Pandemic Pet-Care Precautions

Although only a small number of companion animals have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, pet owners may experience anxiety about the best way to care for their pet amidst a pandemic when stories about confirmed cases in pets begin appearing closer to home, such as those recently reported by the United States Department of Agriculture in Texas, California, South Carolina, and Georgia.A pug sits on outdoor steps next to a woman in a mask

Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners can maintain a high standard of care for their pet but should be sure to do so while following the appropriate Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.

Owners concerned about taking their canine companions on walks or to the dog park should not avoid these activities, provided pet parents practice proper social distancing and follow mask guidelines for themselves.

“To date, there is no evidence that dog-to-dog or dog-to-person transmission of the virus is a likely mechanism for SARS-CoV-2 spread, especially in the outdoor environment, where aerosolization of respiratory droplets (the primary means of coronavirus transmission) must occur repeatedly and in a place where the aerosol is not dispersed by moving air or by the dogs moving around,” Zoran said.

Zoran says that the key is for humans to exercise the proper precautions during these activities, as the few pets that have been infected likely have been infected by their owners.

“Dogs playing together at a dog park are much more likely to share or get infected with more common canine respiratory infections, such as Bordetella, or kennel cough, and canine flu,” she said.

Also key is that if an individual within your household develops COVID-19, they should be separated from other humans as well as from pets to prevent infecting them. Pets in close contact with infected individuals have been known to test positive for SARS-CoV-2.

“To date, no specific signs of SARS-CoV-2 infection have been described in clinical studies of dogs or cats with COVID-19, since it is uncommon,” Zoran said. “But, if a pet living in a household with a COVID-positive person develops a fever, respiratory signs (sneezing, coughing, runny eyes, nasal discharge) or gastrointestinal upset (vomiting or diarrhea), then the pet should be considered to be possibly infected with the virus, too.  In this case, the pet should be taken to their veterinarian, preferably by a well person or pet sitter living outside of the household.”

Owners also should prepare for the well-being of their dog in the event that they themselves are infected. Zoran recommends finding a trusted individual to care for your furry friend while you isolate to protect your pet from infection.

“If a person with COVID-19 requires hospital care and has a pet living with them, and there is no one else living in the house to take care of the pet, the pet will have to live in a temporary shelter or veterinary hospital and be quarantined for 14 days,” Zoran said. “Thus, it is highly advisable that you make plans ahead of time for care of your animals in the event that you or members of your family get sick.”

Although caution is paramount in such uncertain times, owners who remain informed and follow appropriate guidelines should feel confident in their ability to continue providing a healthy, full life for their dog.

“At this time, even with newer cases, the role of pets in the transmission of COVID-19 appears to be a very low likelihood,” Zoran said. “The key is to think about your pet’s care and do your best to avoid contact with your pets if you become ill to reduce the likelihood that they will get infected.”

Pet owners wishing to stay informed on how to keep their animal and human family safe should consult reputable sources, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association’s COVID-19 resources or the CDC’s current guidelines.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Texas A&M CVM Focuses On Employee Well-being During Pandemic

Story by Megan Myers

Well-being involves the mind, body, and spirit, says Dr. Nance Algert, a member of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Office for Diversity & Inclusion.

Dr. Nance Algert
Dr. Nance Algert

“Well-being is staying connected to ourselves and knowing ourselves well enough to know what we need,” Algert said. “Well-being is also being mindful about being connected, understanding that we don’t have to do things alone and that to isolate and do things alone can be problematic.”

According to the Merck Animal Health Wellbeing Study, approximately one in 20 veterinarians in America experience serious psychological distress, including depression, burnout, and anxiety, and while half are seeking treatment, only 16% utilize well-being resources available through national or state veterinary organizations.

In an effort to improve well-being in the veterinary profession, the CVM has focused on providing resources for students, faculty, staff, and administrators for several years.

Most recently, maintaining well-being among employees has been a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some employees began working from home in March and have been isolated since, while others at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) have faced many new challenges as they continue to serve the people and animals of the community and state.

“It’s a complex time and none of us has done this before,” Algert said. “We’re in a marathon, not a sprint, so we’ve really got to take a little bit of time each day to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves.”

To help their colleagues find those daily moments of well-being, Algert, executive associate dean Dr. Kenita Rogers, and other members of the Office for Diversity & Inclusion are providing CVM faculty, staff, and administrators with many new resources for maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health.

