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! 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
Please note: A complete, rather humorous version of this story is featured in my full length website: http://www.worldsvet.com/mange.html
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.
“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 great city of Edinburgh, Scotland is magnificent Edinburgh Castle. Built on the highest mountain crag for as far as the eye can see, the castle is the most-visited sight in all of Scotland. At the very top of this great structure are The Scottish National War Memorial with its scrolls of names of the hundreds of thousands of Scottish men and women who made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of their nation, and, humble little St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh. It’s 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 thrill and reverent awe I felt as I stood upon that truly ancient and hollowed ground.
Looking over the walls from St. Margaret’s Chapel, visitors can see just below a small well-manicured grassy plot. This little patch of invaluable 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. And as I was researching these dogs for a story I that I could possibly incorporate into a readable 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 “disposal” after the bullets stopped flying was—for lack of a better term—mostly quite reprehensible, especially for the Vietnam War dogs. I’ll close this paragraph by pointing out that Bugs Bunny got his own postal stamp; so far our government has denied this honor to these great dogs. Which brings me back again to the Dicken Medal. I’m grateful to the Wikipedia website 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 the 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 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. (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 only 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, once again as I write this humble article, the brave men and women of our Armed Forces are on the fields of battle. Be they on the ground, on the seas, or in the air, as we commemorate their dedicated service to our country on this veterans, and the services of all of those who came before them, let us make it a point to never forget their valiant sacrifices.
+ alcohol poisoning in dogs, Chocolate Poisoning, Christmas story, Christmas tree dangers for pets, pancreatitis, Pet Care, Pet health, raisin poisoning in dogs, tylenol poisoning in dogs, Uncategorized, Veterinary Medicine, vomiting in dogs
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, one of the last things a person or a family needs to do is to make an emergency visit to their veterinarian because of a sick pet. Even though it is impossible to list all of the thousands of things that can cause harm to our cats and dogs in this short report, my hope is that by highlighting a few of the more common problems I see or hear about in my veterinary practice every year around the winter holiday season, that I can help save your pets any unnecessary misery—or perhaps even save their lives. Not to mention that, in these financially difficult times, such emergency visits often cost a huge amount of money. The complete seven page report which includes toxic dosages, action plans, and poison control center phone numbers is available *FREE* on my website: http://www.worldsvet.com
Of all of the emergency calls I get from pet owners during all hours of the day and night, one of the most common involves dogs (mostly) and their intentional or accidental eating of chocolate. From brownies to chocolate fudge cake mixes, from Hershey’s Kisses to imported Belgian chocolate-covered cherries, everyone wants to know, “Doc, can chocolate kill my dog?” The answer is, “Depending on how much they ate, yes, yes, yes. It can!”
2. THE HOLIDAY MEALS
Every year, beginning around one week before Thanksgiving and lasting until about a week after New Year’s, I see a huge increase in really, really sick dogs (mostly) and cats (infrequently.) These poor critters are really hurting! They all are vomiting—retching would be a better term—some have diarrhea, and most have so much pain in their abdomens that they have to stand in a stiff, straight-legged, sawhorse stance. Almost all of them have an acknowledged recent history of what we veterinarians call dietary indiscretion. That is, these dogs and cats consumed either purposely, accidentally, or by their own covert efforts, more of something that they normally eat or consumed something that they should not have eaten at all!
3. THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND ASSOCIATED HOLIDAY DECORATIONS
There are hundreds of hazards that can potentially exist in a pet’s encounter with a Christmas tree, and it is impossible to list them all. Hands down, the biggest problem I see involving the Christmas tree are cats (mostly) and dogs consuming the tinsel. Besides the potential danger of absorbing the heavy metals on these tin or lead-coated tinsels, the biggest danger is them getting stuck in the pet’s intestinal tract, causing what we veterinarians call an intestinal blockage.
