A QUICK TRIP TO NYC: OF ST. BERNARDS, THE MOUNTAINS, AND A FEW OF THE BLESSED SAINTS

Two Sundays ago, I made a quick trip down to The Big Apple (NewYork City) so that I could attend the Park Avenue Armory Rare Book Show and Sale. The event draws rare book and manuscript sellers from all over the world. And even though I cannot even begin to afford the prices of these collector volumes, I do get a chance to meet old dealer friends and pig-out at many of the city’s delicatessens.

I usually like to leave after office hours on Saturday afternoon, then drive like a maniac (I have made the trip in 3 hours and 45 minutes) down to the city, and rent a room so that I can sleep in till seven o’clock on Sunday morning.

One of my favorite loves on Sunday morning in New York City, is to go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Although it’s hard for me to be as intimate with our Precious Lord there as it is for me here in our humble St. James church, I am still overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence of the great cathedral.

Arriving early, I had a couple of minutes to check out some of the side chapels dedicated to various saints. Because I’d been doing some research on mountain climbing in the French Alps and had seen his name mentioned a few times, I was surprised to discover that one of these chapels was dedicated to St. Bernard. I had read that St. Bernard was the Patron Saint of mountaineers. Also, since I’ve been treating a dear client’s St. Bernard dog for cancer recently, I briefly wondered if he was the same saint after whom the dog breed was named.

And so, upon viewing my chance encounter with the Blessed Saint as a sign from God, I stopped, and meditated, and prayed for his intercession on behalf of Theresa and me on our possible upcoming trip to climb Mt. Blanc this summer. When I returned home and told Theresa about my visit with the saint, she said it would probably make a good story. And she’s right, I think.

The only problem, however, (as my research for this article this morning has shown me) was that the St. Bernard I encountered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was not the St. Bernard for either mountain climbers or the dog breed. The Saint I prayed with at St Patrick’s was Bernard of Clairvaux, who founded and led the monastery at Clairvaux, France in the eleventh century, and who later became the first Cistercian monk to be placed on the calendar of saints. This St. Bernard is the Patron Saint of beekeepers, bees, candlemakers, wax-melters, wax refiners, and of all places, Gibraltar.

The St. Bernard I was actually looking for was Bernard of Menthon, also known as Bernard of Montjoux. This Bernard was the Archdeacon of Aosta, Italy who evangelized to the people of the Alps for over 40 years. He started a patrol that cleared robbers from the Alps as well as established hospices (still there today) on the high mountain passes for travelers and pilgrims on their journeys from western Europe to Rome. I was pleased to also learn that the large dogs trained to search for lost victims in the mountains, the St. Bernards, are named after him as well.

Although it has nothing directly to do with veterinary medicine, my research of St. Bernard (the human, not the dog breed) turned up some interesting information. There are at least eight other saints named Bernard. There was one named simply, Bernard, who was a Benedictine Cistercian monk martyred by the Moors in 1180. Another one is the Blessed Martyr, Bernard of Toulouse who was tortured and sawn in half in 1320 by Albigensians. There is a Bernard of Valdeiglesias, a Benedictine Cistercian monk who died in 1155. There is Bernard of Vienne, a former military officer in King Charlemagne’s army, who is the Patron Saint of agricultural workers, farm workers, farmers, field hands, husbandmen. There is Bernard Due Van Vo, who was arrested in 1838 for the crime of priesthood, and became one of the Martyrs of Vietnam. Another one is Bernard of Tolomeo, founder of the Benedictine congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto. A final St. Bernard, and one that’s quite interesting, is Bernard of Corleone. Noted for his extreme austerity and self-imposed penances in an attempt to atone for his earlier life (he had killed a fellow Sicilian in a sword dual), he seemed to have had a strong gift of healing animals by prayer. Hmm!

All of which brings me back to the Good St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) that I met in NYC last Sunday. Even though I blew it with regards to the mountaineering and dog breed things, I did gleam one bit of information that he and I somewhat share in common. It turns out that every morning when he awoke, the saint would always ask himself, “Why have I come here?” His answer: “To lead a Holy life.” My humble answer every morning to the same important question is: “To just try and save the lives of a few cats and dogs and the occasional cow.”

