In this week’s episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol: Back to the Suture, the doctor is having some trouble getting his DeLorean up to snuff for local car show. The stainless steel DeLorean, made famous by the film Back to the Future, is one of his favorites, but Doc doesn’t have a flux capacitor lying around. This might be a good thing when you consider how far we’ve come since 1985— the “future” from the film. Veterinary medicine has made a tremendous number of advances since that year. Here are five highlights.
“Spot On” Flea Treatment
Anyone who had dogs and cats in 1985 probably has some not-so-fond memories of their struggles with fleas. Flea shampoos and collars weren’t all that effective. (Not to mention bathing a cat can be quite an undertaking.) If the infestation got completely out of control, the resulting army of fleas in the carpet forced many a family to vacate the house for the weekend while they fumigated with flea bombs.
All that changed in the late 1990s when fipronil (Frontline) and imidacloprid (Advantage) were introduced as a topical liquid for flea control. A couple of drops on your pet kills the pests and helps pet owners get ahead of the relentless life cycle of fleas. While there is still debate on the safety of these insecticides, they were definitely the beginning of a slew of new treatments to get fleas under control.
Better Pain Management
In 1985, veterinarians weren’t as savvy as they are today about evaluating and treating pain in animals. In fact, it was once thought that animals recovered more quickly after surgery if they were not inhibited by pain relievers. It is now recognized that untreated or prolonged painful conditions result in destructive behaviors and overall health issues.
Vets now work with pet owners to relieve pain through a variety of methods. This includes controlled exercise, weight management, and adjusting a pet’s environment so that it can move about more comfortably. There are also now a variety of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which help reduce swelling, stiffness, and joint pain that are made specifically for animals. More than this, vets are dedicated to eliminating pain.
According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, “The veterinary profession is sufficiently advanced to recognize and successfully manage pain in our patients. We have medications, techniques and experience that can be customized to the species and the medical condition; current standard of care allows for the vast majority of patients to be made comfortable the majority of the time.”
In 1985, for the most part, the only reasonable option a veterinarian when faced with a badly damage limb was to amputate and hope for the best or to euthanize the injured animal. Today, the use of orthotics (braces) and prosthetic (artificial) limbs have become a viable alternative to amputation for many animals.
Orthotics and prosthetics are designed specifically for the individual animal. They have been used for not just dogs and cats, but pigs, horses and even to replace the tail for a dolphin named Winter. When designed correctly, and with some rehabilitation, many animals thrive with their new “bionic” components.
For the most part, in the mid-1980s, veterinarians recognized that animals got cancer, but there were few advanced diagnostics or treatments available. The usual outcome was that animals succumbed to the disease. Today, veterinarians are able to perform a variety of diagnostics including blood tests, biopsies, ultrasounds, and magnetic resonance and imaging (MRI).
Modern veterinary medicine has several options for combating cancer, which are often used in combination. Vets may opt to remove a tumor with surgery. Another option is radiation therapy, the use of high-energy X-rays to treat tumor cells in surrounding tissues and local lymph nodes. There is also chemotherapy which uses chemicals to kill tumor cells. And there is immunotherapy, which uses the animal’s own immune system to combat the tumor cells. In fact, there is even a DNA-based vaccine for canine melanoma (ONCEPT®) that is used to support surgery and/or radiation therapy to prolong survival time. Veterinarians now have a much wider knowledge-base about the variety of cancers and there is a tremendous amount of ongoing research with more promising advances for the future.
Patented in 1986, 3-D printing has come a long way and is now beneficial to many industries including veterinary medicine. The process of printing solid three-dimensional objects can be used to print realistic models of animal anatomy. Since the process creates the object layer by layer, models printed from a computed tomography (CT) scan can print bones, blood vessels, muscles, and organs. These lifelike printouts might allow veterinarians to practice their surgery techniques on precise models. Someday 3-D printers might even be used to print customized patient specific implants.
If Dr. Pol gets his DeLorean up and running and finds a flux capacitor, perhaps he should travel ahead another 30 years. It looks like veterinary medicine is going to keep advancing and quickly. What veterinarians can do today is already pretty incredible. Tune in to this week’s episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol on Saturday August 1 at 9/8c and see for yourself!