Feline Fibs and Canine Conundrums - a few misconceptions regarding treatment and care of our animals
Feline Fibs and Canine Conundrums - a few misconceptions regarding treatment and care of our animals
As Veterinarians, we are fortunate to meet many memorable people and animals from all walks of life. Dedicated owners do their best to care for their animals, willingly sacrificing money and time to help their companion get through an illness or injury. Sometimes however, a Vet can seem expensive, hard to get to, or stressful for you and your pet. Caring owners often look around for other sources of information and advice that can aid their animal.
Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, following advice from questionable sources can often end up doing more harm than good. Erroneous advice pertaining to ailments and general care can come from the neighbour, the Pet Shop guy, the breeder, a grandmother who ‘mind real dog’ and so on. Not all advice is bad, and it is rarely given with malicious intent. But some suggestions are so wacked out they severely compromise the health of your animal.
In a previous column, we looked at some of the mythical medical treatments that Vets encounter in sweet T&T. These include bathing your dog with T&T’s problem solver, blue soap, treating mange with car oil and diesel, home remedies for maggots including bleach, malathion dips and insecticide spray and the classic, removing the infamous ‘worm’ from under the tongue and putting ashes and salt to stop the bleeding. Just for the record, NONE of these are treatment options for ANY ailment. The worm for example is a ligament and removing it puts the animal in serious pain with NO health benefit. Here are a few more care and treatment options we have encountered that are not best practice.
An extremely popular dietary option for puppies is bread and milk. Like human babies, puppies have special nutritional requirements that change as they grow. Dogs need their mother’s nutritious milk in their first stage of life. Weaning for most pups occurs around four (4) weeks and their dietary needs change. A bread and milk diet does not meet these needs and can cause severe nutritional disorders including bone and digestive disorders. Softened commercial puppy chow or balanced home cooked diets are better options to ensure your puppy is healthy during this crucial stage of growth. Discuss with your Veterinarian what is best for your little one.
The bread and milk phenomenon is not limited to mammals. Some bird brain owners also use this for baby parrots. We have treated many parrots fed on bread and milk that come into the clinic with a serious and sometimes even life threatening condition called a cloacal prolapse. It looks like a fleshy mass sticking out from their rear end. Affected birds may not eat, may exhibit open mouth breathing, their rear end may be bloody and they may be a lot less active. To properly nourish a bird you need a balanced diet from a variety of ingredients often including fruits and veggies in addition to sunflower or bird seed. Bird food must have the six major categories of nutrients which are proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals, water and vitamins. Remember, different species have particular dietary needs and certain foods are actually toxic to some species.
When most of us watch a veterinarian give a vaccine to an animal, all we remember is the Doc jabbing in a needle. Surely then anyone can vaccinate your animal? Not true. Vaccines for animals and for people are controlled products. It is a serious public health concern if vaccines get into the wrong hands. Animals are vaccinated against diseases that affect them as well as diseases we can get from our pets, called zoonotics. Although strict rules are in place, in practice, the distribution, storage and use of vaccines is extremely lax. One can obtain vaccines from unscrupulous pet shops as well as quack (pretend) Vets. These quacks are not trained in the origin, manufacture, use and storage of vaccines. In the best case, this will mean that they may give your animal a useless (inactive) vaccine. They also do not have medical training to recognise or deal with possible complications of using a vaccine. Would you let someone other than a trained health professional vaccinate your children from polio, rubella, hepatitis or yellow fever? The same logic applies for your animals. Visit your trained animal health professional for a vaccine. In the wrong, untrained hands, in the worst cases, it can do a lot of damage.
One persistent old wives tale is that cats and common breed pothounds do not require vaccines. So not true! Pothounds are resilient, but they get sick just like a Rottweiler or German Sheppard. Pothounds can get parvo, leptospirosis, distemper and other diseases that are covered by vaccinating your animal. Cats can get devastating, sometimes fatal diseases including leukaemia and respiratory infections and vaccinating them can help prevent these.
Briefly, here are a few other myths to watch out for. Cats do not need feeding because they hunt for themselves. Unfortunately, the lizard and bird diet is not adequate to meet their nutritional needs. Please, please seek veterinary advice on feeding your cat. Finally, there is NO injection that can safely and permanently prevent a female dog or cat from having young. Your dog or cat has to have a surgery, called a ‘spay’, to remove her reproductive organs for this to happen. Many Vets sedate animals with an injection before performing the surgery but the injection does not cause the dog to ‘not have young.’ The surgery is responsible for that.
