Dr. John Madigan's neonatal care team was busy with an emergency on this rainy February evening.
The medical workers stood in a stall at the University of California, Davis' veterinary horse barn with Madigan, an equine specialist, evaluating and administering to a sick premature foal that had just been brought in.
There were tests run and fed into a computer for analysis, and antibiotics and a blood transfusion. Madigan decided the foal did not need to be in the special intensive care unit, but ordered round-the-clock monitoring of it and its mother, which also needed medical attention.
By the next morning, the foal was up on its feet and nursing.
This is animal medicine of the '80s, and neonatal care for horses is not the only thing new that's going on.
Today's veterinarians are taking human medical treatments, most of which were developed through research on animals, and adapting them for use in animal health care.
For horses and other large animals, and for those 51 million dogs and 56 million cats that live in American homes, there is much specialty care being offered.
New Medical Techniques
Diagnostic ultrasound, a painless procedure used to locate heart and other organ and soft tissue problems, is one of the newer medical techniques being used in pet medicine, both at universities and in private practice.
Implanting pacemakers is becoming a routine procedure for dogs with heart disease, according to veterinary cardiologists and surgeons.
Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and cryosurgery (freezing) have found their way into health care for animals, as have cataract removal and eye surgery, dentistry--complete with crowns, root canals and periodontal treatment--acupuncture and holistic medical care.
"It started with animals, research for the good of people, and now it returns for the good of animals," said Dr. Richard Fink, a Whittier veterinarian who is president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Assn., the Illinois-based governing group for 43,678 veterinarians in the U.S., Canada and U.S. territories. There are 4,500 veterinarians in California.
"I started my practice in 1952," he said, noting that he has operated a veterinary hospital for cats, dogs and birds in Whittier since then. "And the difference between animal care then and in 1987 is like night and day. Sick animals we put to sleep years ago aren't being euthanized today because of our diagnostic capabilities, the way we can handle diseases and the surgical techniques. It is an extreme joy going to work these days."
A Growing Field
Fink and other veterinarians say that specialized veterinary medicine is a growing field.
American animal owners spent $4 billion in veterinary care in 1985. But how many people can afford a $500 pacemaker for their dog or chemotherapy for their cat that might run as high as $2,500?
"Most of the time, the technology is ahead of what the public can afford," Fink said. "But people are demanding advanced treatment for their animals more and more. They didn't recognize it was available until recently."
For three years, Dr. John Madigan of UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine periodically followed pediatric physicians around the university's medical center in Sacramento, going on rounds with them, checking out their procedures with premature infants, attending their seminars on neonatal care for babies.
The result was Madigan's neonatal unit for horses, with a "foal team" made up of volunteer veterinary residents and students who provide 24-hour care for premature or sick foals, and also operate a separate specially-designed intensive care unit for more critically-ill equine babies.
"I learned from human pediatricians--I had a lot of help from Dr. Boyd Goetzman who was chief of neonatal at Sac (Sacramento) Med Center then--how they care for premature babies and infants and translated it here," said Madigan. "Now we have a course in neonatal foals, premature or high risk, full-term foals."
And in April, Madigan will publish a first-of-its kind manual of pediatric technology for foals, Equine Neonatal Medicine.
"I would say physicians and veterinarians are trying to work together hand in hand," said Dr. Stephen Ettinger of the California Animal Hospital in West Los Angeles. "Our primary goal is to help people, but the ultimate result is that we've turned this around and are helping animals."
Ettinger and 13 other veterinarians operate a sizable animal clinic on Sepulveda Boulevard that is referred to by many Southern California vets as "Davis South," because their extensive medical work with small animals includes cardiology, many kinds of surgery and cancer treatment in addition to general practice procedures.
Nickname for UC Davis
Ettinger's animal hospital colleagues, on the other hand, like to refer to UC Davis veterinary medical school near Sacramento, California's only veterinary school, as "Ettinger North."