Controversy in the Kennel: Issues in Pet Care
Just as with human health, the field of animal health is filled with unsettled—and sometimes unsettling—issues. Is it okay to declaw a cat? What kind of flea control is best for a dog? How can we tackle the animal over-population problem? And are we over-vaccinating our pets? This last question is probably the most controversial one right now, so let’s start by looking at the vaccination issue.
THE PROBLEM OF OVER-VACCINATION
Imagine your doctor saying, “Today you’ll be getting vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, hepatitis, and tetanus. And, while you’re here, why not get your flu shot as well?” You’d probably drop your jaw in disbelief. Yet many people think nothing of subjecting their companion animals to multiple vaccinations year after year. Our puppies and kittens start life with four or more initial shots, followed by a five-in-one or seven-in-one booster each year for the next 10 to 15 years of their lives. Animals are vaccinated and revaccinated against a whole slew of conditions—far more than we humans are. This use, or overuse, of vaccines is a cause of great concern.
Not just the alternative, but the conventional veterinary community as well now link overzealous vaccination protocols to numerous problems. One particularly disturbing side effect is a kind of fibrosarcoma—an aggressive vaccine-induced tumor—sometimes seen in cats following a rabies or feline leukemia vaccine. The condition, named vaccinoma, develops at the injection site in 0.3 to 0.7 percent of vaccinated cats, which is an unacceptably large percentage considering the severity of the disease. One researcher, Dr. Dennis W. Macy, professor of oncology at Colorado State University, estimated 22,000 such cases in the mid-1990s, and found that more cancer developed when vaccines were repeatedly given at a particular site over time.1 In addition to cancer, many veterinarians believe that chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, thyroid disorders, skin problems, intestinal disease, and arthritis, are at times associated with vaccines.
In recent years conventional veterinarians have become increasingly aware of the problems stemming from over-vaccination. A leading professional publication, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has been reporting on the controversy; in one article entitled, “Are we vaccinating too much?” several veterinary experts conclude that the need for annual parvovirus and distemper boosters has not been established and that the practice of administering weekly parvovirus vaccines to young puppies is unnecessary and possibly harmful.2
Fortunately, a new trend in veterinary medicine is to vaccinate less frequently. Instead of automatically revaccinating each year, some doctors are choosing to inoculate animals every three years. Veterinary organization guidelines are changing; veterinary teaching hospitals at Colorado State University and the University of California-Davis, for example, are encouraging veterinarians to vaccinate adult dogs against rabies, parvovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and distemper every three years instead of annually. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association is reconsidering annual vaccine guidelines, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners already encourages the three-year approach. These new official guidelines, combined with an insistent, knowledgeable public that demands greater caution, could influence more veterinarians to be conservative in their vaccination protocols.
In allopathic medicine, vaccines are believed to immunize against disease by imitating the disease process. With the introduction of weakened (attenuated) or killed viruses or bacteria into the body, the immune system is fooled into producing protective T- and B-cells against the foreign invaders. In the event of a future exposure to the virus or bacteria, the cells are supposed to remember their former encounter and respond by producing appropriate antibodies against the disease.
But the homeopath would argue that the conventional vaccine does not guarantee protection and that it may not help at all. (Actually, the only way to truly establish life-long immunity is to survive a disease.) Rather than protect, vaccines interfere with a living organism’s vital energy (a force called chi in Oriental medicine). Disease symptoms may be suppressed, only to resurface years later with a greater vengeance or to manifest as some other disease. Many believe, for instance, that the deadly parvovirus is a mutation of feline distemper, another fatal disease, because it first appeared shortly after widespread inoculation against distemper.
Homeopaths attribute life-long problems to conventionally practiced vaccination. The term for these vaccine-induced illnesses is vaccinosis. Vaccinating a dog against canine distemper, for example, may suppress acute symptoms of the disease, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, but at the same time initiate chronic gastritis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and appetite disorders. Similarly, administering a rabies vaccine may foster the continual expression of restlessness, uneasiness, apprehensiveness, and viciousness characteristic of the disease. You will not see the original diseases—distemper or rabies—but you will now have distemper vaccinosis or rabies vaccinosis, chronic vaccine-created illnesses. (This is not to say that you should forego vaccinating your pet for these two particular diseases, as we shall discuss later.)
In some instances, vaccinosis may even contribute to death from the disease a vaccine was designed to prevent. When a vaccine creates a chronic illness in an animal (or person) who is highly susceptible to the disease, a later exposure to the natural form of the disease may result in the natural disease combining forces with the established disease to create an illness more life-threatening than the original illness.
