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Help! Vet School is teaching me to fear my career
Why Pet Owners Prefer a Human Touch AI and Pet Care Marketing
Dr Dana Varble Evolving Medical Care for Exotics and Beyond
Financially Preparing for Veterinary Hospital Ownership
October / November 2023
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Copyright October 2023. PetVet Magazine is published bimonthly by Barkleigh Productions, Inc, 970 West Trindle Road, Mechanicsburg PA 17055. Postmaster: Send change of address to Pet Vet Magazine c/o Barkleigh Productions, Inc., 970 West Trindle Road, Mechanicsburg PA 17055. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher. Editorial offices: 970 West Trindle Road, Mechanicsburg PA 17055. (717) 691–3388 FAX (717) 691–3381 Email:
Help! Vet School is Teaching Me to Fear My Career!
Dr. Dana Varble: Evolving Medical Care for Exotics and Beyond
PetVet’s advisory board is here to help ensure quality content to motivate & educate Veterinarians and their staff.
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Courtney A. Campbell
“My passions ultimately drove me towards becoming a veterinarian, but when I was growing up I briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a magician. As a veterinarian, the ability to save lives, keep animals healthy, and strengthen the human–animal bond makes me realize there’s nothing more magical than that.”
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Jenifer Chatfield
DVM, Dipl. ACZM, Dipl. ACVPM

“People should be so lucky as to get to be a veterinarian. The broad-based education empowers us to be successful in multiple fields and affords us the opportunity to choose how we spend our professional time.”
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Julie Legred
“I have worked in many areas of veterinary medicine and veterinary technology over the last thirty five years, and it is amazing how far our profession has grown and paved the way for the betterment of animals’ lives and happiness, as well as improving public health issues. It is an honor for me to be a part of this advisory board to offer additional education and opportunities to grow in our profession.”
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Lisa Powell
“I have had the privilege of working with a variety of animals in my career and my passion has allowed me to be involved in teaching veterinary students, interns, residents and other veterinarians. I continue to enjoy going to work every day to help critically ill dogs and cats, and love the client interactions as well. I am proud to be a part of this advisory board to help teach and spread my love for this profession to others in the veterinary community.”
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Kathryn Primm,
“Animals mean so much to the human condition. It is my privilege to make lives better every day! I cannot imagine myself in any other career.”
"We have to WORK HARD in exotic pet medicine to promote and enable research, peer-reviewed publications, and evidence-based medicine to be sure we are offering these devoted pet owners the very best care we can.
-Dana Varble, DVM and CVO of NAVC
Financially Preparing For Veterinary Hospital Ownership illustration
By Cary Crego

s you begin your veterinary career, prioritizing financial planning is non-negotiable if you have plans to purchase or open a veterinary hospital. Establishing a solid financial foundation early on will allow you to open your practice with peace of mind, knowing your finances are in good shape.

Whether you are a first-year veterinary student, a recent graduate or have a newfound dream of hospital ownership, here are some areas to take into consideration as you prepare financially.

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Student Loans
With student loan payments resuming, many may be concerned about taking on additional debt to acquire or start a veterinary hospital. But by becoming a hospital owner, you will gain access to a valuable and important financial asset—your hospital. This asset will only increase in value over time, allowing you to grow your net worth and income. Through ownership, you can unlock the opportunity to pay off debt, such as student loans, even faster.

In addition, you’ll still be able to access financing for your hospital, even with student loans. Healthcare-specific underwriting teams understand that most veterinary students need student loans to complete their schooling. Therefore, student loans are usually labeled as “good” debt. Instead of looking solely at student loans, a lender will consider your personal credit, source of income, proof of financial responsibility and ability to accumulate savings.

It’s important to note that student loans should still be a factor in your financial planning. As you finish school or look into acquiring a practice, you should factor your student loans into your monthly budget and develop a plan for paying them off efficiently. They should always be a priority so you can avoid penalties and continue to build a positive credit history.

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Personal Debt
While there is “good” debt, there is also “bad” debt. Any credit card or consumer debt from items that do not hold their value will be identified as “bad” by lenders. This could include high levels of personal credit card debt, car loans, store credit, etc. Take the time to evaluate these debts and look for ways to pay off these balances without incurring additional charges that will negatively impact your credit score.
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Budgeting and Saving
If opening your own veterinary hospital is your goal, budgeting and saving are crucial and unavoidable aspects of success. Disciplined budgeting will help you save money, and the more money you have on hand, the more likely you are to receive approval for a loan. Budgeting can be overwhelming, so here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Evaluate your monthly expenses. Identify your current spending habits by determining what items are essential and where you can cut costs. Do you need the $10 iced latte from the local coffee shop, or can you make a pot of coffee at home? Identifying any and all ways to cut costs will help you in the long run.
  2. Evaluate your debt priorities. What “bad” debt have you accumulated that you can pay off before applying for a loan? If you’re looking at credit cards, prioritize paying off those with a higher interest rate.
  3. Develop a timeline. It’s easy to say you want to pay off your debt or have a certain amount saved up by the time you apply for a loan, but what’s keeping you on track? Establishing a timeline with goals can help. Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements as you build wealth or improve your credit.
  4. Ask for help. If you’re struggling with budgeting, it’s okay to ask for help. Many financial advisors specialize in helping healthcare providers, and they can help you develop and stick to a plan.
  5. Use budgeting tools. In this day and age, there are many budgeting apps to help you stay on track and consistently monitor your spending. Some apps can even break down how much money you spend on shopping and eating out, allowing you to put things into perspective and identify cost-saving opportunities.
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Identify Your Goals
If you’re reading this, you likely have the goal of one day owning a veterinary hospital. But what are your other goals? What makes the most sense for you right now? There are many ways to approach and achieve hospital ownership, including a phased buy-in, acquisition of an existing hospital or starting a new hospital from scratch. You can work with industry professionals, such as lenders, veterinary CPAs, mentors, financial advisors, etc., to establish what route makes the most sense financially and for where you are right now in your career.

