Tribute To Dr. James Herriot

This week, on February 23rd, we mark the anniversary of the death of Dr. James Herriot.  It is vital that we pause to reflect on the difference one person – one veterinarian, can make.  Few human beings who have ever walked our planet touched so many people and brought such absolute joy as did Dr. James Herriot.  Moreover, his inspiration continues to this day; his books are on the shelves at every bookstore I visit and are even available as e-books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores, at the Centre in Thirsk North Yorkshire children of all ages are enlivened by the World of James Herriot (  ).  It is a reflection of his impact and timeless stories that all of this is  happening sixteen years after his death. 

James Alfred Wight, OBE took the pen name James Herriot.  His famous books; “All Creatures Great and Small”, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “All Things Wise and Wonderful” captivated me as a young girl.  They played a central role in my desire to become a veterinarian.  So many of us in the profession today owe  immense gratitude to Dr. Herriot for encouraging our life’s work and this love of animals that defines us. 

For me personally, the influence he had to help us understand the power of the human-animal bond, the artistic manner in which he painted a scene with but mere words and the captivating manner which consumed us as readers enveloped in his world – not able to turn the page fast enough, yet not wanting the book to end -also planted in me a desire to write.  If he could read  “Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life” I wonder what he would think?  In the many painstaking hours of writing, I often thought of Dr. Herriot and wondered if there was a better way to express a thought or more striking words to utilize.  He was a master at capturing the landscape, the scene, animals and people alike.  Any veterinarian who dares write a book stands in the long shadow he casts.  Yet each of us writes with a passion for animals and words that he engendered.  With that effort, we hope to honor him.

I regret terribly not having met such a gifted veterinarian and writer.  But I stand as one of his millions of fans around the world.  In this World Veterinary Year of 2011, I thank you Dr. James Herriot for inspiring a love of animals and people, a love of place and words and a passion for veterinary medicine.  Rest in peace Dr. Herriot.       

People May Infect Their Pets With H1N1

Yesterday, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued an alert regarding H1N1.  The virus was cultured from a Wisconsin cat.  Both of the family’s cats became ill after exposure to a family member with symptoms of the flu.  Even with supportive care, the cats’ conditions deteriorated to the point that the owners chose humane euthanasia to end their pets suffering. 

To protect your pets, keep them away from any human with the flu.  This is especially important for cats and ferrets who seem to be more susceptible to H1N1 than other species.  Practice good hygiene in your home by washing your hands frequently and especially before and after handling a pet.  Also, dispose of used tissues in a secure location as many pets like to get into the garbage and shred them. 

Animal Abuse Reporting By Veterinarians

Last week, I was preparing for a radio interview on animal abuse when I came across a surprising fact.  Only eight states require veterinarians to report suspected cases of animal abuse.  Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and West Virginia.  I was shocked and terribly disappointed.  Studies demonstrate that animal abusers often commit domestic violence and child abuse.  So, mandatory reporting of suspected animal abuse protects both animals and people.  I learned about this firsthand when I worked in Minnesota.  A family brought in a kitten who hurt its leg after “falling” down the stairs.  Closer inspection revealed the kitten was strangled.  The whites of his eyes were red with blood, his neck was sore and he had a broken tibia.  I reported the incident and the man eventually pled guilty to animal abuse.  It turns out he had killed many cats by crushing their skulls.  He was also abusing his wife and child.  While he was in jail, they fled the state to get a fresh start on life – away from the fear and away from the pain.    

It is my sincere hope that soon, all states will require veterinarians to report animal abuse.  Yes there are many important issues including fiscal matters that states need to address.  Still, I hope they find this issue to also be vital to correct, for the benefit of both animals and people.   

Pet Teeth Cleaning Without Anesthesia: Is It Effective?

Since February is Pet Dental Month, I thought it would be a good time to address the question of pet dental cleaning without anesthesia.  Why do veterinarians insist on anesthetizing the pet for this procedure when there are lay people who will do it without and charge much less?  Let me answer this question by explaining what happens with each approach.

In a “dental” without anesthesia, calculus above the gum line is removed from the exposed tooth.  The exposed top of the tooth is called the crown.  After the calculus is gone, the teeth are brushed and/or rinsed and the procedure is finished. 

A “dental” with anesthesia starts with diagnostic tests.  The crown and neck of each tooth are examined and the root is probed to identify periodontal pockets that harbor infection.  Over time, the infection in these pockets destroys the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in the jaw leading to tooth loss.  Next, dental x-rays are taken to identify problems below the gum line.  With the diagnostics complete, the actual cleaning begins with removing calculus from the crowns, cleaning and treating the periodontal pockets to promote reattachment of the gingiva and treatment of any problems identified in the roots of the teeth.  Lastly, the crowns are polished to remove rough surfaces that trap bacteria and the entire mouth is rinsed with an antiseptic.  

Veterinarians use anesthesia in order to diagnose, treat and clean the entire mouth, not just the crowns of the teeth.  If only the crowns are scraped, tooth problems will develop causing the pet much pain and suffering.  I have seen many pets who received dental without anesthesia whose crowns looked beautiful but the teeth were in bad shape.  Their gums were bright red and the teeth were loose.  When I pressed on the gum, pus oozed out.  I felt so bad telling the owners that the money they spent on years of dentals without anesthesia was a waste.  Now most of the teeth were beyond repair and needed extraction to make the pet comfortable.  As a veterinarian, I hate putting animals through extractions that could have been avoided with proper care. 
Just as with people, pet dental care is vital to overall health.  Please take advantage of Pet Dental Month and have your pets examined for oral health.