Sunday, November 27, 2011

Canis lupus 2.0..

Today I feel like reflecting aloud on dogs...Who they are for us? Where do they come from? What is their role in our ever-changing society...

Been reading a quite interesting book called "In Defence of Dogs" and a lot of the author's opinion, sort of, triggered all that will follow. I highly recommend the book for those who find time to read.

So...well...where to start? With the end? Ok let's do that! What role do dogs play in our society?
Reading the papers and all the unjustified bad publicity media is attributing to Mastiff-type dogs, it would seem that dogs are mere instruments of defence or aggression...a reflection of the violent evolution of our society!
Or are they only objects of luxury, external signs of wealth and status? The more impressive,rare or expensive my doggie is, the higher I rank in the eyes of the "others"? Fortunately enough, so many other owners just keep dogs as companions and members of their families...any type of it pure breed or just mongrels. These owners,do justice to this animal who bonds and loves humans unconditionally...because this Man-Dog union is a long standing and a somewhat one-sided love story.

Like any other animal that Man did domesticate,the dog was USED by mankind to progress as a species. Domestication only occurs when a human need meets a "suitable" species. So what could dog ancestors bring to the prehistoric Man some tens of thousands of years ago? Agility, strength and ability to track and bring down prey!What did the dog ancestors get in return? A share of left overs and a sense of belonging to a group.
Until over a 100 years ago, most dogs "worked for their living"; with each breed type well-suited to the task they were bred for.Their agility and quick "thinking", their keen senses and their unparalleled ability to communicate with humans suited them for an extraordinary array of tasks - Tracking prey, hunting for Man's food, Pulling loads over long distance; Guarding the owner's territory, Herding flocks...Then a few generations ago, everything began to change; Man evolved into an industrialised species, no longer needing dogs for survival...Yeah, come to think of it? Where would we be as a species if we were not able to hunt down and follow prey with the help of dogs? Anyways, so nowadays, only a small proportion of all dogs still "earn their living" and most of them are merely decorative or just companions.

Whilst being companions seems okay in itself, it does create a "crisis" situation for an animal that has evolved for a certain task, now finding itself forced to repress all instincts and anatomical changes that created its breed to be the desired "homely" pet in a house.I bet we should all think of that when we house a specific type of dog...what are the instinctive needs of that breed and how to help him express these...because repressing them inevitably leads to "incidents" that end up on the news.
Now, the decorative fate of many dog breeds is, on the other hand, a major injustice that Man inflicts on these animals. Most of the so called Pedigree animals have been bred just for the pleasure of the human eye...How do you manage this crisis now? Evolved alongside humans and chosen for specific traits such a agility, strength, guarding behaviour to now be a "model" with "standards" and repress all your natural instincts!What is worse, is that some crazy people decided, just like that, that it would be "fashionable" to have dogs' ears and tails cropped for some breeds? How fair is that for the dog? The word "Fashion Victim" cannot be more appropriate in these cases. Victims of Man's cruel, ungrateful and crazy dominance.Ok...I'll stop here on this theme, otherwise I will be lashing out at colleagues and breeders who practice these or all of you out there who remain silent on that cruelty!
Deep breath...and let's move on!

Where do dogs come from though?The ancestors of the canine family have been recorded long before Homo sapiens.They were small, fast little mammals that survived by outrunning the bigger reptiles around and gave rise to several branches of the Canid family, namely:The Gray Wolf, Jackals, Coyotes and Foxes. There have been a lot of raging hypotheses about the origin of our "modern-day" doggies and due to the wide variety of shapes and types they come as, it was deemed very unlikely that they could come only from one of the above. Some, like Charles Darwin and Konrad Lorenz even put forward the theory that dogs were domesticated from all of the above-named species on different continents.

Yet, DNA analysis leaves us in no doubt that all modern dogs, from the smallest Chihuahua to the biggest of all Danes, originated from....the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). All dogs share an unbelievable 99.97% genetic material with the wolf! So there we are, a born-hunter, who can live alone or in a pack being domesticated for the reasons mentioned above; evolving along with Mankind on different continents to end up as dogs in our society. Wolves do not bark,as such and there is this theory that barking was evolved by dogs to communicate with Man! Crazy huh? But in an experiment several types of barks and whines uttered by dogs were recorded and given to total strangers to listen to. All of the humans correctly guessed the psychological state(joy, fear, anger, pain)the dogs were when they were recorded.If that is not enough, how about so many dogs feeling the mood of the owners by just detecting subtle changes in body language? Wolves do not do that and it took hundred of years of closeness to Man to evolve into that animal we call "dog".
If the above does not make you feel that Mankind has been and is being UNFAIR on an animal that has always been here for humans, then maybe you should be reading other blogs and not mine!
Here we have an animal who keeps finding itself forced to change and evolve to match the ever-changing needs of the human species; who has been the faithful companion for ages and yet we are driving them on the verge of crisis everyday; yet we continue with mutilations just to fit into some dumb ass "standard" for shows; yet we keep being irresponsible and keep inbreeding them to have "perfect" specimens that unfortunately comes with a lot of genetic weaknesses and put the animal though an unwarranted perilous and disease-prone life; yet we continue to "wage a war" on the ones that are left to stray, the ones that are dumped. All the suffering and massive return for unconditional faithfulness!