Each week, Rogers updates an ever-growing list of well-being resources that covers a variety of subjects, from addressing fatigue to supporting children during COVID-19. The list, currently containing more than 100 individual resources, is being sent to employees in weekly emails and compiled on the CVM’s COVID-19 Well-being Resources webpage.

“The idea for the resources list was a team effort,” said Rogers, who also serves as director of the CVM’s Office for Diversity & Inclusion.

“At first, we were brainstorming what the Diversity & Inclusion Office could do to help the VMTH, as they were really on the frontlines in dealing with many new situations related to COVID-19—safety concerns, different client interactions, stressful working conditions, etc.,” she said. “We quickly realized that the changes were stressful for everyone in the college and wanted to share these resources with anyone who could use them.”

For those who wish to discuss specific concerns, either personal or professional, the CVM is also offering one-on-one and group facilitated dialogue opportunities. Algert is hosting these discussions to support her coworkers and help manage any conflicts that arise in the workplace from the added stress, anxiety, and fear the pandemic has created.

Amy Savarino, the VMTH chief pharmacist, is one of many employees who has participated in these facilitated dialogues.

“Being a supervisor, I wanted to make sure I had my head on straight and that I felt like I could tackle this issue,” Savarino said. “Life was changing and it went from normal to abnormal so fast. We all went through something and none of us knew how to handle it; none of us has ever handled it before, so even the best prepared person wasn’t prepared.

“It was really easy and just such a pleasant experience,” she said. “Nance was encouraging and uplifting. She just added a calmness and peace that I needed at that moment.”

Providing these well-being resources not only plays a role in keeping employees happy and healthy, it also helps them do the best job possible when teaching students and caring for VMTH patients.

“Taking care of ourselves is not just important but is also a responsibility,” Algert said. “We can only give to others what we can give to ourselves.”

Whether the CVM eventually returns to life as it was before the pandemic or continues to adjust to a “new normal,” the Office for Diversity & Inclusion hopes to keep well-being a priority for employees.

“I hope that there is a real sense of community at the CVM,” Rogers said. “Frankly, how we take care of each other and support each other, particularly during difficult times, defines who we really are. When we look back, I hope we can say that the CVM made it a priority to care for one another and that we were genuinely an inclusive community.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Veterinary Educators Band Together To Support Students

Story by Megan Myers

The COVID-19 pandemic may have created a need for social distancing among individuals, but when it forced higher education to move online, veterinary educators saw an opportunity to share resources and bring veterinary colleges around the world closer together than ever before.

Two professors and a camera man work to film educational material with a cat
A behind-the-scenes look at the Texas A&M CET creating content. Photo by Vince Chihak, Center for Educational Technologies

At the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), faculty members have been at both the giving and receiving ends of that collaboration.

The CVM’s Center for Educational Technologies (CET) had already positioned the college as a leader in these endeavors by not only offering a variety of online teaching resources, but providing them for a fee on a platform designed for distributing to other institutions as well.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced veterinary classes to move online, the CET offered their online learning modules, case studies, and videos to any instructor with a need for them; the free resources will remain available until July 1.

“We already had a mechanism to deliver these resources to other schools through our commercialization program,” said Dr. Nicola Ritter, CET director and instructional assistant professor. “We had about five schools using our resources before we began offering them at no cost, and since then, we’ve had about 33 more come on board.”

These resources are designed to help instructors teach a variety of veterinary topics, from creating a local anesthetic plan for dental work to the different types of surgical knots.

“We want to support our veterinary medical community and educators (by offering these resources for free during the pandemic),” Ritter said. “It’s a small community and they’re our colleagues, so we wanted to be able to help them when they needed to get an online course ready within a week or two after the pandemic hit.”

In addition to having helped instructors create online preclinical classes earlier this year, these resources are proving useful to the many fourth-year veterinary students across the country who are unable to complete clinical rotations in person this summer.

Rather than using materials the students have already seen in the classroom, instructors can use the CET’s resources during virtual rotations to introduce new case studies and reinforce practical skills.

While the CET was sharing resources with veterinary faculty across the United States, some CVM faculty members have also supplemented their online classes and rotations with resources created and shared by other veterinary colleges.

