The Scoop

AAHA president Mark Thompson, DVM, CCRP, stresses the importance of staffing and retention. The AAHA Community asks what types of onboarding materials people are using for new hires. This month’s Scoop headlines include: 3D-Printed Animal Eyes for Ophthalmology Training; Concerns About Shorter Lifespans for Pets Can Drive Owner Action on Obesity; Nearly 40% of Veterinary Professionals Use AI Tools; Molecule from Keto Diet May Slow Alzheimer’s Disease; and more!

The Staffing and Retention Effect

As a veterinarian in a busy veterinary clinic, I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the challenges and rewards of staffing and retention. In a field where compassion, expertise, and teamwork are crucial, maintaining a motivated and skilled workforce is essential. In this article, I will share my observations and experiences regarding the significance of staffing and retention in a veterinary clinic.

Staffing plays a pivotal role in the smooth functioning of a veterinary clinic. A well-staffed clinic ensures that there are enough hands to provide attentive care to the animals and manage the daily operations effectively. Each team member, from veterinary technicians to receptionists, brings unique skills and perspectives, creating a dynamic environment that fosters growth and learning.

Retaining qualified staff members within a veterinary clinic is vital for maintaining consistency and building long-term relationships with clients. High turnover can disrupt the workflow, impact team morale, and potentially compromise the quality of care provided to the animals. Therefore, implementing strategies to bolster staff retention is crucial.

Creating and maintaining a positive work environment is key to staff retention. A veterinary clinic should strive to foster a culture of respect, open communication, and collaboration. Encouraging teamwork, recognizing achievements, and providing a supportive atmosphere can make a significant difference in staff satisfaction and loyalty.

Investing in the professional growth and development of the staff is an effective way to retain talented individuals. As a veterinarian, I encourage and support continuing education, certifications, and specialized training for my team members. This not only enhances their skills and knowledge but also demonstrates my commitment to their success. Such investment fosters a sense of value and purpose, motivating employees to stay and contribute their best.

Recognizing and rewarding the efforts of my staff members is essential in maintaining their dedication and enthusiasm. Celebrating achievements, acknowledging milestones, and providing incentives such as bonuses or flexible schedules can go a long way in boosting morale and job satisfaction. By showing genuine appreciation and recognizing their hard work, I strive to create an environment where staff members feel valued and motivated to continue working with us.

Staffing and retention are critical factors that contribute to the success and sustainability of any veterinary clinic. As a veterinarian, I understand the importance of fostering a positive work environment, investing in professional development, recognizing staff efforts, and promoting work–life balance. These strategies not only contribute to staff satisfaction but also enhance the quality of care provided to our animal patients. By prioritizing the wellbeing and growth of my team, I am confident in the continued success of our veterinary clinic.

Mark Thompson, DVM, CCRP
Mark Thompson, DVM, CCRP, is president of AAHA. He owns Country Hills Pet Hospital in Eden, Wisconsin.

 

3D Illustration of robot chat with a speech bubble next to it

Cornell Feline Health Center Launches Playful CatGPT

CatGPT is more than just a fun AI chatbot that answers questions about feline health. It’s part of a larger, multipronged Cornell experiment with artificial intelligence.

The Cornell Feline Health Center (CFHC) in the College of Veterinary Medicine recently launched CatGPT to help connect cat owners with credible, science-based information in a novel way. Users can ask the chatbot questions about their cats, get answers quickly, and ask follow-up questions. CatGPT can even play games.

The chatbot uses articles from CFHC’s website as well as a database of abstracts from peer-reviewed scientific publications as sources of information for answering user inquiries. The tool has a chatty, playful tone.

CatGPT is available in OpenAI’s ChatGPT app store; for now, access requires a subscription to ChatGPT Plus.

“Cornell has been a leader in AI and machine learning for research and instructional purposes for many years,” said Ben Maddox, chief information officer for Cornell’s Ithaca campus and Cornell Tech. He and his team hope to glean insights from CatGPT that will be useful to Cornell’s broader approach to AI.

Photo credit: Svetlana Krivenceva/iStock via Getty Images Plus


 

Quote of the Month

Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself. Harvey Fierstein
actor and playwright known for advocating for LGBTQ+ rights

 

Drawing of a dog with her ears standing up with a polka-dot background

FDA Approves Treatment for Yeast Ear Infections in Dogs

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration approved DuOtic (terbinafine and betamethasone acetate otic gel) for the treatment of otitis externa in dogs, associated with susceptible strains of yeast (Malassezia pachydermatis).

The first FDA-approved animal drug intended to treat yeast-only otitis externa in dogs, DuOtic is also the first otic drug intended to treat otitis externa that does not contain an antibiotic. This allows veterinarians to focus treatment and avoid using antibiotics when dogs have diagnosed yeast-only ear infections.

