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Patient Pets

Spring 2012
About 100 dogs and cats visit the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital every day, where they receive state-of-the-art veterinary medical care.
Photographs by Sher Stoneman
Text By Meleah Maynard

Above: Muggins, an Old English sheepdog, had surgery last year for hip dysplasia but fell at home during his recovery and fractured his femur. He’s been in rehab since September, walking in the hydro tank to strengthen his leg and hip muscles and receiving laser treatments on his hips. The hydro tank is full of warm, chlorinated water and has a treadmill on the floor. Muggins has progressed to walking 0.8 miles per hour for three 9-minute sets.
Many patients dread the hard work of physical therapy. But Sushi, a 10-year-old chocolate-and-red dachshund, always gets excited when he arrives at the rehabilitation clinic at the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital. “He knows he’ll get to see other dogs and eat a lot of treats,” says Sushi’s owner, Nicole Kanne of St. Paul. Stroking Sushi’s side, she pops snacks into the dachshund’s mouth and talks to him in a soft voice as he lies on a table where he receives a neuromuscular stimulation treatment on his hind legs.

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It’s been two and a half months since Kanne called Sushi to go outside and noticed he was dragging his back legs. “We brought him here immediately,” she says, and Sushi was diagnosed with degenerating discs. “They did spinal surgery right away because they said time was of the essence.” Sushi’s recovery has been slow, but weekly (initially twice weekly) treatments along with exercises and laser therapy have put Sushi well on his way to recovery.

Upper Left
: Rehabilitation specialist Kimberly Barrett works with Sushi, a dachshund who had back surgery, in the hydro tank. He wears one-eighth-pound weights on his back legs to add more resistance in his training.

Lower Left: Chloey, a 9-year-old “goldendoodle” (golden retriever–poodle mix), had back surgery in August because she couldn’t move her legs. The surgery and rehab initially seemed unsuccessful, but she began to regain limb function while recovering at home. Rehabilitation specialist Kimberly Barrett works with Chloey on the wobble board so that her muscles work to keep her balanced while she learns to walk again. 
Rehabilitation is one of 16 board-certified specialties practiced by 60 veterinary medicine specialists at the Small Animal Hospital, which is the biggest and busiest of the 20 veterinary teaching hospitals in the United States. Other specialties include neurology, cardiology, anesthesiology, dermatology, and oncology. “It’s our research mission that really sets us apart,” says Dr. David Lee, director of the University’s Veterinary Medical Center, which includes the small and large animal hospitals, as well as the satellite equine hospital in Maple Plain.

“We’re not just providing veterinary medicine,” Lee says. “We’re creating it and teaching it so others can use what we’ve learned here, and that’s the exciting part.” Competition for admission to the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is fierce: Just under 1,000 people applied for 100 open spots in 2011. Currently, 384 students are enrolled in the college, and about 44 percent of the students in the class of 2011 focused their studies on small animals.

Millie, hospital director Dr. David Lee’s 3-year-old pug, became an unhappy patient at the Small Animal Hospital in September after she ate almost an entire pack of sugar-free gum. Xylitol, a sweetener in the gum, can cause liver damage in dogs. Veterinary technician Monique Rambo cared for Millie while vomiting was induced, and Millie eventually threw up 31 pieces of gum.
Open since 1983 on the University’s St. Paul campus, the Small Animal Hospital is a nonprofit supported primarily by fees charged for services, though some state funding helps offset the teaching aspect of its mission. “Money spent here is used to directly support veterinary medicine in the state by teaching students, driving research, and doing outreach,” Lee notes, adding that 62 percent of practicing veterinarians in the state graduated from the college.

Jillmarie Stich (left) of Minneapolis brought Samantha, a 7-year-old beagle, to the Small Animal Hospital after years of failed attempts to solve the dog’s skin allergy problems. Dr. Sandra Koch (M.S. ’03), right, an assistant clinical specialist in dermatology, discusses treatment options, including antibiotics and a new hypoallergenic shampoo, and removes a skin lesion to test it for bacteria.

