Before we begin the topic for this month’s column, I’m excited to be able to share an update on “Chelsea,” the Loggerhead Sea Turtle we rescued during our recent vacation in the Florida Keys. As I described in a past column, we found the 100 pound turtle floating on the surface, too weak to swim on her own. After a call to the wildlife authorities, we helped get her into the officer’s boat and on her way to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. She was treated there for two months, and I’m happy to report that she was pronounced well enough to be released on July 13th. Her recovery was even more rapid than any of us expected, thanks to the excellent care she received from the passionate folks at The Turtle Hospital. Please log onto turtlehospital.org to read about Chelsea’s release and to see photos of her return to the sea.
Interestingly, news reports this past week included the story of several members of the Kennedy family who also went to the aid of a sea turtle in distress off the coast of Cape Cod. They found a Leatherback Turtle caught in a fishing net and were able to free it by cutting away the ropes tangled around its flippers. Unfortunately, they ran into trouble with Federal Wildlife officials who are contemplating filing charges against them.
Why did they get into trouble, while we were thanked for our efforts to help Chelsea? Because the devil is in the details….it is against the regulations of The Endangered Species Act to capture, handle, or harass any sea turtle. Those regulations, however upside-down they may seem when someone is just trying to help, are in place to both protect the endangered sea turtles from disturbances and to protect humans from those wild animals which can be dangerous if handled improperly. In their zeal, the Kennedy’s rushed in to help without contacting the proper authorities. When we discovered Chelsea floating helplessly, we knew the regulations and immediately called the local Florida Wildlife officers and waited with Chelsea for them to arrive.
It’s not always easy to prioritize and know when the details are important and when the big picture takes precedence. When that lack of knowledge involves issues of animal health, the consequences can be severe. Let’s look at a few examples of when knowing and following the details can make or break the day.
Following the details of the timing of vaccinations for puppies and kittens is very important. There are very specific protocols for which vaccines we recommend and when we give them, and following those protocols gives the best opportunity for pets to be properly protected against serious diseases. Those protocols do change as vaccine technology and research advances, and our current recommendations follow those advances. Individual pet vaccination schedules can be influenced by previous vaccinations or illnesses, and we always make specific recommendations for YOUR pet based on ITS needs. Many breeders may have had success in the past with certain vaccines or schedules, and may make recommendations that are different from mine. I understand and respect their motivation, but I strongly believe in the protocols that we recommend. Vaccines started too soon or too late can leave puppies and kittens unprotected. The details of proper vaccination schedules involve maternal antibody levels and the stimulation of the pet’s immune system by an adequate antigenic “dose” given at the proper interval to stimulate an anamnistic response.
Those details are specific for each pet, and lead to the big picture: when you get a new pet, be certain you know what care it has had and then call your vet to schedule its first visit with them.
There are some important details but also important general principles involved with proper pet nutrition as well. It is easy to get bogged down by the details of pet food marketing and nutritional recommendations and miss the big picture. As with vaccinations, the details of proper pet nutrition are based in years of research on the specific needs of pets of different species, ages, and even sizes. Pet foods are more closely regulated for nutritional completeness and purity than are human foods. We know many details about pet nutritional needs, and precise information about pet food nutritional balance and micronutrients is quite well-established. Unfortunately, some of those details are often slanted by pet food manufacturers to influence consumers to buy their particular brand, with claims about ingredients or purity or philosophy that portray their food as being more special than it really is. In my opinion, the big picture of feeding pets is based on the details that have already been incorporated in their formulations. Is one brand of food always the best choice for every pet? Is one restaraunt or one supermarket right for every person? Follow the big picture when it comes to nutrition: Feed an age-and breed-appropriate food for your pet that is friendly to its GI tract (that’s a diplomatic way of saying your pet doen’t have vomiting or diarrhea when it eats it), friendly to your wallet, and is consistent with your personal philosophy of nutrition. Is Blue (or Green or Orange, for that matter) a better food for your pet than another brand, or is chicken a better source of protein than beef? It all depends on your individual pet. Some people have specific food allergies to a particular item: shellfish or peanuts or wheat, for example. Does that mean that those ingredients are bad? Nope…but some pets do respond better to some diets than to others. Follow the big picture, and fine-tune the diet plan to suit the details of YOUR pet’s individual needs. We’ll be happy to share our recommendations.
Following specific medication and treatment instructions is another area in which paying attention to the details makes a tremendous difference. Here are some simple examples:
…Hopefuly we all know to give (and take) all medications as directed for the entire prescription. But it is equally important to follow instructions on rechecking the pet. When we are treating a urinary tract infection, it is important that we recheck the a urine sample to be sure the infection is completely resolved. The pet’s symptoms may have stopped after the first few days of medicine, but unless we confirm that the infection is over, we may have a relapse or may allow an underlying problem such as bladder stones to progress. If intestinal worms have been found, following the specific directions on treatment and follow-up exams help protect the pet, and the family, from further exposure to those parasites. Worm eggs from pets that have not been cured of the parasites will continue to contaminate the pet’s environment, placing all pets and family members at risk.
…Instructions for post-op care can be critically important. When we place a bandage or splint, monitoring that bandage to be sure it remains clean and dry is not just to reduce odors. A bandage that slips or becomes wet can actually cause severe infection or even cut-off circulation. Reducing activity after a surgery can protect a bone that is trying to heal, or may prevent the pet from injuring itself further. Keeping close watch on a suture site can safeguard against infection and prevent the pet from licking open the incision.
How do we know when the details are important? It’s not easy, but it is easier.
When you as the pet owner and I as the vet work together to communicate properly with each other. Even when we suggest the big picture, feel free to ask us about the details that go into our recommendations, because the details are important. A terrible reminder that details matter came last month. After flying thousands of miles from China to Korea and then to San Francisco, an Asiana Airliner missed a routine landing by just a few feet…there is a reason for simple details such as minimum landing speeds and runway approach angles. Sometimes close doesn’t count.