An edited version of this article was published in the Trinidad Express, Tues 17th Sept 2013
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” D. Eisenhower
Trinidad & Tobago is a difficult place to care. In recent media coverage, The Honourable Attorney General was lauded for claiming that people “should be far more concerned about the lives of people than the animals that attack them”. He has also stated that: “Whatever issue the Veterinary Association has we will treat with it, but I want to forewarn persons that I am not about to let technicality and nicety lead to the death of another person.” This administration deserves commendation for trying to tackle this highly complex issue. However, these statements suggest that animal professionals and animal enthusiasts put animals before humans. This is unfortunate and misleading. As if it is not possible to care about people AND animals.
Just to clarify here, Vets work with people and animals on a daily basis. Clinical Vets interact daily with animals and spend a hell of a long time learning about them, particularly dogs. We are professionals who are specifically trained to provide comprehensive recommendations to improve the relationship between humans and dogs. We are also the professionals on the front lines who get stuck with the unfortunate consequences of outdated or misguided legislation. Just because professionals and animal experts (including Veterinarians, Animal Behaviourists, Trainers, Animal Welfarists and others) disagree with aspects of the legislation does not mean these professionals agree with no legislation. Their opinions and advice are critical given this Bill espouses supposedly responsible ownership to end tragic outcomes involving people and dogs.
Unfortunately, the Dog Control Bill in its current state has the Veterinary community extremely concerned. It wastes resources by focusing on dogs of a certain breed rather than focusing on dogs of any breed that could be out of control. While we gamble on the breeds of dog that are classed as dangerous, we miss the importance of proper rearing of dogs, socialisation and training. As my esteemed colleague, Dr. Lezama-Driscoll of Trinidad and Tobago’s Veterinary Association (TTVA) stated, “If we choose to enact legislation that has failed in other countries, some of which have had it for as long as 20 years, what kind of governance do we have? What kind of governance are we choosing? Are we willing to pick up the dregs of another country’s laws after they are already deciding to throw it out, and re-fashion it for our own uses?” Dr. Curtis Padilla, President of TTVA gives examples of legislation that are more applicable to our situation, such as the Antigua Dog Control Act.
The Vet Association is recommending that rather than classing dogs by breed, they should be split into two groups by weight with all dogs over a specified weight required by law to be microchipped, allowing owners to be identified.
Dr. Padilla also points out that implementing the Bill will be a herculean task. He stresses that there is no transparent, accountable Authority or Management Board in place to actually get the job done. Without that, among other things the Bill is flawed. Also, the Bill seeks to use stiff penalties to prevent owners from dumping their animals. To use the AG’s term here, this is a ‘nicety’. We are no more able to enforce this law than our speeding or littering laws. Hats off if this can be implemented, but it sounds like many other things in this country, a pie in the sky.
This Bill is like trying to treat a dog with fleas. One approach is to manually remove the fleas we see on the dog and squish them one at a time. Anyone who has dealt with fleas knows it is impossible to get rid of them this way. Pull out and squish as many as you like. Without treating the root causes, the fleas will continue to wreak havoc and suck the blood out of your dog, you and your children. They will joyously multiply and spread to your neighbour’s dogs while we celebrate the few you kill as a victory. Responsible ownership has to be more than just buzz words.
In the meantime some of the dog breeds listed in the legislation, such as the Fila Brasileiro and Japanese Tosa, are as uncommon in T&T as a pet Yeti. Many Vets have never seen one and are curiously awaiting the arrival of these breeds to their clinics. If you own a Yeti, bring it in too. While we wait, many Vets will continue to try to facilitate a positive relationship between people and animals with the help of fellow animal professionals. We will encourage discussions around responsible ownership as we recognise the increasing popularity of large breed dogs over 50 kgs including Mastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and plain ole big head pothound. When any of these dogs attack, maim or kill a human it is a tragic reminder that any dog can have behavioural problems, as a result of poor socialisation, misguided aggression training and overall irresponsible ownership.
When Trinis look at bush, what do we see? Space for a new dream home? A dengue-infested swamp? Bamboo that needs cutting for a faster route to work? More evidence of CEPEP slacking?