4. GRAPES AND RAISINS
The fact that grapes and, especially, raisins can be toxic to our dogs and cats is quite surprising to many people. But now that you know better, and from now on: NEVER FEED ANY GRAPES OR RAISINS TO YOUR PETS AGAIN! As few as seven raisins can kill a dog.
5) ALCOHOL POISONING
Pet owners and their guests usually forget to take into consideration that dogs are significantly lighter in body weight than humans. The twelve-ounce glass of spiked eggnog that causes 140-pound Aunt Debbie to dance naked on the dining room table can potentially kill 40-pound Clyde the basset hound. A second problem with intoxication (again using the example of Aunt Debbie) is that of inhibiting the dog’s inhibitions. When you lower this inhibition by alcohol or other drugs, your “nice” doggie could potentially turn into a biting and snarling (as we vets say) land shark. When this happens, you and your family and guests could get seriously hurt.
6. HOLIDAY PLANTS
Along with everything else our poor pets have to contend with during our holiday season, it is important as well to keep in mind our festive holiday plants. I’ll mention a few of the more common problematic plants, but it must be kept in mind that a complete list would fill volumes.
●Poinsettia, American mistletoe, Holly, Most forced bulb plants (daffodils, narcissi, tulips, autumn crocuses), Lilies, Amaryllis, and probably hundreds more!!!
●●American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
●●ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435
7. ALL OF THE OTHER STUFF MOST PEOPLE DON’T THINK ABOUT
The list of items that can harm or kill your pet is infinite. But with an owner’s common sense and constant vigilance, the holiday season can be one of joy and excitement for all. Although far from complete, here are a few more things to pay attention to: Christmas candles and scented oils, onions, bread dough, seasonal medications, antifreeze, deicing products, batteries, tylenol, macadamia nuts, and many, many more.
Pet owners are welcome to download the complete seven page version of this report *FREE OF CHARGE* from my website: http://www.worldsvet.com
Picture this heartwarming image in your mind: A Thanksgiving Day feast with the whole family sitting around a large table overflowing with a bounty of delicious and scrumptious foods. Dad is there at the head of the table reverently preparing to carve the succulent, perfectly-cooked, plump and juicy turkey. Grandma and grandpa are there, as well as brother-in-law Joe and his family from Alabama. And just as this Norman Rockwell-moment is about to reach its blissful conclusion, sweet little Fifi, the family’s slightly obese apricot poodle comes scooching by, in plain sight of everyone, dragging her nasty butt on the dining room carpet.
Discussing the topic of anal pruritus (Pruritus ani is the medical term for having an itchy butt hole) can be a little bit embarrassing. That having been said, it’s still an important aspect of your pet’s health, and if there is a problem, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Most of the time, the problem is uneventful; on rare occasions, anal itching can be a sign of potentially life-threatening disease.
Hands down, the most common problem I see with regards to a dog’s (and occasionally the cat’s) itchy rear end is anal gland disease in all of its various forms. For owners who are not familiar with anal glands, here is a short description. Dogs, cats, and skunks have two structures in their anus called anal glands. And what they are, are scent glands. Located at 4:00 o’clock and 8:00 o’clock within the muscles of the anal sphincter, what is supposed to normally happen is that when the dog poops, as their feces pass through the anus it squishes theses glands which then empty their, pungent, musky-smelling, contents on to the dog’s poop. This glandular secretion represents the dog’s unique smell. It is this smell that other dogs are trying to distinguish when the sniff each other’s butts or crap. The normal condition of anal glands is empty. When anal glands fill up to full capacity, they hurt the dog like a tooth ache!
This leads to the most common cause of itchy butts: Anal Sac Impaction. With anal sac impaction, FOR REASONS UNKNOWN, the dog’s anal glands don’t empty like they are suppose to. Dogs with impacted anal glands will drag their butts (known as “Scooting”), rub their rear ends against trees and door jams, and generally seem to look back at and appear anxious about their back sides. Sometimes, and quite most commonly, the only symptom the owner notices is their poor dog “just don’t act right”. I get that last symptom a lot! They sometimes will also chew and mutilate their tail heads, crotch, or area around the anus.