Thanks again

OUR LATEST TRIP: DIFFERENT BREEDS OF SHEEP AND BRANDS OF BEER, AND A SHORT STORY ABOUT A WEE DOGGIE.

Visiting Greyfrairs Bobby

On our last trip overseas, Theresa and I hiked the 197 miles of the famous Coast to Coast Trail across England, from the Irish Sea in the west, to the North Sea in the east. Our trip took us over the Western mountains and through the Lake District, home of the lake poet and mystic, William Woodsworth.

It also took us over the moors, dales, and fertile valleys of Yorkshire, home to my late veterinary colleague, Dr. James Harriot. Besides the stunning scenery that we were blessed with witnessing as we trekked across the former “Mother country,” I was able to observe and answer first-hand a question I’d always wondered about: Why were there so many different breeds of sheep that originated in such a small country as England?

As we crossed over one mountain pass after another, I discovered the reason. These mountains and inhospitable moors physically prevented animals from one valley from mingling with those from another. Each separated region had its own microclimate, its own particular vegetation, its own water sources, and even their own dilects. And each sheep breed, be they Cheviot, Swaledale, Herdwick, Suffolk, etc., developed adaptations to meet these different environmental conditions.

This physical separation of the various regions led not only to differences in sheep breeds. In talking with native English peoples at the various hotels and B&B’s we stayed at, it even affected their accents and vocabularies. As a man of science, it was a great lesson in genetics and adaption to changing local conditions.

But something else also took place as a result of this geographic separation between the various regions that was very close to my heart: with each new region we traversed, there would be an entirely new line of draft beers available on tap at our evening lodgings! And being the man of science that I am, I made it a point to try them all.

As Theresa and I were winding down our trip in Edinburgh, Scotland, we saw the statue and visited the grave of a famous little dog name Greyfriars Bobby. I’m told there is a movie about this little dog, but just in case some of you readers might not be familiar with the story, I’ll tell it the best I can. It’s quite touching.

Greyfriars Bobby was a small Skye terrier that belonged to an Edinburgh Police Constable named John Gray. Since he was a wee puppy, Bobby would walk the beat every day with his master as the constable’s personal guard dog. Legend says that they were absolutely inseparable. Sadly, Mr. Gray died in young middle-age of tuberculosis and was buried in a poorly-marked grave in the Greyfriar’s church cemetery. The story goes that for the next fourteen years the dead man’s faithful dog, now nicknamed “Greyfriars Bobby,” kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in1872.

This faithful wee doggie (a little bit of Scottish lingo there) was such a beloved treasure to the people of Edinburgh, that they buried him just outside the hallowed ground of the cemetery as close to his beloved owner as possible. Next to the Edinburgh Castle, his statue is the most-visited tourist site in all of Scotland. Thanks again.

TICKS!!! FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR PET’S HEALTH, AND OUR HUMAN HEALTH: IT’S IMPORTANT TO PAY ATTENTION TO THESE CRITTERS AND NOT FREAK OUT!!!

Dear readers, even though we’ve talked about ticks many times before, I feel it is necessary once again to go over this stuff for three reasons. First (and most important), at least in our little area of the world here in central New York State, the business of ticks has now officially become life or death serious for both our pets and ourselves. Secondly, it seems as if a lot of people either still don’t know, or are simply just not paying attention to the proper way of dealing with these critters.

I humbly (and with head bowed in a gesture of great respect) bring this bring this point up because in the past when people did silly or folksy or downright stupid stuff in their quests to remove ticks from their pets (or themselves), it was sort of funny; NOW, however, with the certain establishment of lyme disease into our area, these wrong methods of dealing with these repulsive critters can lead to serious life threatening consequences.

And finally, in these dark and troubled times of high unemployment, financial distress, government ineptitude, cholera in Haiti, child-soldiers in the Congo, and the human carnage in Darfur, it pains me to see people worry so much and to LITERALLY!!! freak out over these critters when just a little bit of level-headed thought would ease their pain.

