Pets


Lyme disease on the rise in Vermont.

World Veterinary Day is April 28. The AVMA has a press release.

The USDA has extended for another six months its BSE-testing contract with the University of Washington College of Veterinary Medicine. UW’s is the only BSE testing program in the Pacific Northwest.

An update from the New York Times on the 2005 fake veterinarian case. (You remember, the case in which Fred the cat went undercover to bust a Brooklyn man practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Sadly, Fred was later killed in a traffic accident.)

For the seventh straight year Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine has been ranked the top vet school in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

“Fat Cat Goes Wild”: another cat attack in the news.

Serbia is trying to give the veterinary and food production sectors of its economy a boost.

Veterinarians strike (briefly) in Cyprus.

The EU announced plans to form an emergency veterinary team similar to the AVMA’s VMATs.

News flash! Pet food scare over! So said a Florida veterinarian last week. The head of the AVMA says food is safe.

Advertisements

Hill’s appears to have heard the loud chorus of veterinarians upset about their handling of the m/d recall and their initial refusal to offer to pay for testing of affected cats. Here’s the letter from the president of Hill’s:

Dear Colleague,

Hill’s announces Prescription Diet® m/d® Feline dry pet food medical screening payment plan

As you know, Hill’s makes all its products with an overriding commitment to the health and well being of pets. With that in mind, on March 30, we notified you of our decision in conjunction with the FDA to issue a precautionary voluntary recall of a single product, Prescription Diet® m/d® Feline dry pet food, our only product containing the wheat gluten at issue other than the earlier recalled Science Diet® Savory Cuts® pet food. A list of recalled products is available on our website, http://www.hillspet.com. This recall was done in an abundance of caution, as the FDA has not yet been able to determine a cause for any pet illness.

However, to further reinforce our commitment to both pets and the veterinary profession, Hill’s is announcing a plan to offset medical screening costs you have incurred to support your clients who have purchased Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry pet food from January 2007 to the present.

Hill’s has decided to take this action to help support so many in the profession who have already extended themselves to assist their clients during this difficult time.

The program will provide a one time payment of $100 per patient tested. This is being made available to help offset the costs of standard tests that would otherwise be borne by your client or yourself. In the case of tests previously conducted, it is up to you to reimburse your clients for out of pockets costs up to $100. This payment shall be available for all requests thru May 30, 2007.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition would like to thank each of you for your on-going support of the Prescription Diet business and encourage you to take advantage of this offer.

Sincerely yours,
Justin Skala
President, North America

Karen Padgett, DVM
Chief of the Veterinary Business Channel

The University of Guelph Laboratory Services department has posted images of crystals taken from a cat suspected to have ingested melamine-tainted food. Guelph hasn’t been able to identify the cystals yet, but mass spectrometry shows them to be 30 percent melamine and to have a different spectrum than ammonium urate or xanthine. Several veterinarians on VIN are reporting seeing crystals similar to those posted by Guelph.

The current issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Association (Vol. 230, No. 7, 1 April 2007) arrived at the office recently. Of note:

  • An interesting “What Is Your Diagnosis” (995–996) offers a novel presentation of M. haemofelis (although the report does not note any genetic confirmation, only cytologic).
  • An article discusses “Sexual Harassment Issues in Veterinary Practice” (1007–1010), providing a review of sexual harassment law, a series of practical steps to avoid sexual harassment liability (have a written sexual harassment policy, provide training, handle complaints promptly, etc.), and tips for employees who are being sexually harassed.
  • A study (1011–1017; abstract) finds little significant difference between feline blood glucose curves done at home and those done in clinic settings and confirms that for in-home curves “there is significant day-to-day variability . . . even when factors such as insulin dose and meal size remain constant and the cat is at home in a stress-free environment.”
  • A study (1018–1023; abstract) reports on a rare case of Histoplasma capsulatum affecting the nervous system of a cat. Treatment included not only itraconazole but physical therapy, which the authors believe played a significant role in the positive outcome of the case.
  • Two anemia case studies are presented. One, another feline case study (1024–1027; abstract), tells of a cat that presented for acute lethargy and was ultimately diagnosed with immune-mediated erythroid and megakaryocytic aplasia. The other (1028–1031; abstract) tells of a parrot that presented with progressive lethargy (among other symptoms) and was ultimately diagnosed with immune-mediated hemolytic anemia.
  • A retrospective case series (1032–1037; abstract) looks at chronic nasal discharge in cats and concludes that it’s difficult to obtain an etiologic diagnosis in many cases. The article reviews standard laboratory tests, imaging, rhioscopy, and biopsy and finds that a combination of the latter three offers “the best chance of diagnosis.”

Three articles in the press about pets and lawsuits. The first two are about lawsuits against Menu Foods. The last is about that currently rare (but soon to flourish) species, the malpractice suit against a veterinarian.

“Pet Owners Likely to Get Little in Suits”
The AP suggests class-action lawsuits might be the better option for pet owners affected by the pet-food recall. Unfortunately, the AP doesn’t do a good job explaining why this is so (or even whether the title of the story refers to class action or individual suits). The story accurately notes that in most states pets are legally considered personal property.

