Face to Face: Cindy Karsten, shelter veterinarian

Cindy Karsten2It’s not uncommon to miss the company of animals when travelling. But a severe case of “dogsickness” changed the career direction of forest scientist Cynthia (Cindy) Karsten.

“I went to work in Montana with the AmeriCorps program Montana Conservation Corps, travelled a lot with the job and couldn’t have a dog,” she said. “Thus I started volunteering at the local shelter”.

“My first impression was that it seemed broken – animals come in, if they aren’t reclaimed or adopted, they’re euthanised – simply because they ended up in the shelter. This sparked my interest in shelters.”

Karsten and her partner (now husband) moved to Alaska to work as bike guides, but she continued to be involved with homeless animals.

“I decided to go to vet school – so after three years we moved to Anchorage so that I could take some classes that I needed to apply to vet school.”

Karsten spent the next two years working at a veterinary specialist clinic while volunteering with a rescue group. In 2006, she was accepted into veterinary school in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I had thought that I would go to vet school and then would work in a shelter. However, Sandra Newbury, who was with UC Davis at the time, was living in Madison and working with vet students so opened my eyes to the possibilities in terms of working with shelters.”

Fast forward almost a decade and Cindy Karsten, DVM, is one of a growing number of veterinarians specialising in Shelter Medicine. In June 2014, the American Veterinary Medical Association granted provisional recognition to the Shelter Medicine Practice specialty within the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Continue reading Face to Face: Cindy Karsten, shelter veterinarian

Experts urge change about thinking for canine vector born disease

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) can transmit diseases to dogs and humans, including babesiosis.

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) can transmit diseases to dogs and humans, including babesiosis.

Australian and New Zealand veterinarians need to change the way they think about vector borne diseases, according to canine medicine specialist Associate Professor Peter Irwin.

Irwin, based at Murdoch University, said that while Australia and New Zealand are free of many significant vector borne diseases (VBDs), emergence of these in previously unaffected regions raises concerns that this may not always be the case.

“There is a concern that many of these diseases fly under the radar,” Irwin said. “They can cause non-specific clinical signs, can be difficult to diagnose, and may not be detected without a high index of suspicion.”

Ticks, fleas and sand flies are vectors of the most significant canine VBDs, including borreliosis (known as Lyme disease), babesiosis, bartonellosis, ehrlichiosis, hepatozoonosis and leishmaniosis.

Australia and New Zealand are free of ehrlichiosis, leishmaniosis, hepatozoonosis and Lyme borreliosis, but the risk of these diseases becoming established is very real. Screening for some pathogens in imported companion animals is required by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), but there are case reports of leishmaniosis in dogs imported prior to screening.

While sand flies are the only proven vector of leishmaniosis, transmission is possible via nonvectorial routes.

Irwin advises veterinarians to expect the unexpected, as animals with so-called “exotic disease” can present at any time. Continue reading Experts urge change about thinking for canine vector born disease

Study identifies effects of Chiari malformation on the canine brain

GriffonA UK study has identified the specific effect Chiari malformation has on the shape of a dog’s skull and brain, laying the groundwork for early screening.

The prevalence of Chiari malformation (CM) has increased due to selective breeding of brachycephalic toy breeds including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Griffon Bruxellois, Affenpinschers and Chihuahuas.

According to the authors of the study, CM is a complex abnormality characterised by overcrowding of the craniocervical junction and a disparity between the brain parenchyma (too big) and the skull (too small). This can result in obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid channels, leading to the spinal cord disease syringomyelia.

Chiari malformation can be described as trying to fit a big foot into a small shoe,” said lead author Clare Rusbridge from Surrey University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “It can be very painful, causing headaches and pressure on the brain and can result in fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord.”

In the study, published in PLOS ONE, researchers measured the brains, skulls and vertebrae of 155 Griffon Bruxellois and compared measurements of those with CM to those without.

They found that in Griffons, CM is characterised by a shortening of the entire cranial base, and possibly by increased proximity of the atlas to the occiput. They hypothesise that increased height in the rostral cranial cavity, lengthening of the dorsal cranial vault and considerable reorganisation of the brain parenchyma (including ventral deviation of the olfactory bulbs and rostral invagination of the cerebellum under the occipital lobes) are compensatory changes.

To date variations in morphology in animals with CM add to the difficulty in diagnosis. Early detection means that affected dogs can be desexed prior to breeding, preventing the condition being passed on to offspring. Continue reading Study identifies effects of Chiari malformation on the canine brain

Clinical Zoo: Good health for a great ape

Taronga Vet Frances checks the teeth of Jantan the orangutan

PIcture Taronga Western Plains Zoo

Cardiovascular disease can manifest in progressive heart failure or sudden cardiac death in humans and other animals. But diagnosing early heart disease is challenging when little is known about normal cardiovascular function in a particular species.

That is why Taronga Zoo enlisted the expertise of veterinary cardiologist Niek Beijerink during a recent health check of its resident Sumatran Orang-utans. Aside from attending to routine health care and husbandry needs, annual health exams in zoos are an excellent opportunity to collect baseline data, which becomes important in diagnosing and monitoring treatment of disease.

The Zoo is home to two adult Orang-utans, Willow, a 58kg female, and Jantan, a 96.8kg male. The inseparable pair have enjoyed excellent health, thanks to the Zoo’s proactive approach to their well-being.

Orang-utans are vulnerable to many of the same diseases that affect humans – gastrointestinal upsets, flu signs and runny noses.

They could potentially contract human flu,” senior veterinarian Larry Vogelnest said. “Some zoos vaccinate all great apes against influenza. We have strict protocols here: any staff member with cold of flu signs or other illnesses must not enter areas where great apes are kept.”

In Orang-utan rehabilitation facilities overseas, common health problems include gastrointestinal parasites and gastrointestinal disease outbreaks due to agents including salmonella or shigella. Many such outbreaks are due to contaminated or spoiled food and can be prevented through excellent husbandry and hygiene.

Male Orang-utans sport a particularly large laryngeal sac that is inflated to create a loud roaring noise, known as a long call. The long call signals other males to stay away, whilst attracting females for courtship. The down side of having this large laryngeal sac is that it is a common site for infections.

We’ve seen it previously and it can be quite a difficult disease to treat,” Vogelnest said. Continue reading Clinical Zoo: Good health for a great ape

An emergency caesarean with a twist

Urban sprawl may allow us to actualise the “great Aussie dream” of a big house with a big back yard, but at worst it can be a nightmare for our  wildlife, with motor-vehicle accidents and predation by domestic animals resulting in countless injuries and fatalities daily.

According to Robert Johnson, based at South Penrith Veterinary Clinic in Western Sydney, veterinarians play an important role in treating and rehabilitating wildlife that has come off second best in such encounters.

Jane Doe, a female pink-tongued skink (Cyclodomorphus gerrardii) presented to Johnson following a dog attack in a suburban back yard. For the uninitiated, pink tongued skinks are extremely similar in appearance to Eastern Blue-Tongue lizards, distinguished by a more slender body, a narrower tail, striking cross-band markings and of course a pink – as opposed to blue – tongue, hence the name. They’re just a lot less common. Continue reading An emergency caesarean with a twist