New Pet Products, Medicine Showcased at Western Veterinary Conference

Las Vegas, – Horsing around in Las Vegas isn’t usually like this. Dr. W. Leon Scrutchfield conceded his secret is to be nice ‘n easy when playing the horses, or in his case when playing with horses who suffer toothaches. Dr. Scrutchfield is a professor and chief of field services for large animals, at Texas A & M University College of Veterinary Medicine – College Station. He gave a talk called “Equine Dentistry,” and was one of 180 presenting veterinarians revealing new research for animal care at the 72nd Annual Western Veterinary Conference, Feb. 20-24, 2000.

More than 7,000 pet care professionals attended the conference held at the Las Vegas Hilton and Riviera Hotels in what is arguably the largest educational veterinary convention in the country. In addition to the educational sessions, pharmaceutical companies, pet food manufacturers and companies that make an assortment of pet toys and equipment for vets showed off their products. Scalpels were demonstrated using plush stuffed toy dogs and cats, kitty litter was spread, flea products sprayed and at least one daring spokesperson even ate kibble for a skeptical vet who dared to ask, “but does it taste good?”

Here are some highlights:

Dr. Gregory Hanson of Davis, Calif. explained that vets once treated pets for pain only when they literally cried out for help, yowling or howling. “For one thing, we now have the means to not wait that long,” he said. He also pointed out that new research indicates pets may not exhibit distress even when they’re suffering from severe pain. “They can’t tell us – and instinctively they just don’t express their pain. Instead their energies are directed at recovery. For example, a postoperative dog lying silently was until very recently assumed to be comfortable. However, in reality that dog may not be comfortable at all. As a profession our default should be to treat for pain unless the animal convinces us otherwise.”

Hanson also spoke about the advantages of combining pain relief medications. Done correctly and carefully, the effectiveness will increase and the potential for side effects may lessen.

“Ooops, missed that litter box,” is the number one pet behavior complaint, but little research has trickled out to determine why some cats think outside the box. Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis and Dr. Wailani Sung of the University of Georgia – Athens are now in the process of compiling results from their still-to-be-published study.

In a sneak preview of her results, Crowell-Davis revealed of those cats with box issues, four of ten cover their eliminations, compared with the squeaky control group where seven of ten covered their excrement. Also, problem cats don’t spend as much time in the box sniffing around when compared to cats that consistently hit their targets. This means if your cat isn’t covering up and isn’t sniffing its toilet, watch out, you may soon have a cat with poor aim. Crowell-Davis and Wailani also found most litter boxes to be too small.

Dr. Ken Bartels is on the frontier of laser medicine. He described new ways to deal with cancer without conventional surgery or chemotherapy. A special drug (called a photosensitzer) is injected intravenously into the pet and manages to travel to the cancerous tumors where a vet points a laser light, aims and fires. The laser light activates the cancer fighting drug, and “bang zoom” the cancer cells are blasted away. This treatment has been used with success on cancer of the nose in cats and with skin and esophageal cancers in both cats and dogs.

Bartels, of Stillwater, Okla. is the president-elect of the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, and a long-time proponent of laser surgery. He said in 1990 less than two dozen practices around the nation had laser technology, and they were mostly at veterinary teaching institutions. Today, there are about 700 lasers in practices around the country. He suspects that as soon as the year 2010, 90 percent of all veterinary practices will share the cutting edge technology, which is the ability to do surgery without actually cutting with a scalpel.

Bartels suspects even elective surgeries, such as spay/neuters, will increasingly be performed using lasers. “There’s less trauma to the body because the surgery is less invasive, there’s less pain to the animal and generally a faster recovery,” he says. Perhaps the most immediate and urgent use for laser surgeries can be for birds and/or reptiles. These animals are expert at masking illness, so often by the time they’re diagnosed, they may be gravely ill. It’s not the surgery that necessarily kills birds or reptiles, it’s the stress of prolonged recovery – using laser equipment, this becomes far less of an issue.

Unfortunately, since the average laser runs anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, the cost of laser surgery is at least for now somewhat more expensive than conventional surgery.

Even vets were tangled in a web of confusion, visiting private boxes where 12 company reps pitched their websites. Some sites focused solely on veterinary clientele, others – such as – are for e-commerce appealing to the general public.

Brand-new is, a virtual veterinary medical dictionary and a resource for preventative medicine and wellness programs, launched by

Another new site, is actually targeted to members of the pet press.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine – Philadelphia, spoke in great detail about obsessive-compulsive disease (OCD) in dogs. She presented evidence that dogs can have hallucinations, showing a videotape of a dog pouncing on imaginary mice. Dogs can also present OCD by chasing their tails, self-grooming, or chasing imaginary flies.
Overall also described separation anxiety, noise phobia and thunderstorm anxiety in dogs. She says in all cases, the evidence seems clear that the brain chemistry is altered. She and other researchers are compiling evidence that indicates when medication or behavior modification is proved to be helpful, the brain chemistry returns to normal.

Just as brain chemistry levels may affect a pet’s emotional well being, there may soon be medical means to actually measure dominance aggression in dogs. Overall says urine screen data shows different amino acid measurements in dominant aggressive dogs. If nothing else this is evidence that something neurochemical is going on in these aggressive dogs.

Dr. Thomas Goerblich of Munich, Germany was covering the conference for what amounts to the German version of Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy. He explained, in Germany veterinarians are reluctant to be interviewed because vets aren’t allowed to advertise their practices, so they’re exceedingly careful not to misconstrue anything they say to the press as self promotion. “It’s sure not that way in the states,” he says. Goerblich, who is a veterinarian, was schooled in Germany but trained in the Chicago area. He says despite the fact that there are more pets in Germany than ever before (5.6 million cats and 5 million dogs), there are also more vets than ever before, and many trained as vets simply can’t find a job.

Dr. Andy Eschner, manager of professional services at Iselin, N.J.-based Merial (manufacturer of animal health products, including Frontline) spoke about how synthetic pyrethroids (most often labeled permethrins) are potentially fatal to cats. These are spot on flea control products for dogs, which are mandated by law to have labels warning against usage on cats. The problem is that the packaging may have that warning in small print, but otherwise resemble the packaging of Frontline or Advantage. Don’t be fooled. When used anywhere near cats these products are potentially very dangerous. Eschner points out that it’s possible that even a chummy cat rubbing up against a treated dog may be adversely affected.

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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