Why do we charge so much for sick animals?

Posted in Philosophy, Why We Recommend at 9:46 pm by Jenn

We received an inquiry today that I thought I would share:

Hi I’m curious why so much money for a sick hedgehog?

I would like to get more information on Emma who I found on Petfinder.comhttp://petfinder.com/petdetail/18594889

Sent from my iPod

We often receive emails like this, trying to dicker prices with us, or asking why our prices are “so expensive”.   We responded to her email explaining why we charge what we do:

Hi Tammy, and thanks for your inquiry.  Since you’re surfing from your iPod, you may not be able to correctly read all of Emma’s story.  As noted in the first paragraph in bright red writing:

Note! Emma is currently undergoing medical treatment and won’t be available for adoption until she’s healthy. She is listed only so we can try to find her a forever home to go to when she’s well!

This means that Emma will not be available to go home until she completes her medical care.  (Ie, until she is no longer “sick”.)

On average each animal we rescue costs us approximately $250 in veterinary bills and boarding.  This ranges from the smallest mouse (adopted out at $5), to the most expensive animals like parrots.  We average a loss of $100 per animal for each animal that we rehome.  These animals are abandoned at local shelters and directly with our rescue, typically because negligent owners buy them as pets and are unprepared or unwilling to spend money on them when they become ill.
Our adoptions fees are designed to help defray some of the cost of making sure that these exotic animals receive care and do not suffer horribly and die from neglect.  Because of this, we must spend our own money out of pocket in order to afford this medical care.  Of the approximate $15,000 our organization spent on veterinary care last year, over 50% came directly from our board members.
While it would be nice to offer these homeless animals “cheaply”, in the end it does them a terrible disservice as people looking for “bargains” decide that they can now afford a ‘used’ hedgehog.  These types of homes typically are unaware of the expensive husbandry needs of exotic species, and we feel that it is unfair to take an already neglected and abandoned animal and place them directly back into the situation from which they escaped.
If you wish to support our cause without adoption, please feel free to donate directly to us at allcreaturesrescue.org.
Thank you for your continued support!

ACR&S does make it their policy to seek veterinary care for all animals that they take in, and to be completely up front and honest about any issues an animal may have.  We realize that in the case of animals with chronic behavioral or health issues that this may mean they’re with us for a long time — even for the rest of their lives.  But we are committed to providing care for those animals that have been failed once already by those unwilling to provide basic husbandry.


Another small animal mill busted.

Posted in Why We Recommend at 8:26 am by Jenn

In the news recently, the big story in exotics was the raid on US Global Exotics — one of the biggest exotic animal suppliers in the United States.  Over 20,000 animals were seized from rancid conditions.  Many were dead or dying, and there were many reports of starving animals cannibalizing each other.  Since the initial bust, health specialists have recommend razing the building to the ground.

Clifford Warwick, a reptile and human health expert flown in to assist with the massive case said the following:

“It’s my firm view as a health specialist these animals could not be returned to that facility,” Warwick said. “It is a rampant reservoir of potential infection.

Warwick said he found no evidence of disease control at the business, which he said reeked “of death and decay on a mammoth and overwhelming scale” the day of the raid.

Despite this, the owners of the firm have released statements through their lawyers that clearly this is just a PETA agenda to get people to stop owning pets.  This stands sharply in contrast with an SPCA spokeswoman’s statement:

“One of the most heartbreaking things I saw was hundreds of deceased iguanas. I stopped counting at 200,” said Maura Davies, spokeswoman for the SPCA. “There were dozens more.”

Often, people think of these cases as “one off” situations, where bad people take advantage of lax laws, but it is unfortunately a pattern with pet store suppliers (this mirrors undercover footage and pictures found at Rainbow Exotics — Petsmart’s biggest supplier).  You cannot produce 200 guinea pigs a week, or 400 rabbits, or 1,000 hamsters in sterling conditions.   You cannot make money off of breeding an animal with care, respect, and adequate medical supplies.  At our rescue, we average $250 per intake!  And often that’s simply to deal with minor health problems or to insure that the animals are, in fact, healthy.  That’s not even counting the cost of pre-natal care for these animals, some of which have notoriously high complication rates.  The sad reality is that these rodents mills are even more poorly policed than puppy mills, and (as attested to by this recent bust) are rampant with infectious disease and poor husbandry.  In fact, recent studies done from large hamster mills have shown that all of the hamsters studied were carrying some type of pathogen, even if they weren’t actively infected with it!

We urge everyone looking to acquire a new pet to think carefully about where that animal comes from and what it is exposed to before it arrives at your house.   These well meaning purchases often end in heartbreak (we get a couple of emails per week from folks who have purchased from local big box pet stores with recently dead animals who now want to adopt), and serve to fuel a never-ending cycle of supply and demand.


Guest Blog: Why we recommend bloodwork

Posted in Medical, Why We Recommend at 7:11 am by ACR&S

We have a new guest blogger joining us: Dr. Jhondra Funk-Keenan holds a PhD in genetics and is a rising 3rd year vet student at UW-Madison. She is also the recipient of Oxbow’s 2008 Veterinary Student Scholarship, and has owned rabbits and been involved in animal rescue for well over 10 years. Jhondra is able to mesh the perspectives of an owner and an educated medical specialist, and will be contributing a regular column called Why we recommend, which will provide owners with understandable clinical information on the reasons behind vets’ recommendations.

If you have a specific question you’d like investigated or explained by Dr. Jhondra (for exotics or traditional small animals like dogs or cats), please email us!