As a nation developing quickly, it is often too easy to see bush as something that is in the way, instead of an important part of our daily lives. Knowing and valuing “wha’ it have in de bush” can help us understand that hasty development comes at a price we may not pay until later. Until, for example, our houses are buried in mud from where bush was cleared on the hillside above.
When you know what to look for Trini bush is an amazing place full of weird and wonderful life. A BioBlitz is a fun and exciting way for experts and the public to learn what is living in a particular piece of bush. It’s an exciting race against the clock where teams have 24 hours to record as many different species of plants and animals as possible. Mike Rutherford, Curator of the University of the West Indies Zoology Museum and his super team are having another BioBlitz starting from 11am on Saturday 21st September to 12.00 pm to Sunday 22nd September. People who know what to look for (scientists, experts and nature enthusiasts) will be gathering at the world renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) for another round of Bioblitzing. It is the second BioBlitz to be held in Trinidad and Tobago, the first was successfully held in Tucker Valley in 2012. Last year, experts were joined by over 200 members of the public who came for guided walks, fun nature activities and to watch the scientists work and to learn something about our beautiful Trini bush. The BioBlitz is being sponsored once again by First Citizen’s Bank.
Activities for Bioblitz 2013
Under the watchful eye of an expert and assistants, people will be organised into several teams, each focusing on different species or habitats. If you are a fellow reptile lover, join Team Reptile and Amphibian on exciting day and night searches for snakes, lizards and frogs. If you have always been a bird lover, Asa Wright is a perfect place to explore with fellow team mates as you race against the clock.
Teams are not limited to just birds and reptiles. Teams/groups include Mammals, Freshwater (Fish, Aquatic Insects, Crustaceans), Molluscs, Spiders and other Arachnids, Butterflies and Moths, Social Insects, Myriapods (millipedes/centipedes) and Worms, Flowering Plants, Ferns, Lichens, Orchids and Fungi. Each group will be briefed on how to find and record their target species or survey their chosen habitat.
One of the coolest features from last year’s BioBlitz was the base camp. This year the base camp will be set up at Asa Wright and general public can immerse themselves into a naturalist world. Here is where all the cool gadgets and sciency stuff will be housed. One will find an assortment of nets, lights, tables, microscopes, guide books, terrariums, computers and collecting and processing equipment that will assist the scientists in their work. Aquariums will be set up for displaying freshwater animals. There will be numerous opportunities to get involved, chat with fellow nature lovers and be amazed by our wonderful wacky world we are part of. Don’t want to get too hands on? There will also be Informational displays by various groups including the Trinidad and Tobago Filed Naturalist Club, UWI Zoology Museum, Asa Wright Nature Centre and Wildlife Division.
Join us for BioBlitz 2013 at Asa Wright Nature Centre. Find updates on facebook (Arima Valley Bioblitz 2013). For more details contact Mike Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1868 329 8401
Edited version Published in the Trinidad Express column, Healthy Happy Animals, Healthy Happy Communities - 12th Sept 2013
'The earth is the Lord's and everything therein' - Psalm 24
An edited version of this post was published in the Trinidad Express newspaper, June 20th 2013, under the column, Healthy Happy Animals - Healthy Happy Communities
The end is near. Finally, science and religion agree on something. Joking aside, we live in trying times. We face collapsing ecosystems and extremes of poverty, human suffering, and climate. We are losing species to extinction and our planet is increasingly unable to sustain us. To paraphrase the distinguished environmental professor Dr David Orr one thing is clear; both religious fundamentalists and environmentalists agree that things are going to hell in the proverbial hand basket.
There’s no denying (although we try) that environmental destruction is due to our activities. But the end of the world as we know it by way of an environmental mess is no longer just a concern for environmentalists. Numerous religious groups have issued a clarion call to action. Their reasoning is that if you believe that God made creation then it is a sin against God and humanity to desecrate the earth. Environmental destruction is destruction of God’s creation and there is a moral responsibility to protect and care for the earth. Over the next few columns, we will take a look at T&T’s major religious denominations (Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) and briefly discuss how all have a critical role to play. This week, we look to Christianity.