The University of Missouri’s clinical pathology team has offered their full digital slide archive to fellow veterinary educators across the country, including those at Texas A&M. These slide images, which show thin layers of tissue, blood, and other bodily fluids, can be easily accessed online to help students learn to diagnose and monitor diseases.

A female student view her computer screen, which shows a learning module about heart rhythms
A student learns from CET-created content. Photo by Vince Chihak, Center for Educational Technologies

“The University of Missouri’s team has displayed such generosity and collegiality in helping other institutions teach students during a time of uncertainty,” said Dr. Dana Kneese, a clinical assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS). “We know how much work goes into generating a digital slide database, and sharing their hard work with us demonstrates their selflessness.”

Additionally, CVM anatomy professors have utilized a free veterinary anatomy website from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and an online image bank from the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists (AAVA) to supplement online anatomy courses and labs.

The AAVA has also connected instructors from different institutions to allow them to share ideas for teaching anatomy virtually.

Incorporating resources from other colleges can provide students with access to specialists and learning materials that are unique to certain institutions. Therefore, on top of allowing for smooth transitions to online classes, the sharing of resources between veterinary colleges has increased the range of information students have to learn from.

“For example, dentistry and dermatology are specialties we have at the CVM that other schools may not,” Ritter said. “Also, even if another school has someone in that specialty, they may have a different context or different perspective, so it is taught differently.”

Many colleges, including Texas A&M, are preparing to have students back on campus next fall, but Ritter hopes the collaboration between veterinary schools will continue when classes are no longer online only.

“The CET’s model is that we develop curriculum using extramural grants, which means we seek out collaborators within our institution and with other institutions, because having multiple institutions coming together makes for a strong proposal,” she said. “I’m hoping that this experience will provide us more opportunities to collaborate through research grants to develop our materials.”

No matter what the future holds, veterinary educators can rest assured that their colleagues will be there to lend a helping hand whenever needed.

“The veterinary community has been just open-handed with willingness to do anything and everything they can,” Ritter said. “It’s been a bit overwhelming at times to see how much people are just willing to say, ‘Where can I help and how can I do it?’ It’s amazing to see the willingness of people wanting to do things to help.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

An Update On SARS-CoV-2 And Your Pet

As our knowledge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and resulting Covid-19 disease evolves, the news and guidelines we must follow are changing as well. The dynamic nature of this situation may be difficult for some, who may find keeping up to date with current best practices and precautions to be a time-consuming endeavor.

dog and cat rubbing headsDr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that while several news stories have recently detailed pet cats, dogs, and even zoo tigers testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, pet owners should be assured that these are rare and seem to be one-way occurrences.

“We have no evidence that sick pets can transmit coronavirus to otherwise healthy, uninfected owners,” Creevy said.

Creevy said that most viruses prefer to infect one species above others; under our current understanding, SARS-CoV-2 prefers infecting humans and is less effective at infecting cats or dogs.

“The very most important way this virus spreads is from person to person,” she emphasizes.

Most dogs and cats that have tested positive for the virus in their bodies had known contact with infected humans. For some stray cats that have tested positive, it is not possible to determine what contact they may have had with infected people.

And although these animals tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is not clear whether the virus made them ill.

Given how common cat and dog ownership is and how uncommon detection of SARS-CoV-2 in these animals has been, Creevy says it is highly unlikely that dog or cat transmission of the virus will become a major factor in the pandemic.

Most importantly, Creevy said, “Researchers around the world are paying very close attention to whether or not pets can transmit the virus to humans, and have found no supporting evidence. This is an emerging virus, which means that we don’t yet know everything about it. But we will continue to provide updates to the public any time our understanding changes.”

Pet owners should practice good hygiene around their pets and other humans, maintain social distancing, and avoid exercising their animal in crowded areas or busy dog parks. Keep in mind that pets’ fur, like any other surface, may carry the virus if touched by an infected individual.

Creevy recommends that pet owners follow the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after playing with or petting a dog or cat, especially after contact with pet saliva or feces.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene, which means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call your provider in advance so they can be prepared for your arrival. Follow the directions of your physician or local health authority.
  • If you are sick, avoid close contact with other members of your household, including your pets. Have another member of the household care for your animals. If you must look after your pet while you are sick, maintain good hygiene practices and cover your face if possible.