DuOtic is a fixed combination of the two active substances: terbinafine and betamethasone acetate. The treatment acts to fight yeast infections for up to 45 days. It dissolves in earwax and is slowly eliminated from the ear.

Photo credit: Julia August/iStock via Getty Images Plus


 

Veterinary students studying 3D-printed eyes
Kansas State University’s Technology Development Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine teamed up to create 3D-printed animal eye models for veterinary students to use when training for fundoscopy exams.

3D-Printed Animal Eyes for Ophthalmology Training Developed at K-State

Veterinary students can now use 3D-printed eye globes that replicate the eyes of dogs, cats, horses, and rabbits to learn the coordination skills of an ophthalmoscope. The model eye globes were developed by the Kansas State University Technology Development Institute with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Students can now perform direct and indirect fundoscopy exams to check the back of the inside of the eye, including the retina and optic nerve.

The models are based on photographic images captured by the ophthalmologists at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The College’s Susan Rose, clinical skills instructor, and Shane Lyon, DVM, clinical associate professor and clinical skills coordinator, conceived the idea for the training aid to teach their freshman and sophomore veterinary students hand skills for eye exams. A goal for their courses is to reduce the use of live animals in teaching basic skills.

Photo credit: Kansas State University


 

Digitail/AAHA Survey: Nearly 40% of Veterinary Professionals Use AI Tools

Practice management software company Digitail has released the results of a recent survey on veterinary professionals’ impressions and use of artificial intelligence (AI). The survey was conducted in coordination with AAHA and collected responses from thousands of veterinary professionals.

“While it is premature to state that AI is ready for universal implementation in veterinary medicine, it’s evident that it currently serves as a viable tool with specific applications, said Sebastian Gabor, CEO at Digitail. Read the results of the survey at digitail.com.

Photo credit: ThinkNeo/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images

Infographic highlights: 39.2% of respondents are using AI tools or software in their veterinary setting; of those respondents, 69.5% report using them daily or weekly. 38.7% of professionals are interested in incorporating AI tools into their practice in the near future while 15.5% are opposed. Most prevalent concern among respondents: 70.3% say reliability and accuracy of AI systems. 53.9% say data security and privacy. There is a direct correlation between the use of AI tools and the level of enthusiasm toward this technology.

Novel Research Leverages AI to Identify Dogs at Higher Risk for Cancer

A novel cancer study funded by Morris Animal Foundation and the Golden Retriever Foundation is leveraging artificial intelligence to pioneer an innovative approach to early detection and prevention for dogs susceptible to developing diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), the most common form of this deadly cancer.

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota is testing a new approach coined “test and intervene,” using AI to analyze pieces of DNA fragments in blood. Findings may help identify dogs at higher risk for DLBCL. The team plans to provide pet owners and veterinarians with intervention strategies to help lower the risk in identified dogs.

The research team will develop the test using a comprehensive evaluation of a large group of dogs and an analysis of samples from Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study to identify DNA patterns in the blood before cancer development.

This initiative differs from similar projects by attempting to assess canine cancer risk through a Lymphoma Risk Assessment test.


 

Feline Genome Probed for Future Disease Studies

The Morris Animal Foundation reports that researchers have delved into various cat species’ entire DNA sequence (genome), uncovering novel perspectives on domestic and wild cat evolution. They state that this new work highlights distinct genetic changes and will be a critical tool for researchers investigating feline diseases and characteristics.

This study, which was published in the journal Nature Genetics, used cutting-edge genome sequencing and assembly technologies to generate a more comprehensive and complete cat genome assembly, providing fundamental information on the feline blueprint and aiding in advancements in feline medicine.

“This is an ongoing effort because it’s very difficult to fill in the missing gaps in the genome sequence, and those gaps aren’t just junk,” said William Murphy, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and Professor of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A&M University.

During the study, Murphy and his team identified fewer segmental duplications—duplicated blocks of genomic DNA—in cats compared with other mammal groups while also learning that numerous variances exist in feline DNA. These insights are crucial for those studying feline diseases, behavior, and conservation, Murphy said.

“This initial study was just scratching the surface,” Murphy said. “Now we’re going to be able to use this to go in and start determining the function of parts of the domestic cat genome that were missing before.”

 

Infographic that shows the lineage of 3 feline hybrids.
The Morris Animal Foundation-funded research delves into various cat species’ entire DNA, uncovering novel perspectives on domestic and wild cat evolution.

Photo credit: Morris Animal Foundation, ©AAHA/Alison Silverman


 

Banner for AAHA Community

We have a new technician joining our team and are very excited! We have the usual new hire onboarding docs ready (handbooks, policies, etc.) but I am wondering what other resources or information you wish you had when you first joined a team?

A: We put together a small “Yearbook” for new hires complete with each staff’s special skills, communication styles, and other important information and fun facts.

A: Our team creates a small greeting basket where each staff member picks out a gift under 10 dollars. It’s a great way to welcome your new hire and allow the team to express their personalities through the gifts they choose.

