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An Interview with a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

By: Stephen Sawicki

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Dr. Noelle McNabb is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist working at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. Here she talks about her work and caring for your pet's eyes.

PetPlace: It sounds like you have an interesting job.

McNabb: I'm tremendously spoiled. I get up in the morning, and I love going to work because it's always different. We were just talking about that yesterday when they were holding an alligator for me to examine. We laughed because we really are so lucky to be able to work on so many different species. It's rewarding, too, to have the knowledge and to be able to share it.

We really see anything with a pair of eyes – dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, chinchillas, etc. The alligator was having a problem with what's known as the third eyelid, which protects the cornea when it submerges in the water. The lids were inflamed and swollen for two or three weeks, so the Museum of Science brought him in for me to look at.

PP: Are the eyes of cats and dogs much different than humans?

McNabb: The anatomy is extraordinarily similar. The differences are what I specialize in. Basically, humans have their own set of ophthalmologic diseases, as do cats, dogs, horses and birds. It's my job to be aware of those diseases and the way they respond to medications. So, I couldn't go out and practice human ophthalmology with any great confidence.

PP: How important is a pet's owner in helping you determine eye problems?

McNabb: You rely completely on the owner at first to tell you what's going on. You ask them what deficits in vision they've seen, if they've observed any color changes of the eye, declining vision, squinting, discharge or different pupil sizes. And they do have a lot of real clever observations. That's actually the fun part of my job – trying to get the information out of them.

PP: What are your favorite kinds of cases?

McNabb: The real feel-good cases are often cataract cases, particularly when they are inherited conditions and unfortunately affect the young animal who is less than four years of age. They are full of vim and vigor and actively leading their lives, and then they go blind. The owners are devastated. And yet you have a way of restoring their sight. Those always make you feel good because provided that the cataract is the only inherited ophthalmologic disease, you can take in a blind dog on Thursday and on Friday give the owners back a dog who can see. And that's great when you can do that.

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