And that’s why I keep on trying to get this important stuff across. It seems that for every intact and living tick that a client brings in for me to remove from their cat or dog, there are another five pets brought in with the tick dead, mangled, or decapitated for me to dig it out. (Ticks, by definition, don’t have heads; they have a capitulum.)

I’ve seen ticks slathered with nail polish as well as coated with nail polish remover. I’ve seen ticks with their rear-ends barbecued to well-done by a cigarette, and still others that have had their butts blown-up by a burning match. I’ve seen them doused with mineral oil, olive oil, basalmic vinegar, kerosene, rubbing alcohol, vodka, flea spray, Tabasco sauce, gasoline, and yes, I’ve even seen them gobbed-up with my dastardly old friend, udder balm.

I can hear the talk out there now. “Ah, come on, Doc! Quit pickin’ on us. We only did what we thought was best. Our mother-in-law/neighbor/website/guru/cousin from Arkansas all told us their method would work every single time.” Most-treasured readers, I don’t say this stuff to pick on you or to make fun of you, I do it because all of the methods I mentioned above are wrong. And its important to KNOW why these techniques are wrong.

By killing the tick violently with any of the above mentioned techniques, you cause them to clamp shut their mouth parts. This clenching-down reflex is the biggest reason a tick will leave it’s ‘head’ in our pet. But more importantly, is that as the tick wiggles and writhes in its death throes because of whatever junk you applied to it, the poor little beast will expel whatever blood it has in it’s guts directly into the dog or cat. Unfortunately for your pet, along with this regurgitated blood will come whatever disease organism the tick may be carrying.

I can hear it out there now: “So Doc, what is the proper way to remove a tick? My favorite way is to part the pet’s hair away as best as possible, and then grasp the tick between my thumb and forefinger as close to the point of attachment of the tick as possible, and then gently pull it straight out backwards. Unless it’s a mentally-deprived tick, it will let go. A rubber or exam glove should be worn.

The Centers For Disease Control says to use tweezers, but I don’t think you can control your grip as well on these guys. There is also a new invention out there called a Tick Twister that seems to work good as well. I sell this device in my office and have created an award-winning video on how to use it: http://www.squidoo.com/RemovingTicks.

After removing the tick, be sure to look at it in a good light to see whether or not it has it’s pincer-like mouth parts (its ‘head’). If it doesn’t, or if you’re not sure, bring it, and your pet, in to you veterinarian.

OF PIGEONS, HORSES, CATS, AND WAR DOGS: THE DICKEN MEDAL

“They protected us on the field of battle.
They watch over our eternal rest.
We are grateful.”
— on the War Dog Memorial, Ft. Benning, Georgia

Dominating the city of Edinburgh, Scotland is magnificent Edinburgh Castle. Built on the highest mountain crag in the region, the castle is the most-visited sight in all of Scotland. At the very top of this great structure is the Scottish National War Memorial with its scrolls of names of the thousands of Scottish men and women who made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of their nation. On the mountain top as well, there is humble little St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh. It had been seven years since I’ve visited the castle, but even after all of this time, as I write this article on a cold, but brilliantly sunny November morning, I still vividly remember the reverent awe I felt as I stood upon that truly ancient and hollowed ground.

When looking over the walls from St. Margaret’s Chapel, visitors can see just below it a small well-manicured grassy plot. This little patch of priceless castle real estate is the final resting place of several of Scotland’s decorated war dogs and regimental mascots. Maybe it’s the fact that the British peoples are somewhat more martial in their heritage, or maybe it’s just the fact that they aren’t as uptight in their attitudes towards all life in general, but I couldn’t help thinking as I looked out over that patch of ground what a wonderfully generous thing to do with these fallen warriors. As I was researching the the subject of War Dogs for a story I that I could incorporate into a Veterans Day article, I came across something called The Dicken Medal.

