Meet the NorthStar VETS Team: Matthew Grootenboer, VMD


Dr. Matthew Grootenboer, VMD is a member of the Avian and Exotics team at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, he talks about how he got into veterinary medicine, the kinds of cases he sees and the biggest challenge he faces in his work.

How Dr. Grootenboer got into Veterinary Medicine
We caught up with Dr. Grootenboer, who was checking out one of his chinchilla patients. “The patient I’m seeing today is a chinchilla, a rodent originally from South America. They are built for cold weather and high altitudes, which is why they are so fluffly. They live about ten years and make really good pets. We’re seeing this guy because he’s ten, and so he’s getting older. He belongs to one of the employees here at the hospital.” Dr. Grootenboer sees all the pets that are not dogs or cats and he brings a wealth of experience to the team at NorthStar VETS.

Dr. Grootenboer went on to tell us more about himself. “I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was very young. When I was about ten years old, I lost my pet cat, and that triggered my desire to help animals of all kinds. As I got older, I started working for zoos, which led me into exotic species. I went to veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, then did an exotics-specific internship down in Florida at Broward Avian and Exotics Animal Hospital, and then that brought me here.”

The Biggest Challenge for Dr. Grootenboer
Treating so many different animals makes Dr. Grootenboer’s job especially difficult. “We’ll see your typical small rodents such as rats, mice, chincillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, and others. We’ll also see birds and reptiles of all different kinds, but when I say that, I mean parrots in addition to other birds like chickens. Things you wouldn’t immediately think of as pets. Occasionally, we’ll see amphibians as well.”


“Exotics is its own specialty, but what’s odd about that is that other specialties include just surgery, or just internal medicine, but our specialty is everything other than dogs or cats, so it’s extremely broad.”

One of the most unusual cases Dr. Grootenboer has seen
Dr. Grootenboer is still surprised by some of the patients he sees. “One of the crazier pets that I’ve worked with in veterinary school was a tarantula. It came in through the Emergency room after being in a house fire, and was covered in smoke. Tarantulas actually breathe through their skin, so the treatment was as simple as dusting him off so that he could breathe again.”

What Dr. Grootenboer loves about being an Avian and Exotics Veterinarian at NorthStar VETS
Dr. Grootenboer works alongside more than 40 other veterinarians at NorthStar VETS to treat all of your pets. “I love working here at NorthStar VETS, I think it’s a great environment for me to continue to gain experience. I get to work with the other specialists so if there’s a particular surgery I have planned, I can work with the Surgeon on that, and I have Radiology to corroborate my findings. It’s really great to be able to simply go down the hall and ask opinions of brilliant people.” Dr. Grootenboer and the team at NorthStar VETS are available 24 hours a day to help you and your pets. “My favorite part about being an avian and exotics veterinarian is the variety of it. It’s kind of why I wanted to move away from dogs and cats and get into exotics because my days are never the same and I never know what’s coming in next.”

Learn more about the Avian and Exotics service at NorthStar VETS

Matthew Grootenboer, VMDMatthew Grootenboer, VMD
Dr. Matt Grootenboer attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 2015. He went on to complete an internship in small animal medicine at Oradell Animal Hospital. From there, he traveled to Florida to complete an internship in exotic animal medicine at Broward Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital where he appeared on the National Geographic TV show Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER. He has returned to his home state of New Jersey to continue working with exotic companion animals at NorthStar VETS. An extension of his passion for exotics is his interest in zoo animals and wildlife. He has worked with a variety of unusual species throughout his career, including kinkajous, kangaroos, and giraffes. Dr. Grootenboer is a firm believer in the idea that all animals are equally important no matter how small or short-lived and to their parents these pets mean as much as a dog or cat would.

He lives in Princeton, NJ with his cat Penny, rat, and hamster. When not working, Dr. Grootenboer likes to stay active whether that means going to the gym or for a bike ride/hike. He also likes to play the drums in his spare time. Each fall Dr. Grootenboer becomes a bit difficult to reach on Sundays as he cheers for his favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins.