That means that even for the loss of a faithful family companion, a successful civil lawsuit would not likely produce much reward, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

“With animals, all you get is the value of the property,” he said. “There are no emotional damages.”

Okay. So why then would banding together in a class action produce a better outcome for pet owners? The AP never says. Catmanager’s opinion (note: although I worked for two years in the law library of a major New York law firm, I have no legal training) is that while a class action would almost certainly benefit attorneys (who would take 30–50 percent of any monetary judgment), the benefits to plaintiffs are possible but far from guarranteed. First, the cost-benefit analysis. The cost of participating in a class action will likely be lower for individual pet owners than filing individual lawsuits. If awards are limited to the replacement value of the pet, which will be negligible for most non-pedigree animals, plus (possibly) the cost of veterinary care, then pet owners in a class action that reaches a verdict might see anywhere from $25 (if only replacement value of the pet is awarded) to $2500 (if veterinary bills are reimbursed, assuming vet bills of $5000, which is probably a high figure). However, as the emphasis in the previous sentence is meant to suggest, pet owners need to consider the possibility that a class action will result not in a jury verdict and award but instead a negotiated settlement. Attorneys often have more incentive to settle than to see a trial through to verdict. By settling, they get paid for sure (filing a class action doesn’t mean you’ll win). They get paid sooner rather than (possibly much) later. They incur far less risk for still significant gain. (Imagine 1000 pet owners with average vet bills of $5000 sign on to a class action. Assume that a successful trial would only recover the vet bills. That’s $5 million. The attorneys take 50 percent or $2.5 million. What incentive do they have to go through the expense and uncertainty of a full trial, however, if they can settle for $4 million or even $3 million? So they make a million less: $1.5 million in hand is better than $2.5 million in the bush.) Still, the cost of an individual hiring a lawyer to sue a large corporation would almost certainly far exceed any likely monetary award. In some states, the replacement cost of a pet and its associated vet bills might not even rise about a small-claims action. Oddly, some pet owners might be more successful filing small-claims actions. Doing so does not necessarily require a lawyer (court clerks will often walk you through the process) and is therefore usually far less expensive. And the prospect of having to respond to thousands of small-claims actions across North America might drive Menu Foods and the other responsible parties to offer a settlement directly to pet owners.

Two factors (at least) complicate my analysis. One is the possibility that some pet owners will be motivated to sue not by the possibility of monetary awards but because they wish to send a message and do something to help prevent similar problems from occuring in the future. The other is the possibility that judges and/or juries will decide that pets do deserve to be treated as more than personal property. If this happens (currently only Illinois and Tennessee have laws allowing judges and juries to award damages for emotional loss in cases involving pets), all bets are off.

“Putting a Price on Pet Grief”
A story in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune discusses the prospects of the Menu Foods lawsuits in light of the trend toward greater state recognition of the emotional links between pets and pet owners. One issue the article points out is that of jurisdiction in the Menu Foods lawsuits:

State laws are important because there are no federal statutes that define how claims of personal injury are to be compensated.

In the federal class-action lawsuits filed against Menu Foods, a judge eventually will have to decide which underlying state law applies. Most of the contaminated food was made in Menu’s plant in Emporia, Kan., according to the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Another type of claim that we might be hearing more about is the “loss of companionship” claim.

Some courts also have allowed another type of claim, known as “loss of companionship,” which recognizes that wrongful conduct damages not only the pet or the owner, but also their relationship.

Legislation is pending in Oregon, New York, Florida and Vermont that would address such claims.

This concept seems to catmanager to be a more happy medium. Clearly, laws that equate pets with inanimate property such as sofas and baseball bats are outdated. Giving animals the same rights as people is also problematic. Acknowledging the special relationships that do exist between people and pets (special, at least, to us; obviously we can’t ask our dogs and cats whether they find their relationships with us to be special, indifferent, or annoying) seems to me to be a reasonable compromise.

“Rare Veterinary Malpractice Suit Goes to Trial
The Record, a New Jersey paper, reports on a malpractice suit against a veterinarian. The case involves a cat that died under anesthesia. The plaintiffs argue that the defendants improperly intubated the cat, causing it to suffocate. The plaintiffs signed a consent form prior to the anesthesia.

Veterinary malpractice cases are rare. Only about 100 cases are filed nationally each year and hardly any make it to trial, according to the plaintiffs and their attorney, Gina Calogero, a member of the Animal Law Committee of the New Jersey State Bar.

“Usually, the expenses are too great and the damages are too low to justify going to trial,” Calogero said outside court. New Jersey law does not allow pet owners to sue for emotional distress in veterinary malpractice cases such as this, she said.

In this case, Calogero tried to sue for the “intrinsic value” of the cat, which she defines as “‘something more than fair market replacement value and less than sentimental value.'” The judge in the case decided that only replacement value could be awarded if the jury found negligence.

Vet student Megan Watland offers her own thoughtful analysis of the most recent turns in the pet food recall.

