Vitamin soaks/baby food soaks for ailing tortoises

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Kristina

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A couple of points have been brought up about this recently, and I feel the need to address them :)

First off, it is becoming generally accepted (at least among the members of this forum) that carapace humidity (misting) starting at a very early age (and continuing for an as yet not determined amount of time) is essential for growing non-pyramided tortoises. View Tom's thread on his baby Sulcatas for reference -

http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-The-End-Of-Pyramiding

Second, Tom has also raised questions about the actual permeability of the carapace, or shell in general. Several members (myself included) have noticed that drier conditions tend to produce a "sunken" look to the scutes, particularly of younger tortoises of certain species and centering around the original scute that they are born with.

http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Carapace-Like-A-Sponge

There has been some question as to whether the skin of shell of a tortoise is in fact permeable, but I have a couple of theories I will expound on in just a minute.

Over the years, when I have had a young tortoise or turtle that was weakened, ill, not eating, etc., I have used baby food/vitamin soaks as a means to add needed nutrients and energy. The method for this is simple. Prepare a soak for your tortoise. The water should be warm but not hot to the touch, and the level of the water should just cover the bridge between the carapace (upper shell) and plastron (lower shell.) Into the water, mix one jar (or less for smaller volume soaks, but a good portion of around 30-40% of the total volume) of human baby food. Carrots or butternut squash seem to work the best. To the water can also be added bird vitamins of the kind that are mixed with water (Vitasol is one) and I have also used human baby vitamins (such as Gerber Poly Vi Sol.) Another great option is to add a liquid calcium carbonate solution, which can be purchased over the counter and is particularly a good choice for tortoises that have soft carapaces or plastrons, or very fine grade, suspendable calcium carbonate powder. The soak should be placed in an area that will allow it to remain warm for 15-20 minutes, such as on a heat pad, under a heat lamp, or next to a heat duct.

The symptoms under which I use/recommend this treatment are - lethargy, refusing to open eyes, puffy eyes, refusing to eat, and softness of the shell. Sometimes antibiotic therapy will cause a tortoise to go off its feed for a few days, and these soaks can be used at that time, also.

Yvonne is another advocate of this treatment, and she recommends it often and has used it to good effect herself.

Now, of course, the proof is in the pudding. I can think of one recently documented case where this treatment appears to have made the difference between life and death.

This is about a little CDT named Heidi, and her two siblings.

http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Jus...by-desert-tortoises-Need-help?highlight=Heidi

http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Heidi-the-Come-Back-Kid?highlight=Heidi

Okay, now we come to the question about permeability of the shell and skin.

I personally believe that the shell and skin both are permeable, for a few different reasons. One, we have seen how keeping the carapace humid and lubricated leads to smooth growth. Second, we have also seen how dry conditions affect the carapace of some species, causing the scutes to sink, or thin out from dehydration. An inert substance would not have that reaction to applied humidity.

Another point - I have always thought that the areas of skin close to the body, under the throat, and surrounding the cloaca to be more permeable than the rest of the body. A tortoise has very thick, scaley skin on the rest of its body, but those areas tend to be soft. Another tidbit - I realize that a softshell turtle and a land dwelling tortoise are completely different species, but - did you know that softshell turtles can actually respirate by flushing water in and out of the cloaca, and absorbing the oxygen it contains? I am not suggesting that the cloacal lining of tortoise works in exactly the same fashion, but considering the close physiological similarities in turtles and tortoises, it does lend some credence to the idea that the cloacal lining is indeed permeable.

A further point I want to make involves the shell of young/baby tortoises in particular. Baby tortoises are softer than a lot of people realize when they leave the egg. It takes several months to several years for their shells to truly harden. This in my mind makes it logical that baby tortoises are overall more permeable than an adult. It goes along with what we have found to be true - misting/humidity causes babies to grow smooth, and babies generally hide most of the time in humid burrows or at the base of plants, where ambient humidity is higher. Babies subjected to drier conditions seem to dehydrate and their scutes become sunken. If the shells of young tortoises were NOT permeable, then why in the world would applied/ambient humidity make a difference? Doesn't this prove that their shells (and most likely the skin, too) are absorbing fluids?

