The Struggle for Health
Now, when your pet gets sick, you’ll understand that his symptoms are the result of the immune system’s effort to purge, or failure to purge, toxins and unhealthy cells. How does that help you treat illness or, better yet, prevent it? It doesn’t. Until, that is, you begin to appreciate where disease comes from, and what you can do to help fend it off.
How often, when you bring your pet to the veterinarian, is anything said about what may have caused the symptoms he’s experiencing? To be sure, some problems do have obvious origins. Lyme disease is contracted from a deer tick. Heartworm is carried by infected mosquitoes. And fleas are fleas. Most illnesses, however, seem to grow without such explanations, especially when they appear internally, as flus or fevers, accompanied by symptoms that range from lack of appetite to diarrhea. Instead, as your veterinarian writes up the prescription for antibiotics, he usually mentions one of those two catch-all causes: virus or bacteria. Where have they come from? Why have they targeted your pet now?
I’m the first to admit that nature works in mysterious ways. But to me, the biggest mystery about viruses and bacteria is why they’re still so universally assumed to be the causative agents of so many diseases.
Consider how viruses are defined: as submicroscopic germ organisms, smaller even than a single cell, that travel through air or water from person to person, animal to animal, infecting us with various diseases. Without exception, a flu victim will have been exposed to a flu virus. But did the virus cause the disease? Or did the disease bring on and support the virus? The fact is that viruses infrequently appear outside diseased tissue. So again: Which comes first, the virus or the diseased tissue? I think the latter; otherwise, the virus would have to evolve out of thin air. The diseased tissue somehow engenders the virus—not the other way around. At which point the virus “sets up home” in the diseased environment, concentrates, and then appears to cause the disease and “spread” to others.
Granted, feline leukemia, a major killer of cats, appears to be virus-borne. So does feline infectious peritonitis, a horrible disease that swells the abdomen appallingly; and feline immunodeficiency virus, the so-called feline AIDS, among others. But these are relatively new diseases, brought on, I believe, not by new viruses appearing out of nowhere, but rather from our unfortunate success in affecting nature—and ourselves. The result, in the broadest sense, is that we’ve disrupted the balance between the two, allowing viruses to take opportunistic hold. Even so, I don’t believe they initially cause these diseases on their own.
My first inkling that something other than viruses might be involved in causing disease came in the course of my attempts to improve my own health. Before I changed my diet, I used to get bad flus half a dozen times a year. High fevers, achiness—I’d be down for the count. Since then, over more than two decades, I’ve probably been exposed to thousands of viral flu bugs and have not caught one. Just luck? I don’t think so.
One of the first veterinary cases that served to confirm my suspicions concerning illness actually involved feline leukemia. A woman came to the clinic in the early 1980s with a cat diagnosed as having feline leukemia virus (FeLV) of the spinal cord. The cat, it turned out, was one of six the woman owned. Within a three-month period, two more of her cats incurred the disease, one also in the spinal cord, one in the chest. There was nothing I could do for any of them; all three cats died. Yet the other three cats remained healthy. That mystified me. If feline leukemia was a virus and the survivors lived in close quarters with the cats who died, why didn’t they contract it, too? In fact, the three cats who died were related to each other; the three who survived were not. Something more than the virus had to be involved. Something in the infected cats’ immune systems had allowed the virus to take over. Something, perhaps, that had been instilled in an earlier generation and passed on genetically.
My practice has kept me too busy to address the mysteries of feline viral diseases in a systematic way, but Dr. Deva Khalsa, a holistic veterinarian in Pennsylvania, has confounded the conventional wisdom that feline infectious peritonitis is a 100 percent fatal virus. She hasn’t tried to knock out the virus or rather, she’s focused on building her feline patients’ immune systems by using certain homeopathic remedies: apis mellifica, made from honeybees; pulsatilla, made from anemone; and hydrastis, made from goldenseal. “It turns out from studying their genomes that most cats carry FeLV and FIP, even wild ones,” she explains. “But in many cats it remains dormant. Why does it manifest itself more in some breeds than others? Inbreeding seems to be one reason: in Persians and Bermans, both very inbred, the virus tends to get a foothold and develop as disease.” It seems no coincidence, Dr. Khalsa adds, that inbred cats tend to have shoddy immune systems.
