Scroll down to learn more about Dr. Phil Zeltzman, the founder and Chief of Surgery at Harrisburg Regional Veterinary Surgical Specialty. If you would like to speak with Dr. Zeltzman directly, please give us a call.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon specialist and award-winning author.
Why did you become a vet?
I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was 5 years old. As a kid, I kept reading books about mammals, reptiles, and birds. Complex societies built by ants and bees. A book about German shepherds, my favorite breed at the time.
I was passionate about animal documentaries and TV shows such as Lassie the collie and Flipper the dolphin. I brought home all kinds of animals, including caterpillars, injured birds, and frog eggs. Yep, I was one of those kids. I realized that becoming a vet would allow me to help animals and their people. Veterinary medicine has been my passion ever since.
Do you have pets?
I currently have 2 cats, 2 siblings, Praline and Nougat. I rescued them when they were tiny orphans, 16 years ago.
All of my pets have been rescued. Caramel was a cat who had been attacked by a dog. Several bones were beyond repair, so I had to amputate her front leg. And Valentine was a bunny who had a broken shin bone. I fixed it before adopting her. As a kid, my best friend was a Cocker spaniel who lived to be over 17.
Why did you create a surgery practice in Harrisburg?
I used to do surgery in Harrisburg a few years ago. I’ve been impressed by the kindness and dedication of the pet owners I worked with. Some of the local family vets are still personal friends. And I still get referrals from Harrisburg (and surroundings) after all these years! Since I left, there has been no surgeon locally, so pet owners have had to travel far away to get help. I decided to come back with a more regular presence. After all, pet lovers of the Capital of Pennsylvania – and its region – deserve a surgeon locally!
This is why Harrisburg Regional Veterinary Surgical Specialty (“Harrisburg Regional” in short) was created. I assembled a team of amazing nurses who care about their patients immensely. They dedicated their lives to helping animals. For example, each patient’s treatment sheet has a line that says “TLC”. And we really mean it! The nurses actually provide TLC throughout the day (and night), just like they would regularly take a pet’s temperature. We have very strong core values, including passion, compassion, and respect – both for our patients and their owners.
What's your philosophy
I won’t use fancy words to try to impress you. I prefer to use simple words, so you understand me. I put a huge emphasis on pain management and quality of life. I don’t sugarcoat things. We will talk about possible complications, not to scare you, but to educate you. Then my job is to minimize complications. The rules are strict postop, and that’s how we achieve good results.
Some of my most common quotes include:
- “Age is not a disease.”
- “Pain is not acceptable after surgery.”
- “Once surgery is over, 10% of the results depend on the patient, and 90% of the results depend on the owner.”
Where did you go to vet school?
I graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege in Belgium. After graduation, I worked as a family vet, an emergency vet, and a veterinary journalist for 3 years in my native city of Paris, France. But my true passion had been surgery since vet school.
Why did you become a surgeon?
I love the efficiency of surgery. In 1 hour, I can make a pet more comfortable by fixing a torn ACL, repairing a broken bone, or removing a nasty tumor. It’s a perfect way for me to improve lives, help pets run and play ball again, allow the suffocating to breathe again, and relieve pain. This is what I’ve dedicated my life to. That said, I make a point of not treating just a knee or a hip or a bone. I think of the entire patient. I have a holistic approach. Depending on the surgery and the pet, I may recommend physical therapy, supplements, special food, and even doggy or kitty psychology. So I see myself as a holistic surgeon.
What training did you go through to become a surgeon?
After 8 years in vet school, I did a 1-year internship at the University of Georgia, followed by a 3-year surgery residency in Buffalo Grove, Illinois (near Chicago). So that’s 12 years of schooling, and I consider myself a life-long learner, so I’m not quite done!
After fulfilling multiple requirements, including passing a difficult exam, I became a board-certified surgeon, with the title of Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
What's your experience as a surgeon?
I’ve worked as a surgeon for 4 years at a surgical practice in Cincinnati, OH, and an additional 4 years at a surgical practice near Allentown, PA. Since 2010, I’ve been a traveling surgeon, meaning that I perform specialty surgery at family practices. Harrisburg Regional Veterinary Surgical Specialty was opened at the beginning of 2021.
What is your most common surgery?
By far, my most common surgery is the TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy), a surgery to address a torn ACL. I’ve performed thousands of them in dogs from less than 5 pounds to over 250 pounds! The results have been very impressive. I am actually certified to perform TPLOs – not everybody is. I am also certified (and an instructor) for the TTA Rapid (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement) and treat a torn ACL. The benefit of knowing different procedures (including nylon sutures) is that I can recommend what I feel is the best option for each patient.
So are you an orthopedic surgeon?
Technically, there is no such thing in vet medicine, even though some people claim that title. As we just discussed TPLOs, I perform orthopedic surgery more than anything else, but I still would not call myself an orthopedic surgeon. I also perform soft tissue, cancer, and reconstructive surgery. I have a strong interest in physical therapy, open wound management, and emergency cases. I enjoy helping with the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity and comprehensive pain management and arthritis management. So to summarize, I’m a surgeon, or a surgery specialist, or a board-certified surgeon.
What are all these letters after your name: DVM, DACVS, CVJ, FF Cert.?
- DVM stands for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which means I’m a vet.
- DACVS stands for Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, which means I’m a surgery specialist or a board-certified surgeon.
- FF cert. means Fear Free certified. This certificate is given to veterinary professionals who pass a test to prevent fear, anxiety, and stress in pets. We will use these concepts at Harrisburg Regional.
- And CVJ stands for Certified Veterinary Journalist.
So you're also a journalist?
I love writing. I’m a blogger, columnist, award-winning writer, and book author. I write for several veterinary publications. I’ve published two books: “Cocker Spaniels: A Practical Guide for People Owned by a Cocker” and “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound”, a book on weight loss for both dogs and people, co-written with Rebecca Johnson, RN. I have several book projects in the works.
Have you really lectured abroad?
Yes, really! I’ve been invited to teach in Turkey and China (twice). I’ve also lectured in Mexico and on several islands in the Caribbean.
What are some of the nicest compliments you’ve received from pet owners?
- “I wish my physician would treat me as well as you treated my pet.”
- “You would never know she had surgery.”
- “My 10-year-old acts like a puppy again.”
Ultimately, the best compliment is when a pet owner comes back for another surgery on their pet, or brings another pet for surgery, or refers a friend. A referral is the best compliment!
When your pet needs help, we’ll be there.
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