Also - the yolk sack :) When tortoises first hatch from the egg, there is a yolk sack hanging out from their plastron. It takes several days to absorb, and they can feed off it for up to 7-10 days. The reason that I am bringing this up is that where the yolk sack absorbs, there is an opening. It does close up, but, wouldn't this also create a sort of "entry point" of thinner and more easily permeable scute material? Think of it like the soft spot in a human baby's skull. There is skin covering it, but it takes time for the bone itself to grow together and cover the opening. I can't imagine that a hatchling tortoise would grow a thick layer of bone in that area in a matter of a few days. It is likely at least a couple of months. This would explain why a hatchling tortoise would be able to better absorb nutrients and fluids osmotically.

There is another simple reason that vitamin and baby food soaks do work - the tortoise is ingesting the vitamins while drinking.

Another aspect of this method that was questioned recently had to do with Avitaminosis A, or lack of Vitamin A, which can cause eye problems, particularly swelling. Again, I will state that I do not know exactly what causes puffy eyes in every case, nor do I think that every case is indeed Avitaminosis A and not infection or irritation. However, carrots and butternut squash do have higher levels of Vitamin A. In 99% of the cases of puffiness that I myself have actually witnessed and dealt with, the vitamin and baby food soaks have created an improvement within 3-4 days. I do believe that with certain species (Redfoots and Hingebacks to be two of those) eye problems are caused by too dry conditions. Therefore the soaks alone may be creating the improvement, with the baby food and vitamins not really being needed. I often also suggest adding broad leaf plantain to the diet along with this treatment, which also has high levels of Vitamin A. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions there.

I think that I have made all the initial points that I intended to, but I am sure I will think of other things as others post :) I really want to hear opinions and experiences.
 

DeanS

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Kristina...You are absolutely right about permeabilty of the shell...I've seen it firsthand in Tom's newly acquired pardalis pardalis. When they are soaked, the scutes rise to perfect smoothness...like watching cupcakes rise in the oven.
 

Kristina

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I have to say, after all the previous opposition to this that I received, I am a bit disappointed that there has not been any discussion. Thank you Dean for your observation.
 

Madkins007

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I'm sorry- I woulda sworn I had already responded to this with a nice long note.

There are several issues being raised in this thread, and I think it would be smarter to separate them.

ABSORBENT VS. PERMEABLE

I think the main confusion here is 'permeable' vs. 'absorbent'. 'Permeable' means that the membranes pass some materials on to underlying structures. In this case, that water or vitamins are passed through the skin to the blood supply or muscles.

This does not happen, through any part of the skin or through the cloaca. Research has been done to verify it, and the basic fact shows up in almost every article on reptile anatomy or evolution- "Reptilian skin is covered in a horny epidermis, making it watertight and enabling reptiles to live on dry land, in contrast to amphibians." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reptile)

(Also previously mentioned in 'Tortoise Mythbusters'- "Neil F. Hadley ("Environmental Physiology of Desert Organisms", 1975) states that reptilian skin can pass water vapor out, but does not absorb inwards, and that the cloaca can concentrate water already in the urine, etc., but not absorb it from the outside. (an outline of the findings is at http://www.mombu.com /reptiles/reptiles/t-water-absorption-tortoise-alterna-turtle-iguana-snake-106429-last.html ))

The skin, scales, and scutes ARE absorbent, though. We see this all of the time. The cells swell and shrink as they soak and dry.

The developing theory that seems to be that keeping the growing edge of the scutes flexible is what prevents pyramiding. This does not require that anything pass through to underlying structures and may help explain why internal hydration is not enough to prevent problems.

Issues like thinness or flexibility of skin does not change the permeability of it- a piece of plastic can be very thin and flexible, but is still impermeable. In fact, you can think of reptilian skin as being kind of like sponges layered over a film of plastic.

Similarly, the yolk sac is also basically an impermeable plastic bag holding nutrients- if it were permeable, it would dehydrate and germs would pass through. There is a direct connection between the sac and the digestive tract- the stuff in the yolk does not have to pass through another impermeable membrane.