For the role they have played in our history;in the name of an animal that has constantly upgraded to "newer versions" to adapt to our needs...Dogs deserve a minimum respect and consideration.
While Canis lupus had evolved to newer versions but Homo sapiens seems to be stuck on an old abusive and corrupted version!

Please upgrade...!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Yups...Outbreak... and its not a remake of that infamous movie about Ebola virus in monkeys. Its happening here, now in upper Plaine Willhems area. Since a few weeks now, I have been seeing more cases of Distemper than I ever saw in a decade!Each with "textbook" symptoms and even rare ones that I see for the first time now...

Distemper...that extremely contagious virus that leaves us vets so frustrated because we can do nearly NOTHING when presented with such cases; apart from treating secondary bacterial infection and providing some supportive therapy. Distemper...that same virus that is so easily prevented by a vaccination that is available since 1950...and yet how many dogs are vaccinated in Mauritius? I will not get angry at owners nor veterinarians or whoever and focus on the whole point of this blog: i.e.spread information that may help animals...and as someone put it; "Validate" my purpose here.

So...what is Distemper? It's a viral disease that was discovered in the early 1900s by the French Veterinarian, Henri de Carre (Hence the french name of "Maladie De Carre")The virus is present in the soil and is regularly aerosolised in vapour droplets in summer (intense heat after a heavy rain). It takes one unprotected dog to spread the "fire" in the neighbourhood; one dog that serves as the factory for viral particles and it's snowball effect!

The virus is initially detected and isolated by the body's immune system in the pharyngeal lymph nodes but they soon overcome the defence mechanisms and start replicating and spreading to nerve tissue along the spinal cord. First symptoms are: Fever, anorexia and swelling under the neck.At this point of time, the animal's immune system is still reacting positively to the viral challenge...
Then, neurological symptoms become apparent; weakness on hind limbs; animal may feel intense pain when hind legs are touched and may bite; acute purulent inflammation of the eye and lungs resulting in thick yellow discharges in the eye and nose and loud breathing.Some individuals may even show a distinctive symptom like hardening of the foot pads...I have read a lot about that and this year is the first time ever I saw so many!! The pad becomes literrally as a fingernail!This is indicative of the failure of the immune system and the taking over of the whole body by the virus. This is when most owners bring their animals to the vet and with some aggressive treatment we might save the strong ones.
If left unattended past this point, survival rate is practically NIL...the virus rapidly progresses along the spine to the brain and the animal then invariably dies in atrocious fits, seizures and pain.This is when you should call it quits and stop the animal's suffering and preventing the virus to propagate further by choosing euthanasia for that poor soul.

In puppies (whose immune system is not yet developed, the virus meets with...NO resistance at all and swiftly progresses to the central nervous system and causes the atrocious pain. These little ones will rarely show all the secondary symptoms but will whine and howl practically constantly, only stopping because they are out of energy and out of voice. These animals should be promptly taken to the vet for euthanasia...They do not deserve so much pain and in their lives. Treatment is, as I said, symptomatic and palliative i.e.Your vet will prescribe ointments for the eye and antibiotics for the secondary bacterial pneumonitis and if your animal is not eating it should be on IV Dextrose drip and force fed at home.

Until last week, I personally did not try anything to stop the virus and traditional vet medicine does not prescribe anything for it...We are taught in school that YOU CANNOT KILL THE VIRUS...YOU JUST HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE ANIMAL'S BODY TO FIGHT IT OFF (and yeah...cross your fingers while you wait!!)..But some informative reading lately revealed that some "unorthodox" treatments have shown good results. Based on the close (very close) similarity between the Distemper and the Measles virus some vets have successfully cleared the virus with a human Measles antiviral- Ribavirin. I' have spent like hours over the phone looking for that here in Mauritius and, of course, this is not available!
One other drug that yielded good results was ...Vitamin A!! Yes, this Vitamin A, when given in high doses seem to disrupt the reproductive mechanism of the virus and thus prevents further replication inside the dog's body. This one I got here, and the results are quite does work! For colleagues out there reading this: The dose is up to 300,000 IU/Kg/Day...I gave up to 10 days.

Oh...and Yes, another favourite question from owners: "Can I catch Distemper from my dog?"
While I have seen many "Distemper-looking" human beings...this virus only affects members and relatives of the dog family...but it will readily jump species and affect wild Felines like in the near decimation episode of the Serengeti lions some 10 yrs ago and a more recent outbreak in asian Tigers. A specific strain that affects seals has also been discovered lately. Domestic cats CANNOT catch Distemper from a dog.

So there you are folks...Distemper all "dissected" for you!! With the hope that it may help you understand better the plight of your dog and your responsibility to protect him with vaccination and when to stop being an egoist and prolong his suffering when nothing can be done to save him.
In the meantime, Outbreak is in the Quatre Bornes-Vacoas area and I keep disinfecting my clinic like three times a day!

But...Mauritius is a small island!!!