Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Diseases of the Dog"

[From Madeline, again.]

A week or so ago, my mom found a booklet from 1924 entitled "Diseases of the Dog and How to Feed" by H. Clay Glover, a veterinarian to the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club. Naturally, as an Animal Science major, I had to skim through it. Besides the old-time vernacular used, it seemed more-or-less a typical pet health care manual. However, two things caught my eye at once:

First, epilepsy was listed under the name "Fits." Apparently epilepsy was not a well known condition at the time... or, rather, its symptoms were well known but its causes and/or mechanisms remained a mystery to the general public. Without sufficient understanding of epilepsy among the general public, it seems to have simply been designated "fits." I suppose it makes sense considering the knowledge of the time; a canine (or human) having an epileptic seizure could certainly appear as "they're just having a fit" to the ignorant eye.

Second and most shocking, feeding ground glass, tin, or turpentine was the "traditional" method of controlling internal parasites. Thankfully Glover had the insight to mention that this was not a preferable method of treatment. Just imagine treating a case of intestinal worms by feeding the dog a shattered vase, a soup can, or paint cleaner... Sure, the worms would be dead, but I wouldn't doubt I if the poor dog was dead shortly after that, too. Thankfully we have anthelmintics to kill worms and not dogs nowadays.

Actually, a similar "treatment" appeared in the book I'm currently reading, The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, which is set around the time of the American revolution. (On a side note, this particular book is the fourth or fifth - I lost count - of seven in the historical fiction/Sci-Fi/romance/impressively-detailed-and-awesome-in-general Outlander series, which I highly recommend reading.) Not to spoil anything, a drunken slave turned up violently dead but without apparent injury, and it was discovered that, in addition to having been drugged to induce vomiting (already irritating to the stomach), she had somehow consumed ground glass. The ground glass caused a hemorrhage in her stomach, which ultimately killed her. Whether that was a successful attempt at murder or the well-intentioned doctor's treatment gone wrong is a mystery that it seems will remain unsolved, but either way, what passed for medicine at the time was alarming.

Also frequently mentioned in The Fiery Cross, blood-letting was common; doctors would create an incision and allow the patient to bleed a bit. The theory was that illness is caused by an imbalance of "humors" (which don't actually exist), and removing blood would remove the humor that is in excess. I would imagine that different illnesses would warrant blood letting in different areas according to whatever hypothetical humor is theoretically in excess, although I have not done research on the topic. If the prospect of allowing an ill patient to lose significant quantities of blood isn't suspicious enough, the instruments used to make the incision were not cleaned or sterilized as the concepts of bacteria and infections were still unknown. Yuck! What a medical disaster!!

A canine health manual from 1924.

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