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NorthStar VETS Cool Case Thorn


This is a story about Thorn, a patient of Drs. Portner and Berkowitz of the Emergency and Critical Care team along with Dr. Tracy, our Neurologist and Dr. Lewis, our veterinary Dentist.

About Thorn:
Thorn PresentationThorn presented to Dr. Portner of the Emergency and Critical Care team on referral from another emergency and specialty hospital for treatment of suspected Tetanus infection. At the time of presentation, he was a 20 week old, intact male, dachshund puppy who had sustained a fall from the couch 5 days prior. The day after the fall he was a little lethargic and then progressively started to become more and more stiff throughout the weekend. Thorn was seen at another emergency and referral hospital, but was referred to us at NorthStar VETS for continued treatment and care under the expertise of our Emergency and Critical Care doctors.

Tetanus:
Tetanus occurs when spores from the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Spores are very hardy and can be found commonly in the environment, especially in soil and can survive for years under certain conditions. When spores are introduced into a wound that provides an anaerobic environment, allowing the spores to become vegetative, and produce tetanospasmin, the toxin responsible for the severe neurologic clinical signs that we see. Clinical signs usually develop within 5 to 10 days from the inoculating wound, but up to 18 days has been reported.

Michelle and ThornTetanus in dogs is very uncommon (even more uncommon in cats) because dogs and cats have a natural resistance to the effects of tetanospasmin; localized clinical signs are more common than generalized tetanus, likely owing to this inherent resistance. It takes nearly 200 times the amount of toxin for a dog to be affected than a human and 3,600 times the amount of toxin for a cat. Thorn presented with very classic signs of generalized tetanus including severe trismus, and we could only open his mouth a couple of millimeters, his ears were erect and pinned to the top of the head (some patients will also show a ridgeline in the skin longitudinally between the ears), stiffness leading to a sawhorse type stance and his tail held straight out, he had a lateral strabismus (eyes looking outward instead of looking straight ahead) and constricted pupils, and his third eyelids were elevated because the muscle behind the eye was retracting the globe.

Thorn’s progress:
Tooth probeThorn was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and watched very closely while he was supported through his illness. Treatment with antibiotics, most specifically metronidazole, was started to begin treatment for C. tetani infection. We monitored his blood gases and electrolytes and blood sugar along with his vital signs very closely, ready to provide ventilator support if he was unable to maintain his breathing well enough on his own. After a few days of treatment, including the administration of Tetanus Antitoxin, we were able to open his mouth a few more millimeters and identified the source of his infection: a fractured deciduous tooth. The tooth was extracted by Dr. Lewis of our Dentistry and Oral Surgery team and a gram stain of the bacteria from the tooth showed “tennis racket” shaped bacteria most consistent with Clostridium bacteria, confirming our diagnosis.

Thorn EatingWe were prepared to begin nutritional support for Thorn with either a nasogastric feeding tube or intravenous nutrition, but thankfully, Thorn began opening his mouth enough to begin eating on his own if fed in very small amounts. It was a painstaking process to feed him such small amounts at a time, but even though he could barely move from stiffness, he would begin tremoring and wagging his tail, very excited about being able to eat. Thorn spent 9 days in the hospital with his family coming to visit him every day. Once he was able to eat enough on his own and maintain his own body without intravenous support, his family was able to take him home and continue his supportive care and recovery there. Dr. Portner rechecked Thorn the next day and he was even more relaxed at home, only becoming stiff when stimulated, but he was able to sleep comfortably and even started being able to urinate outside when he was carried out and held up in the grass.

ThornThorn was rechecked again 1 week later with Dr. Tracy and he was continuing to show considerable improvement. With some support, he was able to start taking some steps and was eating well at home. Dr. Berkowitz contacted Thorn’s family one month after he first showed signs of problems and they reported: “He is amazingly fine! Completely normal, thanks to you and your staff.” We are so happy with Thorn’s progress and he will go on to live a normal, happy life with a terrific family.

Learn more about the Emergency and Critical Care service at NorthStar VETS.

