Diana’s Six Month Update!

It has been almost 7 months since I started at College Park Road Veterinary Clinic and I realized I haven’t updated my blog in quite some time; I have so much to say about my time here! First and foremost – WHAT A JOURNEY!

Let’s take a quick peek at where I have been (and where I am going!).

Last time I wrote, I had only been here a month. Since then I have found this job has a lot of ups and downs; there are times it can send you into an array of emotions that are so overwhelming, and this alone takes quite some time to figure out.

I was having a very hard time finding my place at the clinic.  In this job, it is hard to find one person you learn from the best.  Everyone in the clinic has something they can teach you; the trouble is that not everyone does everything the same way. The diversity is wonderful but is often confusing. I found myself getting a little stressed with different people showing me different ways of doing the same thing, especially when the task is a little scary… such as trying to help an animal that does not want to be helped!  I think that this has been one of my biggest challenges yet.  However, I will say that the one person here who has made it as easy as possible for me is Mara, our head technician.  She has taught me so much and I have learned at an amazing rate being under her guidance.  I love learning from her, and appreciate all of her knowledge that she shares with me.

I have also passed my Level 1 Technician Assistant training. I am now able to load rooms and help clients with little to no help from other technicians. My confidence is growing and I am finding that the knowledge I have gained is allowing me to ask the right questions to get the information needed to help the veterinarians. This was very difficult at first because every appointment and every patient are here for different problems, which have different needs, which require very specific questions.  Knowing what questions to ask is the hardest part of loading rooms.  This has taken a lot of practice, patience and listening; but I can finally say I feel much better about it!  Dr. Marcario has gone to great lengths to help me get to where I am today and I am so grateful for all her help and support. I can FINALLY say that I feel comfortable in the clinic.  I am starting to find my place and I feel as though I truly belong here.  The technicians and doctors are starting to trust me with more complicated tasks which make me feel like I am doing things right.

One thing is for certain, this job is definitely NOT for the faint of heart.  I have learned that I have an EXTREMELY STRONG STOMACH.  Working in health care, human or animal, comes with many different fluids… all of which come with many different smells. It has been an interesting challenge just learning how to deal with the messes we see (and clean up).

In closing, there have been many moments where I thought about quitting; I thought that I couldn’t handle it; I thought that it was too much for me or that I would never learn what I needed to learn to do a great job.  It’s easy to feel that way because no one writes a script everyday on what’s going to walk in the door. Working with peoples pets is very emotional; it is just like working with their children. When you are caught between emotions and insecurities it is hard to stay positive.  I have made mistakes that have caused my co-workers extra work; I have learned to own my mistakes and have now learned how to correct them.  Now, 7 months into this job I can say I am so glad I didn’t give up, that I stayed strong and kept going.  I love my job! Being a part of a team of people who love animals the way I do is an amazing experience. I cannot imagine missing out on watching our puppy and kitten patients grow up; or helping the sick pets get better. I am so blessed to be a part of an amazing group of people, all who have helped me grow everyday into the technician I want to be one day; and I am proud of the technician I see myself becoming.

Diana Whittaker


What are diagnostics? Can my doctor use language that I understand?

When pets are sick our first instinct is what we need to do to help them. For human doctors this is a little easier because they rarely have to deal with the financial aspect of who is going to pay the bill and when. But we find it very helpful, in stressful situations, when the owners understand what we are asking of them and why.

Dr. Marcario wrote me a blog on some of the most common diagnostic tests for common problems and why they are each so important; so that one day if you find yourself in a situation needing to make these decisions, you will go into this a little more understanding of what you might find yourself paying for.

When your pets become ill it can be a very emotional time.  Sometimes illness comes on quickly and sometimes it creeps up on your pets. At College park Road Veterinary Clinic we are committed to doing all we can to diagnose your pet so we can treat him/her as specifically as possible.

One of the things about being a veterinarian that I love the most is solving the puzzle of the ill patients. What’s wrong? How do I make this pet feel better? Can I cure this pet?  The history we receive from you, the pet owners, and our physical exam and two important tools in learning how we should gear our diagnostics and treatment. However, we require diagnostic testing to get a more specific direction.  When your pet is will, we will make you a diagnostic plan to gather more information regarding your pet’s condition.  I want to take this time to review some options you may see on your diagnostic plans and what information they give us.

1) Fecal exam- tests for intestinal worms and single cell parasites that commonly cause gastrointestinal upset. You will see this on your diagnostic plan if you pet presents with diarrhea or nonspecific GI signs and you pet hasn’t had a check recently.

