Ah Nuts! What’s Causing That Itch?

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - August 05, 2009
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Not a day goes by without a phone message at my desk. In fact, I’ll often find a dozen medical files neatly stacked with tiny strips of paper attached to each one. Most messages are straightforward and cover things like a prescription request, an update on a pet’s health status, or an owner seeking advice about an unwanted behavior like urinating on a favorite couch.

One day, however, I got a message that stopped me in my tracks. I could not stop laughing. As usual, the names and furry faces have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was a breezy afternoon without a cloud in the sky. As I sat in my air-conditioned office, I couldn’t help but daydream about enjoying the beach and catching some waves. My schedule that day consisted of mostly cats and dogs with a few exotic pets penciled in here and there.

Enter “Nuts” Tashiro. Nuts was a 5-year-old male chinchilla that had been losing fur for weeks. If you have never seen a chinchilla, they are one of the cutest little balls of fur you’ll ever see. Their fur is so soft and luxurious that their pelts are highly prized in the fur coat industry. But Nuts had nothing to fear. He lived in the lap of luxury and enjoyed all the special treats that his owner provided. His only problem at the time was tufts of fur were falling off his tiny body, leaving behind patches of dry, itchy skin. Mr. Tashiro was beside himself. In his own words, Mr. Tashiro exclaimed, “My poor little Nuts is suffering.”

I calmed Mr. Tashiro down and assured him that we would help Nuts get better.

Fur loss and itchy skin ... hmmm ... my suspicions led me to a ringworm infection. Many people think that ringworm is a worm, as the name implies, but it’s actually a fungal problem. I plucked some hair samples from Nuts and submitted them for a fungal culture. The culture would take two to three weeks to complete, but in the meantime I did not want Nuts to continue suffering. I instructed Mr. Tashiro to add a teaspoon of athlete’s foot powder to his chin-chilla’s dust bath. What’s a dust bath? An interesting fact about chinchillas is that they don’t use water to bathe. They roll and toss about in a fine powder as part of their personal hygiene. If Nuts did have a fungal infection, the medicated foot powder mixed into his dust bath would take care of it. Mr. Tashiro seemed skeptical, but agreed to initiate treatment. “Anything for my little Nuts,” he said.

Three weeks later, the final results of the fungal culture arrived at our hospital: Ringworm positive. As I anxiously picked up the phone to call Mr. Tashiro, I noticed a note on his medical chart. There it was, the phone message that had me in stitches for days: “Chinchilla’s nuts, fur growing back, athlete’s foot powder worked.”

Our receptionist did not realize that Nuts was the chinchilla’s name.

Whew. Well, was it worth the wait? I guess you had to be there.

Till this day, I have the message posted on my cork board at work. As I stare at my daily pile of messages, I often glance at the note about Nuts Tashiro and smile. The Wild Side will never be the same.

Pet Tips:

If your pet is losing fur and seems itchy, see your veterinarian. Medication can often help your pet feel more comfortable.

Ringworm is a fungal infection that plagues both animals and humans. If your pet has been diagnosed with ringworm, take proper precautions so that you don’t contract the disease also.

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