All Creatures Great and Small

With no offense to the many beautiful men of Outlander, may I present to you the cutest boys of them all?

Bear!
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Dewey!

Here are Bear and Dewey, the adorable animal actors who respectively play Adso and Rollo…aka the cat and dog that get to work with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe and therefore have our dream jobs.

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Very good boys and lucky dogs.

Outlander production bought two Northern Inuit puppies to play Rollo, but have stated in interviews they really only use Dewey for most of Rollo’s scenes.

Bear is a British Blue Shorthair cat (you can follow him on Instagram here) and from what I can tell he has completely stolen the hearts from every single cast member:

Last fall I had a bit of fun on Twitter, playfully teasing that Rollo appears extraordinarily healthy and clean for a dog that spends his time mucking around the eighteenth century Southern colonies. Believe me, it was all in jest:

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Some people did accuse me of taking it all too seriously but, you know, I’m a veterinarian and so thoughts like that are an occupational hazard.  And following that bit of fun, my mind started drifting along thinking about the actual lives of dogs and cats in the eighteenth century.

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Rollo admittedly looks appropriately dirty here

I will blog about it, I thought, expecting that I would do a bit of research and throw this post together fairly quickly. But here’s the thing: perhaps unsurprisingly, there is almost no information about veterinary medicine in Colonial America.

And this is due to a few reasons. First, many diseases weren’t yet identified- or hadn’t yet emerged- and so no one documented them. Germ theory was still a century away from being widely accepted and scientists had yet to identify bacterial or viral causes of diseases. What few diseases were known were usually only considered of importance if they endangered human lives (e.g. rabies), and even then they were poorly understood.

The human-animal bond was also very different. People still cared for their animals, but an animal’s role for affection was usually secondary to it’s utility. Modern pet keeping didn’t really take off in popularity until the Victorian Age; prior to this dogs and cats were kept primarily for their functionality– rodent and pest control, home and property protection, hunting, etc. In an age where dogs get their own Christmas stockings, it’s perhaps hard to believe that there was a time when companion animals weren’t considered “fur babies.” American Colonists, if they were able to jump through some standing stones and see the evolution of our relationships with pets, might believe we have collectively lost our minds.

Most veterinary knowledge in the eighteenth century focused on horses and livestock as they were vital components of the economy and a huge part of a family’s health and wealth. But even knowledge of equine and large animal diseases was pretty limited. And all of this is a long way of saying that this blog was fairly difficult to write.

Portrait of Anne Byrd, 1730.

Regardless, I have scraped together what I was able to find out and so I present to you a top list of concerns that might befall Rollo and Adso. A huge thank you goes to Dr. Phillip Kass at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. He was my former epidemiology professor and I’m sure my email about Outlander was the most random thing to grace his inbox in a long time. Very special thanks also goes to Dr. John McCall at the American Heartworm Society for taking the time to give me some resources about heartworm disease in North America. Additional thanks goes to my fellow veterinarians (and moms) for their helpful input: Drs. Laetitia Henry, Mia Lieberman, Jennifer Uhl, Kat Ahern Pendleton, Christy Mackenzie, Lynda Lee Sensmeier Oleksuk, and Jessie Keay.

Without further ado, here is my speculation on a cat and dog’s life in eighteenth century North Carolina.

Before we get started, I will warn people that I’m not going to allow specific veterinary advice (either seeking or giving) in the comments. It’s against the law for veterinarians to dispense specific medical advice without a doctor-patient relationship and/or across state lines. Also, what works for your animal may not work (or might be unhealthy) for others, so just to keep everything safe I’m going to keep the comments free of that sort of stuff. Thanks for understanding.

Henrietta, Lady Jenkinson; Phillipe Mercier, 1742

Fleas and ticks and their respective diseases

Yes, I know the novels discuss performing nightly tick checks (at least for the humans) around the campfire, but managing external parasites such as fleas and ticks on a thick-coated, mostly outdoor dog or cat living in the Southern Colonies would be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Anyone who had pets before the advent of modern flea and tick preventives can attest to how bad things used to be.

Complications from flea and tick infestations include anemia (from blood loss), inflammatory skin reactions (that can lead to infections), and the various diseases for which fleas and ticks are vectors.

Fleas are really gross…
…so are ticks.

As far as which diseases would be of concern, that’s difficult to say. Lyme disease is arguably the most infamous tick-borne disease, and there is some thought that Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterial agent that causes the disease) was present in North America long before European settlers arrived. Deforestation and urbanization has contributed to the wide spread of the disease, but it was likely endemic in areas of North America for centuries. Hopefully the Fraser gang is checking their animals for parasites while they’re checking themselves.

Modern veterinary medicine takeaway: make sure your critters are up-to-date on their flea and tick prevention. Ask your veterinarian which one is most appropriate for your animal.

Rabies

Rabies had been known– and feared– for centuries. Caused by lyssaviruses, the disease seems to have originated in the Old World. The first documented animal case of rabies in the New World occurred in Boston in 1768- definitely within the timeframe of the Outlander universe- and from there it spread throughout the colonies and across North America.