Joshua Portner, DVM, DACVECC - Medical Director, Maple ShadeJoshua Portner, DVM, DACVECC – Medical Director, Maple Shade
Dr. Portner grew up in Southern New Hampshire. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Biology/All-College Honors from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and his veterinary degree from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts in 2004. After graduation from Tufts University, Dr. Portner completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and went on to complete his residency in Emergency and Critical Care at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists in Rhode Island in July of 2008. In 2009, Dr. Portner passed the specialist certification examination and became board certified in Emergency and Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Portner has special interests in mechanical ventilation, nutrition for critical patients, and transfusion medicine. Along with membership in the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA), he has also been a member of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) and the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA), as well as several state associations. During his residency, he was a member of the Rhode Island Disaster Response Team, which is an organization responsible for providing medical care to sick and injured animals during a state of emergency.

Dr. Portner serves as the Medical Director for NorthStar VETS in Maple Shade, NJ.

Steven Berkowitz, DVMSteven Berkowitz, DVM
Dr. Steven Berkowitz attended St. Georges University and did his clinical year at the University of Illinois. Berkowitz joined NorthStar VETS after serving as the Chief of Emergency and Critical Care at another specialty hospital. Prior to that, he completed a three-year residency in Emergency and Critical Care medicine at the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, NJ. His residency was completed at one of only a few recognized veterinary trauma centers in the United States. Prior to his residency, he was a staff Emergency Veterinarian at Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, NY as well as serving as an emergency doctor at Animal Emergency and Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ for 3 years. Dr. Berkowitz can be seen on seasons 5 and 6 of “Animal Precinct” on Animal Planet, which was filmed during his internship at The Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital of the ASPCA in New York City.
Dr. Berkowitz has special interest in the management of metabolic and endocrine derangements, trauma, as well as management of the septic patient.

John Lewis, VMD, FAVD, DAVDCJohn Lewis, VMD, FAVD, DAVDC
Dr. Lewis graduated from University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1997 and spent five years in general practice prior to returning for a residency in dentistry and oral surgery. He became a Fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry (AVD) in 2004 and a Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) in 2005.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Lewis has served as Associate Professor of Dentistry and Oral Surgery, associate director of the Mari Lowe Center for Comparative Oncology, and more recently, as Chief of Surgery. His research interests include oral surgical oncology, maxillofacial fracture repair, maxillofacial reconstruction, new therapies for treatment of feline oral squamous cell carcinoma, and lasers in oral surgery and dentistry.

Dr. Lewis is a past president of the American Veterinary Dental Society, and has served as examination chair of the AVDC and credentials chair of the AVD. Prior to joining NorthStar VETS full time in October 2013, Dr. Lewis was the residency director of the world’s first academic residency in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery at The University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Lewis received the AVDC Outstanding Candidate award in 2004, the Hills AVDS Education and Research Award in 2012 and the AVD Fellow of the Year award in 2013.

Dr. Lewis is the proud father of six boys, two dogs, and two cats, all of whom keep him busy outside of work.

Gaemia Tracy, DVMGaemia Tracy, DVM
Gaemia Tracy was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Tracy attended The University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts (Biology) degree. While there, he played baseball and Sprint Football. He attended The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine from 2008-2012. Immediately after graduating veterinary school, Dr. Tracy completed a rotating small animal medicine and surgery internship at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Tracy then completed a Neurology and Neurosurgery residency in Jacksonville, FL at North Florida Neurology with Dr. Andrew Hopkins and Dr. John Meeks as his mentors. Dr. Tracy completed his residency before joining Northstar VETS.

Dr. Tracy’s professional interests include IVDD, spinal surgery, management of seizures and inflammatory diseases of the brain and spinal cord.

Dr. Tracy currently lives with his wife, son, and their two cats, DD and Bunny. In his free time, Dr. Tracy enjoys taking in any baseball game, and cheering for the Buckeyes and Steelers!

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NorthStar VETS Helps Dog Serve at Childrens Hospital


(From left to right) Dr. Steven Berkowitz, Dr. Daniel Stobie, Tom Meli of Mickey's Kids, Michele Meli of Mickey's Kids, Burton of CSH, Katie Ahlers of CSH

(From left to right) Dr. Steven Berkowitz, Dr. Daniel Stobie, Tom Meli of Mickey’s Kids, Michele Meli of Mickey’s Kids, Burton of CSH, Katie Ahlers of CSH

On Thursday, November 16, Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick, a RWJBarnabas Health facility, became the only children’s hospital in New Jersey with a facility therapy dog on staff. They hosted an official welcome party for Burton, a 20-month-old golden retriever who will be a full-time employee of CHS. Burton will work with his owner/handler Katie Ahlers, Senior Recreational Therapist at CSH, in different departments within the hospital to provide special “dog-therapy” to patients and staff members alike.