When vaccinosis is present, treating symptoms of a disease homeopathically may fail unless the original cause of the problem—the vaccination—is treated first. Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D., a veterinarian practicing classical homeopathy, concluded that this is more the rule than the exception after discovering that many hard-to-resolve cases improved only after the use of Thuja, an anti-vaccine remedy.3
Homeopathic physicians believe that problems arise because of the way vaccines are given. When you inject a virus or bacteria you bypass the body’s natural filtration mechanisms. Usually, the mouth and respiratory system are the first lines of defense against communicable diseases. In the article “The case against immunization,” Richard Moskowitz, M.D., argues that when we vaccinate we short-circuit these very important primary responses to disease. He explains that “by cheating the body in this fashion we have accomplished precisely what the evolution of the immune system seems to have been designed to prevent: we have placed the virus directly in the blood, and given it free and immediate access to the major immune organs and tissues without any obvious way of getting rid of it.”4
Vaccines introduce substances in addition to viruses or bacteria that the body must now fight off. They contain antibiotics or fungicides used to protect the vaccine against bacterial contamination, and aluminum sulfate or mercuric oxide added to carry viral particles into the body in the injection procedure. Also, the medium in which the vaccine is grown, such as chick embryo or fetal bovine serum, enters the body and can trigger adverse reactions.
Looking at the big picture, many homeopaths wonder whether the widespread use of conventional vaccines is suppressing natural disease to such a degree that it will have serious consequences to the health of future generations. Many would agree with Dr. Moskowitz when he says, “… I have always felt that the attempt to eradicate entire microbial species from the biosphere must inevitably upset the balance of nature in fundamental ways we can as yet scarcely imagine.”5
The reason for Dr. Dodds’s reservations about nosodes is the lack of reliable studies done on their effectiveness against disease. The only studies done so far, conducted in England, were not well controlled. One nosode trial, conducted in the U.S. against parvovirus, one of the most lethal diseases that can strike dogs, showed that the nosodes did protect the puppies in the trial against the disease. But this one case study alone does not constitute enough evidence to make generalizations about the use of nosodes, and questions about these substances as an alternative to vaccines are still unanswered. Anecdotally, there are cases where people have treated dogs with nosodes instead of vaccinating them, and the dogs have not gotten sick. But in such uncontrolled circumstances there is no way of knowing whether the dogs were actually exposed to the diseases that the nosodes were intended to protect against. More research on this vaccine alternative needs to be done.
However, there is another way to use nosodes that has been proven effective. These substances may be administered to a dog or cat, before or after vaccinating it, as a preventative against adverse reactions to the vaccination. In these circumstances, the use of nosodes is entirely safe and runs virtually no risk of side effects. Nosodes can also be administered after a dog is known to have been exposed to a disease such as parvo, and in these cases nosodes are known to help the dog’s condition. These are sound alternatives to the risk of using nosodes in lieu of all vaccinations.
A veterinarian with extensive experience around the issue of nosodes is Dr. Charles E. Loops, a conventionally trained veterinarian who now practices homeopathy almost exclusively. Dr. Loops believes that the most important factor in prescribing nosodes in lieu of vaccines is simply the feelings of the pets’ owners. After you have researched the vaccination question extensively, you may decide that your pet is not likely to be exposed to the common diseases that vaccinations are intended to prevent, and that you simply do not want to run the risk of vaccinating your animal. In this case, says Dr. Loops, “There is a place for using nosodes to help in case there is an exposure to one of these diseases.” However, Dr. Loops shares Dr. Dodds’s concerns about the lack of studies conducted on nosodes. The result of this lack of evidence is that, at present, nosodes are used randomly, without a body of knowledge to guide their application to specific diseases. Their effectiveness has not been proven—sometimes they seem to work, he points out, but at other times, they don’t. Using nosodes, according to Dr. Loops, “… is the sort of thing where you have to look at the situation, and look at the individual nosode before you use it. It’s not a straightforward subject.”7
You may want to vaccinate only for the most important communicable diseases. Because of the dangers associated with vaccines, many holistic veterinarians encourage pet owners to take a long look at the risks and benefits of each vaccine, and to choose only the ones most needed. When two or more are necessary, space shots two to three weeks apart or rotate vaccines so that the animal is not getting several every year. Three vaccines that most holistic veterinarians recommend for dogs and cats are those for rabies, distemper, and parvovirus.
The rabies vaccine is high-risk—as mentioned earlier, it will cause vaccinosis in a small percentage of cats—but it’s necessary as it is required by law for all dogs and cats in most localities. To minimize side effects, the rabies vaccine should be given by itself, and homeopathic antidotes—discussed later—should be given at the same time.
Distemper is a cruel, fatal disease striking both dogs and cats that can be easily controlled with a vaccination, which has been around since the 50s. Before the vaccine was developed, distemper was an epidemic that took the lives of thousands of animals. Since the advent of the vaccine the incidence of distemper in vaccinated, domesticated cats and dogs has fallen dramatically.
