Regular readers of my humble webpage know that I constantly rant and rave—to the point of being annoying, I’m sure—about the need for dog and cat owners to stay up to date on two things with regards to their pet’s health: their pet’s vaccinations and their pet’s parasite control. And over the years I’ve used many stories and parables to try and highlight my never ending struggle to get the word out to you dog owners with regards to an especially deadly disease of dogs called parvo virus. I think the following story of the myth of Prometheus sums up my never-ending battle perfectly.
The gods of ancient Greek mythology were really quite a bunch of rascals. And although many of them seemed obsessed with mating with various hapless human mortals, and inflicting all kinds of plague, corruption, and despair upon us, there were a few who tried their best to improve the human condition. One of the more famous of these ancient gods was Prometheus.
Prometheus, whose name in Greek means Forethought, was the son of Iapetos and Klymene. He was given the task by Zeus to form man from water and earth. After doing so, Prometheus took a great delight in his creation and, despite Zeus’s warnings against doing so, gave mankind all sorts of good stuff: brickwork, woodworking, healing drugs, numbers, the alphabet, yoked oxen, carriages, ships, and, perhaps the most precious gift of all, fire.
He stole fire from Zeus by hiding it inside the stalk of a fennel plant. When Zeus realized what Prometheus had done, he was mad—REALLY MAD. And so as a punishment for his disobedience, Zeus had Prometheus chained to Mt. Kaukasos in the Caucasus Mountain Range to hang there until his anger subsided. To make the ordeal even more difficult for Prometheus, Zeus sent a gigantic Caucasian eagle to feed on his liver. And so it went for 30,000 years. Each day, Zeus’s eagle would peck away and devour poor old Prometheus’s liver. And each night, the torn immortal flesh would mend, so that the next day, the eagle could peck away at it again.
I can hear it out there now: “This is a weird story, Doc, but what does it have to do with parvo virus?” Well, it’s like this.
In my veterinary practice, as I’m forced to stand there looking down at these sad, innocent, and dying young dogs on my exam room table, and all the while having to listen to the blah, blah, blah, endless number of feeble excuses their owners are giving me for not having had their poor beast vaccinated, I often feel like good old Prometheus. But instead of having my liver pecked out, it’s my heart being ripped out instead. And sometimes it’s tough to take.
Parvo virus is a ghastly disease that can affect all dogs, mostly puppies, that literally causes them to vomit and crap themselves to death. Most victims tend to be the offspring of mother dogs who themselves were never vaccinated. The disease is spread mostly by fecal/oral contamination. That is, an unvaccinated or poorly-vaccinated dog catches the disease by smelling/licking the diarrhea and vomit of another infected dog, or, by coming into contact with a disease infected environment, such as a dog park, kennel, or infected household. Parvo disease is HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS.
Without hospitalization at a medical center that has a quarantine facility, parvo disease is almost always fatal. It is, however, nearly 100% preventable by vaccination. In my practice, all dogs should be vaccinated at six, nine, and twelve weeks of age. They should then be vaccinated again at one year of age. From this point, a parvo virus vaccination schedule should be followed as recommended by your veterinarian.
Sometimes, in spite of having had a wondrous and personally-challenging veterinary education, I discover that every once in a while that I just don’t seem to have all of the answers to all of the questions my treasured clients ask me. And when it happens, I find it quite frustrating. “Doc, why did my cat urinate on my boyfriend’s brand new cowboy boots?” I don’t know, maybe your cat has better tastes in men than you do! “Doc, why does my dog pass wind when my son feeds him Coco Puffs?” I don’t know, but you shouldn’t let him give your dog Coco Puffs (and you probably shouldn’t be feeding your kid Coco Puffs either!)
In today’s article, I’m going to jump into the abyss of controversy—AGAIN!!!—and try to answer a question that I’m asked nearly every day. And what it is that boggles my mind the most when I’m asked this question is that nearly all of the people who ask the question already know what the right answer is. They know the answer already because nearly all of them are already doing it. What these loving cat owners are looking for is just for my permission to do it.
The question on everyone’s lips is: “Doc, is it OK to feed my cat milk?”
I’ll begin by answering this question with another question: How many of you gentle readers out there have ever heard of a cat actually dropping dead from drinking milk? Hum? In my short and sweet eighteen years here in this business of saving cats and dogs—as well as the occasional rabbit or cow—I’ve never ever seen or have heard of a cat dying from drinking milk.
I then tell the story of how, way back in the olden days when I still tended to sick dairy cows, nearly every farm I went to had a bunch of old car hub-caps or cereal bowls lying around in the center of their barn floors. During milking time, when the farmer pulled the milking machine off of her first cow, the first thing she would do is fill these hubcaps and bowls up to the brim with fresh, warm, milk. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, would come billions and billions of barn cats to slurp up this milk. And I don’t recall seeing a single one of these cats dropping dead.