The current crisis is stressful for many, but pet owners can mitigate their worries by following the recommended guidelines and practices. As a community, we can beat Covid-19 by staying clean, staying home, and staying well.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Texas A&M Stevenson Center Adapts, Continues Providing Quality Care For Residents

Story by Madeline Patton

Sierra Key walks two dogs in a stroller
Second-year veterinary student Sierra Key walks Stevenson Center residents Chen and Twinkie

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is a unique piece of the college’s outreach and service efforts.

The center provides the physical, emotional, and medical care and companionship for pets whose owners are no longer able to care for them prior to entering a retirement home, being hospitalized, or predeceasing their pet.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many of the CVM’s programs and activities were temporarily stopped; however, the Stevenson Center has carried on thanks to the dedicated staff and students who continue to dedicate their lives to caring for these animals.

As part of their job at the Stevenson Center, veterinary students live and work there day and night. A benefit of having students live on-site is that they are able to provide 24-hour care and companionship for the animal residents.

Second-year veterinary student Sierra Key has worked for the center since 2015, her freshman year as an animal science major at Texas A&M. For two years, she was a daytime worker, but in 2017, she was asked to move in.

“I gradually got into the resident position and haven’t looked back,” Key said. “I’ve learned so much from this job, living with all of these different animals, being able to take care of the geriatric animals, and just seeing them all the way through. You don’t get that kind of experience in practice.”

Two canine residents that came to the center from the same home, Chen and Twinkie, have especially taken to Key and have become her study buddies, keeping her company while she does her online veterinary school courses.

“Chen and Twinkie sleep in my room with me,” Key said. “They got here when I moved in to become a resident, and now they’re with me all of the time; they’re my babies.”

In the midst of COVID-19, the students’ daily schedules and responsibilities have not changed. They are responsible for the animals from 5 p.m., when the center’s staff members leave for the night, to 8 a.m. the next day, plus all day on weekends and holidays. When she is not on shift, Key says she works on her classes, treating it like a normal day.

Chen the dog on a bed covered in textbooks
Stevenson Center resident Chen helps Key study for her veterinary classes.

“Social distancing is a big rule here,” Key said. “I think that’s probably the hardest thing, just because we all want to be together and love on all of the animals at the same time. We each select a couple pets and take turns, basically. But it all works out.”

When COVID-19 started to progress throughout the state and then to Brazos County, Texas A&M University and the CVM took measures to protect faculty, staff, students, and the community, at large. The Stevenson Center has taken protective measures, as well, to not only protect those working, but, also, the animals that reside at the center.

“We have limited hours for the day staff because they had to make sure they are respecting social distancing and making sure nobody else comes in,” Key said. “We’re not doing tours at this time, and we’re not having anybody come in and do maintenance work. We’re not allowed to have visitors or friends over right now, which is totally understandable.”

Ellie Greenbaum, the associate director of the Stevenson Center, and Dr. Henry L. “Sonny” Presnal, director of the Stevenson Center, continue administration of the Center from home while their full-time employees continue caring for the pets and the center during the week.

“During the pandemic, the Stevenson Center has delayed all tours and has limited anyone from entering the center other than our employees,” Greenbaum said.

“There are four devoted veterinary students who live at the center and are caring for the pets every evening and weekend as they always do,” she said.  “All of our employees are exceptional and are committed to fulfilling our mission of providing the best in care to our resident pets. Since the nature of our business is essential, the center is carrying on business as usual thanks to our one-of-a-kind staff.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Hobby Hazards: Maintaining a Pet-Safe Environment

After spending part of March and all of April at home, many people are finding that their television queues are watched, their video games are won, and their chores are done (or avoided!). As they search for more creative ways to pass the time, hobbies like painting, embroidery, and jogging are making a resurgence.

dog running with ball in mouthThough finding fun and productive ways to pass time is important for wellbeing, Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners should be cognizant of any hazards these new hobbies might introduce into their pet’s environment.

“I’m seeing a very different variety of injuries at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital,” Rutter said. “I’m seeing a lot of pets eating a sewing needle because their mom is home and sewing, something that she wouldn’t normally do, or ‘I took the puppy fishing and now there’s a fishhook in his paw.’”