But before I begin, as a proud (very proud!) American, it pains me somewhat that we—as a nation—have not been a little more forward in at least recognizing and acknowledging the monumental accomplishments of these little known and unsung heroes collectively known as “War Dogs.” My original plan was to tell the inspiring stories of a few of the more famous American ones, but even though their conduct under fire was exemplarily, their later “disposals” after the bombs stopped falling and the bullets stopped flying was—for lack of a better term—quite reprehensible, especially for our Vietnam War dogs. I’ll close this paragraph by ironically pointing out that Bugs Bunny has his own postal stamp; our government has denied (so far) this honor to these great dogs. Which brings me back again to the Dicken Medal. I’m grateful to the Wikipedia for this information. Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickin_Medal.

The Dicken Medal was founded in 1943 to honor outstanding individual animals who served the British Commonwealth with great gallantly and sacrifice during their nation’s wars. As of February, 2008, it has been awarded 62 times. Some of the more famous awardees are:

-1943: William of Orange, a messenger pigeon whose service saved the lives of over 2000 British soldiers during the Battle of Arnhem.
-1945: Rex, a rescue dog who officially helped save 65 people during the London bomb blitz.
-1947: Olga, Upstart, and Regal. Three horses who distinguished themselves during the World War II incendiary bombing campaigns of British cities.
-1949: Simon, the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst, for surviving a shelling, raising moral, and killing off a rat infestation, despite being severely wounded. He was subsequently raised to the honorable rank of “Able Seacat” and was awarded a campaign medal. (A Side Note: A World War II War Dog named Chip was officially awarded by a grateful U.S. Army both the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his unbelievable heroism during the Italian Campaign. The medals were subsequently revoked by the government. However, his Army unit—who, in my opinion, should have had the final say in the matter, and not some political creep in Washington— unofficially awarded Chip the European Theater Ribbon with eight stars, one for each of his battle campaigns.)
-2003: Sam, while serving in the Royal Veterinary Corp disarmed a gunman and held back a hostile mob in Bosnia until Canadian reinforcements could arrive.
-2007: Sadie, a black Labrador serving in Afghanistan who discovered a bomb outside the UN headquarters in Kabul.

In closing, and on a more personal note, as I write this humble article in the safety of my Trumansburg home, in bosom the greatest nation that has ever graced this earth, let us all remember the dedicated service and brave sacrifices of our nation’s past present, and future veterans who’ve made it all possible.

MRSA INFECTIONS IN PEOPLE AND OUR PETS.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about something out there called MRSA infections and whether or not our pets can be a source for this infection. For many years now, my human counterparts have had to deal with this problem among themselves and their patients, so what I have to say may be old news. And I’ll start like I do every time I attempt to make the complicated and chaotic more understandable by saying this stuff is not easy, and there are no precise answers. A excellent, very detailed, five-page, Q&A report is available on the American Veterinary Medical Association website. http://www.avma.org/animal_health/mrsa_faq.asp

MRSA is a short-handed way of saying methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Because not everybody reading this has a Bachelor’s degree in biology, I’ll break this term down a bit. First, Staphylococcus aureus (sometimes referred to simply as “Staph”) is the name of a bacteria. For those who aren’t sure, a bacteria is a very small one-celled creature. They are so small that there are more bacteria living in each of our intestinal tracts than there are people living on the whole planet. There are 33 known species (“family members”) of Staphylococcus bacteria and they are found nearly everywhere. Methicillin is an antibiotic that was often used to treat Staph. aureus. MRSA, therefore, is a bacterial Staph infection that is resistant (cannot be cured) to methicillin. This infection at one time was thought to be only found in people, but now is emerging as a cause of disease in horses, dogs, cats, pet birds, cattle and pigs.

Until fairly recently, MRSA was thought to be strictly transmitted to our pets from infected or colonized people. Let me break this statement down as well. All living creatures can have an active infection by a bacteria (Strep. throat, Staph. skin infection, Lyme disease, etc.) or we can be simply colonized, asymptomatic (without any signs of obvious disease) carriers of the bacterial disease. It used to be thought that if your pet had a MRSA infection, or was asymptomatically colonized (without obvious disease), that he/she caught it from their owner. But this may no longer be the case.

