December 2007


Pets Help Make Holidays, All Days Bright

Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We all know that pets are playing a bigger role in family life than ever before, and the Holiday season offers up plenty of reminders. Just like children, cats, dogs, birds and other pets can have their photographs taken with Santa Claus at malls and many other places these days. I recently saw where one organization is hosting a contest for pets with the most festive holiday costume. And millions of pets will have toys and treats under the Christmas tree this year.

It’s really not surprising. For millions, the family pet is like a child. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published the newest edition of their “U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook,” and the research they conducted to support the production of that publication suggests that these trends continue to build momentum.

Almost 154 million pet cats and dogs now reside in about 60 percent of American households, up almost 8 million from five years ago when AVMA last conducted their research. Those animals enrich and validate the lives of millions of owners as they provide the unconditional love and acceptance that is sometimes more challenging to obtain from human relationships.

The sophisticated healthcare that modern veterinary medicine offers these furry family members can be expensive to provide and procure. But the AVMA data shows that more and more owners are willing to invest substantial sums of money in their pet’s healthcare. In fact, the AVMA determined in 2006, veterinary related expenditures were almost $25 billion, up almost 10 percent from the last study.

Efforts to convince the federal government to support our profession through the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act and growing public concerns regarding zoonotic disease and bioterrorism have focused much of the recent attention that veterinary medicine has received on the important role it plays in public health.

As critical as these activities may be, it is equally important for us to remember that providing clinical care for animals, both pets and agricultural, is the historic, noble and unique province of our profession. By keeping these animals healthy and productive, we are enriching the lives of people in more ways than we can imagine. Social scientists continue to describe the intriguing consequences of the human/animal bond in the academic literature, and many of you are probably well acquainted with this work.

And so during the Holidays, when you take a moment to count your blessings, remember your pets and the profession that keeps them healthy. On behalf of all of us in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Happy Holidays and best wishes for a safe and rewarding new year.

Sincerely,

Gerhardt G. Schurig
Dean


Elvinger Receives APHIS Animal Health Award

Dr. Francois Elvinger

Dr. Francois Elvinger, professor, DLACS, recently received the UDSA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Animal Health Award. Elvinger was honored for his many contributions to animal health improvement and for his leadership role with the APHIS Steering Committee.

Dr. Francois Elvinger, an associate professor of epidemiology and production management medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), received the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) annual Animal Health Award.

Elvinger was honored during the recent joint general session of the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA) and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) in Reno, Nevada.

Elvinger was recognized for the contributions he has made to animal health improvement in the United States in the areas of information management, animal disease surveillance, and the appropriate responses to the identification of disease.

In 1995, Elvinger coordinated a workshop entitled “Identification and Consolidation of Existing Data Sources and Standardization of Disease Definitions and Reporting,” which led to the creation of the U.S. National Animal Disease Reporting System (NAHRS).

“NAHRS has become invaluable in APHIS’ ability to accurately report the status of animal health in the United States,” said APHIS Administrator Cindy Smith during the presentation ceremony. Elvinger has co-chaired the NAHRS steering committee since 1998.

He also serves as co-chair of the AAVLD Epidemiology Committee and the joint USAHA-AAVLD Committee on Animal Health Information Systems. Elvinger also has chaired the National Animal Health Surveillance Steering Committee since its inception in 2004. This committee represents stakeholders and includes representatives from livestock and poultry industries, state animal agencies, diagnostic laboratory organizations, academic institutions, private practitioner organizations, and relevant federal agencies. The steering committee is responsible for guiding APHIS’ National Surveillance Unit in the design, planning and implementation of efficient and accurate surveillance for relevant animal diseases.

“It is in this capacity that Dr. Elvinger’s leadership, vision, and passion for making things right has most benefited U.S. animal health in the twenty-first century,” said Smith.

Dr. Elvinger earned his Dr.med.vet. from the Hannover Veterinary School in Germany and his Ph.D. in dairy science from the University of Florida. Prior to joining the faculty of the VMRCVM in 1997, he was in private practice in Germany and Luxembourg, was a graduate research assistant at the University of Florida and was an associate professor in the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine at the Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory in Tifton, Georgia. He is a diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine and the European College of Veterinary Public Health.

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College Continues Adopt-a-Family Tradition

Adopt a Family

Members of the VMRCVM community recently gathered to wrap presents for the Adopt-a-Family program. This year, the college adopted two families in the New River Valley. Participation in this program, has become an important tradition for faculty and staff members in the college.  

This holiday season will be brighter for two local families thanks to the continued generosity of employees of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM). In keeping with a well-established tradition, $1,000 was donated from faculty and staff in the college to assist area families.

As is also traditional, the program organizers looked to New River Community Action to help identify two families who might benefit from the program. The first family was a single-mother and her two sons under the age of three. The second family was a grandmother who has recently been given custody of her three young grandchildren.

Volunteers formed two “teams” and each team took a family to shop for. A wrapping party was then held in the college center to get all the gifts ready for delivery.

“This program has become an important tradition for our college community,” said Terry Lawrence, medical illustrator, Office of Public Relations and Communications, who has helped coordinate the program since its inception. “From providing donations to doing the work, there’s a lot of people who participate in this and I think it’s a special thing for us to do.”