Different vets have different styles, expertise and experience. If you have not had a good experience with one of us, feel free to try a few others until you find a Doctor that can work with you and your animals.
Many thanks to following veterinary myth busters:
Trinidad and Tobago Veterinary Association (TTVA)
West Park Veterinary Clinic
Animedics Veterinary Hospital
Pt. Fortin Veterinary Clinic
Eastern Veterinary Clinic
Working as a veterinarian in the Caribbean comes with its fair share of adventures and challenges. We get some unusual stories from our clients about the care and treatment of animals. Here are some the more memorable ones we have come across:
Client - "Aye Doc, the dog have worms, but ah deal with it."
Friendly Neighbourhood Vet - "Ok. How did you figure that out?"
Client - "The worm from under the tongue. I cut it out and put salt and ashes to stop the bleeding. The neighbour tell meh the dog appetite will increase."
"Aye Animal Doctor, the cat not walking and I give it some Panadol. It still not walking and now it face swell up."
"Doc, this dog pregnant. I eh want the puppies. You think I should give she a hot Guinness?"
“The dog get worms (maggots) and ah use the black disinfectant to burn them out.”
“The dog have mange and I douse it with car oil.”
“I really doh understand why the dog’s skin so dry. Ah bathing it twice a week with blue soap / Squeezy (dishwashing detergent).”
For the record, we do not recommend ANY of these as treatment options! They are ALL HARMFUL to your companion animals. This is not to say that SOME home remedies are not useful and we will look at some of the best in a later post. Today, our focus is on the popular mistreatments.
Let’s dissect from the top.
Myth 1 – The infamous worm under the tongue – There is no worm under your dog’s tongue. It is actually a ligament, just like the one under your tongue (check it out in a mirror). Cutting it puts your animal in serious pain. Removing this ligament does not increase the dog’s appetite in any way.
Myth 2 – Giving Human medicines to your dog or cat – This should only be done under the advice of a Veterinarian. For example, Panadol, Tylenol, and Paracetamol are definitely not for cats. Cats are extremely susceptible to acetaminophen, an active ingredient in many of our over the counter pain medications. As our client aptly described, “The cat face swell up” is one of the tell-tale signs of acetaminophen toxicity. This is called facial oedema. These medications cause severe damage to the kidney and liver of both dogs and cats, and can be lethal.
Another client complained that his dog was not eating for a couple of days so he gave it his grandmother’s antibiotics. Where to start with this one? Another day, we will discuss the abuse of antibiotics and why antibiotic treatments have to be directed by a trained medical professional, not your grandmother (unless she is a Vet). In the case of our client, it was the wrong antibiotic to treat the condition, the wrong dose (amount) and he ended up doing more harm to his precious dog.
We cannot stress this enough. Unless you have specific instructions from a Veterinarian, DO NOT USE HUMAN MEDICATION on your dog or cat.
Myth 3 – A Hot Guinness to abort puppies – Seriously? This is truly one for the record book. In our beautiful Trinidad and Tobago, there is a belief that drinking a hot Guinness can cause an abortion in women. We don’t want to know how it works, but some people swear by it. Apparently, people believe the same logic applies for dogs. Just to clarify, giving your pregnant female dog a hot Guinness is not the way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Definitely visit your Veterinarian for sound and SAFE medical treatment and advice.
Myth 4 – Home treatments for worms (maggots) –In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been blessed with a warm, tropical climate and that blessing has also been extended to the flies. Flies live and prosper under hot, humid conditions and open, festering wounds are a fly’s dream! They eagerly lay their eggs in and around open wounds. When the eggs hatch as larvae (which are the maggots we see), they begin their flesh feast.
Home remedies for maggots include using undiluted chlorine bleach on the wound, black disinfectant (phenolic fluid), car oil and the infamous purple spray (TetraVet Aerosol – topical antibiotic) (pictured).
