How To Tell If You Have An Awesome Vet

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Dear reader, how would you describe your vet? Is (s)he good? excellent? Or awesome?

Let me share with you my top secret to judge how good a family vet is. To clarify, I am a surgeon. Family vets refer difficult surgery patients to me. So I have a somewhat unusual "system" to rate my beloved colleagues.

Cinnamon, a gorgeous 6-year old Golden retriever, had a "hot spot." His owner took him to his family vet, Dr. C. A hot spot is an area in the skin that a dog licks so feverishly, that it becomes hairless, raw, red, irritated and painful. It is so annoying that the poor dog becomes obsessed with the hot spot. Licking and chewing only make things worse.

But back to Cinnamon. Instead of simply sending him home with a prescription for cortisone cream and maybe antibiotics, Dr. C went on to perform a complete physical exam. There was nothing else to report... except for a small mass in the thyroid area. She doubled checked, but there was little doubt in her mind: Cinnamon most likely had a thyroid tumor.

She kindly referred the patient to me. We performed surgery to remove the mass... which the lab diagnosed as cancer. Clearly the hot spot was the least of his problems. But because his family vet found it so early, Cinnamon should logically do better than if the tumor had been found after growing for several weeks or even several months.

Thunder, an 8 year old German shepherd, was due for her "shots." To many pet owners and some vets, this may seem like a routine, boring, necessary evil... Once a year, the pet is schlepped to the vet. Pet hates car ride. Vet gives shots. Pet hates vet. Owner hates paying the bill. Nobody seems very happy here.

But Thunder's family vet, Dr. T, does not see the situation like that at all. He educates all of his clients so that they understand that the yearly vaccines are important, but the yearly physical is even more important.

Which is why Dr. T performs a thorough physical exam and comments on his findings out loud. "Wow, nice teeth. Looks like you're doing a great job brushing Thunder's teeth." "The left ear is a little bit red, we will check to see if there is an infection in there." And so on and so forth. Organ by organ.

Only after a full physical does Dr. T give the vaccines.

But that day, the conscientious Doctor felt that Thunder's spleen was irregular. He focused on the area, and became convinced that the spleen had a mass. He referred Thunder to me for surgery. Fortunately, the spleen is a somewhat expendable organ, so it was removed. It was then sent to the lab for analysis.

Masses in the spleen have about a 50-50 chance of being cancerous.

But fortunately for Thunder, the mass was benign! Regardless, had it been left undetected, it would most likely have grown, causing anemia (a low red blood cell count) and possibly could have ruptured, causing internal bleeding.

Dr. T's dedication and thoroughness avoided such complications, and Thunder's owner should be very grateful for that.

These stories are not unusual in my world. Some of my colleagues have found tumors in an anal gland ONLY because they performed a "routine" rectal exam; or a mass way in the back of the mouth, simply because they looked; or a mass deep down at the bottom of the ear canal, simply because they took the time to check.

Now please understand that I am not saying that a good vet is one who finds a tumor every time you walk into the clinic!

In my mind, the two family vets above are modern heroes. Instead of rushing through a "routine" exam for a minor issue, they performed a thorough physical exam, from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.

This, in my mind, is the mark of awesome vets. They don't jump to conclusions. They don't just do the obvious and wave goodbye. They don't simply focus on the tip of the iceberg. They don't believe in the 2-minute veterinary consult.

Awesome vets perform a full exam, write their findings, and share them with you, the dedicated pet parent.

Keep that in mind during your next visit to the vet.

Note: names have been changed to protect the patients' privacy, but the stories are real.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Housing Frogs

Setting up a tank with everything your frog needs before bringing them home should be done to ensure a proper environment with appropriate water, humidity, and heat requirements. Some frogs hibernate and you will have to provide certain conditions to make sure your frog does so safely.

Make sure you know the right kind of tank your frog will need (i.e. aquatic, terrestrial, arboreal, or semi-aquatic). A half land and half water environment is probably the trickiest to set up but is also one of the most common types of tank needed for frogs.

Keeping a frog enclosure clean can be a lot of work.   Many frogs have fairly simple light, temperature, and humidity requirements but they are very sensitive to contaminants and waste in their environment.

How To Tell If You Have An Awesome Vet - pets

Dr. Alexander teaches Lexie how to take a cat's vitals.

Dr. Alexander | Contributor

For kids who are interested, there are lots of ways to prepare, starting at a young age. Reading books on animals can help to build knowledge and interest I loved “Quick as a Cricket”. I also love the TV show “Life of Mammals,” which is full of awesome footage and well-researched facts. Taking kids to visit a veterinary clinic can be a great experience, and many vets are happy to oblige. Michigan State hosts an event called Vet-A-Visit that is worth checking out. Above all, exposing children to animals is probably the best way to support their interest. This can be accomplished by giving them specific responsibilities with family pets, involving them in 4-H or taking them to zoos, sanctuaries and interactive farms.

Dr. Alexander and Dr. Susan Lewis consult on an X-ray with future veterinarian Lexie Fletcher.

Dr. Lyssa Alexander | Contributer

Starting in high school, kids who want to be veterinarians should begin to consider what it takes academically and experience-wise to get into vet school. Ways to get animal experience are to volunteer at kennels, shelters and other animal operations or to work as a veterinary assistant. Not only does it booster the application later on, but it also allows teenagers to get a better picture of the profession and decide if it is right for them.

In fact, most schools require several hundred hours of experience shadowing a vet or working at a vet hospital before an applicant will even be considered. Strong grades in math and science provide a good foundation and help ensure acceptance into a four-year college.

Lexie gets a taste of her first veterinary school homework assignment.