If pet owners are learning a hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting, fishing, or another activity that relies on sharp tools and supplies, it is important that they keep potentially dangerous equipment stored out-of-reach from their pet. Other craft supplies, like some paints, modeling clays, and glues, can also be dangerous if ingested.

“Decrease opportunities for environmental injury,” Rutter said, “If you’re trying out new hobbies or activities, make sure that you’re keeping the things (tools, etc.) associated with those hobbies safely away from your pets.”

Pet owners exploring more physical hobbies, such as jogging, should also be mindful of how a change in routine affects their animal.

“Whenever you’re starting a new exercise routine with your pet, you want to do the same thing that we would recommend for any human starting a new exercise program,” Rutter said. “Talk to your veterinarian; if your dog has co-morbidities—things like underlying chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, chronic coughing, if they’ve had any changes in their bark or difficulty breathing, or if your pet has an orthopedic disease, a history of limping, history of joint issues or replacement—you really want to make sure that you start off slow.”

As the weather warms up, it is also important that owners consider how the heat may affect their pet, especially during exercise.

“In Texas, heat and humidity are a big deal,” she said. “You probably should not go out and exercise your dog a lot when it’s very humid; with humidity over about 60 percent or temperatures over about 80 or 85, we start worrying about heatstroke. Also, keep exercise sessions short when you can’t stay underneath those environmental restrictions.”

Heatstroke is a very serious condition that requires emergency veterinary care.

“If you suspect your pet has heat stress at any time, that is not a time to wait and see what happens. If your pet seems exhausted on a walk, has trouble breathing, is panting and can’t stop, vomits, or seems dazed or can’t stand up, those would be emergencies,” Rutter said. “You should not feel at all bad about going to your veterinarian’s office immediately.

“It can also be helpful to cool your pet down by wetting them,” she said. “However, you should not put them in ice water—just lukewarm water, wet their fur, and head to the closest veterinary hospital because heatstroke is a huge emergency, and dogs die of it every day.”

Though it is important that pet owners are mindful of how changes in activity might affect their furry running partner, Rutter says that most dogs would benefit from being included in this new hobby.

“I wouldn’t want to dissuade people from exercising their pets or having a good walk, because they need ways to get out their frustration and their anxiety,” she said. “They need a way to get that out, and a walk is a really great way to provide them not just the physical exercise, but also that social structure.”

A new hobby can be a healthy outlet and productive way to pass the time at home. There are plenty of activities owners might wish to pursue while sheltering in place, and many can be done with a cat in your lap or a dog by your side, provided owners make the correct adjustments to keep their furry friend safe.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

CVM Veterinary Students Learn Principles Of Surgery At Home

Two students practice surgery on models
Veterinary students practice stitching on synthetic models as their professor watches via Zoom

Story by Margaret Preigh

The path to becoming a veterinarian is, by nature, very hands-on. Students first see and practice procedures on synthetic models, learning by experience and honing their skills safely before graduating to care for real animals.

With the dawn of COVID-19, teaching these essential skills has become more difficult. The transition to virtual learning distances students and instructors, a dynamic that can be difficult even in less experiential disciplines.

As the instructor of the “Principles of Surgery” course for second-year veterinary students, Dr. Kelley Thieman, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), not only teaches the details of surgery through lectures, but also oversees the laboratory-based component.

“Usually, students will come to lab and, in their groups, prepare their ‘patient,’ a synthetic model with replaceable fake organs,” Thieman said, explaining how the laboratory component of the course operates under normal circumstances. “They gown, they glove, they drape in their patient, and then they do the procedure. The instructors circulate and discuss what they’re doing, give them pointers, answer questions, and discuss certain decisions.”

Now, with courses moving online, students make video-conference appointments with their professor and “perform surgery” in their homes on segments of the synthetic model shared by their group.

“Each of the students sets up their own little operating room in their house,” Thieman said. “It’s so funny to get to see the students’ houses; their dogs and their cats are so interested in what they’re doing. We have cats that get into the surgical field and try to help out.”

Though both instructors and students in this course have demonstrated remarkable flexibility in adapting to new circumstances, Thieman has found it difficult to translate the finer details of surgery to a digital setting.

