Notebook: April 2021

News briefs from across the industry and beyond. This month’s articles include: CAPC issues appointment guidelines, Cryptosporidium study on gut cells, first-ever stem cell treatment on a nonhuman primate a success, Jesse Brandon named president of LVMA, Fort Drum drive-through clinics, NAIC developing pet insurance model law, mummified Yukon wolf pup, survey on barriers to veterinary care, and rapid language learning in dogs.

Cryptosporidium Study Finds That Gut Cells Sound the Alarm When Parasites Invade

A new study led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine examines infection with the parasite Cryptosporidium. The researchers note that to effectively combat an infection, the body first has to sense it’s been invaded, and then the affected tissue must send out signals to corral resources to fight the intruder. Knowing more about these early stages of pathogen recognition and response may provide scientists with clues when it comes to preventing infections or treating inflammatory diseases resulting from overactive immunity.

When the team looked for the very first “danger” signals emitted by a host infected with the parasite, they traced them not to an immune cell, as might have been expected, but to epithelial cells lining the intestines, where Cryptosporidium sets up shop during an infection. Known as enterocytes, these cells take up nutrients from the gut, and here they were shown to alert the body to danger via the molecular receptor NLRP6, which is a component of what’s known as the inflammasome.

“You can think about the inflammasome as an alarm system in a house,” says Boris Striepen, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at Penn Vet and senior author on the paper, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It has various components—like a camera that watches the door and sensors on the windows—and once triggered it amplifies those first signals to warn of danger and send a call for help. Cells have these different components as well, and now we’ve provided maybe the clearest example yet of how a particular receptor in the gut is acting as a sensor for an important intestinal infection.”

NAIC Developing Pet Health Insurance Regulatory Standards

The AVMA reports that the Pet Insurance Working Group of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is working on a model law on pet health insurance. The new model law will likely impact the pet insurance industry, depending on whether and how states adopt the model law, and may also change how veterinarians discuss pet insurance with clients. The NAIC working group is currently developing the draft model and likely won’t release the final version to the public until late this year.

Ray Farmer, NAIC president and South Carolina Department of Insurance director, said the pet insurance industry is an emerging one. A 2019 white paper by the NAIC sparked the formation of the working group and the drafting of a model law to address regulatory issues.

“The goal of the model law is to establish clear rules for the sale of pet insurance and provide important disclosures to pet owners purchasing this product,” Farmer said. “States would have to adopt the model law for this regulatory framework to apply to the industry in their state.”


“Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”

—­Coco Chanel, fashion designer and businesswoman

Rapid Word Learning in Dogs

A study recently published in Scientific Reports finds that some dogs can learn new words after hearing them only four times. Two dogs, a border collie named Whisky, from Norway, and a Yorkshire terrier named Vicky Nina, from Brazil, participated in this experiment. Their ability to learn a new word after hearing it only four times was tested.

“We wanted to know under which conditions the gifted dogs may learn novel words,” explains study first author Claudia Fugazza, PhD. “To test this, we exposed Whisky and Vicky Nina to the new words in two different conditions, during an exclusion-based task and in a social playful context with their owners. Importantly, in both conditions, the dogs heard the name of the new toy only four times.”

In the exclusion-based task, the dogs showed that they were able to select the new toy when their owner spoke a new name, confirming that dogs can choose by exclusion—i.e., excluding all the other toys because they already have a name, and selecting the only one that does not. However, this was not the way they would learn the name of the toy. In fact, when tested on their ability to recognize the toy by its name, as this was confronted with another equally novel name, the dogs failed.

The other condition, the social one, where the dogs played with their owners who pronounced the name of the toy while playing with the dog, proved to be the successful way to learn the name of the toy, even after hearing it only four times. Whisky and Vicky Nina were able to select the toys based on their names when they had learned the names this way.

“Such rapid learning seems to be similar to the way human children acquire their vocabulary around two to three years of age,” comments Ádám Miklósi, DSc, PhD, head of the Department of Ethology and coauthor of the study.

Vicky Nina, one of the Family Dog Project research subjects

Whisky, one of the Family Dog Project research subjects

CAPC Issues Appointment Guidelines

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends veterinarians and clinical teams proactively reach out to clients and move up 2021 appointment reminders to prevent lapses in critical parasite diagnostic testing and preventive dispensing.

At the onset of the pandemic, the coronavirus prompted a lull in veterinary visits in March and April 2020. For those pets whose care was delayed, veterinary appointment/software reminder systems will automatically schedule 2021 annual exams later in the year. This may create scheduling difficulties and lapses in accurate scheduling for critical parasite testing and preventive prescriptions. To avoid this situation, veterinarians should consider adjusting those patients’ reminders back to spring of 2021 to ensure everyone has access. CAPC is recommending that veterinary teams proactively review their scheduling systems and move up appointments—especially for annual diagnostics and wellness checks.

Ancient Wolf Pup Mummy Rises from Yukon Permafrost

While water-blasting at a wall of frozen mud in Yukon, Canada, a gold miner made an extraordinary discovery: a perfectly preserved wolf pup that had been locked in permafrost for 57,000 years. The remarkable condition of the pup, named Zhùr by the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, gave researchers insights about her age, lifestyle, and relationship to modern wolves. The findings appear in the journal Current Biology.

