Hoof & Mouth Disease in the United States

This is a viral disease causing extremely painful ulcers of the mouth and hooves affecting all cloven hoofed animals...cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and also deer, wild pigs, etc.  Even though most animals don't die of this disease, it's extremely contagious and devastating: it hurts too much to eat and walk so animals just stand there and waste away.  Another problem with this disease is that immunity seems to be very short lived.

I don't know much about the incidence of the disease in the 1800's but by the 1900's the disease had been eradicated in the United States and meat products from countries not free of the disease were banned.  Any break outs of the disease (1914-1916,  1946, 1953) were met with fierce and successful efforts to test and eradicate.

The Mexican Outbreak of 1945 with American Veterinarians to the Rescue:

In 1945, Countries free of Hoof and Mouth Disease included: United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Great Britain, and Scandiania.  These countries had a mutual agreement to protect that status by not importing meat and byproducts from other countries where the disease existed.

Well, in 1945, while much of the world was at war, Mexico imported 130 Brahma bulls from Brazil ... a country badly afflicted with Hoof & Mouth... and landed on an island near Veracruz and placed under surveillance.  Despite vigorous protests from the US, the Mexican government moved the seemingly healthy cattle were moved to the mainland.

In March 1946, the US government learned that Mexico was again ignoring their agreement and shipping more than 300 bulls from Brazil.  Protests from the US were again ignored.

On June 5th, 1946, the US got tough and issued import restrictions of cloven hoofed animals from Mexico.  18 of the Brazilian bulls had already entered the US and another 50 bulls were in Matamoros just outside of Brownsville, TX.   This led to negotiations...Mexico didn't want to loose their US market and agreed to send the second shipment of cattle back to Brazil and to allow US inspection of the Brazilian bulls still in Mexico.
A little later, Mexico changed it's mind and allowed the second shipment of bulls onto the mainland.  Despite this deception, the US inspectors were satisfied that the cattle were healthy and in October of 1946, the US lifted the import restrictions. 

As usual, politics were involved.  The screamers in the US were declaring that the incubents were helping their cattle raising buddies get a higher price for their beef by unnecessarily restricting cheap Mexican beef.  And, of course, Mexican politicians were making hay calling the US bullies.

Guess what happens.  Foot & Mouth disease breaks out on a ranch in Veracruz where some bulls from the second shipment had been shipped.  The disease spread rapidly but it took a month before the government became aware of the problem.  US and Mexican veterinarians were sent to investigate and unfortunately confirmed that the disease was in fact Hoof & Mouth.  The US border was once again closed to Mexican meat imports on Christmas day 1946.

What a mess.  Over 150,000 cattle had been imported from Mexico over the previous few months that might be carriers of the disease.  All these animals had to be traced, tracked down, and kept under close observation.  Luckily the disease didn't break out in our country.

It was a different matter, however, in Mexico.  Despite quarantine and eradication efforts of hard working Mexican veterinarians, the disease was spreading rapidly.

In 1947, Mexico accepted help from the US which dispatched veterinarians, bulldozers, and other equipment.  By the end of the year, nearly 1 MILLION infected cattle had been slaughtered and buried in bulldozered burn pits...one of the largest efforts of it's type to control disease in any place in the world to control disease.

As you might imagine, though, farmers were reluctant to have their cattle killed and there was a lot of resistance to cooperating with government extrimation programs.  Mexican politicians, without the backbone or ability to resist public pressure, dropped the extrimination program before it was successful and instead instigated a vaccination program.

Now, vaccination programs in other countries were successful at controlling the disease but not eradicating it.  One of the big problems was that vaccination only gave immunity for a few months.  It was near impossible to get peasants and cattle owners to allow the government to vaccinate their cattle once let alone several times a year.  Ignorance and distrust were rampant.  Inspectors and vaccination teams ...despite being escorted by the Mexican Army... took their life in their hands in certain villages.

Another huge problem was how can you vaccinate the deer and other cloven hoofed wildlife that are also susceptible to the disease.

Another huge problem was where can you get that much vaccine?  At first vaccine was bought on the world market, but supplies were limited.  A laboratory was constructed in 1948 in Mexico City and by mid 1949 was producing more that 100,000 doses daily!