“I think the biggest challenge is seeing if their stitches are too tight or too loose; it is really difficult, because I can’t touch them,” Thieman said. “Surgery is such a tactile thing—teaching students and then being unable to check their sutures, their stitches, is difficult.”

surgery set-up at home
A veterinary student’s at-home surgery setup with a synthetic model

Thieman is overcoming this challenge by directing the students on how to check their own stitches, requesting that students adjust their camera to a more advantageous position and that they measure the spacing between stitches using a ruler.

Lauren Minner, a second-year veterinary student in Thieman’s class, said that social distancing measures make such interactive teaching strategies difficult, as students are not only separated from their professors, but also from other members of their lab groups. This is especially challenging because groups that once shared a synthetic patient have to adapt to learning from the divided bits and pieces.

“During our labs, some of us have had to improvise what our organs are,” Minner said. “Some classmates have used things like dog toys or felt bags that they have laying around, and so we are having to improvise a little bit as far as our materials go, but I think that it makes it a little bit more fun. You’re having to imagine things, but at the same time you’re performing the same surgeries.”

Though “Principles of Surgery” students have had to exercise creativity in completing their coursework, Minner is still satisfied with the high quality of education provided to her by the CVM through this crisis.

“It honestly has been a lot closer to what we normally had than I thought would’ve been possible,” Minner said. “It makes us a little bit more accountable for our own learning, but, at the same time, it’s a little bit more gratifying because we are doing all of the work.”

Minner believes that the process of collaborating with her professors to complete coursework digitally has produced the unexpected benefit of increased understanding between professors and students.

“More than anything, it’s improving our relationships with our professors, because we all are having to work together and we all are giving each other feedback about how things are going,” Minner said. “It’s definitely opened up communication between ourselves and our professors a lot more. Once all of this is over, I think that all of us are going to have a better working relationship with one another.”

Thieman also thinks this experience can bring new insight to the veterinary field. One unexpected benefit offered is the possibility to improve the way veterinary medicine is taught and expand accessibility through remote learning.

“I still think that in-person lab is better, but there are times when that cannot happen,” Thieman said. “If we have a student who is sick or has to be gone for other reasons but they still want to continue their education, this could be really helpful for those students in the future.”

More personally, Thieman has found this experience to be an exercise in flexibility.

“I’ve learned to adapt quickly,” Thieman said. “I was a little skeptical when this all started that it would be a success, but I’ve learned that it’s totally doable; the students are getting a lot out of it, and we can do more by video than I thought we could.”

Minner agrees, citing the tenacity and resilience of professors and students alike in rising to and overcoming the challenges COVID-19 presents.

“It’s definitely taught us that when push comes to shove, we are all very driven and stubborn,” Minner said. “If we need to change what we thought was possible and work a little bit harder than we initially would have, we can. We have learned that we all are capable of a lot more than what we give ourselves credit for.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Online Clinical Rotations Let CVM Veterinary Students Complete Education Despite Pandemic

Story by Megan Myers

When Texas A&M University made the decision to move all classes online for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, professors at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) were faced with the unique challenge of determining how to provide fourth-year veterinary students (4VMs) with online clinical rotations.

Dr. Johanna Heseltine's at-home workspace
Dr. Johanna Heseltine teaches from her home

In their fourth year at the CVM, veterinary students normally spend their time at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) or another clinical location, interacting directly with patients and clients and rotating between services, or areas of veterinary specialty, every two weeks.

While the challenge of replicating this experience online was unexpected and unprecedented, CVM faculty members proved that with creativity and optimism, all things are possible.

“My initial reaction was, ‘We can do this,’” said Dr. Johanna Heseltine, a clinical assistant professor at the CVM.

In the Small Animal Hospital’s (SAH) internal medicine service, Heseltine normally instructs 4VMs by showing them how to treat actual patients that come into the service for a variety of needs.

Now that rotations are online, she’s spending more of her time at home, teaching with Zoom and other online resources while other clinicians manage the reduced caseload at the SAH.

“The majority of my day is spent teaching the students,” she said. “It’s been time-consuming but it’s also been very exciting to be able to dedicate that much time just to the students without worrying about running the clinic.”

Among the teaching methods Heseltine uses to teach 4VMs about internal medicine from home is using the unpredictability that comes with actual patients at the SAH.

“They’ve been looking at one of the cases that is in the hospital real-time and they’re writing an assessment or a plan for that patient using the information that they can access at home,” she said. “Those are the cases they’d be actually taking if they were on rotation. I didn’t choose them; they’re whatever happens to come through the door.”