BENEFITS OF SOAKING

Even though nothing passes through the skin inwards, does this mean there is no benefit to soaking?

Soaks DO allow a tortoise to breathe humid air, have easy access to drinking water, allow skin tissues to rehydrate, and seem to help the tortoise internally- possibly by tricking the system into thinking it is hydrated or the rainy season or something.

Can we accomplish these benefits without soaks? I think so, but it is nice to have lots of options.



MEDICATED/SUPPORTIVE SOAKS

If you had a kitten with the symptoms "lethargy, refusing to open eyes, puffy eyes, refusing to eat, and softness of the shell (bones)", would you soak it in a mix of calcium, baby food, and assorted vitamins? I can already hear a lot of the objections, but mammal skin IS permeable so it should work better for the kitten. You may say that cats don't like water, but a lot of torts do not like forced soaks either.

If you don't like the kitten analogy, would you do it for an iguana? They have the same skin, but as far as I can tell, no one advocates soaks to provide support for this sort of conditions.

My concern- and it is just a concern, nothing more- is that this is a rather 'shotgun' approach. The realities of a rescue, adoption, or other sort of operation that deals with a lot of ill, poorly started, injured, or just plain 'poorly' animals has to come up with simple treatments for a variety of conditions. A few trips to the vet for this sort of thing can become prohibitively expensive quickly.

Personally, I think it is better to determine what the issues really are and use the best care possible for that condition. If the tortoise is experiencing vitamin issues or calcium issues, I would prefer to get blood tests done to determine what is needed and use the best delivery system to get it what it needs...

But, I also know that this is a rather costly operation and not all vets are set up for this sort of thing.

My wish would be that we can take things that seem to work, like this soak, and figure out how to make it more effective by combining the experiences with science. Sort of like how people used to laugh at natives that chewed on willow for headaches... until naturally occurring aspirin in it.
 

Candy

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Wow you guys wrote a lot of information and excuse me if I didn't read quite all of it but I got the point and I think from reading what others have done that it certainly helps them to have the soaks. I've read many of Yvonne and Maggie's threads that have proven to me that this might not be scientifically proven but it still works somehow. I would definitely suggest this to anyone having difficulty with a baby tortoise. I hope there's others Kristina with other experiences who come on here and let us know what they think. Very good thread. :D
 

terryo

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So far I've never had a sick tortoise, but I found my Ornate sitting outside in the cold weather, instead of digging under the leaf litter, and she had a puffy eye that was closed. I have been soaking her in warm water with some added Poly Vi Sol. I haven't added the baby food, and I'm also treating her eye with Terramycin. I've been doing this twice a day for three days now, and she has already opened her eye, and there is hardly any puffiness. I have her in a planted vivarium, with a heat emitter, with consistent 80 degree temperatures. I won't let her hibernate outside this year. So although I haven't done this with a tortoise, it has worked with my old boxie.
 

Madkins007

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Kristina, would you be interested in simplifying the discussion, or breaking it into a couple different threads?

I also hope you understand that I am not trying to say that what you are doing does not help- I AM NOT questioning your cares, your experience, or your heart.
 

Kristina

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I think the topics are fine left as a cohesive unit, since they are all interrelated.

I do intend on writing a response, I just happen to be at work right now and unable to give it my undivided attention :)
 
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Maggie Cummings

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I have used the baby food soaks for a number of years. I don't know why it works, I just know it does. Can I prove it? Nope, I've never thought of taking pictures or writing it all down. So y'all can take mine, Yvonne's and Kristina's word for it. Or don't. I just know I personally have saved numerous babies, mostly CDT's, that were sick and close to dying by soaking them in baby food and Vitamins. I use carrots because of the amount of Vit A it has. I soak for about an hour using a warming light. I wish I could prove that it works.
I sure am sorry I missed this thread when it first came out I'm glad you brought it out again Mark.
 

Az tortoise compound

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Maggie, Yvonne and Kristina,
I will be following your advice when the situation arises. We can wait for the science to catch up and tell us what works about it.
It's more important to know that it works as opposed to why it works.
Mark,
Thanks for bumping the thread. I enjoy reading about these issues.
 