Care for God’s creation: What does Christianity say about protecting the earth?
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name, His alone, is sublime;
His splendor covers heaven and earth.
Recently a friend jokingly asked, “When Jesus comes back, what will he drive: a solar powered smart-car; a gas guzzling SUV; maybe ride a bicycle?” The question was posted on a social media site and one of the most memorable responses was that Jesus will probably hitchhike or use the bus as only God knows when it will come. ‘What Would Jesus Drive’ is actually an educational campaign initiated in 2002 by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). According to EEN, it is a more specific version of the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ or, ‘Lord, what would you have me do?’ that Christians ask themselves to help them in their daily decisions as believers in Christ. EEN states that: “Pollution from vehicles has a major impact on human health and the rest of God's creation, contributing to global warming. Obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the twenty-first century.”
The Bible is full of teachings that call upon Christians to fulfil their role and responsibility as caretakers or stewards to God, the rightful owner of the earth. It is a moral obligation. The Vatican speaks of modern social sins that include destroying the environment. Vatican City is the greenest state in the world and uses solar power to provide energy to its 40,000 households. Christianity teaches that humans are called on to care for the rest of God’s creation, not abuse it. Genesis (2:8-9), Job (38:1, 4), Colossians (1:15-20), Psalms (148:1-13) and other biblical passages outline our responsibilities towards creation. As one interfaith based organisation, Green Faith, puts it: “God calls us to exercise our ‘dominion’ just like God exercises his dominion – with wisdom, strength and loving kindness, not with destructiveness or wastefulness.”
Engaging in more than just lip service: An evangelical call to action
Christians’ role and their moral obligation as stewards for God is needed now more than ever to stem the tide of environmental destruction. As the eminent environmentalist Dr. James ‘Gus’ Speth said:
“I used to think that if we threw enough good science at the environmental problems, we could solve them. I was wrong. The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change as I once thought. They are selfishness and greed and pride. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, something we scientists don't know much about.”
If your congregation or group is not actively involved in caring for God’s creation, lobby with your fellow church goers for environmentally themed biblical readings that inspire action and stewardship. Do a little research to get started. Encourage carpooling. Have a chat with your religious leader. Share your ideas and establish a green team with other passionate stewards. Organisations like Green Faith and the Evangelical Environmental Network have loads of resources and start up kits for places of worship to begin leading by example. There are even grants available for faith-based organisations engaging with environmental issues. It can begin by simply turning off unused appliances and equipment at your place of worship to reduce energy consumption.
If you have an example where your faith-based organisation has actively embarked on answering the call from God to be stewards for creation, feel free to share your story with us.
For more information, please check the following links:
Evangelical Environmental Network
“Reading about the state of the ecological world is like reading the doctor’s notes on the progress of your mother’s terminal cancer.” - Phyllis Windle (1995)
When Professor Julien Kenny died in August 2011, one of T&T’s long-time environmental crusaders called me up. “He’s gone. The environmental world lost a hero today.” Engulfed by a feeling of sadness we both broke into tears. That day we lost not only a friend and mentor, but a respected voice who fearlessly exposed and challenged the reckless environmental destruction in our beautiful country.
The grief and sense of despair that we felt is part of a bigger picture for many in the environmental sustainability movement in T&T. Those of us that work in the sustainability sector, from teachers to fisheries inspectors to NGO workers, deal with ecological disasters such as dying coral reefs, decimation of wildlife, unregulated mining, devastated mangroves, oil covered herons, poisoned crayfish, polluted rivers and oceans, slaughtered marine turtles and other environmental catastrophes on a daily basis. We witness and deal with environmental tragedies and experience a range of emotions that are rarely acknowledged or discussed. The sadness, despair and hopelessness that often accompany our work can be quite overwhelming.