Despite the problems, about 60, million cattle were vaccinated, large areas of Mexico were cleared of the disease and in September of 1952, Mexico was declared free of the disease.

Imagine the huge effort and immense expense involved over the 6 plus years fighting this disease in Mexico.  The payroll for hundreds of American veterinarians and their families was just the tip of the iceberg.

The actual story of going farm to farm in Mexico is wonderfully told by veterinarian James Porter in his 1956 book "Doctor, Spare My Cow!"

One of the interesting side stories he tells is how veterinary inspection teams were often escorted by a squad of the Mexican Army.  According to him, Mexican soldiers were very poorly paid and expected to live off the land ... meaning they took what they wanted from the peasants... when they ventured away from their bases.  Not only that, but the soldier's wives, kids, pets, and extended families often tagged along.  What a mess to organize.  What a way NOT to make villagers want to cooperate with the government!

History of Veterinary Medicine:
Hoof & Mouth Disease,
Blackleg Disease,
& A Little Fun with Kudzu
On This Page:

A little about Hoof & Mouth Disease

The United States and Mexico; fighting off Hoof & Mouth Disease in 1946

A Little about Kudzu just for fun

Blackleg; an interesting story leading to a big break through in medicine

Anthrax... probably the most devastating disease in history


Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S.

The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country.

The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who used the plant for ornamental purposes.

Florida nursery operators, Charles and Lillie Pleas, discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s.

Their Glen Arden Nursery in Chipley sold kudzu plants through the mail. A historical marker there proudly proclaims "Kudzu Developed Here."

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre as incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s.

Kudzu's most vocal advocate was Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia who promoted use of the vine to control erosion. Cope wrote about kudzu in articles for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and talked about its virtues frequently on his daily WSB-AM radio program broadcast from his front porch. During the 1940s, he traveled across the southeast starting Kudzu Clubs to honor what he called "the miracle vine."

Cope was very disappointed when the U.S. government stopped advocating the use of kudzu in 1953.

The problem is that it just grows too well!

The climate of the Southeastern U.S. is perfect for kudzu. The vines grow as much as a foot per day during summer months, climbing trees, power poles, and anything else they contact. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year.

While they help prevent erosion, the vines can also destroy valuable forests by preventing trees from getting sunlight. This problem led Dr. James H. Miller of the U.S. Forest Service in Auburn, Alabama to research methods for killing kudzu.

In eighteen years of research, he has found that one herbicide actually makes kudzu grow better while many have little effect.

Miller recommends repeated herbicide treatments for at least four years, but some kudzu plants may take as long as ten years to kill, even with the most effective herbicides.

For more information about all the problems that Kudzu ended up causing, as well as recipes, poems, songs, medical miracles and benefits attributed to this creepy plant, here's a link to an excellent site.

Joke:  He was such a poor farmer, he couldn't grow kudzu

Gardening Tips from Down South

How to Grow Kudzu:

Choosing a Plot: Kudzu can be grown almost anywhere, so site selection is not the problem it is with some other finicky plants like strawberries. Although kudzu will grow quite well on cement, for best result you should select an area having at least some dirt. To avoid possible lawsuits, it is advisable to plant well away from your neighbors house, unless, of course, you don't get along well with your neighbor anyway.

Preparing the Soil: Go out and stomp on the soil for a while just to get its attention and to prepare it for kudzu.

Deciding When to Plant: Kudzu should always be planted at night. If kudzu is planted during daylight hours, angry neighbors might see you and begin throwing rocks at you.

Selecting the Proper Fertilizer: The best fertilizer I have discovered for kudzu is 40 weight non detergent motor oil. Kudzu actually doesn't need anything to help it grow, but the motor oil helps to prevent scraping the underside of the tender leaves when the kudzu starts its rapid growth. It also cuts down on the friction and lessens the danger of fire when the kudzu really starts to move. Change oil once every thousand feet or every two weeks which ever comes first.