Parvovirus is another lethal canine disease, which first appeared in the 1970s. Since a vaccine was developed in the late 70s, the incidence of parvovirus in domestic dogs has also been slashed. In the opinion of many holistic vets, then, canine and feline rabies, canine and feline distemper, and canine parvovirus are the only vaccines that should indisputably be administered to all pets.
With regard to other vaccinations, each case needs to be considered individually. Feline leukemia is a disease against which cats are routinely vaccinated, and yet the vaccine is not all that effective. Not only that, but there are problems. As mentioned earlier, feline leukemia is one of the vaccinations to which cats may have serious adverse reactions, including injection-site fibrosarcoma tumors, which must be surgically removed. In light of this, the owner of an indoor-only cat, who is not likely to come into contact with any other cats, including other cats brought into the household, may feel confident in not giving the feline leukemia vaccine to his or her pet (only 1 percent of indoor-only cats manifest the disease). On the other hand, the owner of an indoor-outdoor cat, or outdoor-only cat, who will run a greater risk of exposure to feline leukemia, needs to seriously weigh the risks and benefits of the vaccine before making a decision (30 percent of outdoor cats develop an acute form of the disease). By the way, if your cat tests positive for the disease be sure to test again in three weeks to be extra certain that the first result was not a false positive reading.
Try to avoid vaccines of lesser importance, especially when there are other, less drastic ways to treat the condition. For the average, healthy pet, the corona virus is not a significant disease; it just causes a bit of orangy diarrhea that will go away in a few days when the animal is kept warm. A less healthy pet might succumb to this infection, though even here the usefulness of the corona vaccine has not been established.
Boarding kennels will only take animals that are inoculated annually with the bordetella vaccine. A problem with the procedure is that kennels will take animals the day after they’ve been vaccinated, long before immunity to the disease has had a chance to develop. In fact, after a single vaccination of bordetella, you need to wait two to three weeks and then follow with a booster before getting any sort of immunity at all. Also, the vaccine is not really necessary, according to retired veterinarian Lester Morris of New Jersey. “To me, it’s like a human being getting a cold,” he says. “You get over it.”9 If your animal has had the shot once and its immunity is proven via blood titer, have your veterinarian write the kennel a note so stating, along with results of the titer for proof. As an extra precaution, supply your pet with extra vitamin C and echinacea during its stay. When deciding whether or not to vaccinate, consider whether your pet is exposed to other animals (in or out of your house) and what diseases are prevalent in your part of the country.
There is quite a bit of concern about animals, especially those in Northeastern states, contracting Lyme disease. While this fear might be somewhat overplayed (only 5 percent of dogs that are bitten by ticks contract the disease), you will still need to take preventive measures; however, vaccinations are not the hoped-for solution. In fact, both short- and long-term effects of the Lyme vaccine are proving to be as devastating as the disease itself, or even more so. Soon after the inoculation pain, the animal may have local reactions such as swelling, pain, and even an allergic reaction leading to breathing difficulties. Later on deeper difficulties may develop. These include immune suppression and autoimmune reactions in any number of body systems. Thus, your dog or cat may develop seizures, arthritis, dermatitis, or thyroiditis. Repeating the Lyme vaccine annually could prove devastating with the development of kidney or liver disease, or even cancer. The best line of defense against Lyme is to examine your dog (or cat) after a walk, especially around the eyes, in the ears, between the toes, above the shoulders, and under the neck. Should you spot a tick, pull it off with tweezers, making sure the head is intact, and flush it down the toilet. In addition, you should check your animal’s Lyme titer yearly. Should the disease be present, take appropriate measures needed to fight the disease while at the same time building up the animal’s immunity.
In addition to administering only the most important vaccinations at sensible intervals, there are other important considerations. Before vaccinating, always consider the health of your animal. Is your pet lively and vigorous, or does it have symptoms of an immune system that is already compromised? If your pet is fighting cancer, for example, or experiencing a flare-up of a chronic health problem, it’s best not to further disrupt its immune system with a vaccine. Although vaccine labels clearly state, “for healthy animals only,” some veterinarians will vaccinate sick animals regardless of the warning unless an informed owner insists the animal not be vaccinated at that time.
