Friday, January 30, 2009

On pets and the hygiene hypothesis

Over the past few days, the animal and science blogs have been full of stories about the "hygiene hypothesis" with the release of several new studies. For those who haven't heard of it, the hygiene hypothesis is the idea that the developing immune system needs to be exposed to antigens (in the form of dirt, bacteria, viruses, parasites, pet dander, foods, etc) in order to properly learn how to respond to such insults, and that kids who are raised in very hygienic environments without exposure to such antigens end up with immune systems that don't work right. The uneducated immune system, in the search of work to do and antigens to destroy, attacks the normal cells of the body and becomes hyperreactive to normal everyday antigens like wheat or dust mites. Proponents say that this is why we're seeing an increase in the prevalence of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes.

The hypothesis has been in the news lately because of a recent study out of Tufts, which found that exposing research animals to various internal parasites could prevent and reverse autoimmune disease, like type 1 diabetes in mice. In order to survive in the host for any length of time, internal parasites release various substances that modulate the host's immune system. That explains why infecting a person with worms can have an effect on inflammatory or autoimmune disorders.

The authors suggest that a baby's desire to explore the world with his mouth is an evolutionary adaptation to train the immune system and expose himself to bacteria, viruses, and internal parasites that will help to regulate the immune response. The authors also suggest that you should have "two dogs and a cat" as your child is growing up so that he can be exposed to their internal parasites, which is... er... a little arbitrary and kind of wrong. First, why would it take two dogs but only one cat? Second, it seems unethical to leave your pets untreated for worms so that you can expose your kids (on multiple levels)- deworm your poor pets!

Besides that little suggestion, the study is really interesting and lends some more credibility to the hygiene hypothesis! We already knew that raising kids with dogs and cats provides protection against the development of allergies and asthma, so this is one more study to show that interaction with the dust, dander, and dirt of nature is good for humans.

Another study was recently released, written by an alum of the U of MN vet school (yay!). In response to the common warning that you shouldn't let your dog lick you on the face, she looked into whether dog owners who do let their dogs give them full-on mouth kisses share more strains of E. coli (a normal GI bacteria for both dogs and humans) with their pets than dog owners who don't allow smooches. The results?
There was no evidence that owners who sleep with their dog or allow face licking were more likely to have shared strains of E. coli, according to the study, which was expected to be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.
That's good news for me, since, let's face it, I'm a dog-kisser (and cats, and the occassional velvet-nosed horse)- nothing crazy, of course, but I think being comfortable with a dog licking your face is some sort of pre-requisite for getting into vet school.

So, what do these studies teach us?
  • Eating dirt is not necessarily bad, and might actually be essential for appropriate immune system development.
  • If you live with a dog, don't freak out if he gets the occassional smooch in.
  • If you live with kids and dogs, well............

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


It's been a while since I've gotten to do a surgery- since last year's spays and neuters, actually, since I opted out of this fall's gastrointestinal surgery lab. Tomorrow I get to try my hand at spaying or neutering (depending on what sex we get, obviously) a cadaver rabbit. I think it will mark the first real veterinary procedure that I'll get to perform on a rabbit. Bunnies of the world, someday I'll be a real doctor and will be able to fix all your head tilts, hairball obstructions, and electric shocks suffered after chewing wires!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

I have been blown away by watching todays inaugural coverage. The Library threw a nice party and we watched the swearing in on the big TV and had snacks, and then I had on streaming coverage all day on my computer. Obama speech was great not just because of the words, but because he seems so aware of when and where he is saying them. He wasn't aiming for the history books, rather he had a serious message that he needed to tell directly to the American public, and the world. Time to step up, time to get serious.

I feel very lucky today, to have been able to hear him speak twice, and shake his hand once. I never blogged this, but here is the video from my cell phone of him coming down the line. I said something silly like "congratulations, thanks for coming" which doesn't make sense since it was last February, but thats ok. Perhaps it was just a few months premature!

So, amazing day, and I hope this is just the start of a string of amazing days. Its not just change, it is something happening when for so long, nothing has happened. Noting has changed.

Not any more, we have arrived!

Monday, January 19, 2009

This Land

An American revival.

