I then discussed my treatment plan with the owner, calmly and confidently climbed into my well-supplied vet truck, and drove away into the sunset.  As I drive, the emotions that are tugging at me are a mixture of nostalgia, contentment, and gratitude. I think about how lucky I am to have become the person that I once dreamed of being.

If only middle school me could see me now.

Dr. Katie Spillane

Vets are People Too!

Hello everyone! I am so happy to have joined such a great practice and I am enjoying living on the Bay with my husband and our dog Chief, a lab mix who is the perfect dog; as long as you don’t leave bread on the counter, a full trash can, let him socialize (read fight) with other dogs…OK he’s not perfect but we love him anyway! We’ve wandered the Eastern Shore, eaten crab cakes and even have some Old Bay in our pantry. Chief had his own plans of welcoming us to the area however. Just a few short weeks after moving we woke up at 4 o clock in the morning to him suddenly being so congested that he could not breathe through his nose and was opening his mouth with every breath. All I had on hand was some allergy medication and a pain medication which helped him some but he was still quite miserable a few hours later, necessitating a trip to VMC, on one of my first days off since starting work of course!

As anybody who lives with a veterinarian can attest to, we love our work and can do so many different types of procedures on many species, but ask us to do a physical exam on our own dogs and we absolutely quiver with fear! Our own Dr. Bruce was kind enough to fit us into her busy schedule and worked with us over the next few weeks as we tried to get Chief sorted out. We tried stronger allergy medicine, stronger pain medicine, two different antibiotics but nothing helped. We finally came down to the decision of having to pursue further diagnostics under general anesthesia, a fact which I had been trying to avoid.

All of the same questions run through our heads as it would yours. Do I want to accept the risks of general anesthesia? Do I want to know if there is cancer present? What if we go through all this and it doesn’t work, if he doesn’t feel better? Then what? But, as happens most of the time, my worries were laid to rest. We were as prepared as we could be. Clean pre-operative bloodwork, clean pre-operative chest x-rays and an excellent team in place. Dr. Bruce and our wonderful technical staff babied Chief as if they were his own, and kicked me out of the surgery suite so I couldn’t stand there and worry. His x-rays came back clean, he had his nasal passages flushed,  had a mass removed and, as a  bonus, got his teeth cleaned. He has been feeling and breathing great ever since! He must have just wanted me to get familiar with the hospital and the excellent team that works here.

I wanted to share this story so that everyone would know, just because we have this knowledge, these skills, and the white coat does not mean we don’t share your fears and know exactly how you feel when we ask you to trust us with your beloved pets. Don’t be afraid to tell us you are worried. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. We will do everything we can to make you comfortable and make sure your pet is as prepared as they can be for their road ahead in hopes of the best outcome possible! I look forward to meeting everyone and their pets and becoming a part of this wonderful community!

Rebecca Bacon, DVM

Food is Love, but so is Quality Time

by Dr Maddie Scofield

As the air becomes crisper and the holidays creep around the corner I become increasingly excited about many things associated with season changes.  Most important for me is food.  I’d be lying if I told you Halloween candy has not constituted over 80% of several meals earlier this November!  As I think back on delicious memories of previous holidays, my throat tightens as my belt loosens at the thought of those extra 5-10 lbs. I will gain during these times of love and food.   Which bring me to my main topic of discussion, the concept of food as love.   Food is given and shared as a gift of friendship, fellowship and sympathy during all types of celebrations, family events, and holidays.  Food is love for us as humans to humans but also as humans to our beloved four legged companions.

I would be lying to you if I told you I never give food (i.e. people food) to my animals.  I fondly remember sharing a soft serve ice cream cone between me and my dogs in the Mc Donald’s parking lot one afternoon.  It was a happy moment in a sad time, as it was just after our Labrador “Abbie” had her chemo treatment for cancer.  In the middle of our gastronomic bliss I hear following words emanating from the car parked next to us: “I bet your veterinarian wouldn’t approve of you feeding your dogs that ice cream!”  These were words coming from a concerned busybody in the neighboring car.   I couldn’t help but bellow a response: “Well…..I am my dogs’ veterinarian.  Besides, they ran 3 miles today and this one is dying of cancer…. but thank you for caring!”  The interloper immediately rolled up their window and resumed eating the not so healthy junk food.