The cure for anal sac impaction is to just have the sacs emptied by your veterinarian. It may be the only time it may need to be done in the dog’s life; it may need to be done monthly. My personal rule-of-thumb is that if the anal sacs have to be emptied (the medical term is expressed) less than monthly, then the owner should consider having the glands removed. Although it is not a bonding experience between you or your pet, I have also taught owners to empty their dog’s anal glands.
Before I proceed, clients usually ask me what they can do to help prevent impacted anal glands. The answer to this question is that there is NO Answer. The cause has been blamed on everything from being over weight to lack of exercise to the phases of the moon to the Clinton administration. There are a lot of claims to curing this problem, but I’ve found none to work with any reliability.
Closely related to anal sac impaction is Anal Sacculitis. This is a condition where the anal glands become inflamed and are very often infected. This is a very painful problem for your dog and needs to be attended to medically by your veterinarian. Most of the time they respond well to simple antibiotic therapy. Again, THIS CONDITION MUST BE TREATED. If it isn’t, it can lead to anal gland rupture!. These are pus-filled, draining tracts to the outside skin in the region below the dog’s butt hole.
Finally, with regards to the various types of anal gland diseases, is Anal Gland Cancer. Known medically as apocrine gland adenocarcinomas, these tumors are a very serious problem that cannot wait to be taken care of. These tumors tend to be quite aggressive and often the outcome is not good. Besides the usual symptoms of itching or scooting, other signs you may see are difficulty in pooping, and in advanced cases, signs of drinking lots of water and peeing.
Other problems that cause your pet to constantly have itchy butts are bacterial, fungal, or parasitic skin infections (dermatitis) and their very close cousin, skin allergies (I see this a lot!) This problem is sometimes difficult to diagnose precisely. But what I tell my clients is that if the dog or cat is itching all over, licking their feet obsessively, or are constantly shaking their heads and having ear infections, than dermatitis must be included as a possible reason for the pet’s itchy butt.
Other causes of anal pruritus that are closely related to dermatitis are having worms and fleas. For reasons that have always completely baffled me, having worms is the first reason that owners seem to think of when they see their dog scooting or itching his or her butt. In my experience, as it pertains to itchy rear ends, worms are very uncommon. That having been said, routine worming with a worming product recommended and dispensed by a veterinarian should be part of your pet’s larger overall health care history.
Fleas, on the other hand, are quite common. For reasons known only to the flea, these pesky little critters love the area around the dog’s anus. Maybe they like the flavor. Treat the pet for fleas, and if the dog stops itching their butt, then that’s likely the problem. My preferred treatment for fleas is a product known as Advantage, or its close cousin, Advantix.
The other causes of itchy rear ends in dogs and cats are not all that common, but include constipation, bee stings, bug bites, a bone stuck in the butt hole, etc. Sometimes we veterinarians can’t find any obvious problem. Sometimes, it turns out that dogs just like to lick and itch their butts!
Dear readers, its starting all over again, only it seems to be earlier than normal. That is, its time again for having to deal with ticks. I know, most-precious readers, that I just spoke about these little guys last fall, but I’ve got to do it again because there are still pet owners freaking out and doing all sorts of bizarre things to remove these repulsive little critters from their pets. It isn’t even May yet, and I’ve already seen an olive oil-doused tick, a nail-polished tick, and a barbeque-butted tick. This last one barbequed the poor cat as well. (The cat survived, but will be missing portions of his ears.)
But first—as I am prone to doing—I need to ramble a bit.
I learned a new word yesterday. While researching this article on the internet, I came across the words “Sisyphean task.” From the second I saw this phrase, I knew it had to be talking about me and my unending task of trying to save cats and dogs from the “good intentions” of their owners. The phrase takes its roots from the Greek myth of Sisyphus. In the myth, Sisyphus, a king of Corinth, was punished by Zeus by being condemned to eternally roll a heavy stone up a hill. And each time he neared the top, the stone would roll back down again forcing him to have to start all over again. A sisyphean task, therefore, relates to any endless and futile undertaking.