I can hear almost hear my beloved readers shouting the following question: And so Doc, are some animals more prone to MRSA infections than others?” The answer is yes!!! The following is pretty much taken word for word from the American Veterinary Medical Association recommendations:

For small animals (dogs, cats, and pet birds), your pet is at greater risk if
—they live with immunocompromised people.
—they live with human health care workers.
—they live with veterinary clinic personnel.
—they are involved with therapeutic visits to hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities. This last one really breaks my heart to have to say!!!

For large animals (horses, cattle, and pigs) some risk factors are:
—nasal/facial contact with human handlers.
—transportation/sale of animals (spreading the risk of transmission from exposed animals to non-exposed animals).

The subject of MRSA can go on for ten more articles, but I want to address one more issue. Because I have a lot of dedicated and loving humanitarians whose life’s work are in the healthcare fields and who are also treasured clients of mine, the following precautions (again, this is directly from the AVMA recommendations) should be considered. This applies especially to therapeutic animal visits:

—Good hand hygiene by all who encounter the animal, both before and after touching the animal.
—Licking should be prevented, as well as “shaking paws” – even if the animal’s paws are clean before they enter the health-care facility, the floors may be contaminated.
—Handlers are restricted to bringing one animal during each visit, and must keep the animal on a leash or in a carrier.
—Animals should be restricted to interaction only with the patients and their families.
—When placing an animal on a bed, a clean towel or absorbent pad should be placed between the pet and the bed linens.
—No animals should visit patients in isolation units.(In my humble opinion, this is the saddest one.)
—Although therapeutic animals are expected to be clean, bathing an animal prior to each visit is not recommended, unless the animal smells or is soiled.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY: A WEB PAGE IN DEFENSE OF CRAZY CAT-LADIES

SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY: A WEB PAGE IN DEFENSE OF CRAZY CAT-LADIES
Regular readers of this humble column know that every once in a while I like to talk about the unsung heroes of the animal world known to all as “the cat lady.” Nearly every hamlet, village, town, or city IN THE WORLD has one (or more.) I’m sure that 99 percent of everyone reading this article probably knows one. And many of you may even be one. In my many travels of this world I’ve seen these selfless, kind-hearted, dedicated defenders of all ‘catdom’ out there doing daily battle on behalf of their furry, four-legged charges: from the lady in Buenos Aries who has devoted her dying days to feeding the thousands of cats that share their cemetery home with the late Evita Peron, to a lady singing at the very top of her lungs as she fed a poop-house load of cats on her second-story balcony in San Francisco’s North Beach, to a Palestinian lady surrounded by no less than twenty lounging cats, all of them sitting in the shade in front of her lonely gas station on Israel’s Jordan Valley Road between Jericho and the Sea Of Galilee.

Readers of my equally humble second book, Sometimes It Makes You Wonder, also know that I (by virtue of being the first to do so) codified the rules for being a cat lady. A few of these rules are: 1. In order to be a cat lady, you must indeed be a lady; that is, a person of the female gender. (I know there are a few men out who also have lots of cats, but I have a way of dealing with these kind fellows that I’ll mention shortly.) 2. In order to officially be a cat lady, you need to have at least seven cats. Why seven? I’m not sure; it may be that I just like that number, or, that is the number of cats that can be fed by an average-sized bag of cat food. 3. Once you have achieved cat lady status, you are a cat lady for life. Even if you get rid of all of your cats.

My original plan for this article was to share some of my personal cat lady stories—both the heartwarming and the somewhat repulsive—that I’ve collected over the last twenty years of my dealings with these most-blessed of our fellow humans. I think I could actually write a whole book on cat ladies if I had the time! But in my early Monday morning scramble for some clarity as to what to say or not, I had the bright idea to go onto that vast, modern-day resource of all that is knowable, the Internet. And sure enough, there is a website dedicated to the subject titled the Crazy Cat Ladies Society. http://www.crazycatladies.org

The goal of the founders of the website is to try and refute the notion that all women who own multiple cats are crazy people. (For men who may be multiple cat owners, they have a male auxiliary.) In their own words: “The purpose of the Crazy Cat Ladies Society & Gentlemen’s Auxiliary is to use humor to counter the stereotypes made about people who love cats. By claiming the phrase ‘crazy cat lady’ on our own terms, we take away its power to offend, and have a lot of fun while doing so.”