If the animal is undergoing another medical procedure, such as spaying or neutering, your pet’s doctor might think that this is an easy time to vaccinate, but you should never allow it. Multiple procedures, anesthetics, and medications will place further stress on the immune system and at the same time may lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Never vaccinate an animal that is younger than 6 weeks old. Preferably, shots should begin at between 9 and 16 weeks. Youngsters acquire a natural immunity through the antibodies in their mother’s colostrum, the first milk feedings. This protection may last as long as 14 to 16 weeks. When vaccines are given too early, maternal antibodies may interfere with immune response. Here’s a good beginning vaccination schedule for puppies and kittens, developed by Robert Goldstein, V.M.D:
9 weeks—distemper, modified-live vaccine (killed not available)
12 weeks—parvovirus, killed vaccine
15 weeks—repeat nine-week immunization
18 seeks—repeat parvovirus, killed vaccine
21 weeks—rabies, killed vaccine (three-year, if possible)
9 weeks—feline distemper/rhinotracheitis/calicivirus vaccine (combination only)
12 weeks—repeat nine-week immunization
15 weeks—rabies, killed vaccine (three-year, if possible)10
Detoxification after an inoculation is essential. To offset possible negative side effects from vaccines, many holistic veterinarians give their patients the homeopathic remedy Thuja, which is considered the most important antidote for preventing or reversing vaccine-induced illnesses. Realize, however, that Thuja, like vaccines, is not a panacea, and that the best approach is to vaccinate as little as possible. Thuja can be bought in health food stores in a 12X or 30C potency, or ordered from Boericke and Tafel at (800) 876-9505. While this remedy is best begun the day after the inoculation, if Thuja is administered at a later date, it will still work to detoxify the animal. One to two pellets (depending on the weight of the dog or cat) should be given daily for seven days. As with other homeopathic remedies, Thuja should not be touched with the hands but placed on the crease of folded white paper, crushed with the back of a spoon if too large to swallow, and poured into the animal’s mouth. This procedure will maximize the remedy’s effectiveness. Another vaccine antidote is Viratox, which can be ordered through veterinarians from Homeo Vetix at (800) 521-7722. A teaspoon of this remedy is taken daily for two weeks, beginning on the day of the first shot.
Because the correct approach to vaccinating is so essential to the well-being of your beloved cat or dog, it is well worth a review:
Initially, vaccinate only for the most important communicable diseases.
YOUR CAT NEEDS HIS CLAWS, BECAUSE …
… basically, because he’s a cat. That’s why, in the controversy about whether or not you should declaw your cat, I come down squarely on the side of those who say, “Don’t do it.”
Let’s go back 50 million years. Paleontologists have discovered that an early ancestor of the cat that lived at that time, called Miacis, was like the cat of today in that it had beautiful fur and retractable claws. Since earliest times, a cat’s claws have been one of its most exceptional features. Indeed, they’re a vital part of its anatomy—in essence, what makes a cat a cat. Your cat depends on its claws to walk, run, sprint, climb, and stretch. Removing a cat’s claws is not only painful, it’s also damaging to your cat’s physical health and psychological well-being. In fact, in the U.S. and abroad, pet shows recognize declawing as an inhumane procedure and ban declawed animals from participating.
A cat’s claws serve many functions, the most important of which is protection. A cat uses its claws to climb to safety when escaping trouble, and to scratch an enemy when cornered. It will claw surfaces to condition its nails and to visually mark its territory. A cat’s claws give it the footing it needs to get around. Cats will also claw for relaxation and entertainment, although when the object of the entertainment is the family sofa, pet owners can get peeved.
Indeed, destruction of furniture is a prime reason some owners and veterinarians view declawing, or onychetomy, the surgical removal of the claw, as an option to be considered. Fortunately, though, this point of view is becoming less popular, and for good reason. Declawing upsets a cat’s physical health and causes great psychological distress. Removing a cat’s claws is like amputating the ends of our fingers—it’s very painful. Claws also contain energy meridians, which means that their removal results in disrupted energy flow, and, therefore, diminished vitality. During its long period of recovery, the cat will walk with great difficulty. For the rest of the cat’s life, its balance will be shaky, increasing the risk of injury from a fall. Also, the cat’s muscles will gradually weaken after the procedure. What’s more, a poorly performed surgery might result in a post-operative infection, hemorrhaging, bone chips, the accidental cutting of the foot pad, nerve damage, pain, or the regrowth of deformed claws.
An important consideration is that without claws, cats lose their ability to climb. Cats minus their claws feel helpless, and the profound stress they experience makes them more receptive to diseases of the immune system, including feline leukemia. In addition, a cat that feels threatened might start to bite. To mark its territory, the cat might begin to urinate around the house or apartment. A declawed cat can never leave home. If it should get out through some unforeseen circumstance, its life may be in peril. It’s important for cat owners to realize how essential claws are to a cat’s physical and emotional health and, conversely, how detrimental it is to remove them.
Another surgical procedure to end scratching is the tendonectomy, in which the tendons to the claws are cut. After the procedure is performed, the cat still has its claws, only it is unable to use them properly. While this approach is less invasive than the onychetomy, it will nevertheless scar the animal physically and psychologically and should, therefore, be avoided as well.
