Amazing Animal Doctors
ANIMAL doctors? Why, that may sound like something out of a child’s storybook. Yet it is a fact that many animals are quite successful when it comes to treating their ailments. And they do this in ways that frequently prove to be more effective than those used by man. Yes, animals have been endowed by the Creator with an instinctive ability to treat themselves when they have certain afflictions.
Archibald Rutledge, a writer and naturalist, recalls that when he was a plantation boy he kept many wild animals as pets, one of them being a little white-tailed deer. One day he found that his pet had torn a nasty gash in its side on a barbed-wire fence. To help heal the wound, he cleansed it and carefully bandaged it.
However, the deer seemed to know better what to do about this than did its human friend. The fawn pulled the bandage off, carefully licked the hair away from the injured area and then exposed it fully to the fresh air and sunlight. What happened? In a short time the wound was healed.
How was this little deer able to get such good results? It has been found that animals have a first-class antiseptic dressing on their tongues. The enzymes of their saliva act as a natural, mild germicide. Experiments have shown that when it was added to cultures of bacteria, the bacteria did not thrive. But germs flourished in cultures that were not treated with the saliva. So, right in the mouths of many animals there appears to be a built-in medicine chest.
Their Medical Methods and Medicines
When some injury or sickness threatens the health of an animal, its God-given instinct diagnoses the problem and dictates what it should do. This enables it to have the right prescription and to apply the best medication to cure what may be ailing it. As Frank W. Lane observes in his book Nature Parade: “Animals act as if they knew different illnesses require different treatments.”
For example, if an animal is injured, it will seek solitude where it can get complete rest. If it has a fever, it seeks an airy, shady place near water. There it remains quiet, eating very little and drinking often. If the animal is rheumatic, it exposes itself to the sunlight so as to soak up the heat to relieve its pain. Sometimes grass is eaten to induce vomiting. When an astringent is needed, certain animals will eat bark and twigs of oak trees, which contain tannic acid, an astringent medicine.
The effectiveness of animal medicine was demonstrated to Joseph Delmont, a wild-animal collector, in a rather amusing way. One day he found his pet orangutan sunning itself and holding both hands to its left cheek. He noticed that the orangutan had smeared the left side of its face with wet clay and that it was holding another large lump of clay pressed against its lower left jaw. He also saw that the orangutan had filled its mouth with clay. Was this some orangutan antic? No, for Delmont soon noticed that his pet’s jaw was swollen and that it had a severe gumboil.
It became rather obvious what the orangutan was trying to do. He was doctoring his malady by applying a cold clay poultice to it. Did he effect a cure by this method? Three days later the orangutan pulled out the ailing tooth and, to advertise the success of his medical achievement, brought the tooth to his master with obvious pride. Yes, Dr. Orangutan was not at a loss as to how to care for his painful dental problem!
Mr. African Buffalo is not one whit behind when it comes to coping with his health problems. Delmont relates that he once came upon a herd of these buffalo that were badly afflicted with scabs. He followed them to see what would become of them, and after ten days of travel, they reached the shores of a muddy lake. There the buffalo went on a partial fast and spent most of the day wallowing in the mud, standing up to their necks in the water.
After a month, Delmont was able to examine one, and he saw that the afflicted areas were beginning to grow hair again and that the troublesome mites were almost gone. Since the herd showed no signs of moving on, he continued to watch them. After a few days they began working on their necks, rolling them often in the mire and forming hard, thick mud crusts over the last of these infected places. The buffalo did not go back to their regular diet nor did they stop their muddy medications until they were completely healed.
Of course, it is one thing to cure an ailment and it is quite another thing to take precautions to avoid it. And in this latter regard, we find that God has equipped animals with the instinctive ability to practice preventive medicine. Yes, many creatures, large and small, take steps to help themselves to stay in good health.
“Both birds and animals,” says Rutledge, “bathe regularly to rid their bodies not only of parasites, but of possible sources of infection. These baths are of many varieties—water, sun, mud, dust. . . . It is almost a daily habit of such game birds as the quail, ruffed grouse and wild turkey to take dust baths to discourage insects.”
Consider what a wild turkey does to keep its youngsters in good health. When it rains, the young turkeys’ resistance to disease is lowered. So mother turkey forces them to eat the bitter leaves of a spice bush. Though these leaves are not regular turkey food, they supply the necessary tonic that the young need at this critical time.
Even vultures that eat the dead bodies of other creatures follow a sanitation program of practical hygiene that is really preventive medicine. They keep their eating utensils, their large beaks, scrupulously clean. Also they choose a high place in the open sunlight and sit there with their wings outstretched in order to clean their feathers. Rutledge notes that the way of the vulture’s life “calls for special caution in sanitation, and he takes it.” This helps explain why these carrion birds are not infected by what they eat.
Black bears coming out of hibernation in the springtime are susceptible to sickness because of being out of condition. What is their preventive medicine? They eat berries and dig up plenty of certain flower bulbs the laxative action of which helps them get into condition.
Did you know that when certain furry animals such as dogs and cats lick themselves, it is really preventive medicine? Most of these creatures do not get vitamin D in their diet. However, the action of the sun on their furry coats produces it. So they lick themselves to get this vital vitamin crop into their stomachs. In so doing, they avoid getting rickets.
We tend to think that creatures who live in the sea enjoy a continual bath, yet these denizens of the deep are constantly cleaning away dirt that gets on their bodies. Many crustaceans use their feet to do this. Some fish have tiny crustaceans sticking to them and these act as filth devourers. Yes, water creatures also use preventive medicine.
Sir Ray Lankester, once head of the British Natural History Museum, said: “It is a remarkable thing that the adjustment of organisms to their surroundings is so severely complete in Nature, apart from man, that diseases are unknown as constant and normal phenomena under those conditions. Every disease to which the animals are liable, except as a transient and very exceptional occurrence, is due to man’s interference.”