DAVIS, Calif. – A Saudi royal cat was flown in for a kidney transplant. Bulldogs with spina bifida come for stem cell therapy.
Lame horses arrive to get diagnosed using a scanner found in no other animal hospital.
You never know what will come through the doors of the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, a showcase of pioneering therapies, advanced technologies and elite researchers. The top-ranked veterinary program in the world offers 34 specialties including cardiology, oncology and neurology.
More than 50,000 animals a year — as small as hamsters, as big as buffalo — are cared for by its 120 faculty veterinarians and nearly 600 interns, residents, fellows, technicians and students. Its specialists assist endangered gorillas in Africa, penguins in Brazil, even residents, including tarantulas and giraffes, of the nearby Sacramento Zoo.
The hospital recently launched a $508 million project to double its size in 10 years, which would make it one of the world’s largest veterinary hospitals.
“It’s a real gift to have a world-famous vet hospital an hour away,” said Mary Shallenberger of Clements, who brought in her 4-year-old quarter horse, Oscar, for a spinal tap after she noticed weakness in his hindquarters. He has since made a complete recovery.
There is great variety in the animals in need and the doctors who care for them.
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Spanky and Darla, for example, are English bulldogs who seemed perfectly normal — except for their diapers, held up by animal-print suspenders. Brother and sister, they were born with spina bifida, and their improperly formed spinal columns made them incontinent. The dogs’ owner planned to euthanize them, but Val Vallejo, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who runs the nonprofit Southern California Bulldog Rescue, brought them to UC Davis. There they became medical pioneers when the medical and veterinary schools teamed up to provide them with the first-ever spina bifida treatment for dogs that combined surgery and stem cells.
Darla and Spanky, Vallejo reported, are now happy and living with a permanent family in New Mexico.
Scooby, a 15-year-old, chestnut-colored German warmblood horse, began limping in March. In April, UC Davis veterinarians hoisted all 1,300 pounds of him onto an examining table and placed tubes for oxygen and anesthesia gas in his mouth. His right hind leg poked though a wide circular tube in a positron emission tomography, or PET, scanner. UC Davis was the first veterinary medical hospital anywhere to use such a machine on horses.
Scooby’s scans found a small crack that led to inflammation nearby. After months of medication and rest, he is back to being ridden at a walk and trot pace, and appears to be on the right track.
Crystal, a 4-year-old Australian shepherd, had become lethargic. Dr. Larry Cowgill explained that the dog’s immune system “got confused” and was destroying red blood cells faster than it was producing them.
Cowgill prepared Crystal for one of his pioneering blood purification therapies. Called therapeutic plasma exchange, the treatment removes plasma tainted with damaging antibodies, toxins or abnormal proteins, and replaces it with healthy donor plasma. The plasma is separated from the blood by a centrifuge. The blood treatment helped turn Crystal around within a week. “It’s magic for these animals,” Cowgill said.