By Rebecca Cole
August 21st, 2009
BOULDER – Even in an economic downturn veterinary care is still a priority.
Americans spent $10.1 billion for veterinarian care in 2007, according to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association.
Although 75 percent of owners surveyed recently by The Goodlife Recipe, a natural pet food company, said they would trim spending on their pets, half said they would not cut back on visits to the vet.
“It’s a wonderful society we live in today,” said Matt Booth, a longtime emergency veterinarian in Boulder. “There are so many people that treat their pets as family, and we’re able to actually treat them like we would a human. It’s awesome.”
After working for nine years at the Boulder Emergency Pet Clinic, in June Booth and three other veterinarians, Sean Williams, Matt Rooney and Karen Sanderson, opened Alpenglow Veterinary Specialty + Emergency Center at 3640 Walnut St. in Boulder, offering emergency care and cardiology, internal medicine and surgery services. The 4,300-square-foot center serves dogs, cats, small mammals and exotic pets and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
An emergency situation with a pet can be one of the “most stressful experiences of someone’s life,” Booth said. “To be in the hospital stinks. We want them to feel like they are at home.”
With four treatment rooms, a quiet location and a garden where guardians can sit with their pets rather than in a crowded waiting room, Booth said the emergency center’s design helps clients handle the situation better.
“Part of what we’re trying to promote is a comfortable environment at a unique time in their experience with their pet,” Booth said.
Booth views the clinic as an extension of the family veterinarian, and the center has already had a number of patients referred by area vets for specialized care.
Earlier this summer when Bryan Russell returned home from vacation, his 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier greeted him excitedly – as most dogs will. But when the dog fainted, breathing but unresponsive, Russell knew something was not right.
Conveniently named “Jack,” the dog sprang to its paws after a few minutes, running around and acting as if nothing had happened. A handful of similar episodes ensued over the next few weeks, including once on a walk when Jack immediately keeled over after relieving himself.
“It was literally like someone pushed a cow over,” Russell said. “He just fell on his side.”
After a round of tests conducted by Jack’s primary veterinarian, who was concerned that the dog’s heart murmur had morphed into something more serious, Russell was referred to Sanderson at the emergency center.
A longtime veterinary cardiologist who previously operated a mobile unit serving family vets all along the Front Range, Sanderson took one look at Jack’s blue tongue and knew he was suffering from congenital heart failure. After putting the pooch in an “oxygen cage,” a glass enclosure with controlled temperature and oxygen flow, Jack’s tongue and heavy breathing returned to normal.
“We want them to feel like they did when they were happy and the owners didn’t know anything was wrong,” Sanderson said about pets brought in for heart problems. “In most cases, not all certainly, we can buy them a good quality of life, anywhere from six months to several years.
Luckily for Jack, his heart problem, called mitral regurgitation, where a flap on the heart’s valve causes blood to flow back into the heart and enlarge it, can be controlled with medication.
And luckily for Russell’s wallet, Jack did not have to stay overnight in the clinic or have any invasive surgery. Costs can run from a few hundred dollars for an initial screening to thousands of dollars for a pacemaker or catheter implantation.
While heart mitral valve issues are common in dogs over the age of 12, especially in small-breed dogs, the most common form of heart disease in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, something Sanderson said is “really frustrating to diagnose.”
Although many cats have heart abnormalities such as a heart murmur, unlike dogs they do not present as many telltale symptoms until they are in congestive heart failure. And once they are, the prognosis for a full recovery is poor; many cats develop blood clots due to an enlarged heart, which then can cause acute paralysis in the hind legs.
“One minute your cat is happy and normal and literally one second later they are dragging their hind leg and screaming in pain,” Sanderson said.
Barbara Brunner woke up recently to just such a scenario when her seven-and-a-half-year-old Maine coon cat, Kully, jumped on the bed, howling in agony.
“I threw clothes on, got him into the carrier and headed to the emergency vet clinic in Longmont,” Brunner said. “There were so many possibilities what was wrong it was scary as heck.”
Once the vets at the Longmont clinic looked at Kully’s enlarged heart, Brunner said, “it was really clear” that was the problem. In addition, the cat had a blood clot, but in his front leg, not the hind legs, and was sent to Sanderson in Boulder.
Calling Kully “a complicated case,” Sanderson said the cat is on the mend, although Brunner said he is still not totally himself.
“He has a bad heart and that’s a fact,” Brunner said. “The first thing they told me was that his heart was shaped like a valentine. It’s not a good thing, but it fits him because he’s a really sweet kitty.