Dr. Alexander | Contributor

In college, some of the most popular undergraduate majors are biology, zoology and animal science (though I do know one vet who was an art history major). The reason is that there are a large number of prerequisites for veterinary school that vary from college to college, and these majors are most likely to fulfill a good amount of the requirements. So it’s also a good idea to start looking at the lists of those requirements during the first year of undergrad when choosing classes.

Getting into vet school is very difficult these days because of the popularity and limited number of schools. The average GPA of undergraduate students admitted to veterinary school changes from year to year, but it’s safe to assume that aiming for 3.5 or higher is ideal.

When considering a career in veterinary medicine, it is also important to know what training is involved. Most veterinarians complete a four-year undergraduate education prior to entering veterinary school. Veterinary school itself is also generally a four-year program.

After vet school, you are able to practice medicine, though several doctors go on to a yearlong internship to prepare for residencies or gain extra experience. Those who wish to specialize in a specific field of medicine (dermatology, oncology, zoo medicine, etc.) often go on to another three years of residency.

Dr. Alexander teaches Lexie to look for parasites.

Dr. Alexander | Contributor

There are some downsides to being a vet that need to be considered. In addition to performing euthanasia, there can be a lot of anxiety over making the right medical decisions and helping pet owners decide what’s right for their families. The cost of school is also a huge burden. Though being a veterinarian offers decent pay and job availability, most new veterinarians graduate with $100,000-$250,000 of debt. And lastly, you have to be comfortable with poop I deal with a lot of poop.

In the end, it’s a great profession. The job allows us to connect with a community, keep intellectually stimulated, try exciting new things and play with lots of puppies (I don’t think I’ll every get sick of the puppies). Even if your child decides they want to do something else, learning to apply themselves to their studies and get experience working with animals will serve them well in whatever path they take.

Dr. Lyssa Alexander is a local veterinarian who treats all small and exotic animals. She is a weekly contributor at AnnArbor.Com in the Pets section and can be reached at All Creatures Animal Clinic.

Veterinarians: Don't be too worried about your pet getting coronavirus

Alpacas visit residents at Cedar Woods Assisted Living in Belleville who are confined to their rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. Detroit Free Press

As coronavirus case numbers climb, another COVID-19-related concern has come to light: What about my pets?

A pug in North Carolina tested positive for the virus after several of its owners did as well. It is potentially the first dog to be confirmed positive with the virus.

But veterinarians say there isn't too much for pet owners to worry about.

Jessica Romine, DVM specialist in small animal internal medicine at Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Southfield, said if any household pets are at higher risk of exposure, it is cats due to the similarity in lung enzymes between humans and felines.

But even then, the risk of any pet having a severe case of coronavirus, the way humans are experiencing it, is low, Romine said.

"The cats that they've seen, and this includes the tigers that they've found at the zoo, other cats in New York City that have come back positive and shown mild signs, seem to be much, much more mild than people," she said.

Think of it numerically: To date, there have been more than 981,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., yet just one dog and a few cats are confirmed to have the virus.

"The likelihood your pet is going to get sick or come down with coronavirus is so small," said Keith Cook, co-owner of Southgate Animal Hospital. "Right now, fortunately, that doesn't need to be one of our worries, there are much more important things to worry about."

Here's what you should know about pet health in the age of coronavirus:

What symptoms should I look for in my pet?

Romine said COVID-19 symptoms in pets closely resemble the well-known symptoms in humans: cough, fever and runny nose. All symptoms are likely to be relatively recognizable and mild, she said.

There are a variety of respiratory diseases that could cause similar symptoms that are more common, which a vet would likely check before testing for coronavirus, Cook said.

If you believe your pet is showing symptoms and may have been exposed to coronavirus by someone confirmed with it, let the vet know upfront before bringing them in.

Can my pet get me sick?

The good news? No. The bad news? You could give it to your pet, Romine said.

"There seems to be no evidence that pets can be giving it to people, so they shouldn't be a risk for them licking us or getting it from them," she said. "If anything, it would be the other way around, that a sick person could give it to their own cat or dog potentially."

There is no evidence to date that pets can infect their owners, so there is no concern about animals being asymptotic and transmitting it the way humans do.

Owners should think of their animal as they would any other surface. The virus can live on their fur, like it would a counter top, but likely does not survive for very long.

Can I still take my animal to the vet right now?

Veterinary services are considered essential under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay at home order, but there are some changes. Most animal hospitals and veterinary offices are limiting pet appointments to those who are ill. If you need to take your pet to the vet, call ahead to schedule an appointment.

When you arrive, call the vet to let them know you are there and they will ask questions about the pets history and reason for visit over the phone, before coming out to pick up the pet and bring them in. The owner stays in the car for the duration of the appointment to limit themselves and those in the office.

"It's a change in routine, but it's allowing us to continue to provide all of the level of care that we need to for our animals, while trying to minimize our risk and theirs," Romine said.

What should I do with my pet if I am sick?

Treat your pet as you would anyone else in your household, and social distance.

"If you've been diagnosed with coronavirus, don't cuddle and hug your pet, don't possibly expose them," Cook said. "In some cases, they're even recommending social distancing on a walk — just like you are social distancing, the same thing with your pets."

Before anyone in the household even gets sick, Michigan Humane Society recommends having a plan in place for where the pet could go and an emergency kit of supplies prepared.

If I have coronavirus, can my pet get tested?

There is a COVID-19 test for pets that uses similar technology to the test used in humans, Romine said. If there is serious concern that the pet has been exposed and is showing symptoms, the test can be administered.

However, Cook said other causes will likely be checked before moving to a pet coronavirus test.

Overall, the risk and concern with pets and coronavirus is currently low.

"Certainly keep an eye on your pet, but I think the risk is very low," Cook said. "The major concern should really be the health of themselves and their families. We are here for their pets when they need us, but the risk of coronavirus is very low and should not be something that they need to be really worried about. "

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