But the myth of Sisyphus is also about perseverance. 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 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 make fun of you, or any of that other nonsense; I do it because all of the methods I mentioned above are wrong ( actually, some are down-right stupid.) And its important to KNOW these techniques are wrong because, when it comes to ticks, there could be life or death consequences for your pets.
By killing the tick violently with any of the above mentioned substances or techniques, you cause them to lock-up, or clamp shut, their mouth parts. This clenching-down reflex of their jaws is the reason a tick will leave it’s ‘head’ in our pet. But even more dangerous than just simply leaving their ‘head’, is what happens just before the tick dies.
What happens is that as the tick wiggles and writhes in it’s death throes because of whatever junk you applied to it, the poor little beast will expel whatever blood it has in it’s guts into the dog or cat. Unfortunately, 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 backwards. Unless it’s a mentally-deprived tick, it will let go. A rubber or exam glove should be worn, and make sure afterwards, you wash your hands. If you are too squeamish to touch one of these little guys, you can grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin with a pair of tweezers, and gently pull straight backwards. There is a new invention out there called a Tick Twister that seems to work good as well. http://www.ticktwister.com/index.html.
After pulling the tick out, 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 don’t, or if you’re not sure, bring it, and your pet, in to you veterinarian. Thanks again.
There is a little-known event that occurred shortly after the time of our Lord Jesus’s birth which, for unknown reasons, the authors John, Matthew, Luke, or Mark chose to leave out of their Gospels. The wondrous biblical story of the shepherds out tending their flocks around Bethlehem and their seeing a star in the sky announcing the birth of the newborn king is well-known to all; likewise is the tender nativity story of the infant Jesus lying in a manger surrounded and being warmed by the breaths of cows and sheep and donkeys.
But what was not told in the Gospels was that there were also reindeer at the nativity of Jesus. It turns out that one of the three wise men from the east was actually more from the northwest, from the area of the present-day countries of Russia and Finland. It was this wise man who brought along his herd of nine reindeer. And it’s the exploits of these reindeer’s selfless courage that is one of the greatest untold stories of all time.
It turns out that while the nativity scene we are all familiar with was playing itself out, a savage and bloody battle of monumental consequence was occurring in the pasture land surrounding the stable. King Herod in Jerusalem, upon hearing of a newborn king being born in Bethlehem, sent an armed patrol of Temple guards out to find the baby Jesus and then to kill him. But as the soldiers approached the stable, the reindeer, whose super-strong sense of smell detected the danger several minutes in advance, stood prepared to defend the infant Jesus, even if it meant losing their lives in the process.
And fight, they did!
Even though the soldiers had the advantage of having sharp, hardened-steel swords, the reindeer had for themselves just as good a battle weapon: their large antlers. After an hour of heated combat in which one after another of Herod’s soldiers fell from their wounds or fled out of horror at the fighting skills of the fearless warrior reindeer, it was finally all over. The evil King Herod had lost, and baby Jesus would live to adulthood to carry out his earthly mission to save mankind.
But there was one very serious problem: The bravest warrior reindeer of them all, Rudolph, was mortally wounded. In the heat of the battle, one of the soldiers’ swords hit its mark on the fearless reindeer and had seriously sliced off the end of his nose and muzzle. He now lay on the cold and rocky ground, profusely bleeding to death. Because there was nothing else they could do, his brother and sister reindeer comrades, either by instinct or divine guidance, all at once gently slid their huge antlers under the nearly lifeless body of their fallen comrade and carried him into the warmth of the stable.
Not quite sure what was going on, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was at first a little apprehensive about letting these huge animals too close to her newborn son. But her heart was softened when the word began to filter in of the brave defense they had just put up to protect them all, and she agreed to let them set the wounded reindeer down in the warm straw next to her son. As Rudolph lay there clinging to life, struggling with every ounce of energy in his body to breathe through his severed mouth and nose, the baby Jesus began stirring in his cradle with an obvious great agitation. Seconds later, as if he could actually see and understand what was wrong with Rudolph, the infant reached out his right hand toward the reindeer.