Mulching the Plants: Contrary to what may be told by the Extension Service, kudzu can profit from a good mulch. I have found that a heavy mulch for the young plants produces a hardier crop. For best results, as soon as the young shoots begin to appear, cover kudzu with concrete blocks. Although this causes a temporary setback, your kudzu will accept this mulch as a challenge and will reward you with redoubled determination in the long run.

Organic or Chemical Gardening: Kudzu is ideal for either the organic gardener or for those who prefer to use chemicals to ward off garden pests. Kudzu is oblivious to both chemicals and pests. Therefore, you can grow organically and let the pests get out of the way of the kudzu as best they can, or you can spray any commercial poison directly on your crop. Your decision depends on how much you enjoy killing bugs. The kudzu will not mind either way.

Crop Rotation: Many gardeners are understandably concerned that growing the same crop year after year will deplete the soil. If you desire to change from kudzu to some other plant next year, now is the time to begin preparations. Right now, before the growing season has reached its peak, you should list your house and lot with a reputable real estate agent and begin making plans to move elsewhere. Your chances of selling will be better now than they will be later in the year, when it may be difficult for a prospective buyer to realize that underneath those lush green vines stands an adorable three bedroom house.

Tifton B Merritt

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Blackleg is a gas gangrene infection of young sheep and cattle caused by a bacteria (Clostridium) characterized by fever, lameness, swelling and death of the tissues...usually starting with the limbs....hence the name...and death within a few days.  The infectious organism builds up in the ground whereever animals are concentrated (barnyards).  Any little knick or cut is a potential site for an infection.

There are several different types or strains of Clostridium all of which thrive in wounds of various mammals that are likely to lead to severe tissue necrosis and death. 

Clostridium diseases affect humans too: Quick deaths on the battle field were tiny in number compared to the millions who died miserably from infected wounds a few days later.  Tetanus and botulism are diseases caused by strains of Clostridium.

Depending on the type of animal (or human), the most prominent symptom,  the area of the world, or the suspected cause (angry Gods, witch craft, demons, sin) these infectious and usually fatal diseases were given different names when in reality they were all caused by various strains of the same bacteria.

We take this simple information for granted now...but at the time...no one knew!

But the story about Black Leg is interesting because there was a break through giving the modern world what should have been a Eureka Moment.

The credit goes to the French, the first to suspect and detect microscopic organisms, and prove ...with the transfer of the organism from one animal to another...caused disease.  The most famous person, being, of course, Louis Pasteur with his work on Anthrax.

Black Leg, by the way, was considered to be a type of anthrax, but with tumors (boils).  But three French veterinarians at the Alfort Veterinary School (I’m sorry, I don’t know their names) proved that yes, a microscopic organism did cause black leg, but that it was entirely different from the organism that caused anthrax.  They too, demonstrated that the disease could be reproduced by inoculation of material from blackleg lesions into susceptible animals.

But that’s not all!

They found that if they injected the pus from a blackleg lesion into a healthy animal in the vein (I.V.) that blackleg did not result AND a significant degree of immunity was induced.

Eureka!  This was the beginnings of our future understanding of infectious disease...the number one cause of death in animals and humans ... and immunity through vaccination... and I can’t even tell you the names of the 3 veterinarians responsible for this breakthrough!

It took OVER A HUNDRED YEARS for this information to sink in and for the scientific and medical community to accept “germ theory” and to develop vaccines and effective treatments.
But, none the less, this discovery was the beginning of a series of experiments leading to an effective bacterin vaccine used worldwide today to prevent clostridial diseases.  Similar work would lead to vaccines for pox diseases and rabies.  The French would dominate in these early discoveries.  Later, the Swiss, Germans, English, and belatedly, but with great productive effect, the Americans would make wonderful contributions to our arsenal of knowledge and treatment of many deadly diseases.


Anthrax is probably the most important disease in world history and is a devastating and often fatal disease of cattle, sheep, alpaca, goats, horses, mules, many other animals, and humans.

I mention sheep, alpaca, and goats because one of the ways the disease spread from Asia and South America (especially Peru) was from the shipment of wool to include the highly sought after Alpaca wool and Mohair.

