At Your Service: Animal Behavior Clinic

The Animal Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University provides comprehensive services aimed to help pet owners address many common animal behavior problems, including:

  • aggression directed at people or other animals, inside or outside of the home;
  • anxiety, including specific fears and phobias (e.g., separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobia);
  • compulsive disorders, such as tail chasing, shadow chasing, flank sucking, acral lick dermatitis, psychogenic alopecia, and wool sucking;
  • species-typical behaviors, such as urine spraying; and
  • nuisance behaviors such as excessive barking, digging, and nipping

Founded in 1986 by internationally renowned animal behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the Animal Behavior Clinic was one of the first of its kind in the country.

Providing Access to Specialized Animal Behaviorists

The clinic is home to individuals who are board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, as well as licensed veterinarians who are either involved in or have completed their residency training. As the only veterinary teaching hospital in New England, you will appreciate knowing that our animal behaviorists have access to a wide range of veterinary specialists, who may be consulted if a medical issue is found to be a factor related to an animal’s behavior.

Meet our Team

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and Professor, Section Head and Program Director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Dr. Dodman is internationally recognized as one of the world’s most noted and celebrated veterinary behaviorists. Shortly after joining the Tufts faculty in 1981, Dr. Dodman developed a strong interest in behavioral pharmacology and the field of animal behavior, and in 1986 founded the Animal Behavior Clinic. The list of accomplishments that define Dr. Dodman is extensive and reflects his wealth of experience and prestige in the field of animal behavior. He has authored four acclaimed bestselling books: The Dog Who Loved Too Much (Bantam Books, 1995), The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam Books, 1997), Dogs Behaving Badly (Bantam Books, 1999) and, the latest, If Only They Could Speak (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002). Additionally, he appears regularly on radio and major television programming, is a Pet Expert for Time, Inc. and also writes a monthly “Expert Advice” column for LIFE magazine.

Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine at  Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in 2007. Prior to joining the Behavior Service as a resident, Dr. Borns-Weil was in general practice on the North Shore. As a general practitioner, she focused on educating owners about animal behavior and making the visits stress free for the pets. In 2010, she opened a behavior house call practice that served the Boston area. Dr. Borns-Weil has had a lifelong interest in the human-animal bond as well as animal behavior. She holds a Masters Degree from Harvard Divinity School, which has helped her to develop the tools to communicate effectively with pet owners. Dr. Borns-Weil is deeply committed to working closely with clients to solve their pets’ behavioral problems and support their important relationship with their pets.

Ronni Tinker, animal behavior clinic’s office manager, is responsible for the business operations of the Animal Behavior Clinic. Ronni is well known with existing clients for her friendly and compassionate personality when booking clients for in-house appointments or VetFax consultations. She is the “go to” person for all the information and materials you will need to set up a behavior consultation for your pet. As a veterinary teaching institution, we are committed to training the veterinarians and animal care specialists of the future. These students rotate through our clinical services and are integral to the entire veterinary team.

Services We Offer

There are two different ways a pet can come to receive care from our animal behaviorist team. Some pet owners may self-refer or you as a primary care veterinarian may recommend our services.

  1. Veterinary Behavior Consultations
    A pet owner will participate in a ninety-minute consultation with either Dr. Nicholas Dodman or Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil at which time he/she will receive a diagnosis, behavioral explanation, prognosis, and treatment plan for the pet’s behavior problem. The program includes a six-month follow-up period during which our Animal Behavior team will help the owner implement the treatment suggestions.
  2. VETFAX
    You may refer one of your pet clients for an animal behavior consultation, which will involve a veterinarian–to–veterinarian consultation. You will work with your client owner to provide a written account of the behavior problem and mail or fax this report to Tufts Behavior Clinic. Dr. Dodman and his assistant will make a three- to six-page consultation response to the you within one week.

In both cases, an extensive questionnaire is required regarding the pet’s behavior, health and lifestyle. We will then provide a full explanation for the behavior, develop a behavioral management and treatment program, and work closely with you/your client, providing ongoing support via telephone and e-mail communication to address questions that may arise as the recommended behavior modification are implemented.

