The end of summer is the season of the itchy dog. We see several everyday at our clinic and while we treat each problem and each pet a little differently there is one that always evokes a similar response from me. The flea infested dog. Here are a few funny things about fleas. They are really small, you might not see them even if you're looking. They breed really fast, so by the time we do see a few adults there are probably thousands in your house. They make pupae just like caterpillars and those pupae are immune to every treatment short of burning down your house. This is why the following exchanges evoke a little bit of frustration in me.
A client brings in an itchy dog and I ask, "So you're keeping Cuddles on a flea preventative, right?" I am giving them the chance to absolutely make my day with this question. Unfortunately, I usually get one of the following responses, "I haven't seen any fleas," "We've never had a problem with fleas before," "We don't get fleas in our house," and my personal favorite, "I've looked, there aren't any fleas."
In my head there is this little sarcastic jerk who constantly needs to be silenced. I resist the urge to explain to people that if we wait until we see the problem we are trying to prevent to start prevention, we can't rightly call that prevention anymore. I would much rather prevent fleas on your pet than treat them. Just as I would much rather prevent fleas from being in my house than treat them.
Warning: there is a wild tangent coming up.
It does a person's pet no good to point those petty facts out to them and it turns out it doesn't make my day any better either. My job is to recognize that they have an itchy pet, this pet is uncomfortable, this pet owner feels badly for their pet and I have the knowledge and tools available to me to make this situation better. Not just that, but this owner took the time, effort and is going to pay the money to come and visit me out of all of the vets they could be seeing right now. How dare I make them feel silly for not completely understanding the life cycle of the flea! So I have started to try to teach people more about the why behind the how of veterinary medicine. Some people are interested, some people aren't. On a good day I can handle both types of people with ease, on a bad day... well, I'm a human being too.
How this leads me into holistic medicine is a bit of a stretch unless you know me well. I suppose the easy answer is that while I know there are all kinds of "natural" and "holistic" and "homeopathic" remedies for fleas, ticks and just about any other ailment you'll find, I don't recommend them because they either don't work or don't work as well as something else. People pay me to do what is best for their pet utilizing all of the available information we have. It bothers me to no end that someone who chooses to include within their "treatment" armamentarium a procedure, drug (all substances given with the intention to produce an effect are drugs regardless of what they are made of) or dietary change that has yet to be validated or has been invalidated by scientific methodology would be considered to be treating the whole animal more than I am.
My personal professional ethics dictate to me that treatments- whether preventative or palliative or curative- must have been exposed to criticism via the scientific method. I do this for two reasons. The first is obvious: if it survives the critical objective eye of good science it will work better for my patient than something that hasn't. The second reason is that if all of my plans, treatments and recommendations are based on scientific evidence then I will be less likely to resist changing them when something better comes along.
And it will. Because that is how science works, better ideas come along and we either adopt those ideas or we are left behind in our field. Look at what happened with the idea of "junk dna." We originally thought a huge percentage of dna served no purpose. Now we realize that it not only serves a purpose but is instrumental in carrying out multiple biochemical functions. Science accepted its idea was wrong, adopted the new paradigm and there will be a multitude of valuable therapies developed over the next few decades all stemming from that small change in thinking.