Maybe it was the bright red blood-soaked head that caught His attention, perhaps it was the loud and heart-wrenching gurgling noise being made by Rudolph as he lay there gasping for breath; or maybe it was His infinite compassion at the sight of one of His Father’s creatures suffering so badly that made him want to reach out and touch the wound. Whatever the reason was, seeing that Jesus wanted to be closer to this brave reindeer, the wise man from the north knelt down beside Rudolph and very gently lifted the reindeer’s head upward so it would be in reach of the newborn king.
When the reindeer was close enough for him to do so, baby Jesus reached out his hand—just as he would in later life do with the lepers and the blind and all of the afflicted of mankind—and placed it upon Rudolph’s bloody mutilated nose, and then he just left it there. All who watched on that cold winter’s night were in awe of the miracle they were to witness.
As His precious hand rested upon Rudolph, the reindeer’s nose began to glow with the radiance of a hundred suns. And as the minutes passed, the reindeer began to breathe normally; soon the animal was beginning to stir. After what seemed an eternity, baby Jesus removed his hand. In another minute, Rudolph—still very shaky—began to stand up.
After yet another minute, with all his senses fully back in his control, Rudolph managed to reduce the intensity of his bright, shining, and now-healed red nose to near normal so it wouldn’t blind everyone present. He then turned toward the baby Jesus and lowered his head in solemn reverence and thanks to the newborn king of Kings.
Baby Jesus looked back at him and smiled.
And it was from that holy night over two thousand years ago that Rudolph and all of the brave reindeer who fought so valiantly to save the infant Jesus were entrusted with the duty of helping all the children in the world on every Christmas Eve.
I was talking with my friend Stanley the other day about a small problem I was having. *For new readers to this humble column, Stanley, is my garbage man/philosopher friend who is a profound observer of the human condition and one of the greatest thinkers I’ve ever met. My problem was about how to tastefully (perhaps that’s not the right word to use) discuss such a hard [sorry!] and very crucial issue such as constipation without straining [sorry!] or offending any of my treasured readers’ delicate sensibilities. After all, constipation just isn’t something that is discussed in polite company. And as he always does, however, Stanley had the answer.
He reminded me, that first of all, I was a doctor, and that doctors are supposed to talk about this stuff like constipation. Bowel movements are life and death important! Secondly, he reminded me that one of the more less-notable side-effects of the Clinton Presidential Administration was that personal topics that were historically considered taboo with regards to decent public discourse, suddenly became part of our nation’s collective awareness. From the press conferences in which President Clinton discussed his personal choice of underwear with teenage girl interviewees, to embarrassed parents having to scramble for answers to their kid’s questions of just what exactly the big deal was concerning Ms. Monica, our great country found itself bound-up [sorry!] in an all-time lowering of public and private standards from which it has yet completely recovered. And so with those thoughts in mind, I’ll just get things moving [sorry!], and boldly go [sorry!] where no Veterinary Blogger has gone before.
I’ll begin by saying that your pet’s bowel movements are an important reflection of its overall health. By definition, constipation (dyschesia is the medical term) is the inability of your pet to perform a bowel movement (defecate, pooping, crapping are other words that can also be used.) In any discussion I have about constipation, one of the first questions people always ask me in regards to their pet’s bowel movements is, “how much and how often is normal?” The answer is, “whatever is normal for your pet.” From conversation I have with clients on the subject, twice a day seems to be the average frequency for bowel movements. But please keep in mind that once every two or three days is not uncommon either. “Nothing in, nothing out” as the old saying goes, is very appropriate, especially in dogs. If they eat a lot, they will poop out a lot.