HospitalEmpirical and anecdotal evidence indicates that dogs can have a profoundly positive impact on patients and their families as well as hospital personnel. Petting dogs promotes the production of mood-enhancing hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. Interactions with dogs have also been shown to have a regulatory effect on blood pressure, lower respiration rates, as well as reducing the amount of pain medication patients required to achieve comfort. Dogs have also been shown to increase physical and mental stimulation and motivation.

Berkowitz and Nurse PractitionerBurton was born and trained at the Canine Assistants training facility in Georgia. Canine Assistants is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and empowerment of man and dog so they may enhance the lives of one another. Canine Assistants does not charge for the services they provide but rather rely on the generosity of those who understand that aiding the well-being of one benefits us all.

KidsThe funding for Burton was provided by Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money for dogs from Canine Assistants, in hopes to get as many service/therapy dogs into the NY/Metro area as possible. Berkowitz and Stobie2In addition to the funding for Burton, Mickey’s Kids has partnered with NorthStar VETS to cover all costs for vet services for Burton for the rest of his life. Dr. Steven Berkowitz, of our Emergency and Critical Care department, is Burton’s official veterinarian.

See the news stories on Pix11.com and at NJTV.com.

Steven Berkowitz, DVMSteven Berkowitz, DVM
Dr. Steven Berkowitz attended St. Georges University and did his clinical year at the University of Illinois. Berkowitz joined NorthStar VETS after serving as the Chief of Emergency and Critical Care at another specialty hospital. Prior to that, he completed a three-year residency in Emergency and Critical Care medicine at the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, NJ. His residency was completed at one of only a few recognized veterinary trauma centers in the United States. Prior to his residency, he was a staff Emergency Veterinarian at Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, NY as well as serving as an emergency doctor at Animal Emergency and Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ for 3 years. Dr. Berkowitz can be seen on seasons 5 and 6 of “Animal Precinct” on Animal Planet, which was filmed during his internship at The Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital of the ASPCA in New York City.
Dr. Berkowitz has special interest in the management of metabolic and endocrine derangements, trauma, as well as management of the septic patient.

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New Drug Tanovea for Canine Lymphoma Patients


NorthStar VETS is proud to offer the first treatment approved for Canine Lymphoma. Tanovea-CA1 (rabacfosidine) is a classic chemotherapy in a class of drugs not in our typical protocols. It is unique in that it accumulates in lymphocytes, the cell from which this cancer comes, and stops the cells from dividing by inhibiting DNA synthesis. This drug is given intravenously over thirty minutes every three weeks for up to five treatments. Patients typically do not have to be sedated for treatment.

Side effects for this drug are typically mild and can include a low white blood cell count, diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy and skin problems. Rarely, there can be other side effects including lung problems, and therefore is not recommended for West Highland White Terriers who are more prone to lung disease.

This drug is typically used as a rescue therapy after patients have failed first-line multi-drug therapy. Dogs who have B-cell lymphoma respond better than dogs with T-cell lymphoma.

If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to your family veterinarian or the NorthStar VETS Oncology team.

Learn more about the Oncology service at NorthStar VETS

Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Dr. Kim grew up in New York and received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania. After two years at the National Cancer Institute performing cancer genetic research, she attended veterinary school at Tufts University. Dr. Kim completed a rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, and an oncology internship at Cornell University. She began at NorthStar VETS as an emergency clinician in 2005 and returned in 2010 to treat oncology patients after completing her residency in medical oncology at Michigan State University School of Veterinary Medicine. In her free time, Dr. Kim is an avid foodie and knitter.

