Bioterrorism, Feral Cat Issues, Reptile Diseases & More

The message at the Dr. James Nave 75th Annual Western Veterinary Conference will be to put progress into practice. Dr. Stephen Crane, the conference executive director says, “We’re all about releasing outdated ideas and assessing and embracing new ones.”

The Western Veterinary Conference is among the oldest, largest and most prestigious gathering of veterinarians in America.

More than 13,000 animal care professionals ” including shelter workers, animal control officers, office administrators and veterinary technicians – will attend the conference at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV, February 17 through February 20, 2003.

Issues will range from bioterrorism to new medicine to dealing with feral cats.

Crane explains, “The public doesn’t realize it, but veterinarians are considered sentinels and potential first responders for bioterrorism, since the animals may be affected first. Also, if there is a bioterrorist attack, it could affect our food supplies. In truth, veterinarians are working right up there with our Federal Defense Department.”

Not all veterinary efforts impact on national security. Dr. Mark Mitchell will talk about reptile diseases. Mitchell is an assistant professor zoological reptile epidemiology at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine ” Baton Rouge. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 2001 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographic Sourcebook ” a sort of pet census ” various turtles, lizards and snakes combined to slither up to 2.8 million in ‘01, up from two million in ’96.

Mitchell says he believes the fear of contracting salmonella from a pet reptile is exaggerated. Salmonellosis is a potentially serious disease that seemingly healthy reptiles might potentially pass on to people.

“I believe the data of incidents of salmonella due to reptile transmission is much lower than the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)

In fact, he maintains that being exposed to any pet at a young age is probably an immunostimulant, energizing the immune system. Other research confirms Mitchell’s idea. Recent studies reveal that young children exposed to cats are less likely to develop allergies to cats later in life.

The Western Conference is all about new ideas, and new ways of solving old problems. Another example is a vaccine that is being worked on that will avert cats’ interest in the opposite sex.

Dr. Julie Levy, an assistant professor at the University Of Florida College Of Veterinary Medicine ” Gainesville, has a special interest in infectious diseases in feral and shelter animals. She says if the feral cats are vaccinated with this sex-stopper vaccine, neutering won’t be necessary. She explains the vaccine will control the hormone GnRH (Gonadotropin releasing hormone), which is responsible for testosterone in males and estrogen in females.

Levy will also talk to veterinarians about trap/neuter/release (TNR) programs. “This is a huge issue since there are likely to be as many feral cats as there are owned cats.” According to the AVMA, there are 68.9 million owned cats.

“This impacts the environment, but mostly we’re concerned about the health of these feral cats,” says Levy. “It’s a mistaken romantic notion to believe these cats are happy and healthy. Many of these cats are diseased, and maybe half the kittens suffer, and never live long enough to be adult.”

She says based on the feral cat colonies she’s studied, each female has an average of 1.1 litters a year, delivering an average of four kittens. She’ll also talk about the new Association of Shelter Veterinarians. “Many motivated communities are doing the best they can ” but only veterinarians have the unique skill to neuter these cats.” At least, until that sex-stopper vaccine becomes available.

Another new technology will be introduced for the first time at the conference. This is a diagnostic test to determine if a cat will be susceptible to vaccine associated sarcomas. Cancer in cats at the site of vaccines doesn’t happen all that often; it’s estimated to happen in anywhere from three to ten in every 10,000 cats. Still, if it happens that your cat is one of those three to ten in 10,000, those odds don’t mean a whole lot, especially since this is a kind of cancer that’s especially fast moving and almost always deadly.

Typically, you don’t think of arthritis as being a deadly disease ” but some dogs are so hobbled, their owners feel their only choice is to euthanize them to relieve the pain. Fairly new non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications, such as Rimadyl and Etogesic, provide incredible and even life-saving relief for thousands of dogs in pain. However, as with any drug, adverse reactions are possible. Duralactin is a new, alternative approach for chronic inflammation.

Dr. Craig Woods is director of business at Veterinary Product Laboratories, a division of Farnam Companies, Phoenix, AR. He explains that Duralactin helps to regulate inflammation. The drug inhibits neutrophils (found in blood) at the site of the inflammation.

Here’s what happens: The fundamental functions of the immune system are to rid the body of foreign invaders and to dispose of damaged tissue, allowing healing. Inflammation is involved in both processes. In some situations, the inflammatory response appears to do more harm than good. Osteoarthritis is an example. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage is damaged by gangs of neutrophils arriving at the scene of the crime, where inflammation is. Woods says Duralactin ” which contains a patented milk protein concentrate – inhibits the ganging up of these neutrophils.

Woods adds that in safety studies no adverse reactions have been cited. Duralactin, however, is not a drug ” it is a nutraceutical (falling somewhere in between a nutritional supplement and a pharmaceutical).

Crane says, “The jury may still be out on many of these new ideas, but some will turn out to be a good thing. Of all the thousands of veterinarians attending the conference, if only one returns home and is able to save one life ” I’d say that’s pretty significant ” especially if it’s your pet that’s saved.”

Note: This article is copyrighted by Steve Dale and can be used as source material and for reference only. It cannot be reprinted verbatim. Please contact Steve Dale at if you have any questions.


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