Bleach and black disinfectant are toxic, corrosive substances and can cause irreparable damage to your animal. They may temporarily deal with the maggots but the damage to skin and tissue can be quite extensive. As for car oil, don’t even go down that route. Just say no. Purple spray is one of most commonly used medications at home and works well for superficial wounds. For more serious injuries, it may provide temporary relief but can contribute to tissue necrosis (death) which delays the healing process. If wounds are not being cleaned, flies will continue to enjoy themselves, laying their eggs and producing even more hungry maggots. Depending on the severity of the maggot wound, treatment would require the animal to be sedated (with an anaesthetic), removal of the maggots, cleaning of the wound, administering of a parasiticide, appropriate medication and aftercare. Unfortunately, we have had tragic cases of maggots eating out an entire eye and feasting on a dog’s ears and brain. Many of these cases are too far gone to save. Maggots are entirely treatable when caught early, so please consult your Veterinarian for treatment options.
Myth 5 – Treatment of mange and other skin conditions – Mange is a term used to describe various more or less severe, persistent, and contagious skin diseases that are marked especially by eczematous inflammation and loss of hair and that affect domestic animals and sometimes humans(1). However, in Trini lingo, any abnormal skin condition is called mange.
Client - “Doc, meh dog have mange. What to do?”
Friendly Neighbourhood Vet - “Well bring it in. Let’s check it out.”
Client - “Doc, but ah telling yuh what it have. It have mange. Gimme a treatment over the phone nah.”
Taking the Trini definition of mange into consideration, ‘mange’ is any abnormal skin condition (localised or generalised hair loss, intense scratching, scabbing, bleeding and oozing skin etc.) which could be caused by MANY FACTORS. A Veterinarian usually has to diagnose the underlying cause prior to treating the animal. It can be extremely complex, as causes range from mites, bacteria, and yeast to hormone problems or even allergies. A diagnosis over the phone is certainly not adequate, as the cause and signs of ‘mange’ have to be figured out before treatment is issued.
The car oil therapy is one of the popular home remedies for ‘mange’. Perhaps the owner assumes that the ‘mange’ is caused by a mite or bacteria. One client informed us that the oil stifles the disease-causing organism, cutting its air supply. Well, a lot of these organisms do not need much oxygen to survive and this usually does not work. In the event you manage to kill the mite/bacteria using the car oil therapy, you will also succeed in introducing a toxic substance into your animal’s skin that could create even more problems. An animal’s skin is sensitive and fragile (just like ours!). Using harsh substances like car oil can result in a myriad of problems. Also, without a proper diagnosis of the ‘mange’ (is it allergies? is it hormonal?) any treatment is likely to be highly ineffective. So it’s best to save your car oil to treat your car. These types of treatments should be avoided at all costs.
Another popular treatment for ‘mange’ is the Trinbagonian panacea, blue soap. Blue soap, a detergent bar soap, is usually used for washing clothes. Trinbagonians refer to it as the ‘Problem Solver’. Off label uses include ritual ‘bush baths’ which are done to wash off blight (bad luck), to scrub children’s mouths when they use offensive language and for mange for animals. This so called ‘Problem Solver’ does not solve the mange problem. We are not in a position to comment on its effectiveness for the rest.
Clients frequently come in complaining that their dog’s coat is dry and flaky. A question that is always asked –‘What are you using to bathe your dog?’ many times gets the response, -‘Blue soap, sometimes 2-3 times per week. The dog smelly.” The Blue soap culprit strikes again!
Blue Soap is very harsh and depletes essential oils from the dog’s skin, resulting in a plethora of skin issues. Avoid blue soap baths like the plague. There are specific dog shampoos that are safe to use on your pets. Generally speaking, baths should be performed once in two weeks as bathing too frequently can result in excessively dry skin. Although there are exceptions (such as medicated baths that require a greater frequency of application), this is a good rule of thumb to go by.
Just because Veterinarians treat animals doesn’t mean we bite! Don’t hesitate to check in with your Veterinarian if you’re a little suspicious of your neighbour’s favourite pet cure. It could save both you and your animal a great deal of unnecessary stress and trauma.
Stories courtesy of:
Dr. Paul Crooks
Dr. Dennis Diptee
Dr. Michael Diptee
Dr. John Fernandes
Dr. Adana Mahase-Gibson
Dr. Kevern Sawh
(1) (Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary)
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