The path to veterinary hospital ownership can be intimidating, but it’s important to know that industry professionals can help you achieve your dream and walk you through each step, and there are various budgeting resources at your disposal. All it takes is proper planning and the drive to succeed. Before you know it, you’ll welcome your first patient and see your hard work pay off.

Cary Crego headshot
Cary Crego is the director of credit at Provide Inc., a national fintech company financially empowering healthcare providers to achieve their practice ownership dreams. He has 16 years of experience in small business financing focused on the veterinary and SBA sectors. He has managed many teams that provide financing for new and established practices, including startups, acquisitions, and additional locations. Learn more at
Help! Vet School is Teaching Me to Fear My Career
By Cari Wise, DVM

eterinary school taught me to be afraid of my career.” My heart sank when I heard those words from one of my coaching clients recently. In addition to the empathy and compassion I instantly felt for her for her, I was devastated for our profession as a whole.

For years I’ve suspected this was the case; that our academic veterinary programs have been inadvertently teaching future veterinarians to fear the profession they are working so hard to join. But my client’s unprompted words confirmed what I had concluded from interacting with thousands of veterinary professionals since 2017.

Veterinary school, and the traditional career environment that follows, create the perfect conditions to seed and nurture fear. However, we can’t blame veterinary education alone for this unintended consequence. It actually begins much earlier, during our first experiences as students…

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Early Academic Excellence
Traditional education at any level includes two primary components: 1) the delivery of information and 2) the evaluation of information retention. The system utilizes examinations to determine whether or not the student has been successful. It ranks that success with a grading scale, even offering “perfect performance” for scores of 100% and letter grade A.

Those enrolled in professional veterinary education are excellent students. They’ve spent most of their lives perfecting their academic performance and are the best of the best when it comes to academic intelligence—a trait that has been woven into their personal identity. Then, they enroll in veterinary school, and we crush them…

It starts with their very first exams, where many fail to land above 90%. This is devastating for a student who has a history of successful study habits and test performance. It’s confusing, too. From their perspective, they’ve done the work, they went to class, studied the materials, presented and assigned, and come test day, they were not prepared for what the exam included. How did this happen?

We warn them. We tell them to stay aware. We scare them to death. And we do this without equipping them with any knowledge or skills to navigate the stress and anxiety they will likely experience.
illustration of ghosts
Recreating the Bell Curve
The “how” is not a student failure…it is an academic system failure. Evaluation is built into nearly every aspect of the modern world, and academic institutions are no different. In academics, one component of instructor and institutional performance is evaluated by Bell Curve data, which was created to ensure the value and integrity of the high score (often associated with the letter A), and prevent grade inflation. Simply put: When instructors and institutions can show their overall student performance creates a Bell Curve, they are deemed to be doing a good job.

Herein lies the first problem…veterinary schools have admitted a population of students with a history of performing at the far-right end of the academic Bell Curve, and from that academically elite population, they must recreate a Bell Curve distribution of grades in order for their teaching approach to be considered successful. It’s kind of like taking a collection of yellow marbles and being required to turn that group into a collection that includes every color of the rainbow. It can probably be done, if we get really creative in our approach.

Similarly, the methods many use to achieve a Bell Curve from a population already known to be at the extreme right are often “creative.” Students are subjected to unanticipated testing methods and content detail beyond what was presented, assigned, and actually necessary to evaluate true information comprehension and retention.

The result? Many perform far worse on their first exams than they personally anticipated. This not only shakes their confidence, but it also disrupts their foundation of self-worth as fear of failure presents as a very real potential reality.

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The Emotional Toll
From there, neuroscience takes over. Every unanticipated grade and criticism from an instructor builds evidence in the students’ minds that they are not good enough. Imposter syndrome roots early as they begin to believe they should not be there at all. The confidence they built through years of academic achievement fades away and is replaced with self-doubt as they wonder if they were ever really smart enough to do this job in the first place.

Academically, most rebound quickly, figuring out the rules of this new game. Those with aspirations of specializing become determined to win the game, often sacrificing their mental health and physical wellbeing to be perceived as performing well. They operate from a belief that it’s not enough to get good grades—you’ve got to be liked as well if you want to collect strong recommendation letters for the coveted internship spots. In this quest, they mold themselves into who they believe they should be in order to succeed, and lose their sense of individual identity in the process.

Meanwhile, the instructors themselves are caught in their own pressurized evaluation game complete with their own fears, insecurities, and determination to prove themselves worthy of promotion and leadership. Berating students and squashing their confidence has been an acceptable means of proving instructor knowledge and authority, and is a long-standing practice in academic institutions which is justified by its own existence: “If we had to go through it, so do you.” This culture of accepted abuse is problem number two.
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The Wrong Kind of Support
Problem number three is incredibly sneaky. It’s presented as student support, but is having an impact that is exactly opposite of what is intended. I’m specifically referencing the way we are talking about mental health and wellbeing with our veterinary students. We give them historic statistics on veterinary suicide and present the information as if that statistic is an inevitable reality for the future; as if it just comes with the job.

We warn them. We tell them to stay aware. We scare them to death. And we do this without equipping them with any knowledge or skills to navigate the stress and anxiety they will likely experience. We do not help them to normalize their experience, and so many secretly believe they are the only ones stressed out and suffering. They experience deep shame for the negative emotion they experience, especially when they believe everyone else is doing great. This quietly compounds the problem.

In addition, we encourage them to practice self-care without teaching them what that actually means, and without creating the space for them to actually do so. The unintended result? Emotional crisis that is hidden and attempted to be compensated for through academic success: “If I can get good grades, I must not be as bad as I secretly believe I am.”

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The Real World
This leads to problem number four: the real world. Veterinary school graduation is a much anticipated and celebrated event. The pressure relief, however, is short-lived. New veterinarians enter practice both eager and nervous, as expected. Many also carry four years of deep fear, self-doubt and shame…and in the real world, there are no opportunities to achieve academic scores to off-set their insecurities.