I understand the concern that you may have feeding your dog “people food”.  There is the likelihood your veterinarians at VMC are going to chastise you for feeding your dog anything but pet food and pet treats.  But what joy and happiness we feel giving them something they love!  Feeding homemade snacks from the farmers market…….watching that reward center of the brain light up as they smack peanut butter from the roof of their mouth, or eat meat drippings on their dry kibble.  There is no doubt that food helps bond us to our pets and patients.

Unfortunately, all these extra treats can bring problems.  There is the ever increasing concern for weight gain, and with this obesity can come other health problems which can severely impact the quality of our pet’s lives and their longevity.  That’s why this year I’m promising myself to try to light up the reward center in a more healthy way!  I’m sure we will indulge in snacking, but this year I plan to pursue moderation in the indulgence!  The same will go for my beloved 4-legged friends, and I encourage you to do the same.  Your dog can have a tiny taste, but remember they don’t need a huge portion.  A taste will often satisfy your need to give in and share as well as avoid the food coma or overload lethargy from a true gorge of indulgent calories (i.e. “Thanksgiving”).  It will also help prevent the inevitable gastrointestinal ailments we see in dogs after the holidays.

I’m going to put effort towards another, perhaps more rewarding way to bond with my pets this holiday season: we are exercising together!  This exercise will induce natural endorphins and give us the quality time we need together.  Our companions get the most reward from just being with us, especially when we are active with them.  A 10-15 min sojourn around the block will not only help slim our waist lines and invigorate our mental health, it will also strengthen our human-animal bond.  My challenge for all of us is this: for every extra snack or treat we eat, we must be more active, and take our pets out for a “sniff” walk or game of catch, while we enjoy this beautiful time of year.  I’m hopeful that this holiday season is magical, and that you and your pets will enjoy this time together even more with more activity and exercise!  If you have any questions about breaking the rules…you know where to find me, just don’t tell your veterinarian!

p.s. – I’ve made it to the gym 3 times in the past week!!

“H-O-R-S-E”

To most of us, spelling that word is not a huge accomplishment however, to a four-year old boy learning the alphabet saying that word aloud was very significant; certainly, worthy of a treat after school.

I used to practice that word every day as my father drove me to school in his old black 4×4 GMC. We would drive past the different horse farms in Elkton, MD pointing out the many color variations.

I was so proud when I actually spelled “HORSE”. And since that time, horses were an important part of my life. I remember my first pony, Buttercup. He was a little miniature Shetland pony that I eventually outgrew. Then I took riding lessons in Fair Hill. I never did any shows or competitions outside of trail riding, however I simply loved everything horse!

My parents and family encouraged this love buying numerous books, games and figurines. In fact, I remember (and my mother recalls this tale well) my first toy horse.

We were on a family vacation at Disney Land in Orlando Florida. I don’t remember much of it; however, I do remember having to wear a leash on my wrist so my parents could find me (I was a very active child) and sitting in my blue stroller when I got tired.

One afternoon, we visited the Budweiser horses. I remember the powerful animals sitting calmly there in their stalls letting numerous people walk by and stroke their flaxen manes.

Of course, I asked my mother, father and aunt if I could have a horse. And they said “Why, YES! Of course I could have a horse!!!” So, they all took me to the gift shop and bought me my first horse; a plastic horse that is. And boy, did I love my horse! I carried him with every day that vacation until the second to last day, when I couldn’t find him.

I was beside myself! As my parents recall vividly, I cried and cried until my face was beat red then I cried some more until I couldn’t cry. My parents tried to get me numerous replacements that day! They offered me cotton candy, ice cream, a trip to Mickey Mouse and even another stuffed horse; however, nothing worked.

As they tell the story, after they saw my sobs sinking into depression, they had to go all the way back to the gift shop across the park to buy me an exact replica of my Clydesdale horse that I had carried around with me for the whole week. This time, my parents decided to buy two horses,  just in case something ever happened to one on the ride home.

Finally, I could sleep at night having my horse.

After that time period, I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and for all kinds of animals too.  My experience with my own pets has helped me be a better vet.   When I was in high school, I got a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who had a variety of different aliments; everything from hypothyroidism to a torn ACL.   I also had a cat with kidney failure that was a handful to manage.  While in veterinary school, I leased a horse, Spud, so I could expose myself to problems horse owners dealt with on a regular basis.