This type of grief that results from the loss of ecosystems caused by natural or man-made events is referred to as environmental grief, a term coined by Dr. Kriss Kevorikan. Environmental grief is a form of disenfranchised grief, which is described by Dr. Ken Doka as grief that is not openly accepted or acknowledged in society. Other examples of disenfranchised grief include grieving over the loss of a loved one to socially unacceptable causes such as suicide or drugs, or grieving over the loss of an animal companion. Environmental grief also includes grief for the long term environmental challenges our future generations will face. Current psychological research indicates that environmentalists may not only grieve and exhibit emotional responses similar to those experienced through immediate personal loss or trauma, but also suffer from a type of acute post-traumatic stress disorder.
Environmental grief is disenfranchised because it is generally dismissed as weakness, misplaced priorities, or even extremism.
Many express environmental grief as anger: at government for being incompetent and corrupt; at nasty corporate polluters whose greed has no limits; at individuals who bask in ignorance; and at each other for not doing enough. Trying to be calm and reassuring in a meeting after spending the morning working in vain to save hundreds of apparently poisoned vultures is a monumental task.
For those who get involved, expressing this passion or frustration will often get them excluded or side-lined in consultations and negotiations. To be effective, those who work on the front line learn to hide and internalise their grief. This is a form of what is called ‘Cassandra’s Curse’. The story goes that in ancient Greece, the Greek god Apollo fell in love with a princess, Cassandra, and gave her the gift of seeing the future. When Cassandra turned him down, Apollo cursed her so that, although she could see the future and knew what was going to happen, no one would believe her warnings so she was powerless to change anything. Environmentalists care passionately about the overwhelming environmental devastation currently taking place at local, national and global levels. In practice, however, it is very hard to do anything about it and their concerns are often dismissed. Cassandra’s curse has a very real psychological cost. Challenge after challenge leaves us weary and we are faced with feelings of disappointment and despair.
Environmental grief is not limited to environmentalists on the front line. It is shared by many in all walks of life. For example, in 2010 a video called “The legal slaughter of sea turtles in Trinidad” was filmed by Stephen Broadbridge, Marc de Verteuil and Kyle de Lima showing a marine turtle being slowly chopped into pieces for food while still alive. This caused outrage and an outpouring of grief. One description of the film captures the grief that many felt. “I couldn’t continue watching, the tears kept coming. I watched this magnificent, helpless creature take a breath while the man continued hacking. I was overwhelmed knowing the torture and pain inflicted on this animal was man-made and unnecessary.” Many other people react with disbelief, “Nah, it’s not that bad,” or feel helpless and just don’t want to know, “I can’t bear to see another dead ocelot.”
It’s pretty clear we experience emotions of frustration, guilt and despair. How do we incorporate these emotions towards a sustainable future? The answer is in understanding change. We live in a time of rapid change, both for the better, and for the worse. We have nicer houses, but more flooding. We have more food, and more obesity. While we celebrate our advances, environmental grief reminds us that we need to be mindful of the costs. Whenever something is gained, something is lost, and with loss comes grief. Accepting this grief as real and understanding that it is shared will help us make better choices as people and as a nation.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering we feel when someone or something we love dies or is taken away. Healthy people need a healthy community, and healthy communities need a healthy environment. Loss in any of those places will bring grief, and healing can only happen if we understand that we are connected. As Brother Resistance says “Let meh vibes be one with you, Mother Earth.”
We are what we eat
Though fish and seafood appear to be a healthy choice, how healthy are they? Fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, good for the brain and the heart. However, consumers, particularly pregnant women, are cautioned against eating fish with a long lifespan and other marine species such as turtle or dolphin. Since the sea is now our toilet bowl and these long lived animals hang out in our contaminated waters, they end up storing natural and man-made toxins and pollutants in their bodies which we then eat. Unfortunately cooking does not destroy many of these toxins which can cause organ, nerve and brain damage. Doctors warn mothers against eating species such as tuna, king fish, mackerel, sword fish and marlin during pregnancy because of these potential health risks.
"But I eat fish and seafood all the time", you say, "and I feel fine. Is it bad for me, or not?"
_One professional who can provide some clarity regarding the health of our aquatic compatriots and their watery world is Dr. Carla Phillips. The talented Dr. Phillips is a lecturer at the University of the West Indies School of Veterinary Medicine (UWI-SVM). She is a Vet (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and also holds a PhD in Marine Mammal Medicine and Aquatic Animal Health from the University of Florida. She is a Dr2.