In the real world, veterinarians unknowingly replace those academic scores with two things: 1) patients who get better and 2) clients who are happy. They replace practice of veterinary medicine with a new, unattainable expectation: the perfection of veterinary medicine. In addition, they interpret a fundamental tenet of the Veterinary Oath in a completely unintended way: “First, do no harm” becomes “If my patient shows the slightest evidence of discomfort, I’ve failed.” Unknowingly, they’ve created a scenario where failure becomes their only possible destination.

Each patient that doesn’t respond and each client who behaves badly represents failure. Any information the new veterinarian can’t instantaneously recall from their education is also deemed as personal failure. In an effort to evaluate their performance, they constantly watch the rest of us, forgetting to consider that the first five years of veterinary practice is a new education all of its own.

Meanwhile, they are literally fearing for their lives. Every moment of discomfort, every bad outcome, every ugly client interaction…they all become relatable justification for why veterinarians take their own lives. And we’ve taught them to watch for it, as if they don’t have choice. Add to that their mountain of student loan debt and the belief that staying trapped in a profession where they are failing is the only way to repay it, and suicide becomes a viable exit strategy.

So, where do we go from here?

The Three Fundamental Truths
The solution is surprisingly simple and includes just three fundamental truths:

Truth #1: Our value and self-worth are never contingent upon anything outside of ourselves; they are absolutes simply because we exist. They can’t be created, they can’t be destroyed, and they are absolutely never dependent on any experience in veterinary medicine.

Truth #2: Negative emotional experiences are not evidence of failure or indicators that circumstances exist that need to be fixed. All emotions, including negative emotions, are natural human experiences and created only by internal thought patterns including our own opinions, beliefs and conclusions. Our emotional wellbeing, therefore, is never dependent on patient outcomes, client behavior or anything outside of ourselves.

Truth #3: Learning to leverage the space is the single most effective way to decrease stress and anxiety and expand personal wellbeing, no matter what happens at work or in the world. You are the creator of your own reality. You are powerful. You don’t need external validation to believe in yourself.

We have an opportunity to get in front of the mental health crisis that has become the acceptable norm in veterinary medicine. The bright future we dream of is within our reach. It is our responsibility to create it not only for ourselves, but for all of those who are yet to come. It’s time break the cycle!

Cari Wise headshot
Dr. Cari Wise is a Veterinarian, with a master’s degree in Higher Education and certification in Life Coaching. She is Founder of Joyful DVM LLC, the Vet Life Academy program, VetMed; JOY CLUB; and The Joyful DVM Podcast. She helps veterinary professionals and teams decrease anxiety and stress, create balance, and expand personal wellbeing no matter what happens at work or in the world.
Why pet owners prefer a
Human Touch
AI and Pet Care Marketing
Minimalist vector drawing of person interacting with AI robot
By Jon C. Coward

t seems like everything is “smart” these days…your refrigerator can tell you when you’re out of milk, your thermostat can adjust to your favorite temperature and your car can nearly drive itself. Artificial intelligence is even creeping into the veterinary world. But before we get carried away and give AI complete control, let’s take a moment to reflect on why, just maybe, pet care businesses aren’t quite ready to trust an AI model with their marketing needs.

Firstly, AI cannot appreciate a clever joke, and what’s pet care marketing without some good old-fashioned canine humor? Sure, it can theoretically generate a joke based on complex algorithms and data patterns, but will it truly understand why a dog crossing the road is funny? To AI, that dog is just a variable, running risk assessments for incoming traffic.

And let’s not forget about those consultation calls. Imagine your customer, a proud Poodle mom, getting advice from AI: “Your pet has a 37.2% probability of having a diet-related problem based on current data input.” With all due respect to our robotic friends, that’s hardly a comforting or personalized response. AI doesn’t know that the Poodle has a penchant for filching roast beef from the Sunday dinner table.

On to the technological aspect…Yes, AI can analyze data faster than a Greyhound chasing a rabbit. It can churn out email campaigns, social media posts and even blog content while you’re still fumbling with your morning coffee. But AI doesn’t understand the emotional bond between humans and their pets. It can’t tell a heartwarming story about a cat, Mr. Whiskers, who kept pawing at his owner’s chest and saved her life by detecting early-stage breast cancer. AI also can’t empathize with the traumatic experience of Mrs. Johnson when her beloved parrot, Chirpy, flew out of the window. Imagine AI attempting to send an uplifting message: “Dear Mrs. Johnson, we hope you are 87% less distressed about Chirpy’s adventure.” Talk about a mood killer!

Minimalist drawing of a computer monitor
Yes, AI can analyze data faster than a Greyhound chasing a rabbit. It can churn out email campaigns, social media posts and even blog content while you’re still fumbling with your morning coffee. But AI doesn’t understand the emotional bond between humans and their pets.
Additionally, while AI might be fantastic at creating targeted campaigns based on analytics, it can’t distinguish between different pet owners’ needs and personalities. For example, it can’t tell that the owner of Rex, the tough German Shepherd, might be a little miffed to receive an advertisement for the frilly pink dog bows you started carrying in your retail area.

It also doesn’t know what it hasn’t learned yet. When it comes to product marketing, AI is excellent at remembering what products were bought and how often. For example, your client will receive an email when it’s time to reorder Spot’s flea and tick medication, but AI doesn’t know that Spot was tragically hit by a car last week. While AI’s message might be timely, it doesn’t account for the recent trauma experienced by Spot’s owners.

Or consider the case of blog writing. AI can quickly generate a 500-word article on the benefits of neutering, complete with statistics, but it lacks the narrative flair that keeps readers engaged. A seasoned veterinary writer might weave in a charming tale of Mr. Jingles, a once feisty tomcat who, after his neutering, gave up his wandering ways to embrace the peaceful home life, thereby encouraging pet owners more effectively.

On a more serious note, when it comes to medical advice, AI hasn’t quite mastered the nuances. It might direct an owner to apply salve on a Husky’s hot spot, but it won’t understand if the husky, named Zeus, is a bit of a drama king and might need a more delicate approach. And what if AI recommends a diet change for a stubborn feline who would rather fight the vacuum cleaner than give up her favorite salmon treats? Cue AI sending an email reminder: “Your cat may experience a 32.5% weight reduction.” Meanwhile, the cat in question has already decided to go on a hunger strike.