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NorthStar VETS Cool Case Bebe


The team at NorthStar VETS is doing innovative and amazing things every day as they work to advance the level of care available to your pet. This series of posts highlights cool cases at NorthStar VETS and the types of things done to save pets and improve their quality of life. These are cases using innovative and cutting-edge medical techniques, and/or stories of pets beating the odds. This is the story of Bebe, a patient of our Surgery team.

About Bebe
Bebe is a 10-month-old, male neutered Chihuahua, who presented to NorthStar VETS with a history of being lost for two days. When his pet parents found him, he was limping on his right forelimb. As it turned out, he sustained a fracture to the right distal humerus and right proximal radius. The injury was believed to be caused by Bebe getting hit by a car.

Bebe’s Condition
The distal humerus was split into two large segments with some small comminucations in-between. This fracture is called an intra-articular fracture and it is very important for our Surgery team to reconstruct the bone into perfect reduction to prevent the development of arthritis in the future. The proximal radius was also fractured, but was minimally displaced.

Bebe’s Treatment
This fracture was repaired with three pins and two screws. A lateral approach to the distal humerus and proximal radius was chosen by the team and performed on Bebe’s forelimb. The radial fracture was reduced with pointed reduction forceps and a single 2.0mm cortical positional screw was placed across both the radius and ulna. Then The distal humeral fracture was evaluated. The humeral condyle was carefully reduced and held in reduction with pointed reduction forceps. A .035K wire was placed across the condyle to help stabilize the segments. Then a 2.0mm cortical positional screw was placed across the condyle. The two segments of the humerus were then reduced and held while a lateral and then medial .045K wires were placed normograde from the distal aspect of the epicondyles and up the shaft of the humerus in cross-pin fashion.

Bebe pre CC Bebe pre lat
Bebe post CC Bebe post lat

How Things Went for Bebe
While that is a very technical description, it means that the fractures were very stable after this surgery. Bebe was managed in the hospital overnight with intravenous pain medication and IV antibiotics. He was discharged the following day to his family and was able to go home!

Learn more about the Surgery service at NorthStar VETS

Laura Culbert, DVM, MS, DACVSLaura Culbert, DVM, MS, DACVS
Dr. Culbert has been part of the surgical team at NorthStar VETS since 2006. She received her veterinary degree from Cornell University in 1992, and completed an internship and surgical residency at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She has conducted research in the areas of developmental biophysiology and muscular biochemistry, and her residency project focused on neurologic diseases in dogs and complications associated with steroid therapy. Dr. Culbert’s areas of interest in veterinary surgery include cardiothoracic surgery, oncologic surgery, plastic surgery and fracture repair, and she offers the tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA) procedure for large dogs and cranial cruciate ligament repair. Dr. Culbert has worked with various rescue groups over the years including Greyhound, Australian Shepherd, Jack Russell Terrier, Golden Retriever and Boxer rescue.


The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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From the Client Perspective: My Cat Needed Emergency Oral Surgery


From time to time, we share stories from the client perspective, giving insight into some of the thousands of stories that take place at NorthStar VETS every day. This is the story of Boots, who was in suddenly to have some teeth removed.

Boots at home

On behalf of Boots, I thank you for your care and direction of Boots’ needed surgery. I was glad it could take place on the same day we came in and did not get postponed to another day. Dr. Lewis called him a handsome boy. Wow, that was a precious comment!

Boots recovered nicely. No bleeding, no swelling, etc. despite being such a challenge to all, even me. I know Boots was in the back doing his utmost to give everyone a hard time, but you were absolutely right about him. He was not attacking, he was fearing his new circumstances and wanted to flee. You are very perceptive, understand pets, and are able to figure out the correct approach. That’s know-how and talent! Between Dr. Patanio and Dr. Lewis, Boots received the best care and attention.

He is back to being himself at home, minus two teeth that he certainly will not miss nor meow about. We are relieved he is well again and here with his two cat “brothers” and a cute pooch. Thank you for being there for us. Our compliments and gratitude to your team!

– Helen and Boots

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Statement of Purpose for NorthStar VETS


We’ve recently taken some time to reflect on what NorthStar VETS has accomplished in the community and why we exist in the world today. We believe that sharing our purpose with you and what we stand for is important.

