WSU to offer reproductive medicine and surgery for dogs and cats

Closeup of a French bulldog puppy
A French bulldog puppy receives its first examination inside WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. A new service at the hospital makes WSU one of few places in the Pacific Northwest dogs and cats can receive specialized small animal reproductive medicine and surgery.

A new specialty service for dogs and cats at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is expected to improve standards and overall pet health throughout the Inland Northwest. 

The new service, formally known among veterinarians as small animal theriogenology, makes WSU one of few places in the Pacific Northwest dogs and cats can receive specialized small animal reproductive medicine and surgery.

“We need this,” said board-certified theriogenologist Dr. Michela Ciccarelli, who leads the service. “We’re the only specialist in Washington state, including Seattle; and we are dedicated to improving the lives of these animals by considering their genetics and preserving their breed standard.”

Ciccarelli works closely with regional breeders to ensure dogs with certain genetic disorders aren’t passed onto future generations. But it’s not just breeders — she also takes on the majority of veterinary referrals regarding reproductive medicine and surgery in the region. WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the Pacific Northwest’s largest veterinary referral center.

While the service just officially began, Ciccarelli and second-year theriogenology resident Dr. Eduardo Arroyo are already seeing several clients per day.

“C-sections, dystocia, pyometra, mammary gland issues, problems of the estrous cycle, vaginitis, disorders of the sexual development, incontinence, disorder of the prostate, we’ve diagnosed and treated all of these cases,” she said.

To ensure a dog is genetically sound to breed, Ciccarelli uses the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals to cross compare breeds for certain conditions. She’s also attentive to the genetic health of the dogs she encounters.

“We know if it is a golden retriever and it has hip dysplasia, that dog needs to have the clearance, otherwise I would never recommend an owner breed it,” Ciccarelli said.

Ciccarelli, who completed her residency in theriogenology at WSU working mostly with cows, goats, and horses, said it’s important for veterinarians to understand theriogenology across large and small species. She said WSU is one of just a few veterinary colleges in the country that provides theriogenology to its residents in a comparative manner – other colleges split the specialty between small and large animal.

“Here, we want to keep it this way for the students to have consistency and the ability to move from one animal to another,” Ciccarelli said. “Although they are different, there are many things you can relate to these other species, and that’s what makes you a well-rounded clinician.”

Bringing large and small animal theriogenology together is also an emphasis of the American College of Theriogenologists, which is why the board exam now includes both large and small species.

Ciccarelli said while the new service will offer education mostly to residents, she plans to eventually turn it into a rotation for fourth-year veterinary students.

“The teaching aspect is what I value the most,” she said. “Together with the curriculum course, in two-four weeks rotation, I believe I could give them enough preparation for them to be ready for practice.”

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