She is also giving a second assignment each day based on hand-selected past cases that she has found particularly interesting or unique.

“My impression is that the students have found those cases very challenging, but because they have time to work on them, they’re getting a lot out of it because they’ve got enough time to really look up the abnormalities and think about what might be causing them,” Heseltine said. “I think they’ve really enjoyed the challenges and I get the sense that they feel like they’re learning a lot.”

In one of these cases, students were tasked with developing a treatment plan for a cat that developed a blockage, a condition they are likely to see in their practices after graduation.

“That case was definitely challenging, but it was a nice confidence-builder,” said 4VM Amanda Tabone. “It was nice that Dr. Heseltine was able to hand-pick topics that she knew were important for first-year-out general practitioners.”

Tabone said that while her online internal medicine rotation was time-consuming, it was a great way to conclude her education at the CVM.

“There was a lot of repetition of really important, fundamental concepts and a lot of case-based learning, which is awesome,” Tabone said. “It really hammered home some of those concepts that we need to know right before we go out into the real world.”

Having also completed an in-person internal medicine rotation at the SAH last fall, Tabone said the experiences were different, but equally beneficial.

“I’m glad to have had both, because I really love the patient-care aspect, the connection with clients, and getting to work one-on-one with faculty,” she said. “But I think the second time around, it was so topic- and discussion-based that I got a lot out of it; it was a totally different dynamic than the first time. I got different benefits out of each rotation, both equally important.”

Another important aspect of clinical rotations, and teaching, in general, is the connection between teacher and students that promotes discussion and honest conversation.

“I was concerned that I wouldn’t get to know the students the way I usually do,” Heseltine said. “I thought it might be very impersonal and that they’d just be names, but not people. But it actually hasn’t been like that. Because the interaction’s real-time and they’ve had their cameras on so I can see who they are, it’s actually been much better than I saw it being.”

Likewise, Tabone feels that the online rotations have held a hidden benefit in the increased time with faculty members who are normally much busier at the VMTH.

“I felt like we got to know Dr. Heseltine more on a personal level, and I think vice versa for us with her,” Tabone said. “We got to spend a lot of face time with the senior clinician and that was definitely an unexpected aspect that I enjoyed.”

Despite the challenges it has created, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown 4VMs just how dedicated their professors are to their success, sending them out into the field with the confidence that they will always have the support of the CVM and Aggie family.

“I am very appreciative, and I’m sure my classmates are very appreciative, of the amount of time faculty are putting in to make sure that we are getting what we need from our education to feel comfortable going out into our practices,” Tabone said. “I don’t think we can say thank you enough for all of their dedication, because I know they’re taking a lot of time to make sure we feel comfortable and that they feel good about our level of education as we’re about to graduate.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Sit… Stay… At Home: Pet-Friendly Quarantine Activities

Social distancing has created a new sense of normal for many of us, including our pets. Dogs are probably excited that we are staying in our slippers all day, while some cats may be less than enthusiastic that we’re disturbing their outrageously long naps.

Kitten playing with a feather toyThough social distancing presents some benefits, many may be finding the abundance of free time to be challenging. Courtney Markley, a veterinary student ambassador at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers some ideas to change up the monotony of the day.

“Pet owners can introduce new activities in their normal daily schedule to help pets adjust to all of these changes,” Markley said. “Pets will still expect an early breakfast and may need time to relax alone, either in their crate or a room by themselves, if they’re not used to constant excitement during the day.”

When your pets are ready to come out and play, Markley recommends some shelter-in-place-friendly activities that can occupy both pet and owner.

“Owners of a feisty feline probably already know cats frequently enjoy the package a store-bought toy comes in more than the actual toy, which is great news now that we’re staying home,” she said.

Along these lines, a few budget-friendly ideas to spice up your cat’s day can include:

  • Cutting little holes in cardboard toilet paper rolls or adding some fringe along the edges before tossing it on the floor. Kids can even decorate them with non-toxic markers.
  • Cutting a cat-sized hole in the side of a box or covering an open box with a T-shirt so that the neck hole creates a “door” to give the cat a place to hide. Cutting multiple holes of various sizes creates opportunities for sneak-attacks during playtime!
  • Using laser pointers can be fun for cats to burn some energy. Always give them a treat at the end of the game to make their “hunt” successful. If not, they may become frustrated.
  • Tying wine corks (boiled for sanitation) to a string, adding some feathers, or just tossing it to your cat can also make a good toy.

