Notebook: May 2020

News briefs from around the profession: AI finds novel antibiotic; owners not impressed by help for blind dogs; equine obesity comes under spotlight; equine clinic starter kit; annual employer benefits survey; if it smells like frosting, it must be a t-shirt; signs of saltwater poisoning; summer marketing tips.

Annual Employer Benefits Survey

The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual employer survey gathers information on the types of benefits they offer employees.

The research study investigates what types of employee benefits organizations are offering, including health, wellness, time off, flexibility, career, retirement, and other benefits.

Employers reported that they were more likely to increase offerings in all benefits categories than to decrease offerings; no more than 3% of organizations decreased benefits in any category.

SHRM reports that health-related benefits and wellness benefits saw the greatest increases across employers surveyed, with 20% of employers increasing offerings in those areas.

Health-related benefits were increased by 20% of employers, regardless of size, while wellness benefits were more likely to be increased by large employers (500+ employees) than by small employers (1–99 employees).

A quarter of employers with 500 or more employees had increased wellness benefits since 2018, but only 13% of employers with fewer than 99 employees increased wellness benefits.


Saltwater Poisoning

As pet owners take their best friends everywhere they go, more dogs will be hitting beaches and marshy shores. Alert your staff and clients to be on the lookout for these symptoms of saltwater poisoning:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Excessive thirst or reluctance to drink water
  • Excessive urination

Symptoms may take some time to develop, so remind clients to call you if their pet behaves oddly or seems lethargic, confused, uncoordinated, or unresponsive, even hours after returning home from the beach.

Meanwhile, help pet owners prevent saltwater poisoning by encouraging them to take lots of fresh water to the beach—for them and for their pet. And don’t forget the water bowl.
To learn more about saltwater poisoning, visit merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/salt-toxicity/overview-of-salt-toxicity.


Equine Obesity Comes Under Spotlight

Horse owners need help controlling their animals’ weight. So the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has launched a pilot project to help horse owners recognize overconditioning or obesity and take action.

At routine vaccination visits, veterinarians will measure the horse’s body condition score, then affix a colorful sticker to the front of the visit summary that the client takes home.

The stickers use the three colors of a traffic light to tell owners about their horse’s condition. Green indicates a “healthy” body condition.

Amber indicates the horse is carrying too much fat tissue and needs moderate changes to diet, exercise, management, rugging, and clipping regimes.

And red means the horse is carrying excessive amounts of fat tissue that are placing the horse in morbid danger.

Obesity is considered a major equine welfare problem in the United Kingdom. In 2018, about half of the veterinarians responding to a BEVA survey said that 25–50% of the horses they see are overweight, but another 35% of veterinarians surveyed put the figure at 50–75%.

The problem is not well documented in the United States. A 2012 survey of 300 horses in Virginia conducted in midsummer, when horses tend to put on weight, found that more than half were overweight or obese.

Nimet Browne, DVM, associate veterinarian in internal medicine at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky, told Equestrian Weekly that about 20–25% of the horses she sees are overweight.

The BEVA has launched a website to help veterinarians develop new approaches to educating and motivating clients. Based on a 2018 survey of veterinarians, the site includes information about weight-loss clinics in equine practices.

Equine Clinic Starter Kit

Thinking of establishing a weight management clinic to help clients control their horses’ weight? These are the tools, techniques, and tests UK equine veterinarians offer:

  • Weighbridge (equine scale) or weight tape
  • Body condition scoring of the horse and guidance for owners in how to score body condition
  • Cresty neck scoring
  • Heart girth measurements and weight calculation
  • Target setting for weight loss
  • Nutritional advice
  • Free spring scales for weighing feed and forage
  • Complete “diet pack” with advice, weight tapes, and feed scales
  • Tailored exercise and training advice
  • Motivational and emotional support for owners
  • Referral to online help resources
  • Hay analysis
  • Blood sampling for pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction and equine metabolic syndrome
  • Graph of weight progress given as a printout for owners
  • Before and after photographs
  • Wall of success displayed in the clinic
  • General preventive healthcare advice

Source: “Obesity in Horses: Resources and Guidance Related to Tackling Obesity,” British Equine Veterinary Association, bit.ly/36qgtUp.


AI Finds Novel Antibiotic

For most of this century, researchers have been racing against time to create molecules that will kill drug-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Enterobacteriaceae.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) using artificial intelligence are hoping to harness the power of a “completely novel” molecule to take on two of the world’s most wanted culprits, carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii and Enterobacteriaceae. The bacteria are among the top three pathogens on the World Health Organization’s list of priorities for research and development of new antibiotics.

The molecule was not created but rather discovered buried in a database.

Researchers began the hunt by designing a computer model that analyzed the molecular structures of compounds and correlated them with particular traits, such as the ability to kill bacteria. Specifically, they trained the model to find chemical features effective in killing E. coli.