In conclusion, while AI’s speed, data handling and 24/7 availability make it a tempting prospect for pet care marketing, it still has a long way to go before it can compete with the warmth, humor and individual understanding that humans bring to the table. From the inability to tell a truly humorous joke to the failure in empathizing with pet parents, AI falls short of the standards set by human intuition and interaction.

For the foreseeable future, the critical tasks of catering to distressed pet parents, creating engaging narratives and establishing genuine relationships will remain in the capable hands of humans. After all, it takes a pet lover to truly understand another pet lover—and that’s something AI, in all its binary glory, just can’t replicate yet.

Jon C. Coward headshot
Jon C Coward is the CEO and owner of 7 Sided Cube LLC, a 19-year-old Pet Care Industry focused digital marketing agency that delivers business-changing marketing programs with creative, forward-thinking online strategies. In his spare time (which ironically creates no spare time,) he is also an author, podcast host, speaker, lecturer, and former stand-up comic. Before taking the agency plunge, Jon earned a BA in Advertising and an MBA in Marketing. Throughout his career he has served as Regional Marketing Manager at cable television networks CNN and MTV as well as several national companies and marketing agencies.
PetVet Profile
Dr. Dana Varble: Evolving Medical Care for Exotics and Beyond typography

By Kathryn Primm, DVM
Photos provided by North American Veterinary Community (NAVC)

By Kathryn Primm, DVM
Photos provided by North American Veterinary Community (NAVC)

ike most veterinarians, my average day is a mix of routine and regular. Probably the biggest difference is I have about three different ‘average’ days,” shares Dana Varble, DVM and CVO of North American Veterinary Community (NAVC).

“I work at a first-opinion and referral exotic-pet-only practice, Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital,” Dr. Varble continues. “At Chicago Exotics, I see appointments, perform surgery, and collaborate with my colleagues, other exotic-exclusive veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, our client care team, and practice manager. I get to see everything from routine annual exams on house rabbits to the rare—I just performed a spay surgery on a mongoose, for example!”

Dr. Varble started with a B.S in Zoology from Southern Illinois University when she graduated Suma Cum Laude, then headed off to University of Illinois for her veterinary degree. From there, she pursued a non-traditional clinical rotation schedule at many colleges across the country to follow her exotic animal dream. In addition, she achieved her Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from ASAE in 2021. Being a CAE means that she has proven her commitment to association leadership with advanced study in things like diversity, business operations and leadership, which plays a big part in her role with the NAVC.

“Most days I work from home for NAVC as the Chief Veterinary Officer,” she shares. “As the CVO, my primary role is to lead our programs team who design and oversee our in-person education events while contributing to our virtual education, leadership teams, providing data and information to our board of directors, and consulting and speaking on behalf of NAVC through our many PR opportunities.”

“As I transitioned within my roles at NAVC, I was lucky to be able to continue my international work, currently working with the NAVC team to promote international veterinary education with BSAVA, WSAVA, SEVC, and LAVC, among others.”

-Dr. Dana Varble

Dr. Dana Varble and another woman sit in arm chairs and laugh in conversation next to a wall with signage that reads: "NAVC" Your Veterinary Community
Dr. Varble’s third “average” day consists of traveling on behalf of NAVC to collaborate and build partnerships within the veterinary industry including, AVMA, WVC, and others. Through this role, she can impact the people that serve in the veterinary industry. And it is rewarding for her because she is helping make the industry better.

“As I transitioned within my roles at NAVC, I was lucky to be able to continue my international work, currently working with the NAVC team to promote international veterinary education with BSAVA, WSAVA, SEVC, and LAVC, among others. And I serve as a board member to the Veterinary Innovation Council,” she shares.

In addition to all of her important roles, she writes the Today’s Veterinary Practice column called “The Secret Life of Vets” in which she explores diverse topics like personal and professional development and wellbeing, while letting her sense of humor shine with fun analogies and light-hearted tone to remind us that we are more than just clinicians—we are human beings first. The column recently won the silver and bronze awards from the Florida Magazine Association’s annual Charlie Awards for best writing in the professional trade and technical category.

Above all, Dr. Varble’s main passion is still her work with exotic animals. “Lesser anteaters, capuchin monkeys, and the aforementioned mongoose have all made it into my hands for medical care and surgery! When I was working as an emergency veterinarian, I even had the pleasure of refreshing my large animal skills treating a newborn calf intended as a 4H animal,” she shares.

When asked what the biggest challenge is in caring for exotic pets, Dr. Varble explained it is the lack of readily available, evidence-based resources for their medical care, because they are not as commonly seen in veterinary offices as dogs and cats are.

professional portrait of Dr. Varble wearing a brown shirt and smiling

Dr. Varble finds excitement and passion in seeing the innovations and technologies grow as our industry gains access to developments in human medicine.

“Many times we have to infer what ‘best’ practices might be based on information from related species—sometimes even unrelated species with similar medical problems. After many years of advocating for better care for exotic pets, many pet owners are now willing to pursue more advanced care, diagnostics, and surgeries for their beloved rabbits, hamsters, turtles, parrots, etc.

“We have to work hard in exotic pet medicine to promote and enable research, peer-reviewed publications, and evidence-based medicine to be sure we are offering these devoted pet owners the very best care we can,” she continues. “This is one of the reasons I have continued to serve as the managing editor for the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery for the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians.”

For veterinary medicine in general, Dr. Varble finds excitement and passion in seeing the innovations and technologies grow as our industry gains access to developments in human medicine.

Dr. Varble in her veterinary scrubs smiles while checking the feet of a rabbit patient being held by another woman wearing scrubs

Photo by Jenny May Stringer Photography

“We are even seeing medications for diseases like osteoarthritis and cancer being developed for veterinary patients first, and only then, similar human medications becoming available,” she shares. “In some sense, this transition between the two industries has always taken place, more often with human medical innovations gradually trickling down to veterinary patients over the course of years, or more, often decades.

