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Around town: All creatures, great and small

vet_students_clinical_training_2006-08This weekend will see a gathering of the province’s veterinarians and staff in downtown Vancouver for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the Society of British Columbia Veterinarians (SBCV) Chapter Fall Conference and Trade Show. The program seems predominantly small animal–oriented, but in reality, vets across BC handle all sizes of patient, quadruped and biped, skin, scales, fur and feather in their daily working lives.

Have you ever wondered just how oddly varied a day’s work must be for a veterinarian?

While your local GP will open the surgery door to see only one species waiting in line, anything goes in the veterinarian’s waiting room—mammal, reptile, avian…fish?

For an example of the oddness routinely encountered by veterinarians, the first time I met with a chinchilla on the consult list, something that looked like a gremlin popped out of the pet carrier onto the table—not quite the fluffy cat I was expecting. Luckily the practice library (pre-Internet days, oh my!) held an exotic pets manual.

“It’s like this in a dog; how would I treat a cat?” is a daily dialogue, made more difficult by having to remember that not all species handle drugs in the same way.

Penicillin? Okay in cats, but fatal in guinea pigs.

Local anaesthesia? Fine in sheep; be cautious in goats.

Ibuprofen? No, no, no in cats, but yes, yes, yes as an anti-inflammatory in rodents.

So that’s what going on the other side of the consulting table, but what about the benefits of veterinary science for us humans?

Apart from looking after the beneficial companion animal bond, veterinary science also covers public health in managing food chain safety and plays an important role in clinical research.

In this age of reductionist research and the ascension of disciplinary endeavors, veterinary research stands apart because of its breadth and interdisciplinary orientation. …. Veterinary research serves as the interface of basic science and animal and human health that is critical to the advancement of our understanding of and response to impending risks and to the exploitation of disciplinary advances in the pursuit of One Medicine.

Critical Needs for Veterinary Research

Furthermore, many notable scientific discoveries for human health have been made first in animals. Cross-species versatility makes for an interesting and open-minded research life too. Veterinary research is a great example of a comparative approach to science since this is a big part of the vet school undergraduate years. Rous sarcoma virus, the first viral cause of cancer, was discovered in 1911…in chickens. Bill Jarrett’s work in 1964 on feline leukemia virus (FeLV) at the University of Glasgow veterinary school in Scotland laid the groundwork for the isolation of HIV almost two decades later. Disease in animals can also act as a sentinel for its emergence in humans: West Nile virus caused deaths in birds only weeks before hitting the human population.

Clinical and comparative superheroes indeed; the importance of veterinary research for human society should be well recognized and supported.

Mammals are mammals are mammals. There are more similarities than there are differences between the species. When these similarities [in illness] arise, they convey important information.

— Dr. Larry Norton in Wild science: Breakthroughs in animal health care may hold treatments for humans (Bill Briggs, NBC News, November 2, 2013)

So, next time you hear your veterinarian muttering under their breath, “white feet, don’t treat” as they scan for wonder drug ivermectin on the shelves, or you see them reach past the Carprofen for your cat, just imagine how many different species are running around inside their head during consultations.

The CVMA-SBCV Chapter Fall Conference & Trade Show
November 5–6, 2016, in Vancouver, BC

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