The Money Is In The Medicine

…not in the cure-Chris Rock

A musher did not make it to a big race because of sickness among the team dogs and in the kennel.

While there is partial element of truth in the saying that everything worth saying can be contained in popular song lyrics, certainly it’s more so if you include proverbs and aphorisms.

The first time I went to a sled dog race was early 1970. “The Crud” was there!

All the discussion about treatment is useful but like closing the barn door after the horses are out or locking the hen house with the fox inside. There is a parallel with the fox and hen house adage when you give antibiotics to animals, the damage may be contained but not minimized. A constructive approach should focus as much or more on prevention than on cure. “A smart man solves a problem, the wise man avoids it”-Einstein

When you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail. So too with typical veterinary response, antibiotics and corticosteroids.

The usual progression is that the dogs will get sick early in the racing season or before the first big race, stop eating, often drinking little, loose stools and other signs of illness. After the intense stress of training their immune systems are more susceptible and they are exposed to new pathogens. We used to ask other mushers who first experienced The Crud for some feces of infected dogs to expose our own during a period of rest and recovery after the intense training and before the big race.

Around 1990 I discovered accidentally giving flax and psyllium (plantain/plantago) husk to a dog with anal polyps that the dog’s coat shone. Feeding the same to all the dogs led to the conclusion that this resulted in few or no incidence of The Crud and collaterally, kennel cough or other respiratory illness. Evidence of good diet is easily determined from coat, appetite and feces. Later learning more from traditional herbal medicine I can suggest that the leaf of the same plant, various plantago/plantain species, is probably as good or better than psyllium husk in these respects. Marshmallow leaf instead of root is another improvement to preventative dietary fiber/immune system support in the diet during stress and immune insufficiency.

During the time the dog’s digestive tract is shut down for healing as naturally occurs with illness and absent appetite it is important to be sure the dog will continue drinking (a pinch of salt in the water may help) and plantain leaf, psyllium husk or marshmallow leaf or root added to the water or in capsules can protect and sooth the GI tract also may prevent obstruction from occurring.

Other natural anti-inflammatory foods, spices and herbs: ginger, garlic, rat root, chaga, cayenne, turmeric, coriander. Rice water is a food used for digestive upset; butter contains the triglyceride of butyric acid, the preferred energy source of cells lining the lower digestive tract. Adding some soy sauce or Thai fish sauce is often a way to make foods more palatable to dogs, “appetants.” Cook up some chicken terriyaki with peas, butter and rice, then eat the chicken yourself and feed the rest to the dogs. Or mix up a bigger batch to eat

Giardia is a contagious or communicable pathogen. But if all dogs probably have some in their system it may come on, or typical symptoms show up, whatever the particular agent, when their immune resistance is low. This is not The Crud. Since Larry Tallman first told me about Panacur/Safeguard and that information was shared, mushers in the know have treated their dogs with the correct canine three day protocol in the recovery period before the first big race of the season allowing a week or ten days to recover from the drug. It would be interesting to try herbal remedies instead, like those suggested by Stephen Buhner and other contemporary herbalists for Lyme, malaria, and other microbes.

Another typical dog (and human) symptom or effect of acute GI illness is associating the foods eaten at the time of onset with the illness itself. It seems to be best to let the dogs starve for a few days as their normal instincts dictate, do not try to tempt them too soon with liver or similar appetizing but unhealthy as the sole nourishment foods, give them warm or cold water (dogs might prefer one or the other depending on the weather conditions) with a pinch of salt, then when symptoms stabilize initially feed them a different kind of food, cat food, frozen fish, other food not their usual diet.

Be alert to a serious complication of The Crud, obstruction. That is another subject for another time but as detailed above continuing some bulk fiber in the water or capsules during GI shutdown may prevent this…

Bill Gallea, and MD and dog musher living in this area in the 80s had this strange experience. Removing booties after a training run he thought his count was one short but could not account for how it disappeared assuming he would have noticed a dog chewing and eating one. A month later a dog in his team tried to take a short cut on the wrong side of a tree on a tight trail and got a serious thump on the head. Returning to the kennel the dog vomited with pieces of dog bootie. Unfortunately not all and the rest entered the intestine causing a blockage requiring surgery. Unlike a person’s stomach, the stomach of a dog is horizontal and an undigested object may remain there for a long time!

My nephew sometime rabbit breeder says that when rabbits are constipated/obstructed/GI shutdown, feed them pumpkin pie filling.

Unlike voting where early and often is bad advice, early and frequent exposure to emerging bugs would probably prevent more serious illness. Part of the “hygiene hypothesis.”