Likewise, in my pre-veterinarian days when my wife and I were dairy farmers, we, also, were guilty of giving our barn cats milk; we just went on and on in ignorant bliss, and innocently filled those hub-caps to over-flowing at every milking. In humble first book, Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart, I tell the story of how I gave our cat Suzie (who lived nineteen wonderful years) milk every morning. Likewise, on this very morning as I’m writing this story, when I poured my first cup of coffee, I also gave a big dollop of milk to our cats, Bugsy and Screwball.
With regards to an actual medical reason for not drinking milk, I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from any of my colleagues in the world of academia. It seems to be one of those urban myths that have been passed on from generation to generation of veterinary students. If I had to make a guess, the most likely answer to the mystery would probably go something like this: About fifty years ago, some poor old professor’s cat got run over by a milk truck, just as the driver of this milk truck was running off with the professor’s wife. Then, after the telling and retelling of the story, only the keywords, milk and cat and death, got forwarded on.
In all fairness to these great veterinary minds, however, I have gotten some answers. They tell of possible lactose intolerance in some cats, possible bladder stone formation, and even the possibility of causing malnutrition. But these reasons are all kind of wimpy and none have been objectively documented, at least in my researches. One beloved professor frankly told me that the only reason she said no to feeding milk, was because she worried that some cat owners would then feed only milk—and nothing else but milk—to their cats. In short, the advice to not feed cats milk seems to be one of those folk wisdom tales whose logic seems to defy people’s real world experiences, as well as all common sense.
My final thoughts are as follows: If you’re not comfortable about the concept of feeding your kittycats milk, don’t do it!!! No real rocket science there. However, keep in mind that milk is one of nature’s most perfect foods. It contains lots of nutrition, calcium, and proteins. It’s a good laxative, which is an important thing as well for older cats. If you’re already feeding your cat a treat of milk, and everything is OK, then I know of no logical reason to stop. But please keep in mind that moderation is the key. Don’t over do it, and don’t feed only milk; make sure he/she eats cat food as well.
If you want to start giving a treat of milk to your cat, try giving him or her a small amount at first. If they don’t vomit or get diarrhea, then it’ll probably do no harm. If they get the screammy-meemie poops, then they’re likely to be lactose intolerant and you should then stop.
Clients are always asking me for advise on how to cope with the loss of their dear pets. The answers, of course, to such an emotionally-charged issue aren’t simple. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject. But here are a few things that I feel pretty much sums it all up.
As I stated in my first bestseller Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart (sorry about the shameless plug for the book), if an owner is lucky, they will be blessed with the precious gift of watching their beloved pet grow from an exuberant young puppy or kitten full of energy and life, into a mellow and faithful middle-aged companion, and then finally into a mature and loving old age. It’s a snapshot view of our own lives and of our human destinies, all summed up in 15 or so years.
The ancient Greeks described three different kinds of love. The first “philia” describes the love of a spouse, a family member, or of brotherhood. Next was “eros,” the wild and breathtaking love of sexual passion. And finally, there is “agape.” This is the unconditional, active, and boundless love that we Christians attribute to the Lord.
Although may not be on quite the same level, this agape form of love is pretty close to the sort of love our pets have for us. They love us unconditionally no matter what our mood, the way we happen to look, or how mundane our thoughts and actions might be. And it is when this emotional bond our devoted pets have developed with us is taken by death, that a large part of us then dies as well.
Those are my thoughts on pet loss. I can hear it out there now, the collective cry of all my treasured readers: “And so, Doc, how do we avoid having our hearts ripped out and stomped on the ground every time we lose a beloved pet?”
My answer is, “You can’t! Not if you’re human.”
We, that is, all of us thinking two-legged creatures have two choices when dealing with any acquaintances or experiences we run across on our journey through this life. We can chose to ignore, hide from, or just superficially deal with these encounters, and move on—and that’s OK, but only sometimes. Or, we can engage with, open up to, and exalt in the pleasures and energy and life-force of other living beings that God has chosen to place in our paths. The more we do so, the more we can learn about ourselves and the richer our lives will be.
However, separation by death is unavoidable. For many people, this is where the hard part comes into the picture. By actively engaging with our pets, and by truly sharing the gift of life with them, many owners are devastated when the time comes to let go of their precious friends.
And that’s OK also.
What I usually remind people of at this time, is that while they mourn their dog or kitty’s loss, they should also remember all that they were able to share with their lost pet, all that they learned about life from them, and how blessed they were—how truly blessed—to have had them in their lives to make their own personal journey through the world more bearable.