Train your cat to use the post by placing its paws on it and moving them. Kittens will catch on more quickly than older cats that are already in the habit of clawing household items. If your cat returns to its old ways, don’t give up. Redirect your cat by picking him up and once again placing him next to his scratching post. If the trouble persists, the next time you catch your cat clawing the carpet, squirt him with a little water.
Cats also love their own furniture, such as “cat condos” and other objects to climb into and onto. Designate one part of your living space the cat’s corner, and fill it with scratchable objects. Again, through behavior modification techniques, your cat will learn where clawing is appropriate and where it is not.
Trimming your cat’s nails on a regular basis will cut down its need to claw (see Chapter 3 for how to do this). And when all else fails, buy Soft Claw, a product recommended by veterinarians. In addition, when decorating, look for items that have the least claw appeal. Furniture made of a smooth wood is less enticing to a cat than furniture with a coarse finish. Also, consider short-pile carpets or hardwood floors rather than deep carpets that cats can easily grab. You might finish windows with attractive blinds or shades instead of long drapes.
INSECT REPELLENTS: THE NATURAL, AND THE NOXIOUS
Whenever dogs and cats return home from time spent outdoors they run the risk of bringing back unwelcome guests. Some animals—the less healthy ones—are more susceptible to parasites than others, and certain locales present greater challenges. Flea infestation is especially rampant in Southeastern states, where, in the worst-case scenario, their vampire-like attacks deplete blood faster than it can be replaced, and sometimes result in the need for a blood transfusion. Fleas also carry diseases—they can transmit haemobartonella to cats—and they can promote allergies.
Because parasites can be extremely destructive we want to annihilate them through any means possible. For several decades we have looked to chemicals to do the trick, but the results have been less than perfect. While fast-acting insecticides may initially prove effective, resistant strains always win out in the end. As history reveals, the fittest survive, and we become plagued by even more powerful super-bugs. “Insects become immune, so companies have to double whatever the chemical is to try to get through another few generations,” observes herbalist Janette Grainger, author of Natural Insect Repellants for People and Plants.11 Of course, retaliation with harsher and harsher chemicals is no solution, since ultimately it is impossible to outwit nature. At the same time, we are poisoning the very animals we are trying to protect.
We should not attempt to obliterate a part of nature that’s lived for millions of years even if we do not understand its purpose. What we should realize, however, is that when an insect population is out of control it means that something in the environment is out of balance. Similarly, when a dog or cat is covered with fleas the animal’s immunity is weak and not in balance. Of course a few fleas or ticks on a dog or cat is normal, and, believe it or not, even healthy. Consider that research on horses raised in an atmosphere completely free of parasites showed the animals to become much more susceptible to parasite-induced diseases when confronted by these insects later in life. The immune system is actually strengthened by the presence of some parasites. In the same way, an occasional flea or tick will strengthen your dog’s or cat’s ability to withstand future bites.
This is not to say that fleas and ticks do not present problems, such as allergies and disease, that must be dealt with. Left unchecked, they can multiply at a rapid rate and wreak havoc on your pet and in your environment. As a first line of defense, it is generally preferable to use natural remedies. There may be times, however, when natural products cause adverse reactions, and occasions when an animal is so compromised by a parasite that a quick chemical intervention may be necessary. Consider your animal’s state of health and then select the best option. Whatever the choice, be sure to simultaneously build your pet’s health with good food, herbs, and supplements, so that it will become strong enough to fend for itself in the future.
Holistic treatments work especially well as preventatives. Start with a strong foundation by providing your pet with healthy basics: a good diet and vitamin and mineral supplements. That alone will provide basic protection, as hearty animals have a strong natural immunity to fleas and ticks. They may pick up a few parasites during a walk in the woods, but these pests are less likely to thrive and more apt to leave and pursue a less sound host.
For extra support give your dog a supplement containing brewer’s yeast (or blood-building vitamin B12) and garlic. (But note that cats do not tolerate garlic well.) Brewer’s yeast rubbed into the skin will also act as a natural repellent. In addition, a drop of apple cider vinegar added to the animal’s water bowl daily will discourage fleas and ticks while building the pet’s immune system.
Many holistic vets guide their clients in the use of herbal methods of flea and tick control. Whether these products are eaten or sprinkled, the herbal scent will linger on the skin, but don’t wash it away too soon because the odor acts as a natural insect repellent. When you do clean your dog, use a shampoo containing tea tree oil. (Again, cats do not do as well with this.) If you’re applying the oil directly, be sure to dilute with water, as full-strength tea tree oil, if licked off and ingested, might cause some GI-tract irritation. Other herbs that will deter insects include eucalyptus, rosemary, sage, bay, basil, lavender, pennyroyal, and citronella. One good product, Earth Animal’s Internal Powder, contains high-quality vitamins, minerals, and herbs, and can easily be mixed into an animal’s food. Some people also report good short-term results with Avon’s Skin So Soft.