Cabezalana wonders what happened to his Saturday. The latest updates in the food recall played a part:

As you might imagine, this ratcheted up the general hysteria and our poor receptionist was nearly in tears trying to keep up with all the phone calls from panicked people who decided that we must have some special insider knowledge. Because we manufacture the foods ourselves in our spare time, of course.

T.J. at dogscatskidslife offers a thoughful commentary about the pet food recall. He sees problems with the anecdotal reports of pet deaths. For one, how many pets that have died had undetected illness before ingesting tainted pet food?

There are many pet owners who do not seek medical care for their pets at the first onset of their symptoms. Either they simply ignore the symptoms, believe that it is a passing malady, or just don’t pay enough attention to their pets to notice the symptoms, until they are pointed out to them by news reports, mass hysteria and fear.

(My own observations from my wife’s practice support this point, although I’d add a cat-specific reason pet owners don’t seek veterinary care soon enough: cats are experts at hiding symptoms of illness. Combine that with the difficulty of observing gradual changes in a pet you see every day, and you have a recipe for cats becoming severely ill before their owners notice. That’s why we recommend all cats be seen twice a year for physical exams—or any time owners notice a change in sleep pattern, vocalization, bad breath, grooming, weight, food and water intake, urination/defecation, or behavior.)

T.J. also makes a point that catmanager had been thinking about:

I began to think about contaminants that are probably present in all of our foods. Foods that we eat every day.

Let’s say we took a food product off of the shelf at our local grocery store. Any product would do, just pick one. And let’s say we sent it to a toxicology lab and tested it for every known toxin possible.

How do you think that final report would read?

I think we would be very surprised.

Indeed. I think it’s important to remember, though, that our food supply today is (in general) much safer than at any time in human history. We might hear more about food poisonings and contaminated batches of food, but, as one researcher argues, “This trend . . . is essentially an artefact, whose significance is reduced if considered in its broader historical context.”

Dr. Khuly at the Dolittler blog appears to have been inspired by the latest AVMA-PLIT newsletter (“a self-serving tool for the insurance industry”? Oh, the synicism!) to write about veterinary professional liability issues.

We vets are not used to being hauled in front of lawyers and judges to defend the way we do our jobs—not yet, anyway. Increasingly, though, we’re forced to practice medicine as if we might be in that position with each and every case.

In some ways that’s good. It makes us careful in our record-keeping, more willing to consider diagnostics before treatment, and conscientiously detailed when securing consent from our clients. In other ways, it’s kind of depressing.

And that’s because we have to practice more defensively. This finds us thinking about clients in an different way, adhering to hard-and-fast protocols with less regard to our patients’ needs, and generally driving the cost of pet healthcare through the roof.

This post from Alexander Wilkas, a Realtor with “20+ years in quality Assurance for a major consumer products company,” bothers catmanager. Mr. Wilkas

  • refers to “the corn gluten used in the recent pet food recall”;
  • makes unsupported claims about nonexistent regulation in the pet food industry. Yes, I’d like to see more or different regulation, but to call it “almost nonexistent” and imply that the human food supply is significantly more regulated is simply wrong (“The Pet food industry is subject to the same regulation as the human food industry,” the FDA’s Stephen Sundloff said at last Friday’s FDA press conference);
  • claims that “Most companies spend very little on testing, since . . . ‘it’s only pet food,'” again without offering any evidence. Has Mr. Wilkas seen the testing budgets of Menu Foods, Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin? Is he familiar with their QC protocols? Or is he just speculating?

I hate to be in the position of defending pet food manufacturers, but as Ohio State’s Dr. Tony Buffington has pointed out: we see far fewer recalls of pet foods than we do of human foods; and unlike most human foods, the majority (if not all) of pet foods are formulated by board-certified nutritionists to meet specific nutritional requirements (whether they are successful or pressured by corporations in their formulations is another matter). Are the makers of Twinkies, Doritos, and Big Macs formulating their products to meet the nutritional needs of human beings?

Changes are needed in the pet food industry, to be sure. PetConnection has made some excellent recommendations (here and here). Congress is (I hope) finally starting to pay attention. The FDA’s Sundloff has promised that his agency is looking at ways of preventing similar problems in the future. Things can and will get better, but that doesn’t mean they are currently bankrupt, as Mr. Wilkas’s post implies.

The Blog Pound catches an interesting—and confusing—story from the Toronto Sun.

The news reports today are all over the board. These four stories appeared within three hours of one another:

What are we to conclude? The food is safe? Caution is still needed? The illness is mysterious and something to worry about? The problem is fear itself, and we are overreacting? Catmanager has no idea. But I’m sort of glad for the confusion; it reminds us that in a crisis events aren’t orderly, we don’t have immediate answers to questions, and we need both to remain skeptical and to keep an open mind. I’ve seen a lot of skepticism but somewhat less open-mindedness.

The discovery of melamine in the recalled food (and in the urine and kidneys of some affected cats) is unlikely to be the end of the story. So keep asking questions and keep demanding that governments and corporations share information. But don’t jump to conclusions. Remember that no one at this point has a panoramic view of the situation.

« Previous PageNext Page »