2)Heartworm test- This can be for dogs or cats. If you pet is presenting with coughing, trouble breathing, vomiting, inappetance, distended abdomen, heart murmur  or your pet has not had a heart worm check recently you will see this on your plan.

3)FeLV/FIV- This is a test for cats.  These are diseases that can present any time in the cat’s life, so testing in kitten hood does not guarantee your cat will never have these diseases. Often we see cats present with fever, upper respiratory signs, anemias, pneumonia, abscesses, stomatitis(infections, redness and swelling in the mouth) and general malaise. Almost any time a cat presents ill we recommend retesting the FeLV and FIV status.

4)Chemistry Screen- There are many chemistry screens available from very extensive to extremely limited.  We make recommendations based on how ill your pet is and clinical signs. These tell us what the liver, kidneys, electrolytes are doing. Sometimes abnormalities in these can lead us down a more specific road of diagnostics and treatment.

5)CBC or Complete blood Count. This test tells us about how the red blood cells and white blood cells are behaving. Abnormalities in these can give us clues to what disease process is happening in your pet and how quickly we need to treat.  Other tests associated with the CBC that are done separately are coagulation testing to see if the blood clots properly. Reticulocyte count tells us if the bone marrow is making red cells. Pathology review allows a board certified pathologist to evaluate the red blood cells specifically to see how they look and if they are damaged or toxic.

6)UA or Urinalysis- This is an evaluation of the urine. Typically we will obtain and sterile sample but cystocentesis with the ultrasound. That means we use sonography to visualize the urinary bladder and get a sample with a needle.  This test allows us to see the concentration of the urine, which represents the water content of the urine, The more water the lower the concentration. The lower the concentration the more we have to worry if there is a problem. Low urine concentrations can come from problems in the urinary system as well as problems in other major organs and hormone dysfunctions. It also checks for sugar in the urine(as in diabetes, cushing’s disease, Fanconi syndrome), ketones, proteins, and evaluates the cellular component of the urine to look for red cells, white cells, bacteria, crystals and casts.  Casts can indicate a direct problem in the kidneys. Since we often see changes int he urine before we see changes in the blood and urine test is usually recommend when we are working up a sick patient.

7) Urine culture-  While a UA can tell you that there is bacteria in the urine, a urine culture tells us exact what species of bacteria is groaning and which antibiotics it is susceptible to. The test generally takes about a week to get results from. At the lab, the urine is placed in a special medium to grow the bacteria. Once the bacteria grows, it is placed in a medium of antibiotics to see which ones will kill them. Without this test, we don’t know if the antibiotics we prescribe your pet for lower urinary tract signs, are able to kill off the infection. In essence, skipping this test when recommended could potentially cause you to spend extra money by causing us to guess at which antibiotics will work.

8) X-rays or radiographs- This is a form of imaging. It is a two dimensional picture of the insides of your pet.  X-rays help us to determine if there is anything on the inside we cannot feel or hear that we need to be concerned about.

So, as you see, each test provides us with a different piece of information that helps us put your pet’s puzzle together. Each piece is important, but our doctors can guide you in the event of financial constraint as to what is most important. In some cases all the diagnostics are important and it might be tough for us to guide you through that, but we will do the best we can.

Boarding Kennel vs. Doggie Day Care?!?

With Doggie Day Care being all the rage right now in the pet world, I asked myself, what is the real difference between an old fashioned boarding kennel and this doggie day care idea?

So, I sat down to do some thinking…

The first thing I think of is that a doggie day care is a wonderful, cage-less environment that dogs get to play in all day while their owners are away. How cool is that?!? I mean, if I was a dog I would want to be doing that… right?

Let’s back up a few years (well, more than a few, but let’s not give our age away). When I started working in the world of veterinary medicine and boarding kennels, there was a standard that was similar across the board. Boarding kennels were a safe place that you could leave your pet while you were gone. All kennels had a variety of cage sizes to meet the need of your pet. Dogs were walked and played with 3 – 4 times a day and not allowed to interact with other pets.

Now, let’s fast forward to today. Today’s pet owner wants the doggie day care, with the four poster beds, sleeper sofa’s and the closed circuit TV’s in each “room”. They want their pet to make lots of doggie friends and have lots of play dates; maybe even a tea party.

But is one really better (or worse) then the other?