“Look at how AI is being utilized for idea generation, radiology interpretation, diagnostic assistance, and how new immune therapies are being used as innovative cancer treatments,” Dr. Varble continues. “Now, more than ever, veterinary medicine and human medicine are more entwined with developments and innovations in technology, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostics, often occurring simultaneously.”

Through her hard work and willingness to don many hats, Dr. Varble is able to advance the veterinary profession as a whole, both in the exam room and behind the scenes, to create a better world for all species.

headshot of Kathryn Primm
Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM is the owner and founder of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She sees patients, manages a busy small animal practice, and enjoys writing for and speaking to veterinary professionals and pet lovers. She has written and contributed content to many outlets, including magazines like Woman’s Day, Prevention and Health as well as veterinary-focused press.
How Advanced Imaging is Elevating Medicine For Exotic Species typographic title
By Copper Aitken-Palmer, DVM, MS, PhD, Diplomate ACZM

hose of us that care for unique species rely on every diagnostic tool in existence, and even then, we still have to get creative for our patients. For many of our species, we do not have a known normal for comparison or reported reference ranges to rely on. Even as a Board-Certified Specialist in Zoological MedicineTM, this can feel like a limitation to the care I can provide to my patients. The species we care for vary widely. In a single day, a veterinarian caring for non-domestic species might examine a rabbit, a bearded dragon, a blue and gold macaw, and an echidna. Each has vastly different physiology, anatomy and disease prediction.

Powerful Diagnostic Tool
In recent years, there has been one diagnostic advancement that provides unparalleled consistency across species. This single diagnostic has changed how Zoological Medicine is practiced and has empowered us to provide better care. This diagnostic is Computed Tomography (CT). As advanced imaging with CT has become more readily available for veterinarians caring for zoo, exotic and wildlife species, we are learning its true power. It has changed the level of medicine we can provide, resulting in rapid advancements in our field.

Detailed Anatomy

Rarely do we have anatomy books to reference our species, especially when it comes to comparing specific organ anatomy across similar but different species. As an example, there are no reference books comparing anatomy among insectivores. Species that may seem similar, such as Giant anteaters, tamandua, or Asian and African pangolins, can have different adaptive anatomy. Hedgehogs are insectivores too, but there are undescribed differences between African hedgehogs and European hedgehogs.

Computed Tomography with contrast enhancement has opened a new chapter to understand the anatomy of these species antemortem.1 Searchable databases are currently under development. Once we know the normal anatomy, it helps us better recognize abnormal disease changes when they occur.2,3

This is demonstrated in Fig. 1 of a suspected normal hedgehog and Fig. 2 of a suspected abnormal hedgehog CT with contrast enhancement. In the suspected normal CT image, the dorsomedial and ventrolateral lobes of the vesicular glands (blue arrows) are symmetrical with no mineralization. The hedgehog that is suspected to be abnormal (orange arrows) has asymmetry of the vesicular glands and visible mineralization of the left gland. The shape is different between the two images because of the overlapping dorsomedial and ventrolateral lobes of the vesicular glands in the normal animal. Without CT, we would not have been able to make an antemortem diagnosis for this hedgehog.

Consistent Across Species

There are no known reference intervals for normal body measurements for many species. Among reptiles, intraocular pressure (IOP) ranges are known for only a few species. It is hard to determine if these known values can be extrapolated from a green iguana to a savannah monitor—a distant taxonomic relative. These two species are in different families, as comparable as a cat and a dog. With CT, we do not need to know normal intraocular pressure. A working diagnosis of glaucoma can be made by differentiating acquired buphthalmia and exophthalmia with an eye that appears large. CT can reveal retrobulbar causes of exophthalmia, which if not present, indicates glaucoma causing buphthalmia is most likely. With CT, this is a diagnosis that can be made without normal IOP references.
Swift Diagnosis
Screenshot of a medical CT scan displaying a suspected normal hedgehog anatomy structure area
Screenshot of a medical CT can displaying a suspected abnormal hedgehog anatomy structure area with contrast enhancement
When used with contrast enhancement, CT also allows for swift diagnosis of complex medical conditions. A tiger must be anesthetized for any comprehensive exam. Obtaining radiographs of a tiger can be physically difficult, as the large animal is manipulated in the precise positions for each radiograph. This can add an hour to anesthesia time while working to get all the necessary views completed. Longer procedures while under anesthesia increase risk of hyperkalemia in tigers, making short procedures preferable.4 With CT, the tiger only needs to be positioned in sternal, and in less than 15 minutes detailed imaging of the entire body is obtained. With those images we can scan for abnormalities head to tail, diagnosing dental disease, rhinitis, neck arthritis, lumbar arthritis and cystic endometrial hyperplasia. No other single diagnostic provides such comprehensive diagnostic power with such ease and speed of acquisition.
Identifying New Conditions

Among our special species, previously unreported conditions are now identified with the help of contrast-enhanced CT. Understanding these conditions allows us to identify unexpected etiology and provide better care to our patients. Working with radiologists skilled in reviewing CT for exotic species has led to the rapid diagnosis and surgical correction of gastric dilatation and volvulus in rabbit, a previously unreported condition for the species.5 Among non-domestic species, this condition is often considered fatal because we were previously unable to diagnose and surgically correct it in time.6,7,8

It can be a challenge to coordinate a CT and image review rapidly enough for successful surgical correction for a condition like GDV. However, the increased availability of CT combined with the use of teleradiology allows us to rapidly access radiologists with exotics experience so that we can receive results directly no matter what time zone or time of day/night.