After reading the website, which is basically a come-on for crazy cat lady tee shirts, I went back to the Google search page and downloaded an article which sort of put into some perspective the question whose somewhat obvious conclusions (because of my personal fondness for most cat ladies) I wouldn’t personally touch with a ten foot pole. The story on http://www.UPI.com was titled: “Cat Owners Resent ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ Moniker.” Here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting points (as well as my comments.)

“Most domestic cats live in multiple-cat households.” (No big secret here.)

“The survey found that 88 percent of multiple-cat owners credit their cats with making their lives more fulfilling and rewarding.” (Being as Theresa and I are multiple-cat owners (4), I agree with this as well.)

“96 percent of multiple-cat owners describe themselves as being ‘caring and loving,’ 90 percent use ‘generous,’ 87 percent say ‘well adjusted’ . . .” (Hum! If 87 percent of multiple cat owners describe themselves as well adjusted, than what do the other 13 percent feel about themselves? Please, please, please, all of you cat ladies (and male auxiliary) out reading this, don’t get po’d at me. I’m just the messenger!)

“Nearly one-quarter of multiple-cat owners surveyed say they would like to eliminate the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype and prefer being called ‘cat lover.’ (Cat lover is good, but in most of the hard core cases I know, cat lady—plus or minus the ‘crazy’—is still more suitable.)

(And finally, the article polled hundreds of non-cat owners as well.) “75 percent of non-cat owners describe multiple-cat owners as homebodies, 69 percent are considered by non-cat owners as lonely, and 58 percent are described as a ‘crazy cat lady.’” (What do I think of this collective opinion? I’ll close with two proverbs from my website: http://www.worldsvet.com)

“A house without either a cat or a dog is the house of a scoundrel.”- Portuguese

Proverb“When rats infest the Palace a lame cat is better than the swiftest horse.”- Chinese Proverb

Vomiting in Dogs and Cats

Of all the illnesses I have to deal with in my humble little practice, the one that gives me the most challenge is that of cats and dogs vomiting. Just for fun this morning, I typed in to the Google search engine the words “vomiting in dogs” and got 276,000 replies. I got 767,000 hits for “vomiting in cats! My point is, that with the exception of the obvious causes where the owner actually sees the dog getting in the garbage or eating a rotten deer carcass, most of the time I cannot give an absolute answer as to why they’re pet is throwing up. And it drives me crazy!

There are literally thousands of things that cause vomiting in our pets. In my practice, here are the top reasons I see. The first is the general category known as dietary indiscretion. That’s a fancy medical term meaning the dog has eaten too much of what it normally eats, or, its eaten something it shouldn’t have eaten. Some examples are: getting in the garbage, eating dead critters in the forest, getting fed table scraps by all of the visiting grand children, etc., etc. Although most of the time the problem goes away in a couple of days, it can also be fatal. Occasionally, the dietary indiscretion can lead to more serious illnesses such as pancreatitis, botulism and E. Coli infections, and rarely, intestinal blockage.

A second common cause of vomiting is worms, especially if the dog acts fine otherwise. There are a couple of theories why as to why this is so. One is that the worms literally block the intestinal tract and don’t allow food to pass. Another is that when the worms crawl and slither around in your pet’s intestines doing their little repulsive worm-things, this movement causes the guts to spasm which, in turn, leads to expulsion of the gut contents.

A third simple cause is just an uncomplicated gastritis or enteritis. By this I mean any minor irritation or infection of the stomach or guts. How do they get it? It can be something as simple as eating a piece of rabbit poop or some seeds that have fallen down from a bird feeder to getting into the compost pile. But most of time, however, we don’t know. I’m told it happens all of the time in our own species and that a good deal of the time, my esteemed human counterparts, likewise, have no clue as to why as well.

Finally, reasons number 4 through 276,000 are a little tougher and more expensive to diagnose but can include such things as: parvo virus infection in unvaccinated dogs, liver insufficiency, pancreatic insufficiency, kidney disease, intestinal cancer, spasmodic pyloric sphincter, intestinal blockage, irritable bowel disease, and on and on and on. Thanks again.

