An Apple a Day

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Sometimes the best cure is also the most traditional: a healthy diet and a regular visit to the vet should keep your pet feeling good

Ask Dr. Carol Meissner about some of the more interesting patients she’s seen in her time as a mobile veterinarian, and she can immediately recall notable cases, right down to the smallest detail.

There were the dogs (owned by a flight attendant) who got into a travel bag and consumed vitamins, birth control pills and what Meissner called “recreational things” to merit their vet visit. Then there was the potbelly pig she spent 45 minutes (it felt more like two hours) chasing, and the indignant beagle who tangled himself up in his owner’s heirloom, grandmother-made Afghan and defied efforts to free the blanket from his paws. And the horse, whose worst symptom wasn’t that he’d been gored, but his owner’s attempts to suture the animal himself using waxed, mint dental floss.

“The mint and wax is irritating, and the horse was having a horrific reaction,” Meissner said. “[The owner’s wife] told me this whole story and said ‘isn’t that just like men, to do something like that and leave it for women to clean up?’ I’d never get to see that in a clinic.”

Meissner has been a practicing, exclusively mobile veterinarian in Austin for more than 20 years, plenty of time to develop an appreciation for the diversity of people in the area and their relationships with their pets.

“I got into it for a lot of reasons,” Meissner said. “I like people and I like interacting with them in their own environment. I like seeing my patients in their own environment, and I can get a better feel for what’s going on with them. I have a real diverse client base.”

For all the diversity of animals in Austin, there’s an equally wide array of health care practitioners tending to those furry loved ones. Meissner is just one of many veterinarians and pet health care providers in the Austin area whose services range from general practice veterinary clinics to pet ophthalmologists and oncologists.

Local veterinarians said that as the area has grown, the city’s pet population has expanded as well. As a result, Central Texas is home to a veterinarian for almost every imaginable ailment and health need a pet could have, ensuring that Austin’s beloved animal friends will cultivate the same fit and healthy reputation as the city’s human residents have gained.

“There are more vets in Austin now, and I think that’s a good thing,” Meissner said. “It’s nice to have specialists to whom we can refer. That’s a good thing about the growth.”

Dr. Erin Homburg and Dr. Greg Biehle are on the forefront of a new wave of downtown’s burgeoning pet population. Eyeing the new high-rises and yet-to-open condos, they opened Austin Urban Vet Center in late 2009. In addition to the veterinary practice, the center houses Upper Paw Urban Pet Resort, Lofty Dog, Dirty Dog and Groovy Dog Bakery, making it a one-stop shop of sorts for urban pet owners.

Homburg said there’s an astonishing range of pets and pet owners citywide, one of the features that makes practicing here so enjoyable.

“You never know who’s going to walk through the front door,” she said. “Even here we have some people with ranches in Kerrville, people who live here half the year and in Italy the other half, and people from Tarrytown and Clarksville. That’s what I love, it’s somebody different all the time.”

Of course, there are the urban pets, who come to Homburg from buildings such as the Ashton, the 360 and the Monarch, and sport such uniquely urban pet problems as elevator door injuries.

There are also plenty of pet health care services beyond the vet’s office. Nathan Pope and his partner Scott Maitland opened the doors to Live Oak Pharmacy earlier this year. The compounding pharmacy offers a wide array of services to the city’s pet population as well as its human residents.

Pope said live Oak works with veterinarians to compound pet medications, tailoring them for animals from dogs and cats to horses. “We’re an extra step if there are issues [vets and owners] can’t address,” Pope said. “We can put medications in different forms. If there’s a picky pet that doesn’t want to take medicine, we can put it in treat form so that owners can give medicine to their animals without causing a lot of undue stress by pushing a pill down a pet’s throat.”

Some of that tailoring involves flavoring pet medications, from molasses and tangy apple for horses to Angus steak for dogs and chicken potpie for cats. Pope said the idea of compounding prescriptions to pets isn’t new, but it’s a still relatively untapped resource here. That may be changing though. “As soon as we started getting the word out to vets that we do this, we started getting calls all the time from vets,” Pope said. “We can tell there’s a need.”

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