Parvovirus, a potential killer that’s earned its own vaccine in the standard annual lineup of canine inoculations, offers more evidence that viruses aren’t independent causal agents. Parvo is spread when dogs ingest the feces of infected animals (often just by stepping in the excretions, then licking their paws clean later). Diarrhea, often bloody and watery, ensues, usually along with vomiting, lack of appetite, and a fever. Yet the parvovirus, which might seem as established as rabies, distemper, and the other scourges combated by annual vaccines, was only discovered in 1978! At some point not long before that, the parvovirus either appeared out of nowhere—unlikely—or existed as a benign organism. What caused that benign organism to become a viral scourge? One of two things. Either we as a society changed the organism’s makeup by introducing some chemical into the environment, or, more likely, we changed our pets, inhibiting their immune systems by various means intended to help them. Either way, a natural balance between dogs and parvo was upset, and so the virus took hold.
Most veterinarians still say that parvo is a viral disease, and that the way to prevent it is with the parvo vaccine. I’ll have more to say—a lot more—on the subject of vaccines in Chapter Four. For now, let me just note that in my experience, boosting pets’ immune systems with nutritional supplements—and without annual vaccinations—has produced a tremendous success rate: not one incidence of parvo among the thousands of dogs I’ve seen in the last half dozen years. And this is despite the reported appearance of new strains of the viral disease.
Here’s one more indication why viruses no longer seem to me to be the sole cause of the diseases to which they have been linked. In recent years, as we have come to treat patients on a national basis at Smith Ridge, reports of similar viral illness have come in, often almost simultaneously, from different parts of the country. It seems kind of odd to me that viruses could be that simultaneously contagious, or would coincidentally “pop up” everywhere.
Unless, of course, other factors are at work, precipitating the disease—and the virus.
The dog may stay well. Just as likely, however, his cough will return weeks or months later, more racking than before. What’s to explain it?
In short, the bacteria aren’t necessarily the problem. They’re part of the body’s natural solution of eliminating acquired toxins through the respiratory system. Already, the body has generated mucus as part of the process of transporting toxins out through the dog’s mouth and nose. As that happens, the dog’s normal flora of throat bacteria have multiplied and become more virulent, producing toxins themselves, but for a very healthy reason: to help destroy excess mucus. (The bacteria actually live on the toxin-rich mucus, absorbing it as food.) The cough is the sound of a healthy battle: of the bacteria destroying the mucus and thus finishing the elimination.
What happens when the bacteria succeed? Now that they’ve multiplied, won’t they hang around the throat and keep causing the dog to cough even after the toxins are gone? Not at all: our bodies are too clever for that. If left alone—not wiped out by antibiotics—the bacteria will then be reduced to normal levels by white blood cells brought to the scene by the body’s immune system. You know they’ve arrived because the blood that brings them wells up as an inflammation, or sore throat. (Simply put, an inflammation is the reddening caused by surplus blood bringing immunity to an afflicted area.) So an associated sore throat, too, is a sign of health being restored—naturally, by the body—not of sickness to be knocked out by drugs.
If antibiotics are used at this juncture, they kill the bacteria, so the cough goes away, along with the runny nose and sore throat, and your dog feels better relatively quickly. But the mucus that the bacteria would have ingested remains, to linger in the throat or trickle back into the lungs or cellular structure. At the least, it will return in another attempt to be discharged. At worst, it will become a foundation of chronic illness, such as chronic bronchitis or even cancer. Many of the cancer cases I see, particularly nasal and bladder cancers, have a history of repetitive antibiotic therapy with partial or repetitive response. The connection is unproven but worrisome.
