News & Events


News and Events

Neurology Services at Veterinary Referral Center (VRC)

Your pet’s nervous system, composed of her brain, spinal cord, and nerves, is a highly sensitive network that conveys critical information throughout her entire body. Its proper function plays a role in almost every body activity, from blood pressure maintenance and breathing, to eating and walking. If your pet develops a neurologic problem, she will need prompt treatment by a veterinary team with extensive neurologic experience. Your family veterinarian can treat many of your pet’s medical problems, but complex neurologic conditions often require the advanced equipment and expertise only a veterinary referral hospital can offer. 

What is a veterinary neurologist?

You have likely visited a medical specialist, such as a dermatologist or orthopedist, and your pet likewise sometimes needs the experience of a veterinary specialist. Similar to human medicine, veterinary neurologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that originate from the brain and spinal cord to innervate the body’s muscles. VRC’s veterinary neurologist, Gaemia Tracy, DVM, Practice Limited to Neurology, is available to treat the most complex neurological conditions, and has special interests in managing intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), atlantoaxial instability, inflammatory CNS disease, and seizures. 

What neurologic conditions does VRC’s neurology department treat?

The neurology department at VRC can treat a variety of medical and surgical neurologic conditions, including:

  • Seizure disorders — Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder to affect pets, but many other conditions, such as toxicity, brain tumors, and trauma, can cause seizures. Seizure disorder management involves diagnosing the underlying cause, and identifying medical treatments to control seizure activity.
  • Movement disorders — Movement disorders, such as paroxysmal dyskinesia, cause spontaneous, uncontrollable muscle movements and stiffness, similar to seizures. Our neurology department will determine if your pet’s abnormal movements are due to seizures, or another cause, and design an appropriate management plan. 
  • Neuromuscular diseases — Your pet’s muscles cannot contract without stimulation from her nerve cells, and if a neuromuscular disease interferes with communication between her nerves and muscles, she may experience weakness, or inability to perform normal functions, such as walking. Advanced diagnostics allow us to identify rare neuromuscular diseases, and offer treatment.  
  • Brain tumors — Brain tumors can be benign or malignant, and often require coordinated medical and surgical treatments for management. Although surgical resection is typically warranted, medications are often also needed, to treat side effects, or prevent cancer spread.
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Pets with long, low backs, particularly dachshunds, can experience back problems related to a “slipped disc.” IVDD causes symptoms ranging from mild back pain to complete paralysis, and severe cases must be treated immediately, to prevent life-long paralysis. 
  • Spinal fractures and luxations — The individual vertebrae composing your pet’s spinal column can become misaligned or fractured, which can place abnormal pressure on her spinal cord. Spinal surgery is often necessary, to relieve damaging pressure, and prevent long-term complications.

 

What advanced diagnostics can VRC use to diagnose neurologic conditions in pets?

Thorough diagnosis of a neurologic disease or injury often requires advanced diagnostic and imaging techniques. To help us diagnose the most challenging neurologic conditions, we maintain the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment and techniques available, including:

  • Digital X-ray — X-rays are more often used to diagnose leg fractures, but they are invaluable when diagnosing neurologic problems, such as spinal fractures and luxations. 
  • Computed tomography (CT) — A CT is a type of X-ray machine that produces detailed body images in thin, cross-sectional slices. CT scans provide more accurate detail than traditional X-rays, by providing two- and three-dimensional images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — An MRI uses powerful magnets, instead of radiation, to also produce slice-like images of body areas. The highly detailed images offer the best analysis of nervous system structures, including the brain and spinal cord. VRC has the only on-site MRI in the area. 
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis — Commonly referred to as a spinal tap, CSF collection allows us to analyze the fluid circulating through your pet’s brain and spinal cord, for abnormal cells, cancer, and infectious organisms. Veterinary Neurology

 

What clinical signs indicate nervous system disease in pets?

Since the nervous system plays a role in so many body functions, nervous disease signs are varied, but commonly include:

  • Incoordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pupil asymmetry
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Head tilt
  • Back pain
  • Paralysis 
  • Seizures 

If you think your pet may have a neurologic condition, or is not acting like herself, have her evaluated by your family veterinarian immediately, or bring her to our emergency room, if your veterinarian is closed. Some neurologic conditions progress quickly, and can be fatal, if not treated promptly.

If your family veterinarian suspects a complex neurologic condition in your pet, contact us. Our neurologic team will partner with your veterinarian, and you, to provide the best care possible, and the best chance of recovery, for your best friend.

 

After Suffering From A Fractured Spine, This Puppy Learns To Walk With Help From A Rehab Nurse

On March 14th, 2020, little Sharkie was rescued from a puppy mill and brought to VRC. He was unable to walk and could not stand without falling over. After running diagnostics, it was discovered that Sharkie was suffering from a fractured spine. Luckily, VRC’s Physical Rehabilitation nurse, Ash, took Sharkie in as a foster and started working with him to gain his strength and learn to walk.

Over the course of several weeks, Sharkie has grown much stronger thanks to Ash’s rehabilitation skills. From cones and cavalettis to an underwater treadmill and tennis balls, Sharkie is mastering it all.

Update (5/21/2020): Nurse Ash officially adopted Sharkie and welcomed him into her home!