Treatment typically involves a combination of behavior modification for pets and management changes for owners. In some case, drug therapy is required to resolve the problem.

Established behaviors take time to change with a minimum course of behavioral treatment to be about eight weeks. Pharmacological intervention takes longer, and typically requires a 6-12 month course of treatment.

Scheduling a Consult

We recognize that animal behavior problems play a significant role in the breakdown of the human/animal bond in families that own pets. At the Animal Behavior Clinic, we are dedicated to providing the most compassionate experience for pets and their loved ones. If you would like to arrange for a VetFax consult, you may contact Ronni Tinker at 508-887-4640.

At Your Service: Ophthalmology

The Ophthalmology Service at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals is home to two faculty board-certified ophthalmologists, two ophthalmology residents, an ophthalmology technician and a primary liaison, all dedicated to providing medical and surgical management related to injuries and diseases of the eye. We recognize that, in most cases, as a primary care veterinarian you can identify and treat most routine eye problems. In some cases, however, you may want to seek the advice of a specialist. We view our relationship with referring veterinarians as a partnership and welcome referrals for patients who clearly need the care provided by an ophthalmic specialist, as well as those for whom you may just be looking for advice or a second opinion. Through our evaluation process, we will maintain an open line of communication with you and, if appropriate, the pet owner, whereby we provide clear and complete explanations of the diagnostic testing results, treatment options and the cost so that you and your client can make the most informed decisions.

The Foster Hospital for Small Animals Opthalmology Service offers among the most advanced and comprehensive diagnostic and treatment practices in New England for small and large animals. The majority of our cases are canines and felines, and we also treat horses and exotics. We provide both scheduled and emergency services for animals with vision or eye problems. From routine eye exams to specialized surgery, including laceration repair to corneal grafting to cataract removal, we provide a full range of diagnostic and surgical services. Our ophthalmology team works closely with its peers in anesthesia, pain management and other specialty areas, providing a full continuum of coordinated care for your client.

Specialized Services

All patients will receive a complete examination of their eyes and in many cases patients will require specialized diagnostic testing procedures. Our ophthalmology clinic is fully equipped with the most advanced diagnostic equipment, including:

  • Low and high resolution ultrasonography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electroretinography (ERG)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Slit lamp biomicroscopy
  • Gonioscopy
  • Ophthalmoscopy (direct and indirect)

Tufts is also proud to provide access to advanced diagnostic technologies that are not readily available in this region. These include:

  • Optical coherence temography (OCT), which is helpful in diagnosing corneal and retinal problems
  • Fluorescein angiography, which provides insight into the circulatory system of the eye through the use of a camera, allowing early detection of changes to the blood ocular barrier

As New England’s only veterinary school, we also have clinical research studies under way that offer your clients access to innovative treatments not available elsewhere.

Surgical Procedures

Tufts Ophthalmology Service offers a wide variety of surgical procedures, including but not limited to:

  • Numerous eyelid procedures, including laceration repair, correction of entropion/ectropion, eyelid mass removal
  • Replacement of prolapsed glands and scrolled cartilage involving the third eyelid
  • Conjunctival grafts
  • Corneal transplants and corneal laceration repair
  • Cryotherapy for removal of distichia
  • Cataract removal surgery – phacoemulsification
  • Diode laser therapy, allowing non-invasive treatment of cysts and/or intraocular masses
  • Glaucoma management
  • Cyclosporine implants for the control of equine recurrent uveitis

Referring to Tufts

Upon referral, our clinical liaison team will facilitate care, schedule appointments and serve as the contact point between Tufts clinical specialty departments, referring veterinarians and pet owners. Their commitment to keeping the lines of communication open ensure that you receive the highest standard of care for your patients. If you are in need of emergency services, the Ophthalmology Service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To make a referral, you may contact the Ophthalmology Liaison at 508-887-4696 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. After regular business hours, you may call emergency services at 508-887-4623.

For large animals, please contact the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals at 508-839-7926 for care during any time of day.

