The University of Illinois’ veterinary teaching hospital offers 2,000-plus different procedures. Here are just a few of them.
Neonatal intensive care
Just like human babies, newborn horses sometimes need to spend the first days of their lives in intensive care.
There are two dedicated stalls that serve as the equine neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital, in which mom and baby are separated but still kept close enough for a protective mom to smell and nuzzle her foal.
"We think that continuing that bonding is so important," says Dr. Pamela Wilkins, an equine emergency and critical care specialist.
The foals sleep on mats, covered with a synthetic sheepskin material so they don't get bedsores. They lay on diapers that are changed to keep them dry, "and we put baby powder on them," Wilkins says.
Some of these babies undergoing monitoring and treatment are preemies. Some were born weakened and unresponsive by infections, some have musculoskeletal problems or one of a few versions of colic, and some were oxygen-deprived at birth, Wilkins says.
The hospital has a pretty good save rate for its neonatal foals, about 80 percent, the same as the best care facilities worldwide, she says.
The losses include some euthanized foals because not everyone can afford the cost of this care, Wilkins says. It can run from $500 to $1,000 for a 24-36 hour stay on up to $20,000 for a foal that is very ill, she said.
People aren't the only ones who develop cataracts. Veterinary ophthalmologists at the UI do about 40 cataract surgeries a year on animals — most of them dogs, along with a couple of horses and the occasional cat — says veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Ralph Hamor.
The veterinary surgery is done about the same way, with about the same equipment, that the human surgery is done, he says.
Cataracts, a cloudy vision condition that can lead to blindness, is commonly an inherited condition in dogs, but the second-most common cause is diabetes, Hamor says.
For a dog, being able to see well enough to get outside and exercise is a big quality of life issue, particularly for a diabetic dog.
"They're more likely to get out and about and take walks," Hamor says.
Like human folks, some animals get arthritis. Some become overweight. Some undergo back, hip and knee surgeries. And help is available through the hospital's rehabilitation services program, which is similar to physical therapy for people.
Dogs benefit from several of the services, according to Kim Knap, a UI veterinary rehab specialist.
"We have a large population of dogs that have chronic arthritis, which is fairly common," she says.
Overweight dogs are also common these days, but they can start out the new year just like people do — on a diet and exercise program Knap runs called Shape Up Pup.
"It's like a Weight Watchers for dogs," she says. "We tell them how many calories they can eat per day. We advise on exercise. We work on very gradually increasing their fitness and reducing their calories so they can change their lifestyle."
The department's water treadmill is in much demand, especially for injured animals, Knap says.
But it's not all about dogs. Knap has been using laser therapy to treat a cow with a leg injury from a mishap with food bin and a bald eagle's damaged wing.
One recent rehab patient was a pet potbellied pig that fell off a couch and suffered a neurologic injury and couldn't walk, Knap says.
"We worked with him, just as you'd work with a stroke victim," she adds.
Saving dogs and cats
In a cat, stones as small as sesame seeds can cause an obstruction that can lead to kidney failure and death.
Dr. Heidi Phillips, a veterinary small animal surgeon, can remove the obstruction with the help of a large operating microscope in a procedure called a ureterotomy.
"We cut into the ureter, remove the stones and close the ureter back up," she says.
How well a cat does with this surgery depends on the degree of kidney failure at the time, Phillips says. She may be saving what kidney function the cat has left and buying more time.
"They can do very well for years after that procedure, but it depends if they have significant kidney failure at that point."
Alternative pain relief
For arthritis, hip dysplasia and disc disease and after orthopedic surgeries, pain relief doesn't always come in pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Stuart Clark-Price, a veterinary anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, also uses acupuncture, the practice of sticking tiny needles into nerve points to try and stimulate healing.
"We feel it helps as a non-pharmaceutical method for pain management in animals that either can't handle the drugs for pain management, or as an adjunctive to it," he says.
And for some animals who have a neurologic injury, Clark-Stuart says, the hope is that acupuncture can over-stimulate neurologic pathways to make them robust enough to take over the duties of injured nerves.
Clark-Stewart has been using acupuncture to treat pain for several years. He uses it most commonly with dogs — most commonly geriatric, arthritic dogs — followed by horses, and the occasional cow, but he's also treated some birds and one fox.
There are many options for pets with cancer — chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and clinical trials — says Dr. Laura Garrett, a veterinary oncologist.
— One study for cats: The human type 2 diabetes drug metformin, which may have anti-cancer effects, is now being tested in cats with cancer.
Cats with any measurable cancer can be enrolled, as long as they don't have any organ dysfunction or concurrent disease that would limit their survival.
"We're testing for drug levels in the blood and to see that they don't have side effects, and we're looking to see how cats respond to the drug," Garrett says. "It's been very well tolerated so far."
— For dogs: In people, bone-stabilizing drugs called bisphosphonates are used to treat osteoporosis. At the UI, these drugs been studied to help relieve pain, build and stabilize bone and prevent amputation for dogs with osteosarcoma, the most common bone tumor found in dogs but most commonly in large-breed dogs, Garrett says.
One recently completed study found two doses of radiation and monthly doses of a newer bisphosphonate called zoledronate showed good improved pain control with about an extra year of good quality survival. And the dog is spared a leg amputation.
While dogs are no longer being enrolled in that study, the treatment is still available.
The hospital added a neurology section last spring.
Neurology cases have been divided between internal medicine for non-surgical nervous system issues and orthopedic surgery, and now neurologist Devon Hague says she is seeing animals with back pain, seizures, paralysis, tremors and balance issues.
She also does neurological surgeries such as removal of brain tumors and for treatment of hydrocephalus (water on the brain) when medication management won't work.
Hague also sees some pets with epilepsy. Most epilepsy in dogs can be controlled by medication, but in about one-third of cases, dogs with seizures may need more than one medication and can benefit from a neurology consultation, she says.
The UI veterinary teaching hospital, by the numbers:
2,650 ultrasounds on dogs, cats and exotic animals that are pets
582 CT scans
330 dental extractions
96 spinal surgeries on small animals
70 surgeries to repair knee problems on small animals
40 cataract surgeries
60 acupuncture treatments
10 colonoscopies on small animals
3,300 animals — 70 percent of them dogs — brought to the small animal emergency service each year
1,600 farm calls are made per year for about 60,000 animals, mostly herds of pigs, cows and chickens, but also some deer, goats and mink
1,200-plus horses are also seen