Dogs and cats that are constipated most often will look and act like their having difficulty in defecating. They hump-up like they gotta go but nothing comes out. Often they will cry out in pain. This behavior is important to keep in mind because I get quit a few phone calls and office visits from clients who feel their pets are constipated just because they haven’t had a movement for a couple of days. Sometimes they’re bound-up, but most of the time they just haven’t pooped because they didn’t need to. In advanced cases of constipation, the pets will begin vomiting.
The causes of constipation in dogs (and cats) are many. They could have impacted or infected anal glands. Impacted anal glands leads to severe discomfort during defecation and, ultimately, to constipation. Some medications and drugs can cause constipation. On long-haired dogs, feces can become entangled in the fur around the butt and physically block the flow of feces. With these pets, it’s important to keep them groomed. Another cause of constipation are swollen prostates in un-neutered male dogs.
But almost exclusively, the biggest cause of constipation I see is when the poor critter consumes more bones than is good for it. The consumed bones splinter as they are chewed, and these fragments then become like sharp knives sticking out of the sides of the feces which then cause the dog tremendous pain. And the list goes on: psychological stress, dehydration due to insufficient water consumption, lack of fiber in the diet, etc. And I’m outta room Thanks again. PS: If you were offended by Stanley’s political commentary, address the hate mail to him, not me. His address is: email@example.com
At the busiest moment of my Friday-afternoon’s office hours, an emergency phone call came in from a dear client who I’ll call Miss Jones. Normally soft-spoken and always very reserved, the elderly Miss Jones was now on the other end of the line screaming uncontrollably in what seemed to me a state of mortal terror. When finally I could ask her what was wrong, she screeched at the top of her lungs that she and Muffy (her pampered white Persian cat) were watching the Oprah Show on TV. Hoping to calm her down some, I sort of jokingly said that she shouldn’t watch Oprah if it scared her so much. I could tell by the short pause and her low growl that she wasn’t amused.
She continued on to say that as she was sitting there on her sofa, engrossed in the tragic plight of Oprah’s latest guest, she suddenly became aware of a cool wetness on her bare leg. Looking down toward little Muffy (who was sound asleep on her lap), she noticed to her absolute horror that a slimy little white worm had crawled out of the cat’s rear end, and was now scootching its way across her lower thigh.
From the description that she had given me, I told her it was probably just a simple tapeworm, but I’d like to see it just to make sure. Could she bring it in? She answered that this was no longer possible because she smashed the repulsive little critter beyond recognition with the TV remote control.
Tapeworm infection in dogs and cats is very common and, fortunately, the methods of diagnosing the disease are fairly simple. Most of the time, my clients will actually see the white and sometimes wiggling parasite in their pet’s feces. Other times, the owners will find only the dried, rice-like worm segments around the anus of the pet or on the furniture where the animal sleeps. Dogs will often drag their butts on the ground (scooting) to ease the irritation of the emerging worms. Sometimes the only clue an owner may have of a tapeworm infection is that their pet has a dull thin coat or a sickly appearance or is just not as active as usual.
A major culprit in the spread and continuous reinfection of tapeworms is the common flea. When I tell my clients this, I always get one of those looks of disbelief. But it’s true. Put very simply, a flea eats a tapeworm egg. This egg then hatches inside the flea and undergoes a couple of larval growth stages. Then, in the course of grooming itself, the dog or cat unknowingly eats the tapeworm-loaded flea and, in the course of digesting this flea, releases the tapeworm into the intestines. Here it attaches to the gut wall and sets up housekeeping. Your pet can also catch these parasites by eating rodents and consuming the uncooked meat and guts of tapeworm-infested domestic and wild animals.
Besides being just plain gross to look at, tapeworms can be a serious health risk to both pets and humans. Managing tapeworms should be part of a broader parasite control program that includes all of the nasty intestinal worms that our dogs and cats can get. Treating tapeworms with over-the-counter worm pills is rarely successful because the most common breed of worm is resistant to these products. The worm pills sold by most veterinarians are the only ones that will work with any reliability. Keeping fleas under control is also an important part of tapeworm management.