One of the many roles Veterinarians fill is as guardians in the public health arena. We are responsible for production and herd medicine that focuses on the health and welfare of the animals we eat. If our food supply is not healthy, we humans are certainly at risk. The SVM is keenly aware of this link between human health, animal health and environmental health. Under Dr. Phillips’ guidance and direction, the SVM has set up an Aquatic Animal Health Unit with many ambitious aims, one of which is to help ensure that the species that make it to our tables are produced and handled safely, without deleterious effects to man, animals or the environment.
School of Veterinary Medicine's Fish Hospital and Aquatic Health Diagnostic Lab
Given the global decline in the world’s wild fisheries stemming from crashing fish populations, our wild fish stocks cannot sustain us at the rate we consume. Aquaculture is one of the alternatives that offers some hope to ensure that we can feed ourselves. Aquaculture is the farming of marine or freshwater aquatic species such as fish, shellfish, and even aquatic plants. Successful ‘aquafarms’ can be as small as a backyard setup just big enough to feed your family, or they can be multi-million dollar enterprises that intensively rear aquatic organisms for commercial distribution. The aquaculture industry in T&T has been developing for many years. However, dwindling marine resources, food safety concerns, and a resurgence of public interest in growing our own food have resulted in an increased interest in aquaculture production techniques.
Although it sounds like a great alternative to wild-caught fish, aquaculture can have a host of undesirable effects such as disease outbreaks, abuse of medication, environmental degradation, welfare concerns and unintended effects on wild populations. Dr. Phillips and her team are working with other individuals and organisations to provide standards and guidelines for the farming of aquatic organisms, especially as it pertains to human and animal health. These will encourage more sustainable practices in the industry. Through the Fish Hospital and the Diagnostic Lab, Dr. Phillips is well equipped to advise, diagnose and respond to potentially devastating problems at fish farms. Farmers and interested people can soon visit the demonstration aquaponics unit at the SVM to see a best practice model.
Your Goldfish needs a Vet too
The Fish Hospital is not just for food species. Many people keep fish in an aquarium. Sure Bubbles the goldfish may not be able to fetch sticks or wag his tail when you come home, but they do make nice pets. Pet fish (called ornamentals) such as guppies and goldfish that are sold and traded in the aquarium industry are also attended to. Dr. Phillips points out that the health, treatment and management of fish is misunderstood and neglected in Trinidad and Tobago. Many owners know very little about issues such as unregulated medication sold in pet stores, diseases of fish and proper care and management of aquarium fish. Before you decide to flush Bubbles down the sewer because he’s swimming on his side, or if he is eating like a horse but still appears way too thin and you can’t figure out why, you can take him to the Fish Hospital.
Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research
Dr. Phillips’ work also spans across to marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, and to sea turtles including our Leatherbacks. Not much is known about the majestic marine mammals in our waters and not a lot of research has been done on them locally. Dr. Phillips has medical and surgical skills working with wild and captive species of whales, dolphins and sea turtles. She is currently working on several research projects that are increasing our knowledge and understanding of these creatures. Two of her ongoing projects delve into the world of our elusive local manatee (Trichechus m. manatus) and into the health of the Leatherbacks nesting at Grande Riviere beach. Her research will assist in helping conservationists and officials make informed decisions regarding the survival of these beloved species. Dr. Phillips’ unique skills and talent are needed now more than ever. The recent deaths of dolphins in Tobago (Charlotteville and Dead Bay) raise concerns about the health of these animals and remind us of the many threats they face such as seismic activity, pollution, trawling and boating accidents.
In our world of emptying nets and potentially toxic fish, skilled veterinarians like Dr. Phillips fill a critical role in understanding the complexities of our connections to this living world. They help us keep our food, our pets, our loved ones and ourselves healthy and happy.
The Caribbean Veterinary Medical Association's 27th Biennial Veterinary Conference was held in November 2012 in Trinidad and Tobago. We presented a paper that looked at the relationship of people and animals in rural Tobago - Village to Village through a sustainability lens. Highlights of the presentation are below.