Well I am going to give you my two cents (or five cents) of thoughts…

  • No matter where I leave my pet when I am gone, I want them to be clean, safe and well taken care of. I want to employees of the kennel to know what they are doing. I want the employees to know the signs of illness or injury and be able to get my pet the help it might need. I am well aware that a pet in a boarding kennel is a different animal then the pet I have at home. Kennels can be loud and full of energy. Pets can become very excited and might behave in a completely different way.
  • I may know my pet and if he/she is safe and well socialized enough to behave in a group… but I honestly don’t want to put my pet’s safety at risk while I am gone. Pets do not behave in the same manner at a kennel or day care as they do at home, if someone else’s “bad kid” starts a fight, my pet may be injured as a result. I like to know that my pet is receiving one on one attention with the person in charge of their daily care. I want them to know my pet inside and out.
  • Working in the field of veterinary medicine I have been on the receiving end of some other day cares dog fights. Although this does not happen often, it can be very devastating. And even if the odds are one in a million; if that one dog is yours, the odds suddenly don’t matter anymore.
  • Lastly, some dogs, like people (like me) are very introverted. The thought of being put in a yard full of playful, bouncing dogs, sounds like as much fun as scraping dried paint off an old chair. Frankly, I’d rather do the later; I like quiet, calm time!

Are you wondering why am I writing this article?

Not that long ago I was asked to oversee the management and marketing of a boarding kennel. I can honestly say we have one of the cleanest and safest kennels in our area.  Our employees are trained and certified in pet health care. These certifications guarantee that employees have a complete understanding of pet health care and how to recognize and handle emergency situations as well vaccination protocols and behavior assessments.

I thought for a minute… if clients want doggie day care then that’s what we will bring them.

But I think I was wrong (and I only admit that on very rare occasions!). We must strive to do what we do best… and that is focus on a safe, clean environment with a well educated staff of kennel technicians that are backed by veterinary technicians and veterinarians.

So, as always, do what is best for your pet. But think about all the options out there, and about what is most important to you and your pet.

Whats the difference?

We often see our clients take their new puppies and kittens to low-cost spay and neuter clinics because of the difference in price between a private veterinarian and a low-cost clinic. But are these two options really to same? Are private veterinarians just charging more for the same, run of the mill, surgery?

The answer is no.

Low cost spat/neuter facilities operate on a tight budget in order to provide a low cost service and still be able to pay for supplies and staff. This means they may use cheaper materials for suture and anesthesia; they may not have a protocol for controlling pain and nausea, often have limited hours, and may not have monitoring equipment or capabilities in case of emergency. Probably most important is the fact that a low cost performs a high volume of surgeries each day. This limits the individual attention a patient can receive if an “assembly line” approach is used. Often these are the situations were only the ovaries are removed and the uterus is left behind so as to save time or where the entire spay is performed through a tiny incision only a half inch or so long so as to save time closing ( and sacrifice inspection of the abdomen for bleeding). Most of the time the result is the same but it is a good idea to know what one is paying for.

At College Park Road Vet Clinic we have a doctor/technician team which is dedicated to your family pet from start with the pre-op physical exam throughout the surgery and recovery.

Monitoring equipment is truly the best available and all surgeries have intravenous catheters and fluids along with intra operative and post op medications to help control pain, anxiety and nausea. All pets recover from surgery in a warmed recovery cage with a technician that can evaluate them for any type of discomfort. We have a doctor available for questions or emergencies and we will give you a call the day after surgery to check up on your post op patient and answer any additional questions.

Another consideration is the vaccination status at low cost /shelter facilities. In most cases there are no requirements that all patients must meet. Your pet could share space with a dog that is incubating or shedding parvo virus or your cat could be exposed to a cat that has an active respiratory infection or feline leukemia. At College Park each pet has its own space and it not in contact with any other pet.

Although there is a larger than life need for these clinics in the fight over animal over population and homeless animals; there is a big difference in the service provided to these pets.

As always, it is our job to give out the information and let our clients make the informed decision. So, know what you are paying for and what you expect for your pets care.

Twilight Dental Cleanings?