A REALLY TOUGH QUESTION: DOC, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON DOG FOOD? Part I

Some time ago, I stopped into our friendly local Home and Garden Center to pick up a bag of lamb milk replacer for my wife. (Somehow or other, she had ended up the lambing season with nine of the little darlings on the bottle.) While I was waiting for the clerk to finish with another customer, I ambled over to the store’s pet care section to see if they had anything new in the way of dog food . And, as is always the case, I was amazed by the amount of varieties and brands to chose from. We—and our pets— truly do live in the land of plenty.

Dog food! Now there’s a controversial subject for you! Forget politics, forget whether Ralph Nader got a bum deal, forget global warming, forget the status of the economy. In my modest little veterinary practice alone, I’ll bet that one out of every three dog owners that comes through the door, has an opinion, or a question, about dog food.

I can hear it out there now: “So Doc, what are your thoughts about which is, or is not, the best dog food for our pets?” Well, dear readers, my thoughts and humble opinions are many, and I think the best way of sharing them with you would be to pass on a sampling of the questions I’m most frequently asked. But before I do, let me just say that my answers are a reflection of my real-world experiences and represent my unique belief: I’ll also say, that there are lots of good men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to the study of nutrition. And many, as they sit in their all-powerful, ivory towers, will find imperfection with my answers. So be it. As my good friend Stanley would say: “Whatever floats their boat.” Here are some of my most-asked questions.

“Doc, could you tell us which is better, this twenty pound bag sitting on the floor which sells for around six dollars, or this other twenty pound bag sitting right next to it, that sells for eighteen dollars?” I’ll start right off by saying, that in my opinion, there is no such thing as a “bad” commercially-produced dog food. [I can almost hear the wailing and screaming and the tearing of garments from men’s breasts.] This is because the science of nutrition has set minimum standards of quality and nutritive value that all manufacturers, if they want to stay in business, must meet. The biggest reason that bags of the same size can cost up to three times more, is that the cost of the ingredients is greater. Look at the label of an inexpensive food and you’ll see the first listed ingredient is frequently corn, or some other grain. (The ingredients of a dog food are listed in the order of their total percentage of the product.) If you look at the label of a mid-range product, you’ll frequently see animal by-products listed as the first ingredient. (By-products are what’s left over after you remove the choice muscle meats but does not include hooves, hide or hair.) If you look at the ingredients of the premier brands, you’ll see listed as the first ingredient beef or chicken or lamb, etc. (In order to make this claim, the main ingredient has to be greater than 95% actual striated muscle meat—in other words, the “good” stuff.)

“Doc, is this difference in quality of a dog food’s ingredients important?” Without opening up too big of a can of worms here, I’ll sidestep the question slightly by saying it all depends on how you describe quality. If by quality, you mean the safety and soundness of the actual ingredients, then yes, it’s important. This aspect of quality, most of the time, is a given: federal, state, and dog food company standards insures this. (Of course, just like you can get the occasional bad burger or killer bottle of apple juice, so it is also possible with dog food ingredients.) However, if you describe the quality of a dog food in terms of the biological availability of it’s ingredients (as I do), then the answer to the question of how important the quality of a dog food’s ingredients is: Occasionally, yes, but mostly, no. [I can almost hear the screams of the educated elite and all-knowing: blasphemy, stone him!]

I’ll continue with Part II later this week.

Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs

Sarcoptic mange! Yuck!!! The very word sends creepy crawling shivers up the backs of many people. I’m getting the “itchies” just sitting here typing the word!!! Mange, specifically sarcoptic mange (there are a couple of other varieties), is nothing more than an infection by a tiny mite called Sarcoptic scabiei. These mites are so small, you could put a hundred of them on the head of a pin. I see probably fifty or more cases of the disease in dogs every year. The hallmark sign of the disease is intense, skin-ripping, non-stop, puritis (itching.) It is easily confused with fleas and/or allergies.