Jillmarie Stich of Minneapolis brought Samantha, a 7-year-old beagle, to the Small Animal Hospital after years of failed attempts to solve the dog’s skin allergy problems. Dr. Sandra Koch (M.S. ’03), right, an assistant clinical specialist in dermatology, discusses treatment options, including antibiotics and a new hypoallergenic shampoo, and removes a skin lesion to test it for bacteria.

The Small Animal Hospital records about 32,000 visits annually. Patients come primarily from the Twin Cities metro area, but the specialized treatment offered at the University also draws pet owners from around the country, and even the world. In the past few years, for example, a cat from North Dakota received treatment for mammary cancer, a dog from Florida had heart surgery, and a dog from India had orthopedic surgery followed by rehabilitation. In the third case, the dog’s owner, Ratan N. Tata, chairman of the India-based business conglomerate the Tata Group, was so pleased with the treatment his dog received he established the Tata Group Chair in Veterinary Orthopedic Surgery. The gift will also be used to advance veterinary education in India by creating an exchange program with the Karnataka Veterinary College in Bangalore.

Right: Kelly Gasper (left) adopted Uno, a calico cat, in South Africa several years ago and brought her back to Minnesota, where the cat now lives with Gasper’s mother. On a recent visit to her mother’s, Gasper noticed Uno was ailing, with swollen limbs and belly, and brought her to the Small Animal Hospital. Uno’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly, and the medical staff believes she has nephrotic syndrome, a type of renal failure in which the kidneys leak protein from the blood into the urine. Dr. Kristin Schafgans (D.V.M. ’08), right, a resident in internal medicine, listens to Uno’s heart.

Below: Ultrasound images of Uno’s kidneys help the doctors diagnose the cat’s health problem.

   Above: Fourth-year veterinary student John Lloyd holds Uno while senior veterinary technician Stacy Ziegenhagen (B.A. ’02) draws blood. Behind her are veterinary technicians Maggie Croud (left) and Shannon Moore. In the foreground, Dr. David Polzin (Ph.D. ’81), a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Kristin Schafgans (D.V.M. ’08) observe.

Local veterinarians often refer pet owners to the U’s Small Animal Hospital, though people may bring their sick or injured pets to the hospital without a referral too. And sometimes animals end up at the U hospital in dramatic fashion. Just over a year ago, the hospital opened its Animal Trauma Center (ATC), offering state-of-the-art emergency care to dogs and cats that are triaged and treated by a team of critical care specialists. Considered efficient and highly successful, the ATC’s treatment model is currently being adopted by the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care Specialists.

“We frequently have clients say, ‘Gee, I don’t take this good of care of myself,’ ” says Lee, acknowledging the costs associated with specialized veterinary care. “But the people who come here typically want to know they’ve done everything they could for their animals.” In some cases, Lee points out, that may mean opting to do nothing. “An awful lot of pet owners don’t realize they have the option to see a specialist,” he explains. “Here, we offer a lot of possible alternatives for treatment and people can decide for themselves what they want to do.” 

  Above and left: Sophie, a yellow Labrador retriever, is put under anesthesia in order to undergo dental work, including a crown and teeth cleaning, by Dr. Wade Gingerich, a third-year resident in dentistry and oral surgery. College of Veterinary Medicine students Ann Kinsley (left) and Jean Kim look on while veterinary medicine student Jen Gallus monitors Sophie while under anesthesia.

Below: Jennifer Marcus Newton of St. Paul brings her rescued greyhound Ryan to the Small Animal Hospital every day for radiation treatment following surgery to remove a cancerous facial tumor. The two were photographed on day 14 of 22 days of treatment. Before each treatment, Ryan must be sedated so that he lies still during the procedure.

Meleah Maynard (B.A. ’91), a Minneapolis-based freelance writer, and photographer Sher Stoneman (B.A. ’87), based in St. Paul, worked together at the Minnesota Daily.


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