'High-Tech' Comes to 'Vet Med.' (Veterinary Medicine, Includes Related Articles)

Article excerpt

`HIGH-TECH' COMES TO `VET MED' Fiberoptics to repair a racehorse's knee, a pacemaker to extend the life of the family dog, plastic surgery for cats--clearly, modern medical technology isn't just for people.

A yearling filly lies on her back on a surgical table, her front legs tied together and her body draped with blue sterile cloths. Carefully, the veterinary surgeon removes degenerating bone from the horse's left hind leg using arthroscopic surgery, a microscopic surgical procedure. Using a special fiberoptic tool that can be viewed on a television monitor, the surgeon watches the screen to guide his movements as he performs the operation. An electrocardiograph monitors the filly's heartbeat as the blue-suited surgical team pays close attention to other vital signs.

Awake and alert 45 minutes after major surgery, the filly paws the straw and prances around in her stall. Being a thoroughbred, the filly can now look forward to competing at the racetrack.

Arthroscopic surgery is most often used in sports medicine to repair the joints, tendons, and ligaments of injured human athletes. But increasingly the joints, tendons, and ligaments of equine athletes--racehorses--are also being repaired by arthroscopy, as medical procedures that were once considered fit only for humans have found a niche in animal care.

What's true of ailing horses is also becoming true for dogs, cats and other critters, too. When it comes to modern medicine nothing, it seems, is too good for the family pet. Schnauzers with abnormal heartbeats get pacemakers, cocker spaniels with cataracts get surgery and soft contact lenses during recovery, large dogs with hip deterioration get metal and plastic prostheses, and chemotherapy and plastic surgery helps animals with cancer live longer. The list goes on. CAT scans and ultrasound--the latest in diagnostic techniques; blood banks; arthroscopic, laser and open-heart surgeries; and organ transplants aid the sick pet.

Veterinarians at Ohio State University performed one of their first successful kidney transplants on a large, mixed-breed dog who suffered kidney failure after he lapped up some sweet-tasting antifreeze. After being kept alive for a time on a dialysis machine, the family pet received a donated kidney from his sister and continued to live a dog's life for the two years he survived after the surgery.

That pet owners are willing to go to such lengths should come as no surprise. "A lot of people treat pets as part of the family," says Alan Entin, a psychologist who is president-elect of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Sometimes people even get along with their pets better than their spouses, he notes.

America is clearly a nation smitten with pets. "In 1987, Americans spent between $10 billion to $12 billion on pet products, grooming services, and veterinarian bills," says Marshall Meyers, general counsel to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Pet ownership has reached an all-time high: There are 49 million dogs, 58 million cats, and about 245 million other furred, feathered or scaly pets sharing our homes. No one has bothered to count the fish in our aquariums, says Meyers, but the numbers are probably high. To support this large pet population Americans spend five times as much on dog and cat food as on baby food.

The history of veterinary medicine can be traced to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. They left records that mention how they spayed to control the animal population. And the Roman emperor Augustus had hospitals built for sick animals. But modern veterinary medicine began in 1762 with the founding of the National Veterinary School in Lyon, France, which later became the site of much of Louis Pasteur's work searching for a cure for rabies in dogs.

In the 1940s and 1950s antibiotics made their mark in veterinary medicine. "Antibiotics had a tremendous impact on veterinary medicine, substantially reducing infectious diseases and allowing animals to live longer," says Gerald B. …