Why we recommend….performing bloodwork on pets

I have a lot of people ask me “Why should I do bloodwork on my pets?” Admittedly, only one of these people owned an exotic animal. However, I think this will change in the next decade. More higher-end exotics specialists and emergency clinics regularly recommend bloodwork to exotics owners. And, within 5-10 years, I believe more vets (including ones seeing exotics) will routinely recommend bloodwork to exotics owners, both for “wellness” checks and for medical problems requiring vet care.

So, here are some of the basics of bloodwork you should know as a client. Few vets perform bloodwork in-house. Typically, orders for bloodwork are sent out to the nearest medical laboratory. There will be a few days lag time before results are back. The exceptions are veterinary schools and higher-end emergency veterinary clinics, which typically have in-house labs. These clinics have faster lab results, but may charge more for both a physical exam lab work. Most vets will recommend two types of different but complementary bloodwork to the average client: a biochemistry panel and a Complete Blood Count with Differential (CBC/Diff).

A CBC/Diff is very similar regardless of where the bloodwork is analyzed. Information about your pet learned from the CBC/Diff include:

  1. The number of red blood cells (RBC). RBC carry oxygen in all mammalian species and almost all vertebrates (except in the icefish, who has clear, whitish blood—totally awesome). Low RBC may mean anemia and be cause for concern, but this depends on why the animal is anemic. Was the animal hit by a car. If so, anemia may reflect blood loss from the trauma. A good CBC/Diff will tell us if the anemia is regenerative, which it should be. If not, that leads us down a different diagnostic path and may warrant more tests.
  2. The number of white blood cells (WBC). High number of white blood cells (called leukocytosis) may indicate an infection, especially if certain types of white blood cells are high (neutrophils, maybe monocytes). However, this isn’t straightforward, as stress can increase WBC, including the stress of traveling to the vet.
  3. Total protein. A increased total protein can mean an animal is dehydrated; decreased can mean blood loss.

Chemistry panels are a little less straightforward. Most labs (and vet clinics) offer numerous panels, which differ by which tests are on the panel. More complete panels will include more of the boldfaced tests:

  1. Liver function: via AST, ALT values; these are enzymes produced in the liver cells. Liver cells also produce albumin and cholesterol; these markers can tell us how well the liver is producing proteins. Bilirubin can be a indicator of liver clearance and also if red blood cells are being destroyed within the body.
  2. Kidney function: via BUN and Creatinine values. Cholesterol and albumin can also be informative about kidney function.
  3. Gull bladder function: via ALP and GGT
  4. Muscle health: via AST and CK.
  5. Electrolytes (Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, and Bicarbonate): All four tell us about Acid/Base balance within the animal, about the GI tract’s state and a little about the kidney function.
  6. Strong ions (Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium): Tell us about the kidney and about GI tract health). Calcium imbalance can be a sign of other issues, like pancreatitis, GI tract, milk fever in lactating females, among other illnesses.
  7. Glucose: tells us about food consumption and also about the pancreas’ secretion (the pancreas regulates blood glucose). Is blood sugar low? If so, is the animal flat on the ground? For example, we can see really low blood glucose in ferrets due to insulinomas.
  8. Several exotics panels will also offer uric acid, which can tell us about kidney function (and possible vitamin imbalance) in birds.

So, now that you know the basics of bloodwork, which tests should you consider doing on your pets?

For my pets, I get a complete chemistry panel (the most complete available) performed while the animal is fairly young and healthy. Suppose you have a sick pet, you come to see me and I perform bloodwork for the first time during that illness. We can only compare this animal’s tests to the “officially reference interval” but these intervals include only 95% of animals (2 standard deviations from the statistical mean). Statistically speaking, as the number of tests on a panel increases, we have an increased risk of getting a high or low values of one or more tests due to either artifact or a value that appears abnormal but is normal FOR YOUR ANIMAL. How would we know what is normal FOR YOUR ANIMAL? Only via previous routine bloodwork, performed when your pet is healthy.

If you have already performed the routine bloodwork and your vet asks about routine bloodwork on subsequent visits, I would ask the vet “What problems do we want to look for?” Some vets want to monitor liver and kidney values in animals (especially pre-anesthesia); if that’s the rationale, can we avoid the complete panel and perform a pre-anesthesia panel? I also perform regular geriatric panels on my older animals; these panels allow me to watch for changes in the liver, kidney, and electrolytes. As my pets age, I perform bloodwork more regularly (every 6 months).

Your vet may recommend a urinalysis, based on physical exam findings or symptoms. Is your pet drinking more water or urinating more? Is he urinating red-tinged urine? This may be normal or abnormal in some small mammals, depending on diet. A urinalysis also complements any kidney values from your chemistry.

If your animal is ill, I would definitely consent to a CBC/Diff and a chemistry panel. A CBC/Diff will tell your vet if your animal is sick due to an infectious disease. Depending on symptoms, your vet may suggest a complete chemistry panel; is the animal suddenly ill, with no signs 12 hours ago, meaning we have few clues as to where to start? For the reappearance of a re-occurring problem, a less-complete panel may give your vet all the needed info.

Be ye warned: bloodwork is not all diagnostic and will never replace a good physical exam by a vet (exotics-specialist for exotics pets). I had a (beloved) rabbit with a very normal geriatric panel 4 months before she was euthanized due to advanced pulmonary neoplasia. She had little to no normal lung tissue at the time of her death and yet her chemistry panel was normal.

Also, don’t try to interpret bloodwork on your own. Vet schools typically have one entire semester-long class on interpreting bloodwork; students learn how to understand ALL the tests performed and ALWAYS in the light of physical exam findings. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet to spend time explaining what the bloodwork means and how it should guide your management of your pet’s health.