Groom your pet every day, especially in flea and tick season. Fleas like matted hair that they can crawl into. Brush the hair the wrong way, and then back to the way it should be. When you’re finished, sprinkle your pet with a powdered herbal repellent or spray on some diluted oil, being careful, of course, not to spray the eyes. To dilute, use a tablespoon of the essential oil in a pint of water. This is good to do for temporary protection, for instance, just before a walk in the park. Try a small amount of pennyroyal (highly effective, but dangerous if too much is used) or eucalyptus, or, to be extra effective, combine two or three oils, such as eucalyptus, rosemary, and sage.
When a multifaceted holistic approach is followed consistently, natural remedies can also diminish, and sometimes even eliminate, a flea population that’s already settled in. To begin, you will want to bathe your pet in an herbal bath with anti-flea ingredients. Or try bathing the pet in salt water. Either method will kill many pests. Water alone will drown the pests, but the addition of herbals will kill flea eggs as they hatch. As we’ve mentioned, certain herbs can be ingested as well. Two formulas to consider are available through Earth Animal: One is called No More Fleas, and the other No More Ticks. Herbal flea collars will help decrease the flea population on a small pet.
Rather than pollute your house with poisonous insecticides and chemical fogs, sprinkle a boric acid formula or a diatomaceous herbal powder on your carpet. Straight boric acid may be too concentrated and, therefore, dehydrating and harmful to your pet. [A good formula can be ordered from Flea Busters at (800) 353-2786.] Let this sit for a day before vacuuming. Along with the powder you will pick up dead and dehydrated fleas. Any eggs that hatch at that time will not survive. In the yard you can sprinkle tobacco dust, although beneficial organisms may be destroyed along with the fleas. A safer alternative would be a nematode that has been developed to eat flea larvae and eggs. These can be purchased at organic nurseries.
Some people who work with animals say that because physical disturbances reflect disharmony on the emotional and spiritual planes, flower essences can be of benefit, too. They believe that balancing the emotions releases the animal from the fear and anxiety that give parasites the incentive to attack, and spiritual balance increases the animal’s vibratory rate so that physical and emotional problems will not manifest. One flower formula designed to discourage fleas is Anaflora’s Be-Gone. This 12-flower formula contains windflower, said to stabilize mood, temperament, and physical vitality; lilac and wisteria to balance the nervous system; and even a flower called fleabane.
There are incredibly harmful substances on the market that you want to avoid at all costs. Some of these formulas contain highly noxious nerve gases, but because small amounts are administered, these products have earned FDA approval. What is not taken into account, however, is the fact that these toxins’ effects are cumulative, so that ingesting a little each month can eventually have devastating effects. Also, oral medications should be avoided, as these products poison the system and work on the ludicrous supposition that an animal’s blood can be used to deliver toxins to fleas. And be aware that chemical flea collars found in supermarkets and pet stores may pose serious dangers. Reactions may include rashes around the neck, and fur and hair falling out in these same areas. Many of the aforementioned products carry labels that advise purchasers to wash their hands after use and not to breathe in the dust. One has to wonder: Are not dogs and cats living, breathing creatures too?
Realize that even the best topical chemicals are not completely safe. Everyone is raving about one popular brand on the market today, but its application with gloves and placement at the back of the neck where the animal can’t lick it off say something about its toxicity. In a short time, the insecticide works its way all over the body, and although the label says it does not penetrate the skin, at least to some degree it must.
The fact is that three years after introduction of this product, the first signs of its not being so safe are becoming apparent. While some animals appear to have no bad reaction, the veterinary literature contains numerous accounts of such side effects as severe rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Adverse reactions are seen more often when the product is used frequently, that is, more than once a month.
So use these products judiciously—for one or two consecutive months only. If a bad reaction should occur, scrub the animal well to remove the product. And even if your animal has no apparent problem with the product, it’s still wise to build your pet’s strength with good food and flea-prevention supplements. As Dr. Robert Goldstein explains, the best antidote is sound health: “You want to get to the point where the fleas are no longer interested in the animal.… Using an insecticide kills fleas, but it doesn’t change why the flea was in that animal to begin with. You have to change that animal, and that comes with boosting its immune system and changing its diet.”12
SPAYING AND NEUTERING
Watching a cat or dog tend to her newly born infants may be delightful, but finding good homes for the average puppy or kitten can be a difficult task in a world overpopulated by animals. Animal shelters everywhere are on a mission to educate owners about the importance of spaying (the removal of a female’s ovaries) and neutering (the removal of a male’s testicles). If performed at the right time in an animal’s life, the operation will not only prevent reproduction but also promote better health, behavior, and safely.