Madkins007

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I think it is helpful to know WHY so as to help us tune and improve the process. For example, Mader states quite clearly that tortoises are almost never affected with vitamin A deficiencies ('hibernation blindness' in Mediterranean tortoises seems to be the main exception), so what is the vitamin A doing for the torts or is there something we can substitute that will help more?

The listed symptoms- lethargy, refusing to open eyes, puffy eyes, refusing to eat, and softness of the shell- can apply to a lot of things- Nutritional Secondary Hyperthyroidism (a common form of Metabolic Bone Disease) is likely and obvious, probably resulting from poor cares and diet.

Puffy eyes in some water turtle and Box Turtles is usually a vitamin A issue, but in tortoises, it is more likely to be Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (a common form of RI), herpesvirus, or a result of general poor cares and dehydration. Puffy eyes also helps explain no appetite.

If I saw a tortoise like this and did not know about the baby food soaks, and bearing in mind that I am a researcher, not a vet or a widely experienced keeper or rehabber, my goals would be to:
- rehydrate the tortoise
- get it to open its eyes
- reduce the pathogen load in, on, and around the tortoise
- improve the general cares and diet
- isolate and let the tortoise rest
- boost the immune system with heat, rest, and multi-vitamins
- offer supplemental calcium and D3

My plan of attack would be to:
- clean it up carefully. Give it a good exam with weights, measurements, and photos. Use the Donohue Ratio to see how dehydrated it is
- give it a long, warm soak to let the warm vapors soften the eyes, and so it can breathe in high humidity. Hopefully, it will drink and defecate as well
- use an ophthalmologic eye ointment or eye drops to help reduce inflammation in the eyes and make them easier to open
- offer a tasty, easy to eat food that has been treated with additional calcium and multi-vitamins that contain D3
---- if it did not take the food readily, I would try to offer a drop of liquid multi-vitamin with calcium and D3 by mouth with an eyedropper
- prepare a clean, isolated, low-stress, warm, humid home for the recovery period
- offer a diet that was soft, appealing, and easy to eat until it regained its appetite- baby food with added vitamins and calcium would work well for this. As it regained the appetite I would phase in more normal foods. All foods would be as moist as I could make them to help hydrate the tortoise
- make sure it has a good soaking bowl available. If I did not see it use it, give it warm soaks regularly to help combat the dehydration.


The thing is, I can see how the baby food soaks do much of this.
 

Annieski

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I know I don't know much about TORTOISES[only have Mortimer to go on] but from my medical knowledge[humans only] and my readings--- the "shell" and "skin" of torts is the integumentary system. In people this also includes hair, finger and toe nails. The actual function the "skin" has is represented by the "form" it takes[carapase and plastron--Hard--to protect internal organs] this is "waterproofed"--meaning water can sit on it, but it does not penetrate. The skin on the forelimbs and hind legs in "HORNY-keratinized" layers of dermis. This is to protect during movement,digging, and as a barrier to internal body parts when drawn into the shell. It is also to a degree "waterproofed" but maybe a little less the the shell. The "skin" that is softer and "semi-permeable", around the upper-limbs, neck,hind-quarters is where the "hydration" exchange takes place. I would think that is why it is important, while soaking, the water level comes up to ,at least ,the bridge, since this is where the greater consentration of "SEMI-PERMEABLE" tissue is located. Semi-permeable cells allow for the exchange of different chemicals and fluids needed by the cells ,themselves, for chemical balance,hydration, and O2 and CO2 gas exchanges. Perhaps this is why, "soaking in baby food" allows whatever nutrient that is NEEDED at the time of "illness" is "allowed" to be exchanged. Along with the "thought" of hydration being absolutely imperative for survival of ALL cells---in order to maintain life. JMT
 

Terry Allan Hall

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Never had to use the babyfood/vitamin soak on a tortoise, but I know it works very handily on baby green iguanas, bearded dragons and uromastixs...about 3 years ago I had all three species (11 individuals in all) dumped on me, all suffering from Grave Stupidity Syndrome on the previous owner's part...he'd decided that it wasn't all that important to change/clean/refill the water dishes too often or keep the heat up, and that all 3 species (4 iguanas around 12-14", 2 uromastixs and 5 beardies under 6" of various colorings) could share a 29-gall. tank...by soaking them daily in the babyfood/vitamin/water concoction, and giving them the correct food and husbandry, I was able to save all but two of the iguanas and, when I recieved these poor little critters, I really thought they'd all be lucky to make it 'til the next morning!