Note that they are signing the original "lefty" 1944 version by Woody Guthrie. Also, from Wikipedia, I didn't know that Woody Guthrie wrote this song in response to "God Bless America" (sung here by Beyonce at the same event), which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


We turned in our requests for our rotations way back at the beginning of fall semester, and just before Christmas we got back our preliminary schedules. I had a few changes to make in mine, so I met with the admin folks and got it all worked out. So, now it's official! Here's what I'll be doing for the next year, starting in April:
  • 4/6: Orientation to clinics
  • 4/20: externship (acupuncture at Colorado State University)
  • 5/4: General Practice
  • 5/18: Necropsy
  • 6/1: Laboratory Medicine
  • 6/15: Elective Small Animal Surgery
  • 6/29: Vacation
  • 7/13: Small Animal Medicine A
  • 7/27: Comparative Ophthalmology
  • 8/10: Small Animal Medicine B
  • 8/24: Vacation (wedding!)
  • 9/7: Dermatology
  • 9/21: Advanced Clinical Oncology
  • 10/5: Comparative Anesthesiology
  • 10/19: Public Health
  • 11/2: Externship (exotic pet clinic in Indiana)
  • 11/16: Small Animal Medicine B
  • 11/30: Small Animal Radiology
  • 12/14: Externship (Animal Humane Society)
  • 12/28: Small Animal Surgery
  • 1/11: Behavior
  • 1/25: Small Animal Surgery
  • 2/8: Cardiology
  • 2/22: Externship (Small Animal Ultrasound)
  • 3/8: Small Animal Medicine B
  • 3/22: Veterinary Dentistry
  • 4/5: Emergency
  • 4/19: Companion Birds
  • 5/1: GRADUATION!
It's so exciting to be this close to working with Real Live Animals and Real Live Clients. Everyone says it's the best part of vet school. I can't wait!

Friday, January 02, 2009


Another semester is over, and there's only one more between now and the start of clinics. Wee! This next semester should be fun, as I was able to opt out of most of the large animal-oriented classes and opt in to some interesting small animal-oriented classes. Advanced orthopedics, dermatology, liver & pancreas disorders, nutrition, critical care, cardiology... And the highlight- non-traditional pets! The course load is a little lighter, and most classes are pass/fail this semester rather than graded, so that will take some of the pressure off.

So, what did I get out of first semester, third year?
  • Don't believe it when they tell you that it's all downhill after second semester, second year! It's not that third year starts out any harder than second year was, but I'd call it more of a plateau than a downhill. The classes weren't really harder, but the finals were brutal (something like 14 exams in three weeks?!).
  • Doctor-speak is starting to get easier. Words like "thrombocytopenia" and "polioencephalomalacia" roll off the tongue now, and I don't have to pick apart their Latin roots to figure out what they mean. This means it's also getting harder to remember that clients don't understand what those words mean, and harder to translate from doctor-speak to regular-speak. It's good practice to try to explain what you learned today to someone who isn't in vet school, so that you have to test your comprehension of what you learned rather than just parroting back the words. For example: "We learned about nephrosplenic entrapment as a cause of surgical colic." becomes "Horses can get their guts stuck in a hole between their kidney and their spleen, which is incredibly painful and can be life-threatening, if you don't cut them open and get the intestines unstuck."
  • Doctor-thinking is also getting easier. Different diseases are starting to sort themselves out into lists of "causes of fever", "causes of diarrhea", "causes of colic", etc. I'm getting a better sense of what is common and was is not (the point of the phrase "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."). It's getting easier to come up with the next step when you're faced with a problem- what tests to run, what to pay special attention to on a physical exam, what questions to ask the owner, things like that. I tend to dread exams that test us on our ability to work up a case, interpret lab results, etc because they take more work to prepare for than a standard multiple-choice exam, but they really are nice for flexing our clinical muscles in preparation for rotations. Practice makes perfect, and every case-based exam feels a little easier than the last.
  • For some reason, they gave us less opportunity to interact with real live animals during third year than they did second year. I would have had a much harder time staying focused if I hadn't had a job at a clinic to keep me inspired.
  • Always always back up your data somewhere, as hard drives are fragile. That said, life goes on, even if you've lost some data. 'nuf said.
I'm going to make the most of the rest of my break before heading back for my last semester of lecture-style classes EVER. Wahoo!