Neutering is a simple surgery that involves making a small incision in the ball sacs, removing the testicles, and putting some powder on the wound. Older puppies sometimes need a few stitches. Spaying is more involved; it requires making a small incision in the belly and removing the ovaries. Every veterinarian trained to work with small animals is qualified to perform sterilization. It is considered a safe procedure, and since the patient is completely anesthetized, it is painless as well.
Timing is all-important. Because young puppies and kittens require smaller incisions and have less tissue to be removed, shelters tend to spay animals extremely early in life. Sometimes the animals are as young as two or three weeks old. This is terribly wrong, as invasive surgery is severely stressful to an animal just starting out in life. It requires exposure to heavy doses of anesthesia for 25 to 30 minutes—the average length of time it takes to spay—and afterwards to high doses of antibiotics to counteract any bacterial infection that might occur. As antibiotics destroy helpful intestinal flora along with unfriendly bacteria, the ability to assimilate nutrients becomes compromised. These animals tend to weaken and become sick. An animal should never be spayed or neutered at less than six months of age. Performing the operation between six and eight months, just before the first heat, is wise. At this point in the animal’s life, some hormones are beginning to kick in, which keeps the animal in better balance. Some people prefer to wait a little longer. They feel that if you can keep your dog or cat away from other animals it’s best to sterilize after the first heat so that even more hormones are released. (Females should never be spayed in heat. As the organs are larger and more active at that time, the operation may result in complications.) Older animals are able to keep themselves cleaner, too, minimizing the likelihood of infection. The age of the animal when it is spayed or neutered will make all the difference as to whether the results of the procedure are destructive or stabilizing.
When performed at the correct time, spaying or neutering will help an animal enjoy a better quality of life. Nervousness, irritability, and aggressiveness—the type of stress that leads to health and behavior problems—will be gone. Neutered males have a lower incidence of prostate cancer, and spayed females have less mammary and ovarian cancer. The animal will exhibit calmness year-round, and your relationship is bound to improve as he or she focuses less on other animals and shows a greater appreciation for you. A spayed or neutered animal is also a safer animal, in that it is less likely to run away and get hit by a car, get into a fight, or eat objects it should not eat but otherwise would due to its natural urge to forage.
Some people feel that sterilization is an unnatural procedure and prefer to keep their cat or dog segregated from other animals during heat. But this is difficult to do, as an animal will continually cry to attract a mate, and will escape at any opportunity. In light of an overpopulation problem of astronomical proportions, why take chances of contributing to that problem? Consider that every unneutered animal in the world could be accountable for the birth of thousands more. This is no exaggeration: In one year, an unspayed dog could produce 16 puppies; in two, she and her offspring could produce 128; in three, the number could increase to 512; in four, you could see 2048; in five, 12,288; and in six years you could have 67,000 puppies! For cats, the numbers are equally staggering. With so many facilities willing to spay or neuter at a low cost, there is no reason not to do so. If you would like your children to witness the birth of a litter, instead of adding to the numbers crisis, rent a video. You will be teaching your children how to act responsibly and at the same time doing a great service for animalkind.
Euthanasia of a terminally ill or critically injured animal as a last resort is an act of compassion, but what of the 12 to 20 million healthy companion animals that are “put to sleep” in animal shelters each year? In a world flooded with surplus animals, is ending their lives a necessity or mere convenience? Do other options exist? What does the easy and widespread disposal of companion animals say about our attitude toward animals and, on a larger scale, our sense of morality?
People who do not take animal adoption seriously may discard an animal for any number of reasons. The animal may be more difficult than anticipated. They may discover that it chews the furniture, tears the drapes, soils the carpet, barks excessively, or is overly aggressive or too territorial. Or it may no longer fit into the owner’s lifestyle. A baby is about to arrive, for example; a fiancé doesn’t like animals; the new apartment does not permit pets; the cat might destroy the refinished furniture. There are dozens of reasons people let their animals go.
One person who knows firsthand about unwanted pets is Valerie Angeli, director of public information at the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Angeli receives many calls from frustrated owners anxious to give up their cats and dogs and reminds us that “… adopting an animal is a responsibility much like adopting a two- or three-year-old child that is totally dependent.… If you had a child who had behavior problems you wouldn’t think of putting it up for adoption. Once you make a decision to get rid of an animal, you’re saying something very serious and kind of tragic.”13
People may drop off an animal at a shelter hoping for the best, but in reality there is little hope left. Giving an animal to a shelter is generally synonymous with putting it to death. Most animal shelters are animal control facilities whose purpose is to get rid of the excess animals in society. Due to severe overcrowding at these institutions, the cat or dog deemed adoptable will have from two days to a couple of weeks to actually get adopted before being killed. Death usually comes in the form of a lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, although other, inhumane methods are used in some places. They still club animals to death in certain shelters in the south and Midwest, Angeli sadly reports. The larger tragedy is that most of the animals that are killed are perfectly healthy, and would make good pets. It’s just that there are not enough good homes. With millions being dumped into shelters annually, Angeli states, “It’s a fantasy to think that all these animals get homes. It’s just not true. There is an absolute crisis of pet overpopulation in this country and all over the world.”