However a babyfood/vitamin soak works, it works!
 

Madkins007

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Annieski said:
I know I don't know much about TORTOISES[only have Mortimer to go on] but from my medical knowledge[humans only] and my readings--- the "shell" and "skin" of torts is the integumentary system. In people this also includes hair, finger and toe nails. The actual function the "skin" has is represented by the "form" it takes[carapase and plastron--Hard--to protect internal organs] this is "waterproofed"--meaning water can sit on it, but it does not penetrate. The skin on the forelimbs and hind legs in "HORNY-keratinized" layers of dermis. This is to protect during movement,digging, and as a barrier to internal body parts when drawn into the shell. It is also to a degree "waterproofed" but maybe a little less the the shell. The "skin" that is softer and "semi-permeable", around the upper-limbs, neck,hind-quarters is where the "hydration" exchange takes place. I would think that is why it is important, while soaking, the water level comes up to ,at least ,the bridge, since this is where the greater consentration of "SEMI-PERMEABLE" tissue is located. Semi-permeable cells allow for the exchange of different chemicals and fluids needed by the cells ,themselves, for chemical balance,hydration, and O2 and CO2 gas exchanges. Perhaps this is why, "soaking in baby food" allows whatever nutrient that is NEEDED at the time of "illness" is "allowed" to be exchanged. Along with the "thought" of hydration being absolutely imperative for survival of ALL cells---in order to maintain life. JMT

True for mammalian skin, but reptilian skin is waterproof and has been tested as such by several studies. I have not found a study yet that suggests otherwise.

Of course, other cells ARE permeable.
 

Madkins007

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Myrtle651 posted a question about a sick baby tortoise. To help her get more responses, I moved it to the General Tortoise Discussion area.

Myrtle- I hope you get the answers you are looking for!
 

Angi

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Just a thought, but maybe some of the research has already been done by the skin care industry. They have been using Vit. A in creams because it does penatrate the epidermas and can help with skin cancer cells, acne and wrinkles. Our skin is suposed to be water proof too but Vit A soaks in.
You know Retin A which has been used for over 25 years is a Vit. A cream.
 

Annieski

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Angi said:
Just a thought, but maybe some of the research has already been done by the skin care industry. They have been using Vit. A in creams because it does penatrate the epidermas and can help with skin cancer cells, acne and wrinkles. Our skin is suposed to be water proof too but Vit A soaks in.
You know Retin A which has been used for over 25 years is a Vit. A cream.

I'm sure Mark will correct me if I'm wrong---but I think the difference is we are mammals and have sweat glands and pores. Our body temps are regulated in a different way compared to reptiles. While our skin has a waterproofing mechanism,as protection against germs and enviornmental invaders, we sweat. This would allow for a cream [vitA] or topical anesthetic to "enter" the dermal layer of skin. I don't think reptiles have sweat glands.
 

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I have a Russian tort named Maggie McGee who had not been acting like herself for a while. I thought it was perhaps the funky weather changes we'd been experiencing-even though she's inside, or maybe it was the fact that winter was getting closer. She just stopped eating, wasn't pooping, sleeping all the time. She had previously been doing really well. I tried regular soaks every day, I tried presenting her with different foods, but she didn't improve. I knew I had read about the baby food/vitamin soaks on the forum. I figured if I didn't try she probably would die anyway. I got some baby food carrots and some Poly Vi Sol and hoped. I wasn't sure how much of the vitamins to put into the soak so I just used the lowest dosage. I am very happy to say that she has made a complete turnaround. She's active once again, eating like she's making up for lost time, pooping regularly. She's gained her strength back to where she was before she was sick. When she was sick, she was so completely weak. I cried for her. I waited a couple of days after the initial carrot baby food/vitamin soak and did regular soaks and then I did another carrot baby food/ vitamin soak. She's incredible now. I am so thankful. I know others have posted that technically it shouldn't work. I don't know why it does, but I can say with my tortoise, I believe it saved her life.
 