Rabies, as most people are aware, is transmitted by the saliva of an animal actively infected with the disease. Despite all our modern medical advances, human or veterinary, there is still no “cure” for rabies. Worldwide, only about fifteen people have ever survived the disease without vaccination. Since the first vaccines and post-exposure prophylaxis injections weren’t developed until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an animal (or human) infected with rabies in Jamie and Claire’s time wouldn’t stand a chance.

Modern veterinary medicine takeaway: keep your animals current on their rabies vaccinations. Never approach or pet a stray or wild animal and teach your children to do the same. Animal bites should be reported to animal control and your healthcare provider right away. Here are the CDC guidelines for animal bites and rabies prevention.

Distemper

If you’re not as familiar with the distemper virus as you are with rabies, that’s a good thing; vaccination programs have kept this disease in relatively low numbers in North America in recent decades. But before the vaccine was developed it was epidemic in canine and wildlife populations . It is still a major concern in developing nations with high stray dog numbers and less extensive vaccine protocols.

The disease is brutal, causing severe respiratory disease, neurologic signs, diarrhea, and death. It has a high mortality rate and any veterinarian that has ever treated a distemper puppy will attest that it is a heartbreaking disease.

Distemper is in the same family of viruses as human measles (Paramyxoviridae), and what’s interesting is that, unlike most other diseases in the colonies, this one may have developed in the New World when the European measles and cattle Rinderpest viruses jumped species to dogs in the Americas. The first cases of canine distemper in North America were reported in the 1760s. Like measles, it is highly contagious and spread via inhalation.

If Rollo was wandering around any of the larger port cities in the colonies- which he does frequently in the novels- there is a good chance he could have been exposed to canine distemper. He might stand a good chance of recovery in Claire’s hands with good supportive care, but most dogs would likely succumb to the disease.

Modern veterinary medicine takeaway: Again, keep those vaccines current! Follow your veterinarian’s vaccine protocols for your puppy and adult dog and make sure newly adopted sick dogs- especially ones coming out of the shelters- are seen by a veterinarian right away.

Heartworm disease and other internal parasites

Heartworm disease is exactly what it sounds like– parasitic worms that infect the heart– and it is bad, bad news. I’ve treated multiple dogs for heartworm disease and it is really nasty stuff. Mosquitoes act as the vector for heartworm disease and the most endemic places in the United States are, not surprisingly, hot and humid areas with lots of mosquitoes…pre-Revolutionary Southern Colonies, anyone?

In fact, the first cases of heartworm disease in the United States were reported in the south in the mid-1800s. A couple of centuries earlier, heartworm disease was first identified in canine hearts in Italy in the 1600s. It is unclear when Dirofilaria immitis, the worm that causes the disease, first emerged in North America but it most likely came over from the Old World during the slave trade (Roncalli 1998).

Other internal parasitic diseases, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms were likely also present in the Southern colonies. In fact, Claire treats a (human) character in one of the later novels for hookworm disease!

Modern veterinary takeaways: keep your animals up to date on heartworm and other parasite prevention. Ask your veterinarian what medications are most appropriate for your area. Clean up after your dog on walks and always wash your hands after handling or touching animals.

Dietary indiscretions, foreign bodies, and trauma

These are universal concerns for companion animals no matter the century. A dog in colonial America would be at particular risk for eating things it shouldn’t–bones, corn cobs, carrion, socks, petticoats, yarn, etc. And if you think petticoats are a stretch I’m here to tell you I’ve pulled more than one pair of nylons and underwear out of a dog’s intestines.

But whereas a modern dog or cat that finds itself in such a predicament can likely be helped via surgery and medicine, an eighteenth century animal would probably die from an intestinal obstruction.

Broken bones would pose a similar threat. Although some breaks can be splinted depending on their severity and location, others can only be addressed by surgery or amputation. And amputation in the eighteenth century- for human or animal- had a fair to guarded prognosis due to the risks of hemorrhage or infection.

And speaking of infection…the lack of antibiotics and vaccines in the eighteenth century meant shorter lifespans for humans and animals alike. Even small injuries could lead to tetanus or septicemia. As with their human counterparts, an animal could die quickly from clinical signs (diarrhea, fever) that today we prevent or treat with a simple trip to the drugstore.

And things like cancers or organ failure? Truthfully, companion animals likely didn’t live long enough for many progressive diseases. But for some animals they’d definitely be a consideration.

So while you’re making your list of items to take through those standing stones, think of our four-legged friends and maybe grab an extra handful of medications and vaccines. Make sure your animals see a veterinarian annually and stay up to date on their preventive medicine. And remember…

Slàinte.

Photos: @Outlander_starz, @sophie.skelton, @britishbluebear IG

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3 thoughts on “All Creatures Great and Small”

  1. I wonder if people used pennyroyal and other herbs to deter fleas and ticks. While not necessarily reliable there were a lot of herbal remedies available.

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  2. This was so very interesting to read! I always keep the indoor/outdoor cats vaccines & shots up to date & flea & tick year round. I have started to administer flea & tick to the semi feral barn cats too. Which reminds me I need to get doses for the 4 kittens & schedule their shots. 🤓

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  3. Ah brings back memories of purple Horse medicine! and giant pills. Very good read!! I always wondered how people coped with sick animals, especially the big draft horses and oxen. Thanks for the read, enjoyed trotting along side with the parasites. Daughter of Vet, Grand daughter of Vet, Niece of Vet, Cousin of Vet.

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