Once trained, the model scanned a library of about 6,000 known compounds. The computer found several antibacterial molecules, but one in particular had strong antibacterial activity, a chemical structure different from any existing antibiotics, and low toxicity to human cells.
Surprisingly, the compound was a molecule originally meant to treat diabetes but that had fallen by the wayside.

The molecule was tested against dozens of bacterial strains cultivated in the lab. With one exception, the drug worked against every species tested. When used to treat a strain of A. baumannii that is resistant to all known antibiotics, the infections cleared within 24 hours.
Researchers refer to the molecule as halicin, after HAL, the sentient computer of the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In additional scans, the AI model spotted several more promising compounds that will undergo lab testing. Long term, the researchers intend to use the AI model to “design new antibiotics and to optimize existing molecules,” according to an MIT report.


If It Smells like Frosting, It Must Be a T-Shirt

Johnny Earle, keynote speaker at this fall’s AAHA Connexity conference, had started 16 businesses by the time he was 16 years old. Johnny Cupcakes T-shirts may be the weirdest. Here’s his story:

“When it came time to open a store, I really wanted it to be an unforgettable experience. My dad and I transformed my first store location into an old-fashioned bakery where I displayed T-shirts in vintage, industrial refrigerators and on baking racks. I even made it smell like frosting!

“This is and always has been the model for all of my stores. Even when you purchase a T-shirt, we package them in our signature pastry boxes.

“Our bakery aesthetic is so convincing that customers are usually convinced they are walking into a bakery expecting to get a cupcake.

“My inner jokester still gets a kick out of fooling hungry shoppers. Cupcake or not, customers usually leave with a T-shirt or a great story. However, one April Fool’s Day we sold real cupcakes and hid all of our T-shirts!”


Owners Not Impressed by Help for Blind Dogs

Halos and echolocation devices are just two of the aids sold to owners of blind dogs. A halo is a rounded bumper that extends in front of the dog’s head and attaches to a harness. An echolocation device hangs from a collar and emits pings that are audible only to the dog. The pings change in frequency as the dog approaches a wall or other solid object.

But how much do these devices really help?

Three researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, put them to the test.

Twelve blind dogs found their way through a maze unaided, then again while wearing a halo, and then again while wearing an echolocation device. After a 30-day acclimation period at home, the dogs repeated the tests wearing the devices. Researchers counted transit time and the number of collisions as dogs made their way through the maze.

  • All dogs had fewer collisions when wearing the halo device as compared with no device at all.
  • After smaller dogs (≤11.8 kg) were acclimated to the halo, they had fewer collisions in the maze.
  • Larger dogs (>11.8 kg) got through the maze more quickly after being acclimated to the echolocation device.

Owners were unimpressed. In response to a survey, they indicated that neither device made a noticeable improvement in their dog’s quality of life or navigation at home.

Source: K. M. Bedard, K. E. Myrna, and K. A. Diehl, “Preliminary Evaluation of Effect of Two Visual Aid Devices on Navigation in Blind Dogs,” Journal of Small Animal Practice, published online, February 20, 2020, doi.org/10.1111/jsap.13120.


Sizzle Through Summer

Marketing brings clients into the practice, so its value is obvious when traffic is slow. But what about the summer months? What can marketing do for a practice during its up season? And what about when your digital marketer takes off for the beach?

Kelly Baltzell, founder and CEO of Beyond Indigo Pets, which specializes in marketing for companion-animal practices, offers these tips.

Stay on top with Google. Google does not embrace starts and stops, Baltzell says. The search engine likes to see consistent marketing efforts throughout the year for organic, local, mobile, ads, and voice search. If a business drops its focus on marketing, then Google tends to drop the business in its page placement.

Build brand awareness. If a business is not seen on the internet, then it does not exist for some current clients and future clients. Marketing helps the pet owner realize your doors are open.

Focus on specific services. Draw attention to a service that is underutilized but generates solid profit. Use cross-promotion to find out whether current clients will embrace this service.

Look ahead to autumn. What is the marketing goal for the business in September, October, and November? Helping “seed” the internet with awareness of an upcoming campaign can make it more successful when it does happen. One example: talk up your technicians’ dental skills now to lay the groundwork for a November promotion.

“Short staff doesn’t mean coming up short for digital internet marketing,” Baltzell said. “Pretty much everything related to marketing for Google, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and the like can be programmed ahead of time.

“If a hospital already knows its summer schedule for staff, then it can implement and schedule its marketing program before everyone has their holiday. Or, a hospital could work with a marketing provider who can keep the ball rolling while the hospital staff still on duty focus on clients.”

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/MichalLudwiczak, ©iStock.com/SDI Productions, ©iStock.com/mari_art, ©iStock.com/Nigel Kirby Photography

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