Why we are here for you
It wasn’t long after our founder, Dr. Daniel Stobie, started his first job as a veterinary surgeon that he knew the kind of hospital he wanted to build for his clients, patients and team. His dream was to create a tremendous positive impact on the people who were around him every day. With this clarity of vision, NorthStar VETS became a place dedicated to improving the quality of life of others. In fact, the unchanging purpose statement for NorthStar VETS is “to improve the quality of life of our patients, clients, the family veterinarian and our staff.” This has been our guiding purpose ever since.

Dr. Kraus enjoys a cuddle with MollieAccording to the AVMA, the human-animal bond is defined as “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both.” What’s also stated in the full definition is that veterinarians exist to support the bond between animals AND people, because both are beneficial to each other.

We at NorthStar VETS know the value of the pets in your lives, believe that they are worthy of the highest levels of care and compassion, and in doing our jobs, improve their quality of life as well as everyone around us.

How we do what we do
Everything we have at NorthStar VETS, from our award-winning facility, to our outstanding team, to the level of medicine we offer, is designed to bring us the greatest success in carrying out that original purpose we still uphold, to improve the quality of life of our patients, clients, the family veterinarian and our staff. We live by our core values, which guide our decision-making as we fulfill our purpose.

NSV-rainbow1BThe practice was carefully designed in a way that was beneficial to the family veterinarian, so that they could thrive and partner with us. We designed our hospital to be as welcoming and calming as possible, because we know how tough it can be to care for a sick or injured pet. And we do everything we can to ensure that our team is comfortable and prepared to provide the level of care and service required each and every day.

What we do to improve quality of life
Helping animals AND people is what we are all about. And this has been such a central theme at our hospital, that it is completely ingrained into our culture. Take for example, Dr. Manoel Tamassia, our Theriogenologist, who traveled to Malawi, Africa with Dr. Stobie. He helped the people there by showing them how to take better care of their farm animals. Countless lives were saved as a result of that trip. Our Dentist and Oral Surgeon, Dr. John Lewis, is helping people in addition to pets as well. He partners with the pediatric surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania to put on the annual Best Friends Bash, which brings together his patients with craniofacial disease with children suffering from similar diseases. Not only does this impact the children, but is a powerful experience for the parents, pet parents and doctors involved, too. Another example is Dr. Kristina Vygantas, our Ophthalmologist. Every year, she participates in the ACVO National Service Dog Eye exams, a program designed to ensure that service, working and therapy dogs maintain good eye health through free eye exams so they can help the humans they serve in their lives.

And from day-to-day, around the clock, our team is here to serve pets and pet parents to ensure that the bonds that exist between the two stay strong. They undergo years of training, invest in the best medical tools, and continue to innovate and lead the way in our industry to make absolutely sure that pets have the best quality of life possible.

There are more such stories like those above that take place here every day because of the type of medical professionals on our team. They understand our vision and believe in our purpose, and move us toward its realization.

If you believe what we believe, that pets improve our lives and are worthy of the highest levels of care and compassion, and if you aspire to improving the lives of those around you because it is a worthwhile calling, then we are the hospital for you. We are here for you. And we always will be.

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Honoring Shannon


Shannon is a dog that came to the NorthStar VETS Oncology service on Christmas Eve of 2012 with lymphoma. She was 7 years old at the time and we started the standard CHOP chemotherapy protocol for her. Shannon did quite well through treatment and remains in remission for her lymphoma, but would have a second battle to win.

Shannon Oncology Dog_Dr. Kim_IMG_0461

This past August, she came in for a recheck because a mass was noticed on her neck. A procedure called a fine needle aspirate and cytology were performed and found the mass to be a second type of cancer, a mast cell tumor. The mast cell tumor was removed the next day by Dr. Arulpragasam of the NorthStar VETS Surgery team. The biopsy returned as a low-grade tumor with complete margins, meaning that the cancer was fully removed during surgery.

Shannon_Oncology Dog_Dr Kim_IMG_0641Shannon is now 12 years old and nearly 5-years from her initial diagnosis of lymphoma. She has so far beaten two cancers! Recently, she came back from a camping trip with her family and she is still doing great! Shannon is a great example of how we can extend good quality of our life for our patients with both surgery and chemotherapy together.