Ophthalmology Team

Christopher Pirie, DVM, DACVO, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and faculty member, is a graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, where he pursued a veterinary degree. He later pursued an ocular pathology fellowship at the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory, University of Wisconsin. Dr. Pirie joined the faculty and ophthalmology staff following completion of his residency in ophthalmology at Tufts in 2009. His research interests include clinical optics and diagnostic imaging. He is focused on the development of more cost effective ophthalmic imaging devices, with the ultimate goal of increasing availability, improving upon early detection and treatment of a variety of ophthalmic conditions.

Stefano Pizzirani, DVM, PhD, DECVS, DACVO, a 2004 board-certified ophthalmologist and Tufts faculty member, is a 1979 graduate of Pisa University (Italy) and a 1999 PhD graduate from Messina University (Italy). Dr. Pizzirani spent 22 years in a specialty practice in his hometown of Florence before relocating to the United States and serving as clinical assistant professor at North Carolina State University. In 2004 he joined the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University as assistant professor. Dr. Pizzirani is also a board-certified, inactive-member of the European College of Veterinary Surgeons. His fields of interest include intra- and extra-ocular surgery and the pathophysiology of canine glaucoma.

Kara Gornik, DVM, a third year ophthalmology resident, is a 2010 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her internship at Michigan State University. Following her rotating internship, Dr. Gornik spent a year pursuing research in vision and genetics at Michigan State University before starting her ophthalmology residency at Tufts in 2012.

Alex LoPinto, DVM, a first-year ophthalmology resident, is originally from New York, graduating from New York University in 2009 with a degree in Biology. He subsequently received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2013, where he performed a research project on methicillin resistant staphylococcal infections of the canine cornea. After graduation, he completed a small animal rotating medicine and surgery internship at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. Dr. LoPinto enjoys all aspects of veterinary ophthalmology, but is particularly interested in corneal diseases, cataracts, and intra-ocular surgery.

Tracy Elmes-Young, a veterinary technician specialist, is a 1987 graduate of Mt Ida College and an integral member of the Small Animal Internal Medicine team. She came to Tufts in 1986 and worked for the department of small animal medicine as a technician and senior technician until 2011 when she joined the Ophthalmology department. She is a charter member of the Academy of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is currently the credentialing committee co-chairperson.

Clinical Case Challenge

An 11- year-old castrated male Boxer cross presented to the referring veterinarian with a four-day history of vomiting once per day, which was very unusual for him. The owners had also noticed that his abdomen appeared mildly distended over a two-week period. On physical examination at the referring veterinarian’s hospital, the abdomen was difficult to palpate, but did feel firmly distended. The physical examination was otherwise normal. The referring veterinarian obtained a lateral abdominal radiograph (below).

CCC1Question: What abnormalities are present?

Answer:

There is a large abdominal mass in the mid-ventral abdomen. Intestinal serosal detail is good, suggesting an absence of abdominal effusion.  The small and large intestines are displaced dorsally.  Liver margins are not well-visualized. Based on the direction of intestinal displacement, a splenic mass is most likely, although a liver mass cannot be ruled out.

The patient was referred to Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals Soft Tissue Surgery for further evaluation and possible surgery.  A CBC and chemistry profile at Tufts were normal, aside from a mild elevation in AST. Three view thoracic radiographs were also normal, and an abdominal ultrasound (below) confirmed that the mass was originating from the spleen. The spleen is seen at the uppermost part of the image, and the large, mixed echogenicity mass is clearly arising from it:

CCC2Question: What are the rule-outs for this splenic mass?

Answer: The 2 most likely rule-outs are hemangiosarcoma (HSA) and hematoma. Other rule-outs include more rare splenic malignancies such as leiomysoarcoma, fibroscoma and lymphoma (which can occasionally present as a splenic mass rather than generalized splenomegaly); and other benign lesions such as lymphoid hyperplasia.

Question: In discussing the possibility of splenectomy with the owner, how would you characterize the chances that this mass is HSA?