Extraordinary Detail
Rabbit and rodent skulls have many overlapping structures all within a small space. Dental disease and malocclusion can affect other organs such as eyes, nasolacrimal ducts, sinuses or ear canals, all in proximity. Multi-view radiographs can help identify these changes, but CT gives far superior detail. Simply, we miss abnormalities with radiographs that are easily seen with CT. Pulpitis, lens luxation, reserve crown infection, osteomyelitis, nasal mineralization and nasolacrimal narrowing can all be detailed with a single CT. And then response to therapy can be monitored with serial CT over time.
Genuine Breakthrough
CT is proving to be a genuine breakthrough diagnostic for those of us providing care for zoo, exotics and wild species. It is enabling us to identify and treat a range of abnormalities in a wide variety of species with a certainty we were previously lacking. However, while it is proving to be an essential diagnostic tool for certain species and conditions, it is not available to all. Cost, expertise and location can all be prohibitive to using this imaging modality. Improved access to CT machines, training in image acquisition and expert interpretation through teleradiology will increase access to CT imaging. This, in turn, will allow us to provide bettercare for more of our unique species.
  1. Verhulst, C., Aitken‐Palmer, C., & Holliday, C. (2019). New Imaging Approaches Enable Visualization of 3D Musculoskeletal Anatomy of African White‐bellied Pangolin. The FASEB Journal, 33(S1), 613-8.
  2. Zoo and Aquarium Radiology Database (ZARD), an Innovative Imaging Database Designed to Support Wildlife and Zoo Professions, proceedings IAAAM 2022, Eric T. Hostnik1,2*; Michael J. Adkesson1; Matt Kinney3
  3. “Free online collection of veterinary diagnostic imaging cases and hematology images of zoo animals.”
  4. McEntire, M. S., Ramsay, E. C., Price, J., & Cushing, A. C. (2020). The effects of procedure duration and atipamezole administration on hyperkalemia in tigers (Panthera tigris) and lions (Panthera leo) anesthetized with -2 agonists. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 51(3), 490-496.
  5. Imrie, P. (2022). Vets Need to Be Aware of Rabbit GDV. Vet Times.
  6. Hinton, J. D., Aitken-Palmer, C., Joyner, P. H., Ware, L., & Walsh, T. F. (2016). Fatal gastric dilation in two adult black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 47(1), 367-369.
  7. DiGeronimo, P. M., Enright, C., Ziemssen, E., & Keller, D. (2023). Fatal gastric dilatation and volvulus in three captive juvenile Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths (Choloepus didactylus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 54(1), 211-218.
  8. Hinton, J. D., Padilla, L. R., Joyner, P. H., Schnellbacher, R., Walsh, T. F., & Aitken-Palmer, C. (2017). Gastric dilatation volvulus in adult maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 48(2), 476-483.
Portrait headshot photograph of Dr. Aitken-Palmer grinning in a dark navy blue dress shirt
Dr. Aitken-Palmer has been a veterinarian for 20 years. As a zoo, exotic, and wild animal specialist, she is passionate about improved veterinary care for unique species. She is known for her scientific contributions regarding male giant panda reproductive physiology and contributing to the growth of the giant panda population through improved artificial insemination. Dr. Aitken-Palmer speaks with veterinarians all over the world daily to provide specialized veterinary support as a telespecialist with VetCT. She works closely but remotely with a team of radiologists and other veterinary specialists at VetCT to empower first-line veterinarians that care for all species, from rabbits in the UK and tegu in the USA to hyena in the Middle-East.
Stress Less: Tips for Managing
Tips for managing stress

By Louise Dunn


or many of us, “stress” has become a common term tossed around with a flippant remark or a threatening stare. You most likely have blamed stress when explaining why you failed to complete a task: “Things are really stressful today; I’ve barely had time to breathe.” Or, perhaps after you snapped at a co-worker: “Don’t mind me, I’m stressed out.”

As often as we use the word during our day, have we ever taken the time to understand stress and its effects on our mental health, the team, and our family and friends at home? Just what is stress, and how can we relinquish its hold on our daily activities?

Defining Stress
The American Institute of Stress describes stress as a “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” The Institute acknowledges that stress “is difficult to define because it is so different for each of us.” We all perceive stress differently; some of us seem to thrive in a stressful situation, while others falter and seem to implode. So, where is that fine line of distinction between good stress and bad stress?
Stress’s “line in the sand” is the difference between being bored and being overwhelmed; between being challenged and being distressed. Good stress is a healthy challenge, a challenge that stimulates a person to perform better. Bad stress is being in a situation where you have no control. It is a situation that kicks in your fight-flight-freeze behavior.1

At this point, you may be thinking that since stress is a personal state of mind, the business has no “business” in the employee’s mind; however, this is where the stance to “leave your problems at the door when you come to work” comes into play. You have most likely said this phrase or been on the receiving end. The truth is, the business should pay attention to team members’ stress, regardless of its source.

Signs of Stress
Team members experiencing stress may have depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors, substance abuse, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, stomach disorders, hypertension and high blood pressure.2 Additionally, there may be other signs of mental illnesses such as missing deadlines, increased absenteeism, irritability and difficulty concentrating. These signs or situations make it hard to talk to a person about what they are experiencing. For example, would Jack want to tell his team members he is depressed? Would your manager be comfortable talking to Sue about suspicion of substance abuse? Would anyone on the team speak up if Martha commented on suicide?

Stress can also have a ripple effect. Not only is Sue stressed, but now her manager is stressing about speaking to Sue. The team is whispering about how worried they are about Martha, adding stress to their own lives. In addition, everyone is wondering what is wrong with Jack because they are tired of picking up his slack which is causing them stress. Stress was not left at the door when they walked in to work that day. Stress came with them, and it affected everyone else on the team.

Good stress is a healthy challenge, a challenge that stimulates a person to perform better.
Workplace Stressors
Causes of stress are known as “stressors.” Keep in mind that not all stressors are bad. For example, sports teams are exposed to stressors during that championship game, but the stressors often make them “up their game” and play even better. The same can be true for work stressors—and this is where a business needs to understand the difference between good and bad stress.

Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You?: A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress, placed workplace stress into three categories: Velocity, Volume, and Abuse.3 These three categories are readily apparent in the workplace of pet professionals. Here is how they are defined:

  • Velocity. Everything seems to happen at the speed of light, or at least at the speed of the internet these days. Clients want access to you and the team ASAP—be it by phone call, text message or appointment. And team members want tasks done as of yesterday.
  • Volume. Appointment requests outnumber openings available. Pet professionals are busy, and the sheer volume of work can result in long hours and skipped meals.
  • Abuse. The third category is one we often tend to be silent about. It is about abuse, harassment, intimidation, bullying, belittling and threats. Work is not all playful kittens and puppy kisses. It can be snide remarks from a co-worker about your incompetence, intimidation from a client accusing you of only wanting the money and not caring about the pet, threats about being fired if you don’t move faster or jump higher, or harassment from those difficult personalities.