 

COVID-19 Updates

POLICY UPDATE (as of March 18, 2020)

At VRC, the health and well-being of your pet and family are our top priority. As
the situation around COVID-19 continues to evolve, we have taken measures to
reduce potential exposure to our clients, patients, and team members.

  • Clients with previously scheduled appointments are asked not to enter the hospital, to remain in their vehicle, and to call the hospital for assistance.
    A team member will come outside to retrieve your pet to be seen by the doctor. All doctor consultations will then be held over the telephone to eliminate the risk of exposure.
  • If your pet is experiencing a life threatening crisis, you may enter the hospital. Exam rooms will be available for waiting, to reduce a large group of clients waiting in our lobby.
  • Visitation of patients has been suspended to better protect our clients and staff members. We understand that it is difficult to have your pet away from you during the stressful time of a hospitalized visit. We assure you that your pets will be cared for as if they are our own. Our team can send you photos of your pet upon request.

 

We thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we navigate through this situation.

 

Additional Information & Resources:

A letter to our clients (March 13, 2020) – An Important Message About COVID-19 from VRC

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (Centers for Disease Control)

COVID-19 FAQs for Pet Owners (American Veterinary Medical Association)

Specialized Veterinary Diagnostics at Veterinary Referral Center

Veterinary Referral Center partners with family veterinarians to provide Eastern Pennsylvania pets with the most comprehensive veterinary care available. When your pet is not feeling like herself, you should visit your family veterinary hospital, where they likely will use diagnostics, such as radiographs (commonly known as “X-rays”) and blood work, to reach a diagnosis. More complex medical conditions, however, may require advanced diagnostic equipment, or the expertise of veterinary specialists, for a detailed diagnosis. If your family veterinarian refers your pet to VRC for advanced diagnostics, she will benefit from a multi-service specialty hospital with veterinary specialists who will collaborate across multiple departments to reach a diagnosis, and devise a treatment plan that will provide her with the best chance for a full recovery. 

VRC is proud to maintain the most updated, state-of-the-art equipment to help us diagnose the most challenging medical conditions.

Ultrasound for pets

VRC Veterinary Ultrasound

Our diagnostic imaging department uses several advanced tools to help us look inside your pet’s body. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves emitted by a hand-held wand that bounce off internal structures, are received, and then translated into an image viewed on a screen. Our radiologists can interpret ultrasound images to diagnose conditions such as abdominal pain, pancreatitis, enlarged abdominal organs, and urinary stones. We also use ultrasound to guide needle biopsy of abnormal tissues, diseased organs, and tumors, where the needle collects cells that will be analyzed and identified under a microscope. Ultrasound exams can be scheduled by appointment, and our trained ultrasonographers are also available seven days a week for emergency evaluations. 

Echocardiology for pets 

An echocardiogram is a specialized ultrasound used to examine in detail the heart and surrounding blood vessels. Doppler ultrasound is often used during an echocardiograph to observe your pet’s blood flow through the heart to determine whether abnormal or turbulent flow is a component of her disease condition. Our veterinary cardiologist routinely performs echocardiograms to diagnose conditions such as heart murmurs, cardiomyopathy, narrowed blood vessels, and valvular abnormalities. 

Computed tomography (CT) for pets

Some internal abnormalities can be identified with  radiographs; however, a CT scan provides more detailed images of bones, soft tissues, organs, and blood vessels. A CT unit uses radiation, much like a traditional X-ray machine, to produce multiple cross-sectional slices of a body area that can be viewed in two and three dimensions. A CT scan allows our radiologists to appreciate the exact location and architecture of abnormal tissues, and is particularly helpful in locating tumors to help our surgeons plan their approach prior to surgical resection. 

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for pets

MRI is the most recently developed  imaging modality available, and provides extremely detailed images, also in cross-sectional slices. MRI uses powerful magnets and low frequency radio waves to generate electromagnetic fields necessary to produce images, whereas a CT scan uses radiation. MRI is useful for imaging many internal body structures, and is the preferred method for imaging neurologic structures, such as the brain and spinal cord. VRC has the only on-site veterinary MRI unit in the area, and scans can be performed by appointment, or on an emergency basis.

Endoscopy for pets

An endoscope is a high-density camera on the end of rigid or flexible tubing that can be inserted into various body areas for examination. For example, an endoscope can be inserted into your pet’s esophagus to observe the lining for abnormalities and lesions, or advanced into her stomach to diagnose ulcers, collect tissue samples using instruments inserted through the tubing, or grasp a foreign object she may have eaten. An endoscope also can be inserted into your pet’s airways to view abnormal tissue, collect diagnostic samples, and locate and remove inhaled foreign bodies. Our surgeons use endoscopy when they perform minimally invasive surgery, where they insert an endoscope and instruments into a body cavity or joint through multiple tiny incisions, instead of making a large, more invasive incision. 

At VRC, we are proud to offer our veterinary patients the same technology and advanced care available at human hospitals. Once our team of veterinary specialists diagnoses your pet’s complicated medical condition, she may be transferred to one of our specialty departments for treatment and monitoring, or referred back to your family veterinarian for continued care and follow-up. Contact us to schedule an appointment if your family veterinarian has referred your pet for specialty diagnostics or care.