I have heard of some veterinary clinics starting to do anesthesia free dental’s; or what they call “Twilight Dentals”. We regularly have clients ask us why their pet must be put under anesthesia, and often times will decline regular dental services because they are worried about their pet and anesthesia.
I decided I needed to do a little research to find out about the safety and pros and cons of these procedures.
A Little Background in Veterinary Dentistry:
Everybody knows that pets, just like people, have bacteria in their mouths. Just like people, that bacteria mixes with saliva to produce plaque that lives above and below the gum-line. If plaque remains on the teeth, it begins to mineralize in as little as 24 hours, and turns into tartar. Tartar, unlike plaque, is adhered to the tooth above and below the gum-line and cannot be removed without special dental equipment.
Pets can’t brush their teeth on their own, and it is still somewhat of a novel idea to most pet owners that they should be brushing their pets teeth on a daily basis.A lack in brushing causes plaque and tartar to accumulate to levels that a human dental hygienist would likely loose their lunch over. Along with all that bacteria comes gingivitis and really bad breath.
Traditionally, it has been common practice that if a pet requires a dental cleaning, or any dental work, it must be under full general anesthesia in order to receive the treatment. Since only a licensed veterinarian can administer anesthesia  to a pet, it can be assumed that only veterinary teams can perform dentistry.
However, lately, there has been a rise in anesthesia-free dental cleanings being performed by pet stores, grooming facilities, and even boarding kennels. These non-professional dental cleanings are cleverly marketed to people with older pets and/or tiny budgets, claiming that anesthesia is too risky in mature pets, and too expensive for the everyday pet owner. In 2012, the US ruled that dental cleanings can only be performed by veterinarians, however, now there are some veterinary facilities offering this service.

Safety Concerns:

  • Lacerations: dental hand instruments are really sharp, the smallest movement from a pet, even the most cooperative animal, and lead to sliced gums or even fingers of the person using them. Talk about painful!
  • Aspiration Pneumonia: there is so much tartar coming off those teeth, that it would be entirely possible for an awake animal to inhale a big chunk and get a raging lung infection. Under general anesthesia, there is an endotracheal tube protecting the pets airway so that this doesn’t happen.
  • Choking: an ultra-sonic scaler vibrates at an incredibly high rate that it requires a water drip to keep it cool so that it doesn’t damage the teeth. This mist can easily pool in the mouth and become a choking hazard. Again, an endotracheal tube under general anesthesia prevents this from happening. Not to mention, the ultra-sonic scaler is less traumatic than using dental instruments alone.

Medical Concerns:

  • Disease control: it is the tartar and plaque that lies under the gum-line that causes periodontal disease. Reaching these sharp instruments under there to clear away all of it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do in an awake pet. Therefore, if the tartar under the gum-line isn’t fully cleaned away, you aren’t getting to the root of the dental problem (pardon the pun). That tartar will continue to sit there and oral disease will keep getting worse.
  • Full cleaning: this involves, cleaning every surface of every tooth, including the inside surfaces of the teeth (called lingual and palatal surfaces). Have you ever tried to hold your pets mouth open for more than a few seconds? Now try holding it open for about 15-30 minutes while sticking sharp instruments in there.
  • Stress: animals, just like people, all display stress differently. Dental instruments make unfamiliar sounds, and create unfamiliar sensations in the mouth, and that can be very stressful to a pet of any age or personality. In fact, some cats won’t move an inch when they are really stressed, making a lot of people think they are being well behaved when they are actually so stressed they can’t move.
I know that I will continue to support the view that veterinary dentistry should always be performed under general anesthesia. There are so many other arguments I could share, but I’ve already gone on long enough. What are your thoughts though? Have you ever taken your pet for dental cleanings with or without anesthesia? What was your expectation and experience?

My First Month

Hello all!  Well it has been a month since I started my new career as a veterinary technician.  And what an amazing month it has been.  I have to say I work with an amazing staff, great doctors, and wonderful clients.  I am really enjoying all aspects of the field.  Some more than others, I will admit.

As I said before, it’s not just playing with puppies and kittens.  There are a lot of unexpected instances that have surprised me greatly.  Starting this career with ZERO experience means I have to work, and learn twice as hard.  There isn’t one part of this job that isn’t challenging.  I will say the most challenging part is earning the trust of your veterinarian.  To do their job well, they need to trust their technician.  I would say a relationship between veterinarian and vet tech is like a well-oiled machine.  If the machine isn’t running together correctly, so many things can go wrong.  That being said, try being a technician with NO experience earning the trust of your veterinarian.  It is a difficult task, but one I will accomplish.

I have learned a lot in one months’ time.  I can pull vaccines, take and read fecal tests, run blood tests, take temperatures, and count accurate respiratory and pulse rates. Animal restraint is a hard task to master.  If the animal isn’t restrained properly then you or your veterinarian could get bit.  In all honesty, the hardest part about this job is talking with clients.  When I load a room I have to ask specific questions, specific to the patient.  With those answers comes the questions I must ask to get more history of the issue, so I can explain in as much detail as needed to the veterinarian what is wrong with the patient.  The more detail, the better our veterinarian can know how to treat the issue.  That responsibility is mine.  That is what I mean about a veterinarians trust to their technician.  They are trusting ME to get all the information they need to treat their patient in the best way possible.  It is not as easy as it sounds.  Ever patient is different.  And customer service is everything in this business.  It can make or break an appointment.