Lawrence and other program organizers would like to thank everyone who participated for their generous donations and for the assistance they provided in the purchasing, wrapping, and delivery of gifts.

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Christmas Joy Can Present Some Animal Health Hazards

Christmas Cat

Christmas decorations and holiday treats can cause health problems for household pets. A few precautions can make sure the holiday spirit isn’t dampened by the illness or injury of a beloved pet.

Christmas decorations and holiday treats may help make the season bright, but they can also cause problems for household pets, say experts in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) at Virginia Tech.

A few precautions can help make sure a family's Holiday spirit isn't dampened by the untimely--and preventable--illness or injury of a beloved dog or cat.

One of the most common problems during the holiday season is dietary indiscretion – dogs and cats love to be around all the holiday food, and may experience a variety of gastrointestinal disturbances if they get treats, or steal food off the counters or from the garbage can. A tidbit of bland table food may be acceptable for an occasional holiday treat, but pets should be monitored carefully to keep them out of trouble.

Many problems also occur when curious pets ingest foreign objects or toxic substances, says Dr. Bess Pierce, a former active duty Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps who recently joined the college to lead the new community practice clerkship. Puppies have been known to chew on ornaments, which can shatter into jagged shards of glass and cut the mouth. Similarly, pet-owners should avoid giving pets "presents" such as bones and toys which can break and be swallowed, obstructing the esophagus, stomach or intestines.

Puppies and kittens are sometimes tempted to chew on Christmas tree light cords, which can cause mouth burns or fatal shock. Even brief electric shocks can trigger an irregular heartbeat, which can cause fluid to gather in the lungs, leading to serious complications or death.

Cats are frequently attracted to tinsel, but if a cat swallows a piece, it can stimulate an accordion-like folding of the intestines--a life-threatening condition.

Ornaments and tinsel should be kept out of a pet's reach, when possible, and pet-owners should watch their animals closely, Pierce says.

A number of Holiday plants and treats also pose danger for animals, says Dr. Dennis Blodgett, a veterinary toxicologist.

Chocolate, for example, contains a caffeine-like substance that is very dangerous for dogs. Two squares of baking chocolate, or just over a pound of milk chocolate, can kill a twenty-pound dog, according to Dr. Blodgett. Other less well known potential food hazards for pets include raisins and grapes, sugarless gums and candies, macadamia nuts, and yeast dough.

Some common Christmas plants are also dangerous. Ingesting mistletoe can cause symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to death, depending upon the amount consumed and the size of the animal. Other dangerous plants include holly berries, Jerusalem cherries and Kalanchoe potted plants. Poinsettias usually only produce mild clinical signs and should generally be considered non-toxic.

Dogs and cats should be kept away from the water in Christmas-tree stands, says Blodgett, since it contains turpentine-like compounds that are dangerous for both dogs and cats, but particularly lethal for cats.

Placing a physical barrier such as a mesh screen or tree skirt is the best preventive measure that can be taken.

The cold weather associated with the Holiday season can also pose problems. Automobile-owners changing their own antifreeze should always make sure the toxic substance is kept away from pets.

While dogs and cats are attracted to the substance because of its sweet smell and taste, its active ingredient, ethylene glycol, can cause massive kidney damage and death if ingested.

In addition, sidewalk de-icing salts can also pose a threat to animals, says Blodgett. Since a few minutes can often mean the difference between life and death with regard to poisonings, pet-owners should contact their local veterinarian quickly if they suspect their pet has ingested some of these toxic substances.

A better option is to use the newer, less toxic antifreeze brands that contain propylene glycol and are recommended for households with pets and children, says Pierce.

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Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center to Host “Horse Health Half-Day” for Virginia Pony Club Members

Foal Watch

Virginia Pony Club members will learn about proper foal care during the Equine Medical Center’s Horse Health Half-Day on Saturday, January 12.

Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center will host an educational event for Virginia Pony Club members on Saturday, January 12, 2008. The meeting, entitled, “Horse Health Half-Day,” will take place in the center’s library from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm. Presentations will be given by faculty members on a variety of equine healthcare topics and a pizza luncheon will be served.

The agenda is as follows:

No fee is charged for attending but seating is limited and pre-registration is required. This event is limited to members of the Virginia Pony Club aged 12 through 18. Registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, e-mail Marjorie Musick at mzmusick@vt.edu or call (703) 771-6881. In the event of a weather emergency, schedule changes will be posted online at www.equinemedicalcenter.net.

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Equine Medical Center Hosts Virginia Agribusiness Council Meeting

Agribusiness Council

VDACS Commissioner Todd Haymore (center) speaks to Dr. Nat White (left), and a Virginia Agribusiness Council member at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.

The Virginia Agribusiness Council (VAC) recently held a roundtable forum with Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Commissioner Todd Haymore at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.

The session, which was open to the public, was the final stop in a statewide tour during which Haymore, who was appointed in June 2007, met with representatives from all sectors of the Commonwealth’s agribusiness industry.