Anthrax is caused from a bacteria (Bacillus anthracis)
that forms spores that can survive for years in the soil, in hides, in wool and spread from animal to animal as well as to humans. Primarily a disease of herbivorous animals, anthrax appears in humans in several
different forms: cutaneous anthrax, pulmonary anthrax, and intestinal anthrax with meningeal anthrax being a
complication of inhalation, gastrointestinal or cutaneous anthrax. 

Anthrax has been known and feared since antiquity:

Scholars have characterized the fifth and sixth biblical plagues as well as the “burning plague” described in
Homer’s Iliad as anthrax.

Virgil (70-19 BC)  provided one of the earliest and most detailed descriptions of an anthrax epidemic in his Georgics. Virgil also noted that the disease could spread to humans.

Over the next fifteen hundred years, Europe witnessed sporadic outbreaks of anthrax, with the most acute outbreaks occurring in fourteenth-century Germany and seventeenth-century Russia and central Europe.

Despite the threat these outbreaks posed to livestock, it wasn't until 1769 that Jean Fournier classified the disease as anthrax or charbon malin, a name undoubtedly derived from the black lesions characteristic of cutaneous anthrax. Fournier also noted a link between those who worked with raw animal hair or wool and susceptibility to anthrax.

Almost a hundred years later, in 1850, Pierre-Francoise Olive Rayer and Casimir-Joseph Davaine reported the presence of “small filiform bodies” in the blood of anthrax-infected sheep.

Five years later, Franz Aloys Antoine
Pollender confirmed this discovery and speculated that these bodies might cause anthrax.

In 1858, Freidrich August Brauell noted that these “small filiform bodies” never appeared in healthy animals or in animals infected with diseases other than anthrax. Brauell also noted that pregnant sheep who were infected with anthrax did not transmit the disease to their fetuses.

By the mid 1870s, most researchers believed that anthrax was an infectious disease but there was still disagreement as to its specific cause.

In 1876, Robert Koch, a Prussian physician, isolated the anthrax bacillus and pointed out that the bacillus could form spores which remained viable, even in hostile environments. 

Shortly after this, English physician John Bell linked anthrax with “woolsorter disease” and developed a procedure to disinfect wool.

William Greenfield was the first to immunize livestock successfully against anthrax in 1880.

However, credit for the use of a live vaccine against anthrax is usually given to Louis Pasteur who tested a heat-cured vaccine on sheep in 1881. Celebrated in the contemporary French press, Pasteur’s vaccine
solidified his status as one of France’s greatest scientists. By the late twentieth century, extensive animal vaccination programs led to an overall decline in anthrax although the disease still occurred in poor and unstable regions (between 1978 and 1980, for example, a civil war in Zimbabwe caused a breakdown in veterinary care which then resulted in an anthrax epidemic which spread from animals to humans).

Without the vaccine, animals are highly vulnerable to this disease, which makes it an extremely effective form of biological warfare.

Throughout history, there are anidotes about armys catapulting diseased, dead livestock over castle walls as well as into wells.

George Washington, during his presidency almost died from illness that has been speculated to be antrax.

During World War I, German agents were sent to five neutral countries (Romania, Spain, Norway, the United States and Argentina) with instructions to infect animal shipments sent to the Allies.
Targeted animals included sheep, cattle, horses, mules, and, in Norway, reindeer. Animals were infected either by having anthrax injected directly into their blood or by being fed sugar laced with anthrax.

In the inter-war period, attention shifted to human anthrax and its potential as a biological weapon.
Although the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited biological weapons, several nations, including the United States, experimented with anthrax during the 1930s and 1940s.

In the late 1930s, the Japanese Imperial Army performed covert experiments on anthrax and began deploying biological weapons in Manchuria.  Thousands of Chinese peasants, troops, and horses were purposedly murdered by the Japanese experimenting with anthrax and typhus, plague, cholera, botulism, smallpox, tularemia and encephalitis.  To give Japanese agents the ability to target individuals in close-in and covert contacts, Japanese scientists developed anthrax-infected chocolates and chewing gum, as well as fountain pens, hatpins and umbrellas tipped with the deadly disease.