Learn more about the Oncology service at NorthStar VETS.


Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Dr. Kim grew up in New York and received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania. After two years at the National Cancer Institute performing cancer genetic research, she attended veterinary school at Tufts University. Dr. Kim completed a rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, and an oncology internship at Cornell University. She began at NorthStar VETS as an emergency clinician in 2005 and returned in 2010 to treat oncology patients after completing her residency in medical oncology at Michigan State University School of Veterinary Medicine. In her free time, Dr. Kim is an avid foodie and knitter.

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NorthStar VETS Cool Case Mollie


The team at NorthStar VETS is doing innovative and amazing things every day as they work to advance the level of care available to your pet. This series of posts highlights cool cases at NorthStar VETS and the types of things done to save pets and improve their quality of life. These are cases using innovative and cutting-edge medical techniques, and/or stories of pets beating the odds. This is the story of Mollie, a patient of Dr. Kelly Kraus of our Surgery team.

About Mollie
Mollie is a thirteen year old cat who came to see the Internal Medicine department about 6 months ago for increased drinking, urinating, an episode of vomiting, and elevated liver enzymes noted on her veterinarian’s bloodwork. She had an abdominal ultrasound, which revealed evidence of pancreatic inflammation. She also had additional bloodwork that indicated possible diabetes. Mollie was started on oral medications and initially improved.

Mollie’s Condition
However, she was rechecked several weeks later and her appetite was declining. She had an esophageal feeding tube placed to assist with her nutrition. Recheck bloodwork several weeks later revealed that despite treatment with medications and nutrition, her liver values were continuing to climb drastically. In particular, her total bilirubin was elevated greater than 28 mg/dL (the high end of normal bilirubin in a cat is 0.9 mg/dL.) Bilirubin is a normal product produced in the body that is processed by the liver and excreted into the intestine by the gallbladder and biliary tract. Bile contains bilirubin, and is useful for digesting fats. Mollie’s recheck abdominal ultrasound at the time of her extremely elevated bilirubin now demonstrated that her biliary tract was markedly distended.

Figure 1: Schematic representation of a normal liver, biliary system, intestine and pancreas in a cat [Watercolor images courtesy of Dr. Kelly Kraus]

Figure 1: Schematic representation of a normal liver, biliary system, intestine and pancreas in a cat [Watercolor images courtesy of Dr. Kelly Kraus]

In a normal animal (Figure 1), bile processed in the liver travels into the gallbladder via hepatic ducts (small bile ducts within each liver lobe.) When the gallbladder contracts in response to the presence of food in the stomach, bile flows through the cystic (gallbladder) duct into the common bile duct, and then enters the intestine through an area in the duodenum called the duodenal papilla. Problems in many locations of the biliary “tree” (gallbladder, hepatic ducts, cystic duct, common bile duct, or entrance into the intestine) can cause elevations in the bilirubin and cause illness (Fig. 2 – see situations 1 and 2.) The liver itself can have trouble processing bilirubin, or blockages in many locations of the “tree” or at the intestinal entrance can prevent bile from traveling into the intestine, where it should be.

Figure 2: Biliary disease: multiple areas of possible disease

Figure 2: Biliary disease: multiple areas of possible disease

The exact treatment required to allow bile to flow into the intestine in a normal pattern depends upon the location of the blockage or problem.

Mollie’s Treatment
Due to Mollie’s progressively elevating bilirubin, her significantly dilated common bile duct, and the fact that she remained sick despite treatment, an abdominal exploratory surgery was recommended. Mollie was placed under anesthesia. During her exploratory surgery, it was found that Mollie had blockages at both the end of the common bile duct/duodenal papilla AND the base of the gallbladder (see Fig. 3, 1st image.) The multiple locations of blockages left only one option for repair, which was a choledochoduodenostomy (Fig. 3, 2nd image, in which the open end of the common bile duct is connected to the intestine in a healthy location.)

