Interesting Pet Questions

I have often thought that I might want to be a veterinarian.  What are the educational and work experiences required to be a veterinarian?

I’m delighted to hear that you are interested in becoming a veterinarian.  It is a challenging and rewarding career with many options for employment in industry, private practice and public service.  Veterinarians work in the military, for pharmaceutical companies, in state and federal government agencies, as livestock veterinarians, on fish farms, as well as in companion animal practices, zoos, wildlife parks, laboratories, and so on.

The educational requirements are that you receive a high school diploma, and complete at least 2 years of college before entering veterinary school.  You must pass courses in Physics, Organic Chemistry, and General Biology (each with a lab).  Most veterinary students have completed a Bachelor’s Degree, but some are admitted after 2-3 years of college.  The competition is great.  There are typically 10 applicants for every available slot in U.S. veterinary schools compared to 1 applicant for every 4 slots in U.S. medical colleges.  Most applicants have some work experience in veterinary clinics or on farms prior to admission into the veterinary program.  State residency requirements are strict, and so most students from Virginia will attend the veterinary school at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  Some students will attend veterinary school in a foreign country for 1-4 years before transferring to a U.S. veterinary school.

Once you are admitted to veterinary school, you must complete 4 years of education resulting in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.  The course work is challenging.  The first 2 years are spent learning basic sciences of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology.  The third year is spent studying disease processes and their treatments.  The fourth year is spent in the teaching hospital managing actual cases with supervision by veterinary specialists and instructors.  During the fourth year of veterinary school, the student must pass the National Board Exam and the Clinical Competency tests.  After graduation the student must then meet the individual requirements for the particular state in which they want to practice.  Once these requirements are met, the veterinarian is free to begin practice. 

Unlike physicians, veterinarians (and dentists) are not required to complete internships or residencies before practice, but most will work in a clinic with other veterinarians as mentors.  There is a growing trend in companion animal medicine for veterinarians to pursue specialization in a particular field such as ophthalmology, dermatology, surgery, and so on.  These individuals will spend 1 year at a veterinary school or specialty practice as a general intern, and then approximately 3 years in a residency program eventually becoming certified by the “Board” of their particular field of study.  In order to claim the title of “Specialist” the individual must be certified by a group of specialists that are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

As you can see, becoming a “Veterinarian” can lead to many career options.  Good luck on your quest!

What is the best food for my dog?

There are many opinions regarding proper feeding of dogs. Some people advocate premium brands while others prefer canned food over dry. The truth of the matter is that there is no convincing scientific evidence to say that any food is better for your pet than another. Breeders, dog trainers, groomers, pet store employees, shelter and animal rescue workers all have their favorite dietary recommendations. Unfortunately few of these individuals have any advanced (or even rudimentary) education in biochemistry, physiology, or nutrition. The result is an alarming amount of misinformation. When studies compare dog food side by side, no one can tell which dogs were fed which foods.

The most common nutritional disease we see is OVERNUTRITION. Obesity is rampant among the human and animal populations in the United States. We have shown clearly that thin dogs live 2 years longer than fat dogs. Purina® funded the study that demonstrated this fact. If a pet food manufacturer pays for and publishes a study that says we should feed less pet food, I believe them. Although canned food is nutritionally complete and adequate, most of our canine patients that eat canned food are obese (it is the exact opposite for felines). If you feed canned food you must pay attention to portion control and weigh your dog regularly. Optimum body condition is reached when you can feel your dog’s ribs, but you cannot see them. For dogs with heavy coats, you should use your hands to feel over the ribcage for any jiggle.

There is no advantage to feeding puppy food. The nutritional requirements of puppies are met fully with adult dog food. Puppies should be fed 2-3 times per day. They should be offered enough so that they walk away with food left in their bowl. The food should be left out for a maximum of 10 minutes. As puppies reach 3-4 months of age, limit the feeding to 2 times per day. Rapid growth in puppies leads to orthopedic problems, hip dysplasia, and arthritis later in life. Puppies that grow up skinny are healthier than puppies that grow up chubby.

Although we don’t have any particular brand preference for dog food, we do recommend avoiding “generic” dog foods and “wholesale club” brands. The way they keep their costs low is often by changing the ingredients to whatever is cheap at the time. It is best to keep the same food throughout your dog’s life. Don’t buy whatever is on sale or whatever you have a coupon for. Don’t waste your money on “premium” brands that you can only get at special stores. As long as you feed a national brand that you’ve heard of before, you should be fine. Stick with names like Purina®, Alpo®, Pedigree®, etc. Some dogs do better on brand A, B, C, or D, but others will do better on brand X, Y, or Z. In summary, feed what ever your dog likes. Don’t buy into the marketing hype of premium or trendy dog foods. Stick with the same food. Don’t overfeed.