AAHA members, share your onboarding suggestions and wish lists with the Community at community.aaha.org. For help, email community@aaha.org.


 

Americans’ Pets and Their Owners

The results of an American Psychiatric Association Healthy Minds Monthly Poll, released jointly with the American Veterinary Medical Association, reveal the many mental health benefits of pets as well as pet owners’ concerns and identification (cat or dog person, etc.).

Infographic. Pet owners say that their animals offer: 65% companionship, 65% true friendship, 64% unconditional love and support, 84% positive impact on their mental health, 62% calming presence, 62% help reduce stress and anxiety, 35% encourage them to be physically active, 29% add structure to their schedule, and 19% increase social connections with others.
Infographic: Top concerns about pets: 76%—Pet aging or passing away, 67%—Pet's health conditions, and 67%—Worried about care of a pet when traveling

Infographic credit: ©AAHA/Alison Silverman


 

Molecule from Keto Diet May Slow Alzheimer’s Disease

A new study from researchers at the University of California-Davis shows a ketogenic diet significantly delays the early stages of Alzheimer’s-related memory loss in mice. This early memory loss is comparable to mild cognitive impairment in humans that precedes full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in the Nature Group journal Communications Biology.

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet, which shifts the body’s metabolism from using glucose to burning fat and producing ketones for energy.

The study found that the molecule beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB, plays a pivotal role in preventing early memory decline. It increases almost sevenfold on the ketogenic diet.

“The data support the idea that the ketogenic diet in general, and BHB specifically, delays mild cognitive impairment and it may delay full blown Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-corresponding author Gino Cortopassi, PhD, a biochemist and pharmacologist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Scientists gave mice enough BHB to simulate the benefits of being on the keto diet for 7 months.


 

Illustration of a sleeping senior dog

Funds Raised for Dog Lifespan Extension Drug Now Total $125M

Loyal, a biotechnology company developing longevity medications for dogs, has announced the conclusion of its Series B financing phase, securing $45 million in investment, with Bain Capital Ventures spearheading the round. With this latest investment, Loyal has amassed more than $125 million in funds since its establishment in 2019.

“This fundraiser fuels our efforts to bring to market what we hope will be the first FDA-approved drug to extend healthy lifespans,” says Celine Halioua, founder and CEO of Loyal.

This funding supports the continued development of the drug, with expected product launch in early 2025, pending FDA approval.

Three medications aimed at prolonging the healthy lifespan of dogs are in development: LOY-001 and LOY-003, tailored to enhance the healthy lifespan of large-breed dogs, and LOY-002, specifically designed for senior dogs weighing 14 pounds and above.

Photo credit: Daria Slobodianik/iStock via Getty Images Plus, ©AAHA/Alison Silverman


 

Concerns About Shorter Lifespans for Pets Can Drive Owner Action on Obesity

In obesity-related conversations with owners of overweight cats and dogs, what information from a veterinarian is most likely to motivate owners to help their pet lose weight? Researchers from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph addressed this question in two studies published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The researchers conducted separate dog- and cat-focused surveys in which participants were asked to rank the relative importance of various health-related issues that could result from obesity.

Among both dog and cat owners, obesity’s impact on the life expectancy of their pets was the issue most likely to convince them to pursue weight management.


 

2 German Shepherds next to Army soldiers

BluePearl Announces Veterinary Partnership with US Army

In a new military-civilian veterinary partnership program, BluePearl specialists will offer veterinary care training to US Army veterinarians to improve their abilities to treat Military Working Dogs (MWDs) combat casualties. The US Army Veterinary Corps provides medical and surgical care to more than 1,600 MWDs on active duty.

The new Veterinary Trauma Readiness and Operational Medicine Agility (Vet-TROMA) program was developed in partnership with the US Army Office of the Surgeon General and US Army Veterinary Corps. US Army veterinary personnel in the program complete 67 hours of distance learning followed by a three-week clinical rotation at BluePearl sites. Vet-TROMA is currently offered at two BluePearl hospitals, with plans to expand to additional BluePearl locations.

Photo credit: Puttachat Kumkrong/iStock via Getty Images Plus


 

Virtual Tool for Studying Gene Function Developed by Texas A&M

A new virtual tool, Gene Knockout Inference (GenKI), will allow scientists to study the function of genes more efficiently and reduce the number of animal models used in genetic research. The tool was developed by researchers at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS).

Using GenKI, scientists can simulate the relationship between genes in individual cells and study which genes affect cellular functions. Understanding the purpose of each gene is essential for developing new treatments for everything from cancer to the common flu.

With this virtual tool, researchers can study cross-tissue response, or the relationship that genes may have between multiple tissues, organs, and systems. They can also study genes that they wouldn’t be able to study otherwise and to answer questions earlier in their research than would be possible when using tissues.

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