The first veterinary hospitals for pets appeared only about 80 years ago and did not change very much until the early 1980’s. Coincidentally that is when I graduated from veterinary school and I have seen remarkable advances in technology during my career. These advances have revolutionized the treatment of our pets, increased their life span and quality of life. Our medical knowledge is estimated to double every six months. Things that once seemed impossible are routine now. I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of these changes.
Technologies that were available only in the most sophisticated medical centers are now available to our pets and some are available at your local veterinary office. One of the most exciting new areas is in diagnostic imaging. It is now common for general small animal veterinary hospitals to have ultrasound machines. In animals, ultrasound is often used to evaluate the heart and measure its function. Dogs and cats are living years longer now that these conditions can be detected and treated with proper medication at such an early stage. In addition, abdominal organs can be evaluated for disease and biopsied under the guidance of the ultrasound machine. This technology has dramatically reduced the need for exploratory surgery. Remarkably one of the most powerful MRI machines in the Baltimore Washington area is in a veterinary Imaging center (the Iams imaging center in Vienna, Virginia). The pet is admitted, scanned and a report is immediately sent back to the referring veterinarian. Who would have ever imagined this 20 years ago? This technology is already beginning to show up in some very large specialty hospitals around the country.
Another area that we have seen incredible advances in is surgery. Total hip replacements, feline kidney transplants and open heart surgeries are just a few of the surgeries done daily at specialty hospitals and veterinary schools.
Twenty years ago veterinary specialists were only found at veterinary schools. We are very lucky to live in an area that within a 50 mile radius you can find many of the top veterinary cardiologists, oncologists, surgeons, internists, ophthalmologists and neurologists in the world. They are in private practices and work closely with your family veterinarian on challenging cases.
Of course this new veterinary world of great innovations and specialists comes with a price. Since most people do not yet have pet insurance they are priced out of some of these new services and procedures. Like human medicine there is a concern that pets of the more well to do people will get (and do get) better care. The good news is that people are willing to spend more on their pets and that is why these advances have occurred.
What lies in the future? The advances that are just around the corner are beyond our imagination. Soon we will be able to figure out why diseases are happening at the cellular level and alter the cells and fix the problem, not just treat with drugs. There is work being done right now on dogs with severe heart muscle disease where immature bone marrow cells are being injecting in to the heart muscle to help regenerate the muscle. This is revolutionary technology that would have been considered science fiction a few years ago.
by Dr. Steven Wolchinsky