There are many who believe that euthanasia of surplus animals, though a great tragedy, is a compassionate last resort for an overflowing animal population. One argument would be that animals are dependent on humans, and when there is no quality of life in the natural world—no guarantee of food, shelter, companionship, and safety—it is an act of caring on our part to end their suffering. It is more merciful to end an unwanted animal’s life in a relatively painless way than to subject it to a world replete with danger—abuse, neglect, starvation, and isolation. Most animal shelters wholeheartedly believe this to be their mission and take pride in never turning an animal away.
But opponents of euthanasia question the ethics of killing surplus animals. They believe companion animals have the same right to walk the earth as humans and that ending a healthy animal’s life is a moral failure on the part of man. Perhaps the fault lies with the average person’s perception of animals. We dispose of our animals so readily because we do not really see them as lifelong companions but as commodities, something owned, like an automobile, and easily replaced. We lack empathy, notes Craig Bestrup, author of Disposable Animals: Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets, which is why we can destroy without feeling. Bestrup asks, “What is it like to live in a cage in a strange place, surrounded by anxious animals and unfamiliar people, approached and repeatedly stepped away from by strangers, and perhaps aware that death lies just around the corner?” Animal shelters, well-meaning as they are, may add to the tragedy by making it so easy for people to dispose of their pets. Bestrup asserts that we must end the mass killing of animals and that the need for the macabre practice of euthanasia will end once people become more responsible caretakers. This commitment involves seeing animals as our companions rather than our possessions, recognizing the value of an animal’s life, taking charge of its reproduction, and realizing that adopting an animal is a lifetime commitment.14
If your pet is a purebred, contact a breed rescue group. These groups are composed of volunteers who are fans of a specific breed. Whenever they hear of a dog from a certain breed about to lose its home or its life they will place the animal in foster care until a permanent placement can be found. Breed rescue lists can be found through the ASPCA and the American Kennel Club Association, and on the Internet. Contacting a breed rescue group is also a great way to adopt a purebred. Not only will you be providing an animal with a desperately needed home, but you will spend just a fraction of the cost charged by a breeder.
Other options are small rescue groups and local shelters that are non-animal-control facilities. If your animal is accepted, it will remain there until it gets adopted (barring any severe behavior or serious and irreversible health problems). The ASPCA in New York—not to be confused with independently run SPCA’s around the country—is one such organization. Founded over 135 years ago, and long thought of as the dog catchers of New York City, the institution ended its policy of destroying animals in 1995. At that time, the ASPCA reconsidered their mission as a humane organization and shifted its focus to education. The ASPCA spays or neuters all animals before releasing them for adoption and teaches people about why this is so important. It also advocates adopting from a pound rather than buying from pet stores for ethical and practical reasons. Other small non-animal- control facilities include Bide-a-Wee in New York and the Humane Society of New York.
Finally, it is wise to plan ahead for your companion animal in the event you become injured or die. Talk to a family member or friend who might be willing to take your animal into his or her home, or contact a non-animal-control shelter. “Remember, there are options,” states Angeli, “but you have to be your animal’s voice and your animal’s advocate because you’re all they have.”
1. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 207:4, Aug. 15, 1995, p.421.
2. “Are we vaccinating too much?” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 207:4, Aug. 15, 1995.
3. Pitcairn, Richard H., D.V.M., Ph.D., “A new look at the vaccine question,” Proceedings of the 1993 American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Annual Conference, p.22.
4. Moskowitz, Richard M.D., “The case against immunization,” The Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, March 1983, 76, p.7.
5. Richard Moskowitz, M.D., ibid.
6. Gary Null interview with Jean Dodds, V.M.D., 3/10/00.
7. Gary Null interview with Dr. Charles Loops, 4/13/00.
8. Gary Null interview with Richard Palmquist, V.M.D., 3/14/00.
9. Gary Null interview with Lester Morris, V.M.D., 7/13/00.
10. “The Vaccination Question,” Love of Animals, January 1999, p.3.
11. Gary Null interview with Janette Grainger, 3/14/00.
12. Gary Null interview with Dr. Robert Goldstein, 3/23/00.
13. Gary Null interview with Valerie Angeli, 9/10/00.
14. Brestrup, Craig, Disposable Animals: Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets, Camino Bay Books, 1997.