“She’s the most complete wolf mummy that’s ever been found. She’s basically 100% intact—all that’s missing are her eyes,” says first author Julie Meachen, PhD, an associate professor of anatomy at Des Moines University. “And the fact that she’s so complete allowed us to do so many lines of inquiry on her to basically reconstruct her life.”

Researchers sought to answer questions such as how Zhùr died and how she ended up preserved in permafrost. They surmise that she died instantaneously, perhaps in a den collapse, which would account for her pristine condition and the mummification process. Meachen related, “Our data showed that she didn’t starve and was about seven weeks old when she died, so we feel a bit better knowing the poor little girl didn’t suffer for too long.”

The team analyzed her diet, learning that it was influenced by how close she lived to water. “Normally when you think of wolves in the Ice Age, you think of them eating bison or musk oxen or other large animals on land. One thing that surprised us was that she was eating aquatic resources, particularly salmon,” said Meachen.

KJ the monkey eats a treat. In late 2019, KJ started to have trouble with his hind legs and was diagnosed with age-related spinal arthritis

First-Ever Stem Cell Treatment on a Nonhuman Primate a Success

Despite severe arthritis, KJ is on the move again at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden in Evansville, Indiana. The 17-year-old male colobus monkey has newfound mobility after receiving stem cell treatment by Val Johnson, DVM, a veterinarian and postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University (CSU). KJ is the first nonhuman primate treated with stem cells by CSU veterinarians. Based on a review of published research, Johnson stated that he is also the first nonhuman primate in the world to be treated therapeutically with stem cells for a naturally occurring disease.

After KJ started to have trouble with his hind legs, he was diagnosed with age-related spinal arthritis. A computed tomography scan revealed that the arthritis was severe, likely affecting some nerves and discs along his spine. Carrie Ullmer, DVM, staff veterinarian at the Mesker Park Zoo, had heard about Johnson’s research and success with stem cell treatments and reached out to him.

To perform the procedure, Johnson first grew stem cells from a small piece of adipose tissue from another colobus monkey at the zoo. This fat sample was then treated to grow mesenchymal stem cells, a type of cell that can help the body repair some inflamed or damaged tissues. In addition to two stem cell treatments, KJ received chiropractic adjustments and cold laser therapy at the zoo. Johnson said the medical team described KJ’s improvement as “dramatic.”

Survey Explores Barriers to Willingness to Pursue Veterinary Care

A survey of dog owners from across the US shows that when it comes to seeking veterinary care for dogs, barriers to access have more effect on the decisionmaking process than differences in race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

Researchers surveyed 858 self-identified dog owners, asking them how likely they would be to seek veterinary care under 18 different circumstances. Participants were also asked supplemental questions about their relationship with their dog, previous veterinary behavior, and demographic information. Their research appears in Veterinary Sciences.

The primary barriers to care that respondents identified were transportation, veterinary office hours of operation, cost, language differences, and trust. Cost was a bigger factor for dog owners younger than 29 years old or households making fewer than $60,000 per year. Black and Native American respondents were about 10–15% more likely to indicate a lack of trust as a barrier to seeking veterinary care.

Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility Hosts Drive-Up Vaccine Clinics

To date, the Fort Drum, New York, Veterinary Treatment Facility has hosted four drive-up vaccine clinics, day-long events that provided inoculations and wellness exams while minimizing person-to-person contact. No appointments were necessary, allowing the clinic to care for more pets than on a typical day.

“If it’s by appointment, we’re probably seeing about 15 or 20 [pets] a day,” said Captain Breanna Johnson, the Fort Drum Veterinary Services branch chief. Conducting no-appointment, drive-up clinics allows the staff to care for upwards of 90 pets in a day.

“Everyone [in the clinic] gets involved,” she added. “There’s a lot of teamwork and a lot of prep work that goes into something like this, but we’re able to see so many pets in one day, and I think it really makes a big impact.”

Captain Breanna Johnson, the Fort Drum Veterinary Services branch chief, conducts a wellness check on a dog prior to administering vaccines during the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility drive-up vaccine clinic.

Specialist Emily Rawn (left) and Private First Class Kenna Wildermuth (right), both animal care specialists with the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility, conduct a wellness check on a cat during the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility drive-up vaccine clinic.

Specialist Jamie Wilson, an animal care specialist with the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility, checks in a pet during the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility drive-up vaccine clinic.

Sergeant Gillian Rubio, a veterinary food inspection specialist with the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility, prepares to bring a recently vaccinated pet out to its owner during the Fort Drum Veterinary Treatment Facility drive-up vaccine clinic.

Jesse Brandon Named President of LVMA

Jesse Brandon, DVM, has officially been installed as president of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association. Brandon is known in the local community for his work at Brandon Veterinary Clinic in Leesville.

Brandon received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from St. George’s University as well as LSU. Before joining his father at Brandon Veterinary Clinic, he worked at LSU Large Animal Clinic, Armstrong Veterinary Hospital, and Elgin Veterinary Hospital. His areas of special interest are equine lameness and large- and small-animal surgery.

Photo credits: JDawnInk/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images, RuslanDashinsky/E+ via Getty Images, GlobalP/iStock via Getty Images Plus, Photo courtesy of Washington State University, photo courtesy of Alison McIntyre, photo courtesy of Texas A&M, Photos courtesy of AAVMC, cmannphoto/E+ via Getty Images, Courtney Hale/E+ via Getty Images, Nikelser/iStock via Getty Images Plus, Photology1971/iStock via Getty Images Plus



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