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March 2010

No Snow Days for Large Animal Veterinarians

You won’t find a show called “Wisconsin’s Warrior Veterinarians” in the Discovery Channel line-up yet, but given the obstacles Mother Nature throws at large animal veterinarians in Wisconsin nearly all year round, the pilot may not be far off.

Ray Pawlisch, DVM with Brodhead Veterinary Medical Center, knows firsthand the difficulties of making emergency calls and treating animals in the midst of a wicked Wisconsin winter.

“All animal emergencies require immediate response, regardless of the weather conditions,” noted Pawlisch who cares for about 8,000 to 10,000 cattle. “Problems arise that don't look at the clock or calendar.”

Different from companion animals, large animal veterinarians don’t have the luxury of bringing the animal in for an office visit. “We go to the animal. There are no office visits in a large animal practice. A barn or a field becomes your ER.”

Leaving the confines of a warm office is something all large animal vets are accustomed to. “We don't let weather get in the way of the care that we provide,” said Dr. Pawlisch.

Dr. Pawlisch said technology has become an important ally in the care of animals, especially when driving on snowy or ice-covered roads, which makes travel time longer.

“We can provide advice to the farmer by cell phone until we can arrive at the farm,” explained Dr. Pawlisch.
But sometimes old-fashioned tools, grit and determination make the difference.

“In the middle of a Wisconsin winter, a snow shovel and kitty litter are just as vital to my practice as forceps and necessary medications,” said Dr. Pawlisch. “Also, all five of the doctors in our rural practice drive 4 x 4 vehicles.”

Sometimes the 4 x 4 isn’t enough. Dr. Pawlisch recalled several instances in which he and his colleagues were picked-up at a main intersection by a snowmobile or a 4-wheel-drive tractor and then taken along impassible roads or locations, even to the “back 40” to care for an animal.

Beyond reaching a farm, there is always the possibility of medications freezing and instruments being rendered useless in cold weather. Dr. Pawlisch said veterinarians have to become creative to protect the necessary equipment from the elements.

An intense rainstorm can present just as many challenges to the care of large animals as winter weather can – mud.

About five years ago, Dr. Pawlisch came to the rescue of a cow that was trapped in the mud. The cow was suffering from “milk fever,” a condition involving low blood calcium in an animal that has just given birth, and was also becoming bloated because it was unable to move.

Dr. Pawlisch utilized the client’s team of horses to get the cow free from the mud. “Severe weather, resulting conditions and the tools at your disposal force you to become highly resourceful – quickly,” he said.

As storm fronts approach, Dr. Pawlisch knows he may be in for a long day. In his 28 years in veterinary practice, Dr. Pawlisch has noticed an increase in births when storm fronts move through. More births can translate into more possible complications.

The good news is that farmers and veterinarians can overcome most threats that winter and wet weather pose to animals. Animals that are housed in clean, dry and draft-free facilities cope quite well with the extreme weather; ample, high-quality feed helps them maintain their body temperature and health.

“With large animal veterinarians on the case, 24/7 and 365 days a year, animals stay healthy, and the food supply stays safe and healthy for the consumer,” he said.

For more information on these and other topics visit wvma.org or talk with your veterinarian.

Cold-Weather Care

You are ready to take Fido for a walk. You’re wearing your down-filled parka, hat with ear flaps, thick-soled boots, and Thinsulate-lined gloves. You even pull up your hood.

Then you look at Fido. Is he really ready? Mother Nature gave him everything he needs, right?

“For the most part, dogs are naturally equipped to handle winter weather – at least for a little while -- but it really does depend on the breed,” explained Helen Szalajka, DVM, of the Spooner Veterinary Clinic.

Dr. Szalajka says, for example, an Arctic breed, such as a Husky, that’s tall, weighs 80-pounds and has thick fur, is built for cold climes.

But to maximize the warmth of that furry coat, some special care is needed.

“It might sound surprising, but a matted coat will actually not hold heat as well as a groomed coat,” said Dr. Szalajka. “Matted fur will not allow for a very important layer of air that serves as a layer of insulation, so winter is no time to slack off on grooming of a longer hair or a double-hair coat.”

And if your dog is a Chihuahua?

“It’s easy to think of a doggy sweater or coat as an accessory, but they’re actually a good idea for any short, single-hair coat dog – such as a Chihuahua,” noted Dr. Szalajka. “They’re also nice for any dog that’s simply not acclimated to winter, such as one adopted from a warm-weather state or country, for example.”

If you’re in doubt about your dog’s winter-weather comfort, simply ask your veterinarian. You can also watch for obvious signs such as shivering or lifting paws. Those are clear clues to get your canine indoors pronto.

Of course, there are some other winter-weather tips to keep in mind, whether your pet is a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Maltese, a Himalayan cat or a calico.

Ice and/or crusty snow layers can cause cuts and lacerations, so protect your pooches’ feet with booties, choose only largely cleared sidewalks, or opt for exercise at a doggy day care facility or other indoor space.

While many breeds love being active and outdoors in winter (think Malamute), it’s important to be aware of their whereabouts at all times as you snowmobile or ice fish nearby. Dr. Szalajka said she’s seen dogs injured by ice fishing tackle and other equipment used in winter activities.

Watch for pad drying and injury by ice melts containing calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

No breed is immune from hypothermia or frostbite, so keep your pet indoors during extreme temperatures. Extremities such as toes, foot pads and ear tips are especially vulnerable to frostbite.

Dr. Szalajka noted that only a handful of breeds can withstand extended periods of time outdoors during extreme conditions, and they must have a decent shelter with windbreak and padding or “nesting” as well as access to fresh, unfrozen water. Again, your veterinarian can give you guidance, and when in doubt, bring your pet indoors.

For more information on these and other topics visit wvma.org or talk with your veterinarian.

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