Madkins007

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Annieski said:
Angi said:
Just a thought, but maybe some of the research has already been done by the skin care industry. They have been using Vit. A in creams because it does penatrate the epidermas and can help with skin cancer cells, acne and wrinkles. Our skin is suposed to be water proof too but Vit A soaks in.
You know Retin A which has been used for over 25 years is a Vit. A cream.

I'm sure Mark will correct me if I'm wrong---but I think the difference is we are mammals and have sweat glands and pores. Our body temps are regulated in a different way compared to reptiles. While our skin has a waterproofing mechanism,as protection against germs and enviornmental invaders, we sweat. This would allow for a cream [vitA] or topical anesthetic to "enter" the dermal layer of skin. I don't think reptiles have sweat glands.

Our skin is, as Anneski pointed out, much more porous than reptile, but not hugely so- more like Gore-Tex than a plastic sheet.

As far as I can find, vitamin A soaks into the skin, not into the bloodstream or muscles.

Speaking of vitamin A, when I glanced at Wikipedia about it a few minutes ago, I found this interesting bit:
"The conclusion that can be drawn from the newer research is that fruits and vegetables are not as useful for obtaining vitamin A as was thought; in other words, the IUs that these foods were reported to contain were worth much less than the same number of IUs of fat-dissolved oils and (to some extent) supplements. This is important for vegetarians. (Night blindness is prevalent in countries where little meat or vitamin A-fortified foods are available.)"

Of course, reptiles are not humans, but dang, this is an interesting thought.


jensgotfaith said:
I have a Russian tort named Maggie McGee who had not been acting like herself for a while. I thought it was perhaps the funky weather changes we'd been experiencing-even though she's inside, or maybe it was the fact that winter was getting closer. She just stopped eating, wasn't pooping, sleeping all the time. She had previously been doing really well. I tried regular soaks every day, I tried presenting her with different foods, but she didn't improve. I knew I had read about the baby food/vitamin soaks on the forum. I figured if I didn't try she probably would die anyway. I got some baby food carrots and some Poly Vi Sol and hoped. I wasn't sure how much of the vitamins to put into the soak so I just used the lowest dosage. I am very happy to say that she has made a complete turnaround. She's active once again, eating like she's making up for lost time, pooping regularly. She's gained her strength back to where she was before she was sick. When she was sick, she was so completely weak. I cried for her. I waited a couple of days after the initial carrot baby food/vitamin soak and did regular soaks and then I did another carrot baby food/ vitamin soak. She's incredible now. I am so thankful. I know others have posted that technically it shouldn't work. I don't know why it does, but I can say with my tortoise, I believe it saved her life.

I am glad it helped!

The thing that troubles my scientific soul is that this is exactly how folk remedies work and why they are passed on so much. You had a non-specific, non-diagnosed problem and applied a general purpose approach.

It worked and now you are happy, but was the actual problem taken care of? If it was a vitamin problem or dehydration, has anything been done to prevent another round? If it was a mild form of RI or another bug, was it treated (as it may well have been), or just postponed?

I know most people would just be happy that everything was OK and go for it.

Here is a rough analogy from humans as to my concerns. A 60ish guy in typical mediocre health is likely to experience a mild heart attack. It will often feel like a case of bad heart burn. He will pop some antacid and sleep it off. The next morning, he will figure he is OK.

When he has another bout of 'heart burn' a month or so later, he will do the same since it worked last time. He will keep this up until he either feels a need to see a doctor, or he passes away.

The real problem, the increasing damage to the heart, was not helped at all by his treatment, although it helped him feel better. There are several things he COULD have done to help himself- aspirin, better diet, better exercise if diagnosed correctly and caught early enough.

Please understand that I am NOT trying to claim that torts given the soak treatment are in jeopardy of death automatically or anything like that! I am just wondering if there would be a more effective process we could follow without running to the vet for every little thing.
 
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