Answer:  While HSA is the most likely diagnosis, there is a reasonable probability that the mass could be benign.  The 2/3, 2/3 rule is fairly reliable: 2/3 of all splenic masses are malignant, and of those, 2/3 are HSA.  Approximately 70% of dogs with a splenic mass and hemoabdomen have HSA, (Pintar, JAAHA, 2003) which means that 30% of dogs with this presentation have other diagnoses! The larger a splenic mass, the more likely it is to be benign (Mallinkrodt, JAVMA, 2011), although there is no single point at which a mass can safely be considered “large”.   While the absence of hemoabdomen did lower the probability that the mass in this case was malignant, in one study, 56% of dogs with benign masses presented with hemoabdomen. (Mallinkrodt, JAVMA, 2011).    At Tufts, we are in the process of developing a scoring system that will allow veterinarians to more accurately predict the probability that a given splenic mass is malignant.  Large breed dogs with splenic masses should never be euthanized under the presumption that the mass is HSA, unless gross metastatic disease can be demonstrated.  Although the liver is the most common site of HSA metastases, metastatic liver nodules cannot be definitively distinguished from hyperplastic nodules with ultrasound.

Based on the possibility that the mass could be malignant, the owners elected splenectomy. The mass was removed by ligating at 3 points: the splenic artery and vein as they emerged from the area dorsal to the stomach, the left gastroepiploic artery and vein, and the short gastric arteries and veins.  This is an efficient way to do a splenectomy, and does not risk necrosis of the greater curvature of the stomach because of the collateral circulation provided by the right gastroepiploic artery and vein.  The photograph below shows the gross appearance of the mass during surgery.

CCC3Question: Does the gross appearance of the mass suggest any particular histologic diagnosis?

Answer: No. HSA and hematoma remain the primary rule-outs.

The patient recovered uneventfully from surgery, and was discharged the next day.  Three days later, the histopathologic report came back hematoma.

Question: What is the prognosis?

Answer: If the mass was truly a hematoma, the patient should be cured.  However, when large mass lesions are sectioned for histopathology, only a small number of sections ,4 to 5 in most labs are taken.  In the case of splenic HSA, the majority of the mass may be hematoma, and the inciting HSA may be missed during sectioning. So, in large breed dogs with splenic masses, a diagnosis of hematoma is always slightly suspicious, particularly when there is hemoabdomen. The owners should understand that while the diagnosis is overwhelmingly likely to be correct, there remains a small chance that the lesion was actually a HSA.

Question: Why do splenic hematomas form?

Answer: Dogs with splenic hematomas usually do not have an identifiable underlying systemic cause such as trauma or a coagulopathy. There is good evidence that hematomas are caused by spontaneous hemorrhage inside nodules of lymphoid hyperplasia, as shown in the histopathology slide below.

CCC4Question: What would the prognosis have been if the mass had been HSA, and how would clinical stage have affected the prognosis?

Answer: Splenic HSA is highly metastatic tumor that most commonly spreads to the liver and other intra-abdominal sites, but can metastasize almost anywhere in the body. The most commonly used staging system is as follows:

Stage I – HSA confined to the spleen
Stage II – Splenic HSA with hemoabdomen
Stage III – Splenic HSA with distant metastases or right atrial involvement

In a recent review of 154 dogs treated by splenectomy alone at Tufts, clinical stage was found to be highly correlated with outcome. Median survival times and 1- and 2-year survival rates were as follows:

Stage
MST (mos.)
1-year survival rate
2-year survival rate
All dogs
1.6
11.1%
4.2%
I
5.5
35.3%
11.7%
II
2.0
12.5%
5.0%
III
0.9
0%
0%

Question: Is survival time of dogs with HSA prolonged by chemotherapy?

Answer:

Probably.  Several uncontrolled studies in small numbers of dogs have suggested some prolongation of survival in dogs receiving chemotherapy as compared to historical control dogs treated with splenectomy alone.  A recent review of 54 dogs treated at Tufts with doxorubicin-based conventional chemotherapy and/or metronomic chemotherapy (i.e., at home, oral, low-dose chemotherapy) showed a statistically significant improvement in survival when survival times were compared to those of the splenectomy-alone dogs described above.  However, the improvement was not dramatic, and much work remains to be done to optimize chemotherapy protocols for this extremely aggressive form of cancer in dogs.

The dog with a splenic hematoma described above is now 2 years beyond surgery, and doing well.