In addition to anthrax-filled artillery shells, the Japanese experimented extensively with hot-air balloons filled with the deadly disease. Over 250 of these anthrax infected ballons were found in the United States.  This information was kept secret for many years but has now been declassified.  Look it up.

During World War II, American, British and Canadian laboratories began developing biological weapons, especially anthrax.  By 1944, the Allies had developed thousands of anthrax bombs.

Hitler had forbidden biological weapons research; however, the Nazis did conduct anthrax and biological weapons research at a small secret facility in Poland.

Following World War II, the Americans and British continued to research anthrax and its potential for biological warfare, with the American program being centered at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

In 1969, Richard Nixon limited biological weapons research to defensive purposes, saying “mankind already carries in its own hands too many of the seeds of its own destruction.”

Throughout the 1950s, the Communicable Disease Center (later re-named The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) investigated outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Louisiana. CDC’s goal was fivefold: first, to discover the cause of anthrax among workers in wool and animal hair industries; second, to determine the particle size of anthrax-contaminated aerosols in industry; third, to assess the effectiveness of an anthrax vaccine for humans; fourth, to study the
epidemiology and epizootiology of anthrax in selected outbreaks and fifth, to collect and study different strains of Bacillus anthracis. These studies were concentrated in Pennsylvania.  Many of the people working with the CDC were and continue to be veterinarians.

Anthrax outbreaks occurred throughout the 1950s. In 1955, five human cases occurred within a three-month period at a mill in Monroe, North Carolina; the source of the disease was ultimately traced to a shipment of wool from Iran and Iraq.

In 1957, nine human cases occurred at a mill in Manchester, New Hampshire; four workers ultimately died of inhalation anthrax (nine years later a worker at machine shop across from the mill died of inhalation anthrax). The New Hampshire mill was sealed in 1968 and ultimately decontaminated in 1971.

According to CDC, the last case of inhalation anthrax in the United States before 2001 occurred in 1976. A craftsman working with imported and infected yarn in California died as a result of the disease.

Before 2001, the last case of cutaneous anthrax in the United States occurred in 2000.  A 67 year old resident of North Dakota who participated in the disposal of five cows infected with anthrax contracted the cutaneous form of the disease. Upon being treated with antibiotics, the individual recovered.

In July 1998, London's Daily Telegraph reported that in June 1944 Britain's Special Operations Executive hatched a plot to assassinate Hitler by sending a lone agent into Germany "to impregnate [Hitler's] clothing with anthrax." According to the article, the plot was never carried forward because of concerns that "successful liquidation" would turn Hitler into an unintended martyr. The article quoted one British officer who argued against the plot as saying, "It would almost certainly canonize [Hitler] and give birth to the myth that Germany would have been saved if he had lived."

British and Canadian researchers were especially aggressive in their pursuit of anthrax as a weapon of mass destruction. In the summer of 1942, after conducting anthrax experiments at their germ warfare center at Porton Down, England, the British initiated a series of large anthrax-bomb tests on Gruinard, an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland. The first bomb exploded, infecting and killing about 30 test sheep in less than a week's time. Subsequent tests killed larger numbers of livestock.

As might have been expected, spores eventually made their way to the Scottish mainland, causing an outbreak of anthrax. As a result of the Gruinard tests, the island was so badly contaminated that it has been completely sealed off to visitors. Over the years, there have been reports that the remaining animals of the island display prominent manifestations of genetic change.

Declassified Porton Down documents reveal that the British, as early as 1941, began a battery of anthrax experiments involving spraying anthrax spores from aircraft. By early 1942, the British had also launched a series of experiments at Porton Down that involved the aerial dispersal of anthrax over herds of sheep and cattle. These same experiments led to the production of what British researchers called "cattle cakes." These were thick, compressed whey wafers dipped into anthrax and foot-and-mouth cultures. The Canadians were only slightly behind the British with their own anthrax tests conducted on a desolate prairie called Suffield near Calgary and Medicine Hat. Few details about these tests have ever been publicly released.

Veterinarians from many developed nations have been involved in international AID programs helping less fortunate countries fight and prevent anthrax outbreaks.
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