At this point, you may think that stress simply comes with the territory. However, while it may be true that the practice will likely continue to operate with volume, velocity and abuse, it is not true that its team members can’t be helped in dealing with the stress.

Everything seems to happen at the speed of light, or at least at the speed of the internet these days. Clients want access to you and the team ASAP—be it by phone call, text message or appointment. And team members want tasks done as of yesterday.
Appointment requests outnumber openings available. Pet professionals are busy, and the sheer volume of work can result in long hours and skipped meals.
The third category is one we often tend to be silent about. It is about abuse, harassment, intimidation, bullying, belittling and threats. Work is not all playful kittens and puppy kisses. It can be snide remarks from a co-worker about your incompetence, intimidation from a client accusing you of only wanting the money and not caring about the pet, threats about being fired if you don’t move faster or jump higher, or harassment from those difficult personalities.
Programs and Plans
If you are guilty of telling people to leave their problems at the door, toughen up and just deal with the stressful work of the profession, there are better way to address it, including the following programs and plans that can be put into place:
  1. Implement organizational changes to reduce employee stress. Clearly define roles (job descriptions) and responsibilities (SOPs). Create a quiet area for meals and breaks and schedule them so they aren’t missed.
  2. Ensure that mental health services are part of the organization’s health benefits and encourage the team to utilize the services.
  3. Provide education and training on dealing with stress. Use resource materials from the insurance provider at monthly meetings to discuss stress and other mental health concerns.
  4. Consider having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs offer intervention programs to assist employees in resolving problems by offering services for counseling, substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, crisis intervention, workplace coaching and basic legal assistance. EAPs are voluntary and confidential.

The goal of your programs and plans is to improve the mental and emotional wellbeing of the individual. But how do you reach an individual needing assistance? First, you may need to change the company culture…

Cultivate the Right Culture
To evaluate your culture, start by defining how many of these factors are a part of your practice’s culture:

  • Always focusing on what is wrong.
  • Criticizing or punishing people for taking time off.
  • Giving negative feedback instead of praise or positive feedback.
  • High turnover of team members.
  • High absenteeism.
  • Low productivity.
  • Abusive management or leaders.
  • Lack of leadership or an overly dominating leader.

If you check any of these off, you may have a toxic culture. Instead, you want to have a culture that emphasizes productivity and connectedness. A connected culture has a shared identity and an understanding of the vision. A connected culture values everyone on the team and provides the opportunity to voice ideas and opinions.1

Factors that are part of a connected culture are:

  • Celebrating core values.
  • Understanding priorities.
  • Understanding the vision and being inspired to achieve goals.
  • Everyone knows where they are going and how they are getting there.
  • Non-leaders are encouraged to grow and thrive.
  • Team members are in the right seat on the bus.
  • People are challenged to enhance their skills and knowledge.
  • Team is supportive of each other.
  • Constructive feedback is given.
  • It is psychologically safe to share ideas, give opinions, and even disagree.

Creating this cultural shift can seem daunting; after all, change is a stressor. An easy starting point is showing you care by simply asking. However, do not ask, “What’s wrong with you?” and then tick off a list of advice for the individual. It is equally harmful to ask, “Are you depressed?” because you are venturing into disability claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead, focus on behaviors and performance.

Consider stating, “I notice you don’t seem like yourself,” or “I am concerned about you.” When talking about performance issues, you can say, “You are usually very thorough, but now you are missing things. Is there something going on that we can support you with?” This sounds much better than, “Man, what’s wrong with you? You need to get your act together.”

Once you ask though, you need to take action. Do not ignore issues. This is the time to point out resources like health insurance coverage, the EAP, or even short-term disability benefits. The business needs a culture that encourages team members to recognize distressed co-workers and respond accordingly.

A business can no longer demand that employees leave their problems at the door when they come to work. The business needs to have a strategic plan to address its team members’ mental and emotional wellbeing to allow individuals to reach their full potential, cope with stressors, be productive, and deliver high-quality client service and pet care.

  1. Stallard, M.L., Stallard, K. (2014, Jan). Combating Workplace Stress. SHRM.
  2. Ray, A. (2011, Dec). To Promote Wellness, Help Employees Reduce Workplace Stress. SHRM.
  3. Owens, D. (2014, Mar). Dr. David Posen’s Prescription for Work Stress. SHRM.
Louise Dunn
Louise Dunn is a renowned award-winning speaker, writer and consultant. She brings over 40 years of in-the-trenches experience and her business education to veterinary management. Louise is founder and CEO of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting. SVMC works with veterinarians who want to develop a strategic plan that consistently produces results. Most recently Louise received many awards including the WVC Educator of the Year numerous times and VetPartner’s The Life Time achievement Award in January 2016.
The Street Dog Coalition: Providing Compassionate Care typographic title
members of the Street Dog Coalition looking at a small dog
man laying on a sleeping bag with his dog; white and brown dog wearing a red harness
And Advocacy For Both Ends Of The Leash typographic title
By Katrina Weschler

Photos provided by The Street Dog Coalition


ewey is my ultimate advocate. He means everything to me and I make sure he’s taken care of. If he’s warm and happy, then I’m warm and happy,” shares Cody, a young man experiencing homelessness in Colorado who has received services for his dog, Dewey, from The Street Dog Coalition.

The Street Dog Coalition (SDC) is an international nonprofit founded in Fort Collins, CO in 2015, which now has over sixty teams across the country and in Ukraine, providing free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Entirely volunteer driven, SDC cares for both the pet and the person at their far-reaching pop-up street clinics.

member of the Street Dog Coalition holding a cat
The Street Dog Coalition’s work starts with active listening. This is a fundamental component of their four core values, which are: Trust, Unconditional Love, Compassionate Activism, and Unbridled Collaboration.