A career in veterinary medicine was always in my future, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robert Campbell, DVM

 

10 Reasons Why I Still Love Veterinary Medicine

2015 is the 30th anniversary of my graduation for veterinary school.   I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to practice my passion every day.  After 30 years, I am surprised and delighted by my profession.  So today, here are ten things that still amaze and delight me every time I see them (not necessarily in any order…)

  1. Every year brings a new technique, knowledge, or procedure that improves my ability to care for animals. We can offer so much more now than I did 30 years ago.  I love learning.
  2. Seeing a newborn foal and still being amazed on how it ever fit in the mare and how it can straighten out legs that have been bent for 6 months…
  3. Watching cows run in a field- they always look like they are having so much fun – even if they aren’t true athletes!
  4. The people I work with all share the same compassion and commitment to improving animal’s lives. I am such a lucky person to have the staff I do.
  5. How fast sheep can move when you are trying to catch them – who knew?
  6. The amazing healing powers of cats – the old  veterinary saying that you can put the two ends of a bone in the same room and a cat will heal is really  true.
  7. How ferrets “flow” instead of run. They almost slither.
  8. The fact that newborn guinea pigs look just like tiny adults and can eat solid food as soon as they are born.
  9. The ability I have to end suffering and relieve pain, painful as it is, is a gift that I am privileged to share.
  10. And finally, the love and devotion that people share with their animals is truly humbling. I know how I feel about my pets, and I get to work every day with people who share that.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

Elizabeth H. Bruce, VMD, DACVIM

Spring is Here!

It has been a long and dreary winter that has seemingly had no end. I for one am ready for spring. The sweet smell of fresh cut grass, the chorus of peepers singing in the night, and the sense of wonder watching the bluebirds return to their birdhouse to raise their next brood; it is all just around the corner.

However, it is predictable how the seasons bring back unwelcome problems in our pets as well. The return of seasonal allergies is as anticipated and expected in many pets as the first blossom of forsythia. Many pets will start to display symptoms at the exact same time each year.  There are quite a few options available to relieve allergy suffering in pets. Dogs will often manifest seasonal allergies, also called atopy, with itching. Very often licking, biting and chewing of the feet marks the beginning of signs. Redness, inflammation and irritation between the toes can lead to painful infections and continued self trauma leading to lameness and lethargy. Identifying the symptoms early and talking with your veterinarian about what treatment options would be best for your pet will help prevent this condition from escalating to a vicious cycle of constant chewing and scratching, chronic swelling and inflammation, and help to relieve the suffering of this unwelcome springtime guest.

Dr. Dean Tyson

Veterinarians are not smart clients!   

By  Dr. Casey Beck

I’d like to say it was my first year of veterinary school but I’ll be honest and admit I was actually a second year veterinary student when this event occurred.  Like any good veterinary technician (now working her way through vet school) I had already seen and learned a lot about the profession and all the different types of cases that come through the doors, especially since my experience was mostly obtained in the emergency clinic near my undergraduate college.

Like most vet students I acquired a very sweet and happy 1 year old mixed breed dog during my first year of study in the Caribbean. These dogs were fondly called “island dogs” in Grenada and were known for being robust, healthy and sturdy companions. He was of course still a puppy and very good at chewing up or taking apart almost anything in my apartment. Through long hours of study he often would distract me by eating a pair of headphones or barking incessantly at the feral cats outside running through our yard. This particular day when I heard him making a strange noise from the living room I was sure he had yet again gotten into something or torn apart my favorite pair of running shoes.

When I entered the living room I was surprised to find that nothing had actually been destroyed but rather my adorable little guy seemed to be struggling to breathe, coughing and gagging like something was stuck in his throat! I immediately yelled to my medical school boyfriend at the time, “Quick, quick, help! Carib is choking!!” I was so worried I believe I was actually shaking! I frantically tried to think of what to do and who to call when my boyfriend entered the room, calmly staring at my hacking dog and said, “You know, I bet he just has kennel cough”.

Now I hate to admit this, especially since my boyfriend and I were in constant debate about whose profession was more challenging and interesting, but he unfortunately was right. Carib had acquired kennel cough, (infectious tracheobronchitis), from the neighbor’s puppy.  This particular playmate was just diagnosed with kennel cough the week prior. D’uh!! Slap on the head. So much for being the straight-A, very knowledgeable veterinary student!

Like my concerned pet owners that I see every day, I experienced firsthand that rush of distress and fear that my pet was sick and I needed to get him help. I felt helpless.  No matter if the problem is life threatening or more subtly just a minor concern, as veterinarians we can honestly always understand our pet owners stress and concern when they don’t know if their pets are seriously sick or not. As always, it’s better to have us tell you “it’s nothing to worry about” than to hear us say “we wish we had seen your pet sooner.” Though I do have to admit, I still probably would not ask a medical student boyfriend his opinion on the matter!