T&T's Shelter Medicine Vets
Dr. Paul Crooks and Dr. Yaseen Ali are the Veterinarians working with these shelters. Dr. Ali works at the Trinidad-North branch on a part time basis and Dr. Crooks is at the Tobago branch. Both Doctors practice in the emerging field of veterinary medicine called Shelter Medicine.
Not surprisingly, their situation is a little different from a normal clinic setting. For starters, they deal with neglected and ownerless animals. This can mean treating severe cases of disease and injury and at worst, extreme cases of animal cruelty. Dr. Crooks will never forget an incident when he was called to see a dog that the caller said was ‘moving slowly and painfully on the side of the road’. As Dr. Crooks describes it: ‘The dog was burnt, with little to no hair on most of its body. My best guess is that someone threw hot water on the dog in an attempt to treat an underlying mange condition. The hardest part for me was that when I called the dog, and he came. He still trusted in a species that had tortured him.’
The talented Dr. Paul Crooks
A Full House
Another challenge for Shelter Vets is that, unlike a traditional clinic where very few animals stay overnight, shelters have a full house of abandoned dogs and cats with new animals coming in everyday. Therefore, Shelter Vets pay close attention to prevention and managing disease transmission in a ‘herd’ situation. Dr. Crooks is a Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Veterinarian and a committee member with the TTSPCA Tobago. He has extensive experience in both farm and small animal medicine. His advice on matters such as epidemiology, disease transmission and prevention, animal behaviour and enrichment are a great benefit to the Tobago shelter. This ability to work with large numbers of animals is critical because, without proper care and attention on the part of the Vets and shelter staff, one sick animal could result in a shelter full of sick animals.
Yet another aspect to Shelter Medicine is high volume spaying and neutering. These surgeries for female and male animals prevent them from reproducing. Dr. Ali, a graduate of the prestigious Tuskegee University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, sees this as an essential tool in dealing with the problem of pet overpopulation. He explains that ‘We are overwhelmed with homeless animals that are constantly reproducing and sterilisation is one of the essential tools.’ On his clinic days, he averages from 25 to 35 surgeries. His surgical skills ensure that, in spite of the large number of surgeries, his patients recover quickly and completely. On the Tobago side, Dr. Crooks is one of the key organisers of high-volume spay and neuter education outreach programmes that target as many as 150 animals over a two-day period.
Dr. Yaseen Ali hard at work
Doing a Lot with a Little
In addition to these challenges, there is always the issue of limited resources. If animals don’t have owners, who pays for their veterinary care, surgeries to prevent them from contributing to the stray population, and for their rehoming? The TTSPCA’s Animal Shelters are not well-funded and resources are limited. Vets have limited diagnostic tools (blood tests, x-ray machines, endoscopes, etc.), technical support and appropriate pharmaceuticals to treat animals. As a result, Shelter Vets are creative and innovative in all aspects of their work and are experts at making a little go a long way.
We’re In This Together
Why do they do it? Both Dr. Crooks and Dr. Ali see the urgency of promoting responsible ownership and are committed to improving animal welfare. They both emphasise that shelter animals can make wonderful pets. Seeing a mistreated dog find a good home, seeing the owners and the animal happy together, that is what it is about. Dr. Crooks spreads the word on his television slot on Tobago’s Channel 5 giving practical advice on responsible ownership and animal welfare. He encourages people to get in touch with the Animal Shelters. They have contact information for Veterinarians and are a good resource for animal health issues. He stresses that clients should never wait with a sick animal. The longer you wait, the more complicated a case may become, and the more expensive it can be to treat.
It takes an exceptional Veterinarian to be a good Shelter Vet. You must be passionate, creative and extremely practical. You must be good with animals and patient with people. It is not an easy job. As Dr. Ali says ‘It’s challenging, frustrating at times but always rewarding to see clients come in and adopt our animals that have been spayed or neutered’.
Thanks to Trinidad and Tobago’s wonderful shelter Vets, Dr. Y. Ali and Dr. P. Crooks. To learn more get in touch with your nearest shelter or animal welfare organisation.
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
Healthy, Happy Animals - Healthy, Happy Communities