An Interview with an Internal Medicine Veterinarian

Dr. Jean Duddy, a veterinarian practicing general medicine at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, speaks about her work, clients and favorite patients.

PetPlace: What does your day-to-day job involve?

Duddy: I see about 80 percent cats. A lot of them are older cats with endocrine problems such as: thyroid disease – like hyperthyroidism – diabetes, and chronic kidney failure. A lot of cats I see have cancer. I've been seeing most of them for a fair amount of time.

PP: How has your work changed over the years?

Duddy: We've learned so much more about diseases – things that 10 to 15 years ago we didn't have any treatment for. Even things like brain tumors. We didn't think that we could treat them, at least not very successfully or not for very long. We've been able to give those animals extended time.

Now, with all we can do to keep those animals alive, the question that comes up is when should we stop? I think our perspective on getting the owners involved in the process has changed. We don't dictate anymore. We have the owner as a partner. Obviously, we don't want to keep an animal alive if he or she is suffering. But I think we're a lot more upfront with people about that, too. The more we learn about these diseases the better we can tell a client what's likely to happen down the road.

PP: What's an ideal pet owner like?

Duddy: It's not necessarily the ones whose pets are healthy. My favorite clients are those who know their pets well enough to realize there's a problem. They deal with problems as they come up – before they get to the point where everything is so bad that emergency measures need to be taken. They don't ignore problems.

I also appreciate those clients who do everything in the best interest of their pets. In other words, there are times when animals become terminal and you have to let them go. Sometimes it's awfully tough, but the owners should be thinking of their pet's best interest, not theirs.

PP: In general, are cats healthier than dogs?

Duddy: If you think about it, cats have a lot more fatal viruses and things like that than dogs. With dogs, you've basically got parvoviral infection and leptospirosis. With cats, you've got feline AIDS, feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, herpes virus, etc. You've got all of these different things and probably some we don't even know about that are out there lurking in the darkness.

I wouldn't say cats are healthier. I would say they're more independent than dogs. A lot of times we don't see the cats until their illness progresses further than dogs. After all, dogs are walked every day. So if the dog isn't walking as far as usual, the owner is aware. But for cats that live in the house, if they're not flying through the air, the owner may not notice.