This meeting was designed to give VAC members an opportunity to discuss with Haymore the challenges and opportunities facing their communities. More than 25 local leaders and representatives of the produce, dairy, equine, golf course and environmental conservation industries participated in the session. Five similar events were held in Caroline County, Suffolk, Danville, Staunton and Wytheville.

Attendees were encouraged to express their concerns to the commissioner and to ask questions about his leadership plans. A variety of topics were addressed including funding for the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, preservation of farmland, agri-tourism, fragmentation of farm land, agriculture product marketing, and collaboration between VDACS and Virginia Tech’s extension offices. The Agriculture Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program and the National Animal Identification Program were also discussed.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase our center and to reinforce the message that the equine industry is a vital contributor to the Commonwealth’s economy,” said Dr. Nat White, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. “We look forward to working with the commissioner and VAC leadership in their efforts to advance Virginia agriculture.”

The Virginia Agribusiness Council is a Richmond-based nonprofit organization committed to representing the agriculture and forest industries in the Commonwealth through effective government relations and promotion efforts. Its membership includes farmers, foresters and other agricultural-product producers, marketers and processors, suppliers and associations.

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Communications Director Douglas, Alumna Colby, Named to National AAVMC Strategic Planning Group

Jeff Douglas

Jeffrey Douglas, director of public relations and communications, has been appointed to serve on a strategic planning committee for the Association for American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Jeffrey S. Douglas, communications director for the VMRCVM, and Dr. Leslie Colby (VMRCVM ‘96), have been appointed to serve on a strategic planning committee for the Association for American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

Douglas and Colby are two of 13 people from around the nation who will participate in a detailed strategic planning process that has been initiated by AAVMC Executive Director Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, who assumed leadership of the AAVMC in November 2007.

The group includes three veterinary college deans and several other senior administrators in academic institutions, AAVMC personnel, representatives from the Department of Defense, and Bayer Corporation, which is providing resources to support the strategic planning effort.

In a letter chartering the task, Dr. Pappaioanou stated that as a result of the efforts of many excellent leaders, academic veterinary medicine is facing the challenges of the 21st century with a great deal of strength.

“Even with our successes to date, however, it is important to remember that going beyond the status quo will be necessary to meet the needs of the AAVMC family and its external stakeholders into the future,” she wrote. “With the world facing uncertainty in the areas of homeland security, agroterrorism, natural disasters, and emerging zoonotic diseases, our colleges and departments must be prepared to meet society’s needs.”

The group will convene in Washington in early January for a “plan-to-plan” meeting with a strategic planning consulting firm, and then engage in a process that is expected to develop a strategic plan that will guide AAVMC for the next three to five years, she wrote.

“I’m really honored by this opportunity to serve,” said Douglas. “AAVMC is the change agent for the profession, and they are doing vital work in society. I look forward to helping out in any way that I can.”

Douglas joined the college in 1983 and presently leads the college’s public relations and legislative relations efforts.

A former president of the Association of Veterinary Advancement Professionals and the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Douglas earned his professional accreditation from PRSA in 1994. In 2004, he was inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows, a hallmark of lifetime achievement that has been attained by only about 400 of PRSA’s 20,000 members.

He has worked closely with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges since 1998 and was instrumental in their creation of a permanent “Advancement Committee.”

Douglas earned a B.S. in journalism and a M.S. in Corporate and Professional Communication from Virginia’s Radford University.

Since 2002, Dr. Colby has been a clinical assistant professor in the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine in the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Colby is a three-time graduate of Virginia Tech. She received her B.S. in animal science in 1992, her DVM in 1996 and her M.S. in veterinary science-bacteriology/immunology in 1997. She was also a post-doctoral fellow in laboratory animal science in the VMRCVM from 1999-2002. In 2005, she was board certified as a diplomate by the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine. She also serves as a consulting veterinarian to Molecular Imaging Research, Inc. in Ann Arbor.

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Virginia Farm Bureau Tours Equine Medical Center

Farm Bureau of Virginia

Approximately 50 delegates from the Virginia Farm Bureau toured Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center on Monday, November 26, as part of the 2007 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention which was held November 25 through 28 at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles Hotel in Chantilly. Participants were bused from Chantilly to Leesburg for the event.

The hour-long visit began with a welcome and introduction by Dr. Nat White, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, and concluded with a questions and answer session with Dr. Martin Furr, Professor and Adelaide C. Riggs Chair in Equine Medicine. The facility tour was lead by Associate Director of Development Amy Troppmann and Public Relations Coordinator Marjorie Musick.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is an organization of farmers and rural families with more than 148,000 members. It is part of the American Farm Bureau Federation which boasts more than 5.5 million members in the United States and Puerto Rico. The group meets annually to discuss various aspects of the farming industry including methods, marketing and advocacy. The theme of this year’s convention was “Feeding the World: Agriculture Matters.”

Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center is a premier full-service equine hospital located in Leesburg, Va., that offers advanced specialty care, 24-hour emergency treatment and diagnostic services for all ages and breeds of horses. One of three campuses that comprise the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM), the center and its team of equine specialists are committed to providing exceptional treatment to patients, superior service to clients and cutting-edge research to the equine industry.

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