Don't Try This at Home: Hair-Raising Pet Remedies

Sick kitten being held by the vet

If your pet becomes unwell, where do you turn for help? As a veterinarian, I understand the need to seek professional advice, but do you? Treating an animal can end in disaster if you don't know what you are doing. In the 19th century, veterinary medicine was practically nonexistent and yet owners wanted to help their sick pets. So where did they turn for help?

Unfortunately, chances are it was a book like The Book of Cats by Charles Henry Ross. Published in 1868, this promised to be a "Chit-Chat Chronicle of Feline Facts…Medical, Mirthful, and Miscellaneous." Not that there was anything mirthful about his advice, as you will see.

19th Century Advice (Best Ignored) about Vomiting

Writing about vomiting cats, Mr. Ross argues for the importance of treatment and the perils of doing nothing--on which we both agree. But then things take a dangerous turn when he suggests a remedy (do NOT try this at home): "When the vomiting first comes on, give the cat half a teaspoon of common salt in two teaspoons of water for the purpose of clearing the stomach." Disaster!

Salt is the fast track to poisoning your cat. Indeed, the symptoms of salt toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea, and more salt will worsen the original illness. Cats' kidneys are not designed to deal with excessive salt and it can cause organ failure. (I suppose there is a hope the cat vomits the salt back up before too much is absorbed!) Also, an excess of salt changes the osmolarity of the blood, which leads to brain swelling, coma and possibly death. Most definitely, a salt water emetic is not a good idea.

21st Century Advice about Vomiting

In the modern day, a veterinarian gives a vomiting cat that is otherwise well an anti-sickness injection that works on the nausea center in the brain. If the cat continues to be ill, then an investigation into the cause is appropriate. This might include:

  • Screening blood tests: To check organ function, seek signs of infection and check if the pet is dehydrated.
  • Spec FPL : A specific blood test to check for pancreatitis, a common cause of vomiting.
  • Abdominal imaging: Depending on the symptoms, an ultrasound scan or radiograph of the pet's tummy may highlight problems such as foreign bodies, cancer or pancreatitis.

Once a diagnosis is reached, targeted treatment is started, which might include intravenous fluids, antibiotics, pain relief and drugs to control the muscular contractions of the bowel. Quite a difference from giving salt water!

19th Century Advice (Best Ignored) about Fits

Perhaps I'm being a little hard on Mr. Ross. To give him a second chance, let's consider his strategy for a cat having a seizure. He suggests: "one of the ears be slit with a sharp pair of scissors in the thin part of the ear. You must then have warm water ready and hold the ear in it, gently rubbing and encouraging the blood to flow."

Oh my! Another useless remedy. Since most seizures last less than three minutes, my guess is that by the time you fetch the scissors and warm water, the cat is coming out of the seizure anyway.

21st Century Advice about Seizures

First, do not disturb an animal in the grip of a seizure. Animals are overly sensitive to stimulation and touching the pet may prolong the seizure. Second, the veterinarian will investigate to look for causes. Reaching a diagnosis involves:

  • Screening blood tests: To look for organ dysfunction or electrolyte imbalances driving the seizure.
  • MRI scan: A brain scan shows if there are physical changes in the brain (infections, cancer and scar tissue.)

What Lessons Can We Learn?

The obvious observation is how sophisticated veterinary medicine is nowadays. But in addition, bear in mind the following:

  • Seek professional advice: Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one. However, no matter how convincing the suggestion, unless that person is professionally qualified, the advice may do more harm than good.
  •  Insure your pet: In the modern day, diagnosis is key to treatment, but those blood tests and scans cost money. If your cat, dog, horse or bearded dragon is not insured, then speak to a Trusted Choice® adviser today, and find the best policy to protect your pet.

If you are still not convinced, perhaps a final case study from Mr. Ross will help change your mind.

19th Century Advice (Best Ignored) about Diarrhea

Mr. Ross is pessimistic about a cat's chances of recovery from tummy upset: "The animal is very likely to die of the complaint unless the proper remedies are the first sign of diarrhea give the cat milk."

I can hear you groaning from here! Some cats are lactose intolerant, so giving milk is exactly the WRONG thing to do. It gets worse, because he then suggests adding in beef suet. No, no, no! Fat exacerbates diarrhea. Finally, Mr. Ross makes one final suggestion: "Give four or five drops of laudanum."

Laudanum was widely available in the 19th century. But cats are peculiarly sensitive to opioid drugs, which need to be administered with extreme care in vastly reduced doses. Overdose causes respiratory depression, circulatory collapse, central nervous system depression and coma.

21st Century Advice for Pet Care

In answer to our initial question, I hope now you can answer with one voice--seek professional help! Ensure that you don't have to resort to less-than-ideal treatment, and don't wait until your pet is ill to contact a Trusted Choice advisor.

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