It is extremely hard to fit into a job where everyone knows what they have to do.  Its challenging for me personally because the veterinarians would prefer to go to a technician that can get the job done without any questions.  Very understandable.  They want to get their job done as fast and as efficiently as possible.  So why look to the “new girl?”  That’s ok. I continue to make a conscious effort to work hard to EARN their trust in me so I will be that technician who is looked to for assistance.  It is my number one goal!!

Well until next time, thanks for reading!  Hope you are enjoying this journey just as much as me!

Whats up with cultures?!?

After working in the field of veterinary medicine for almost 15 years I think I have narrowed down one of the least understood and least utilized tests for patients because owners decline it.

What is this mysterious test you might ask??

It’s a culture!! All kinds of things can be cultured in veterinary medicine, but cultures for ear infections and urinary tract infections are so very important, but rarely done. The reasons they are declined are sometimes obvious; they are expensive. But the expense is relative to the generous amount of information you and your veterinarian get.

If you watch TV or read anything on the internet you will have heard about all of these crazy super bacteria’s that ravage the human health care system. We are fortunate in veterinary medicine because we have not seen as much of these “bugs”, but they are becoming more and more common. The bacteria causing recurring ear and urinary tract infections are becoming more and more resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics, and we are compounding the problem because the more that we just haphazardly choose antibiotics for infections that we are not sure of, we may be teaching these bacteria to be resistant. Bacteria are smart, and are programmed to evolve to survive.

So what does a culture do for us?

When we take a sample of these questionable bacteria and send it to the lab; and then we wait, sometimes up to a week. What to know what happening while we wait? The lab it=s hard at work growing and identifying the bacteria that are causing all the pain and inflammation to our pets. Once they grow and identify these bacteria they test them against a variety of antibiotics. They will tell us which antibiotics do not work at all and which ones kill these little bacteria. They will even take this a step further and tell us at which dose the medication is effective.

This takes all the guessing out and we know for sure what bacteria we are dealing with and how difficult it may be to get rid of.

In a world where bacteria are getting more and more resistant this is a very important tool for us.

So next time your veterinarian asks you to do a culture on your pet, please think twice before saying no!

My first two weeks

It has always been my dream to have a job helping animals. Being involved in the veterinary field has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. At the age of 32, I am finally able to fulfill my dream.

The questions that I am most often asked, “is being a veterinary assistant everything you thought is would be?”

I have known a few vet techs in my life, all who have told me it’s a great job but definitely underestimated. I never really knew what they meant by that. I mean how hard could it be right? You get to work with animals! There is nothing better then that! It’s easy.

I never realized how wrong I was. Don’t get me wrong; working with animals is great, but a lot harder than most people think, including myself.

My first day of work I walked into the clinic with pep in my step, I was on top of the world. I finally got the opportunity I have been dreaming about. I observed vaccines being given, x-rays being taken, ultrasounds being performed and even a few surgical procedures. At that point I realized something, being a veterinary assistant is much more than playing with puppies ans kittens, as most people think. It’s extremely technical. You have to be accurate with everything you do because if you make a mistake it could mean harming a patient. And when I came to that realization, I will admit, it was frightening.

Aside from all the exciting things I witnessed in my first week, I also witnessed the more emotional side of what we do. My first day consisted of four euthanasia’s, more then this clinic does in a week. Was I sad for the animals? Not exactly… Loss of life is sad, but when these pets have lived a long, happy life, you know when it’s time to let go. The most difficult part is seeing a fellow pet owner grieve over the loss of one of their family members. Having made these decision’s for my own pets I feel a connection to the pain they are going through. But knowing these decisions are made out of love and compassion to see these pet’s released from the pain of old age or disease, makes it a lot easier. This is a gift we provide to alleviate pain and provide peace and comfort in the owners time of sorrow.

Now being two weeks into the job, the most frequent question I get asked now is “now that you have seen everything, does the job still excite you? Is it still everything you thought it would be?” Absolutely! It is hard, it gets frustrating. I can honestly say it is a lot harder then I anticipated. I want to learn everything and do well; and I accept the fact that I will make mistakes. I know that my new work family will help me learn and grow, and protect me when times get rough. I continue to tell myself that “I can do this, I will do this, and I will be great”. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the for anything!

Written by our newest member, Diana.