Dogs can get in on the fun, too, Markley says, noting that the free time many people have found in quarantine is perfect to brush up on their training.

“There is a wealth of dog training information available online; positive reinforcement training is a great place to begin your search,” she said.

If the usual activities like fetch, walks, and training begin to get old, Markley recommends trying the following ideas:

  • Creating rope/tug toys out of a cut-up T-shirt (or old fleece jacket if you need a stronger toy). Simply cut three strands of fabric of decent length, then tie them in a knot at one end, braid the strands just like you braid hair, and finish it with a knot before play time begins.
  • Blowing some bubbles! Dogs enjoy bubbles just as much as kids, so this idea is a double-win.
  • Playing a game of hide-and-seek. Either tell the dog to stay and go hide somewhere before calling them, or send the kids to go hide somewhere with a squeaky toy while you help Fido count to 10. Once everyone is in position, call your dog’s name or squeak the toy to help them find you.
  • Practicing “nose work.” Put a few treats in a muffin tin and cover them with tennis balls. Dogs will have to use their noses to determine which tennis balls are covering treats and then figure out how to remove the tennis ball.
  • Offering self-entertainment. Some toys can be filled with store-bought treats or snacks from the fridge if your pooch needs to entertain themselves for a while. Freezing the toy before you give it to them can increase the time it takes to get all of the snacks out.

When filling toys with treats, it is important to stay away from toxic foods like raisins and other dried fruits, onions, garlic, chocolate, fatty foods, and foods that contain an artificial sweetener called Xylitol, which is sometimes found in peanut butter.

“Fruits and veggies make great snacks for dogs and even your cat, if they’re an adventurous eater,” Markley said. “My go-to treat recipe includes peanut butter or nonfat plain yogurt, kibble, and a fruit like frozen blueberries or bananas.”

If you choose to give some extra snacks, especially peanut butter, remember to decrease the amount of kibble your pet receives for breakfast or dinner, so they don’t consume extra calories.

When making homemade toys, Markley points out a few potential hazards pet owners should avoid.

“Some dogs love water bottles, but the cap and any plastic pieces they chew up can become choking hazards, so stay away from those,” she said. “When making toys for cats, be careful using string because they might try to eat that, too.”

Quarantine has many of us chasing our own tails. Though current circumstances may be stressful, pet owners can use this time to reconnect with their furry friends and make the best of their time at home.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Texas A&M VMTH Curbside Admission, Discharge Update

Story by Aubrey Bloom

In an effort to better serve patients, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) has adjusted its admissions process for its Small and Large Animal Hospitals, effective April 20.

Drop-off location in front of the Small Animal Hospital
Small animal patients will now be dropped off in front of the Small Animal Hospital entrance.

Small Animal

Curbside admission and discharge processes continue at the Small Animal Hospital; however, clients should now enter the normal Small Animal Hospital Parking Lot (Lot 38), off of Raymond-Stotzer Parkway.

After turning into Lot 38, clients can park in any of the numbered spaces and should call the telephone number listed on the sign to get their pet checked in and begin the admissions process.

Large Animal

Curbside admission and discharge processes also continue at the Large Animal Hospital. Clients will continue to use the traditional route to the Large Animal Hospital (from Raymond-Stotzer Parkway, turn onto Veterinary Way and then right at the stop sign, following the road around to and through the gates).

Once in Lot 45 (the normal Large Animal Hospital client parking), clients can park in numbered spaces designated for equine and food animal patients (please see the map below). Clients should then call the telephone number listed on the sign to begin the admissions process.

“The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital is continuing our efforts to provide essential veterinary medical services in a way that is safe for our clients, faculty, and staff,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, associate professor and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team. “While this admissions process is different than how we normally function, our commitment to providing excellence and compassion remains the same. We urge everyone to stay safe and heed all public health recommendations for successfully navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Currently, the VMTH is still only seeing urgent and emergent cases. Owners are encouraged to call ahead of time for small animal (979-845-2351) and large animal (979 845-3541) emergencies.

Map of VMTH

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216