Figure 3: Mollie's biliary system and required surgery

Figure 3: Mollie’s biliary system and required surgery

This is a relatively uncommon surgery to do, as there are usually other options for re-routing the flow of bile, such as using the gallbladder itself, which is a larger organ than the bile duct and easier to stitch to the intestinal wall ( Fig 4). For comparison, the gallbladder is usually the size of a large fig in a cat, whereas the common bile duct can be anywhere from the size of a strand of spaghetti to the diameter of a #2 pencil. It is a much smaller, more delicate portion of the biliary tree. Mollie’s multi-level obstruction precluded any other surgery, and a new opening was created by attaching the bile duct to the intestine.

Figure 4: Typical biliary re-routing surgery (cholecystoenterostomy)

Figure 4: Typical biliary re-routing surgery (cholecystoenterostomy)

This surgery can be associated with multiple complications, including failure of healing, infections ascending into the liver, or stricture (scarring) of the new opening which can cause another obstruction.

How Things Went for Mollie
Luckily, Mollie recovered exceptionally well, healed her surgery site, and began eating soon after surgery. Biopsies that had been obtained at surgery to rule out cancer as a cause of the gallbladder and bile duct obstructions revealed scar tissue only. Her bilirubin quickly returned to normal. We think the most likely cause of Mollie’s biliary problems was scarring and inflammation due to her pancreatitis. Referring to figure 1, it is notable that the pancreatic duct system is extremely closely associated to the bile duct system, especially in a cat. Therefore, inflammation occurring in the pancreatic system, intestines, or gallbladder can cause a triad of problems.

Dr. Kraus enjoys a cuddle with MollieMollie’s feeding tube was removed and she enjoyed a cuddle with her care team at her last recheck (photograph 1.) Everyone at NorthStar VETS was so happy Mollie was able to recover from such a severe illness and continue to enjoy her life with her owner.

Learn more about the Surgery service at NorthStar VETS

Kelly Kraus, VMD, DACVSKelly Kraus, VMD, DACVS
Dr. Kraus is originally from Connecticut. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland in 2003 before moving to Philadelphia, where she did molecular genetics research for two years at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Kraus then completed veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. After graduating, she completed a rotating internship at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, NJ. She then moved to Texas to complete a one-year internship in surgery at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists. She was fortunate to then move back to New Jersey for a three-year residency in surgery at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital, which she completed in 2014.

She is excited to be part of the surgery team at NorthStar Vets. Her special surgical interests include, but are not limited to, wound management and reconstructive surgery, surgical oncology, cardiothoracic surgery, and hepatobiliary surgery. Dr. Kraus also enjoys management of orthopedic conditions. She is trained in the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) for cranial cruciate ligament disease. Outside of work, Dr. Kraus enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, traveling, and helping her local SPCA.


The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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NorthStar VETS Goes Fear Free


Fear FreeNorthStar VETS has taken on an important initiative designed to further the hospital’s purpose of improving the quality of life for patients, clients, the family veterinarian, and our staff. In 2017, NorthStar VETS set the goal of reducing stress for patients. Less stress means greater safety and well-being for patients, and The Fear Free initiative will help to create better medical outcomes and experiences for your pet.

How Fear Free Works
A typical example of how Fear Free works is when a stressed, fearful pet is sitting in the lobby, and a NorthStar VETS team member takes that pet out of that environment as soon as possible (into a quiet room or area). In the new, less stressful space, pheromones are sprayed on towels and blankets to help soothe the patient, and the doctor and technician speak calmly and move slowly to prevent the patient from being startled. Treats are employed to coax the patient through the treatments and exams. This allows us to turn a negative atmosphere into a positive one.

What NorthStar VETS did to Take Veterinary Care to the Next Level

The Fear Free initiative provides veterinary team members with the knowledge and tools to not only look after a pet’s physical well-being, but his/her emotional well-being, too. We know that stress and anxiety associated with taking a pet to the veterinarian is a significant obstacle in delivering medical care. Fear leads to trauma for patients, and as a result, pet parents visit their veterinarian less frequently or not at all. The Fear Free initiative is a solution that can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, resulting in a better experience for all involved, including pets, pet parents, and veterinary health care teams.

Our team is going through the Fear Free Certification Program as we continue our commitment to enhancing the level of care we provide to our patients.

You may find more information about this initiative and how you can make your own home Fear Free at fearfreepets.com.

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