Living a nomadic life on the street is an informed decision made by some, but for many, it is not a choice. Living on the street can be dangerous, lonely and taxing—socially, emotionally and physically—especially when there is little to no access to care. Understandably, people experiencing homelessness with companion animals describe their pets as a source of unconditional love, comfort, safety, support, motivation to reduce substance use, and even to continue living.

members of the Street Dog Coalition looking at multiple dogs; person holding two puppies side by side
Many people experiencing, or at-risk of, homelessness do not need rescuing and neither do their pets. Instead of assuming what’s best for them or their companion animal, they recommend acknowledging their humanity, having empathy for their situation, advocating for access to care and shelter, and connecting them with services such as those offered by The Street Dog Coalition (which includes primarily preventative veterinary care such as physical exams, core vaccinations, parasite control, spay/neuter vouchers, pet food, etc.).
Trust: Trust is the foundation of this organization. They strive to authentically connect and build trust with everyone they work with and everyone they meet, on both ends of the leash.
Unconditional Love: Everything they do is done with love and kindness, without judgment or conditions.
Compassionate Activism: They seek the courage to “swim upstream” and always do the right thing.
Unbridled Collaboration: SDC’s work cannot be done in a silo. They rely on supporters and community partners to help the organization think outside the box, complement existing resources, establish trust, walk-the-talk and deliver accessible, quality care through tailored delivery models.
The pets that the volunteers meet at the street clinics are incredibly loved, well cared for and prioritized above all else. Their owners will give up their food so they eat first, and will forgo shelter if they cannot bring their pet with them. For those with limited resources, providing for another living being has intense meaning. Providing for pets maintains purpose and routine, which can be essential for coping with the aforementioned hardships faced when experiencing homelessness. Although having a pet makes it harder to secure consistent housing, this hardship does not outweigh the other benefits pets offer.

That said, unhoused individuals should not have to make the impossible decision between having a roof over their head or staying with their beloved pet. This is why The Street Dog Coalition is endorsing the Providing for Unhoused People with Pets (PUPP) Act. If passed, the bill will establish a grant program administered by USDA. Funds will help local governments and nonprofit organizations that provide shelter or permanent supportive housing to retrofit property to accommodate unhoused individuals with pets, while also providing additional veterinary services, including spaying and neutering, vaccinations and other basic medical procedures.

woman taking a knee next to her small dog
When life is a struggle, transitionally or day to day, the human-animal bond becomes all the more important, so ensuring the ongoing health of each companion is paramount.
When life is a struggle, transitionally or day to day, the human-animal bond becomes all the more important, so ensuring the ongoing health of each companion is paramount. The Street Dog Coalition advocates and acts with compassion because they understand how the wellbeing of a person and the wellbeing of a pet are inextricably linked; when one is taken care of or neglected, the other will be affected. As the organization continues to grow, they hope to offer more One Health services to pet parents as a result of collaborating with existing human healthcare and social service organizations.
collage of vets helping cats and dogs
The Street Dog Coalition’s sustainable growth is made possible thanks to generous volunteers, donors and sponsors, including their Legacy Sponsors, Merck Animal Health and Western Veterinary Partners. They also couldn’t do this work without community partners who are equally committed to collaborating and protecting the human-animal bond by caring for both the pet and the person.

If you’re interested in being a part of The Street Dog Coalition by volunteering, donating and/or advocating for both ends of the leash, please visit their website,

They also couldn’t do this work without community partners who are equally committed to collaborating and protecting the human-animal bond by caring for both the pet and the person.
collage of vets helping cats and dogs
Katrina Weschler with her dog
Katrina holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology with a certificate in Markets & Management from Duke University. While attaining her master’s degree from the LEAP Institute at Colorado State University in 2018, she started volunteering with The Street Dog Coalition and quickly became invested in its mission and vision. As the Executive Director, she has put her 10+ years of nonprofit management experience to work building SDC’s organizational infrastructure and has enjoyed helping SDC grow into an international nonprofit with teams in 60+ cities and Ukraine.
Checkout Vetartnow title and a cat
This organization unites veterinary professionals who create art and supports veterinary wellbeing through art. Learn more or bid on other vets’ art to support non-profits at
Red vector illustration of a calendar and a feral cat inside the illustration
Consider hosting a low-cost or free spay/neuter clinic for the feral cats in your local area.
Goodbye Bella book cover
In this thoughtful picture book, authors Katherine Pendergast and Lacie Brueckner tell a story of a young girl who says goodbye to her dog in the most loving way and celebrates her beloved pet’s life with activities to honor and remember her.
4 3 different colored pumpkins
Product debuts across the industry are proving that soft, feminine colors aren’t just for spring anymore.
small medical emergency kit
The “It’s Guinea Be Okay” Guinea Pig and Rabbit Medical Kit from Kavee provides all the tools small-pet owners need to care for their pint-sized pets’ minor injuries and ailments.
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Earn up to 16 hours of RACE-approved CE while listening to—and interacting with—the leading thinkers, visionaries, and practitioners in small animal medicine.
Two cats and one dog

These guidelines provide insights and strategies for implementing mentorship programs that address the pressing need to improve recruitment, retention, job satisfaction, and diversity within veterinary practices.

vector picture of kale
Kalettes (Kale Sprouts) are a hybrid of Kale and Brussels Sprouts which offer sweet and nutty tastes in what looks like tiny green and purple cabbages. Try them sautéed, roasted, grilled, or eaten raw.
This campaign, in partnership with Greater Good Charities, Petsmart Charities, and Purina, is a national initiative that aims to help 25% of domestic violence shelters to become pet friendly by 2025. Join the movement at
Pet Diabetes Month
Spread awareness by sharing the free resources for owners of diabetic pets available at
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Best Care of Your Best Friend typography
left: cover of Groomer to Groomer Vol. 30 Ed. 12; right: cover of Pet Boarding and Daycare Magazine Vol. 7 Ed. 3
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2 leading trade magazines for the pet professional in your life with all the content to assist them in keeping your pet healthy, happy and beautiful.

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Thanks for reading our October/November 2023 issue!