In humans, this disease is called Scabies. (As an interesting aside, the word scabies comes from the Latin word “to scratch” (scabere). The disease occurs world wide.
Our dogs, and rarely cats, catch the disease by coming into intimate contact with another animal who has the disease. In just about every case of mange I see here in upstate New York, there is a history of the pet having contact with a fox in the previous six months. Humans catch the disease by a similar exposure or they get it from their infected pet. (Horses, cattle and pigs also can have mange.)

We are lucky in this modern age to have very effective and safe treatments for this disease. I use a drug originally made for fleas and heart worm prevention called Revolution™ to kill the mites internally. (It is important that a dog or cat be tested and is negative for heartworm disease before using Revolution.) In my practice, I also give a cortisone shot to provide the misfortunate animal with some relief from their relentless itching. Less commonly used, but widely available worldwide, are lime sulfur dips.

My two-legged clients I send to see their family physician. A very comprehensive article on human scabies and treatment can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scabies

Thank you.

Please note: A complete, rather humorous version of this story is featured in my full length website: http://www.worldsvet.com/mange.html

SOME THOUGHTS ON PET LOSS AND GRIEF

On the extreme southeast corner of the island of Aruba, there is a wind-swept patch of grass and vine covered sand dunes, about an acre in size, known simply as The Animal Cemetery. It is here on this beautiful little plot of oceanside beach that loving pet owners who live on this happy island come to lay to eternal rest their cherished pets. Inscribed on the hundreds of simple wooden crosses and grave markers are names like Ladre, Touckey, Erica, Fiel, Dun Dun, and Argento; on many of these markers, written in either Papiamento (the local language of the island of Aruba) or Dutch, is a grieving owner’s last good-bye to their departed friends. Tenderly placed at the base of most markers is a pet’s favorite toy or simple bouquet of plastic flowers.

On one of the highest promontories within the ancient walls of Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle, in a position of high honor, lie the remains, from over the last five centuries, of British military unit’s mascots, both dogs and cats, who had distinguished themselves or had fallen in battle during their nation’s seemingly endless wars or military campaigns.

In a book of Greek literature on my library shelf is a poem written in 400 B.C. by an unknown author:
Stranger by the roadside, do not smile
When you see this grave, though it is only a dog’s.
My master wept when I died, and his own hand
Laid me in earth and wrote these lines on my tomb.

In an old National Geographic (and I’m sorry I don’t know which one; I had torn out the picture so I wouldn’t lose it, but did so anyway) there was a photograph of a ten thousand year old dog burial sight located somewhere in southern Europe. Careful excavation by archeologist revealed that the dog had been tenderly placed into the ground with flowers, food, and a few wooden objects, probably his or her favorite toys.

As the above four examples illustrate, the expression of grief at the loss of one’s treasured pet is as boundless and universal, in both time and space, as that of the anguish suffered for the loss of a fellow human being. Just from what I’ve seen regarding the heartache of pet loss in my veterinary practice alone would take me weeks to describe. This sense of grief has always greatly moved me and I often ponder the subject during moments of quiet reflection.

Books I’ve read on pet loss have one, or both, of the following explanations for this intense feeling we experience when a pet dies. The first says, that in a span of fifteen or so years (barring any accidents), we watch our dog or cat grow from infancy to adulthood to old age. And then, it seems that at the moment we finally get to really know them, they’re taken away from us. A second reason we feel such loss is that our pet’s love for us is absolute and totally non-judgmental; they love us if we’re happy, and they love us if we’re miserable. I’ve often heard it said our pets have all of the qualities we all wish we could find in our best friends.

These are good reasons, but I think the answer is far, far, deeper. I personally feel that because our cats or dogs can’t communicate with us in precise words like our fellow humans can, we must then ‘talk’ to them on a different level. We’re forced to pay closer attention to each other and be especially sensitive to the subtle details: facial expressions, body language, behaviors, etc. We almost have to be able to read each others minds. Without sounding too New Age-like, I think it is because of this deeper level of communication, that we grieve so when a beloved pet dies. For an all too short period of time, we establish such a powerful cosmic connection with one another, that when this bond is broken by death, a large part of us dies as well.

Thanks again.