A traditionally trained doctor will observe, to be sure, that bacteria do cause many diseases in pets and people alike: medical science proves it every day. And antibiotics do kill the bacteria, which enables the immune system to strengthen itself. To which I say: That’s holding the telescope the wrong way. Strengthen the immune system first, keep it free of toxicity, and bacteria, like viruses, will remain benign. Use antibiotics instead, and the result will be an immune system that soon either loses the capacity to repel bacteria on its own or, in growing lax, allows other benign conditions to become virulent, precipitating more disease.*
To question whether bacteria cause disease may seem as foolish and unscientific as arguing that the world may not be round. In fact, bacteria’s role as an agent of infectious disease was defined but a moment ago in world history: by Louis Pasteur, who in the 1880s proved that bacteria could cause anthrax in sheep. Pasteur was at least half right: bacteria did cause anthrax in the sheep he tested. But a holistic practitioner would ask about bacteria, as with viruses: Were they the only cause? Or did something make them more virulent?
Even as Pasteur was conducting his most famous experiments, a contemporary French physician and pharmacist named Antoine Beauchamp reached an opposite conclusion. Beauchamp, as authors John Diamond and Burton Goldberg recount in An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer, believed that bacteria alone could not cause disease in a healthy body. Indeed, he theorized, bacteria readily invade a body and take up residence within its cells, but if the cell “terrain” is balanced, they cause no harm. When the cell terrain becomes unbalanced, however—perhaps from poor diet, stress, or toxins, especially carcinogens—the bacteria can then change shape, or “morph,” into increasingly pathogenic forms that do bring on disease. Beauchamp called his theory “pleomorphism” (pleo means shape, and to morph is to change), as opposed to Pasteur’s “monomorphism,” which held that bacteria or any other microbe have one unchanging shape and cause damage by invading from outside the body. By the time Beauchamp published his findings, the germ theory had gained universal acceptance, and he was ridiculed. But according to authors Diamond and Goldberg, Pasteur on his deathbed repudiated his own concept and endorsed Beauchamp’s, declaring, “The microbe is nothing; the terrain is everything.”
I believe that the myriad diseases that afflict pets today are attributable directly or indirectly to modern man’s activities on the planet. These vary in kind and degree, from the global results of the claimed greenhouse effect to the emotional impact of a hypertense person on the physical well-being of his pet. In essence, however, I place the causes of disease in four categories:
Inevitably, the causes become commingled. And the more serious the disease, the more likely it is that all four are involved.
In clarifying the role of diet in disease, I always use this analogy: If you put Sterno in your gas tank, your car won’t run very well. If you give your dog or cat a standard brand of mass-market pet food, the results will be more subtle but, over time, just as real and unfortunate. We really are what we eat, and when what our pets eat is at best devoid of the nutrition they need, and at worst actually dangerous to their health, then diet will lead to disease as surely as Sterno will ruin the internal workings of your car.
Diet is so important to a pet’s health—and a contributory if not fundamental cause of so much ill health—that the whole of Chapter Three in this book is devoted to it. If you have time to read only one more chapter, make it that one—please. Simply by reconsidering what you feed your pet, you can do more to improve his physical health, and more to prevent future disease, than a veterinarian can with most Western medicine. Plus, the effects will be longer-lasting!
The body, after all, is literally made from food. Proteins from food are the building blocks of cellular structure—and the body is composed mostly of cells. That’s how an embryo is formed; it’s also how a body sustains itself out of utero. Over a period of seven years, it is said, every cell in the human body is replaced: you are literally not the person you were seven years ago. Because dogs and cats have shorter life spans than humans, I’ve always felt that their total cellular structure is replaced every two to three years. A poor diet, as a result, may affect their health sooner, and more profoundly, than it does human health.
How? Basically, the body does three things: absorb, assimilate, and eliminate. All require energy. The worse a diet is, the more toxins it contains. Toxins need to be eliminated, because they’re of no use and because they’re harmful; that’s what the processes of urination and excretion are all about. Normally, a body does much of this work during sleep, when it needn’t expend its energy in other ways; excretion often occurs right after waking because of this nocturnal process. The more energy a body has to expend passing toxins, the less it has for using nutrients and maintaining its immune system. Energy is also used up for the assimilation of food; that’s why a pet (or person) sometimes feels sleepy after a big meal, and indeed sleeps longer than another creature that eats lightly. Over time, then, a poor diet weakens the body, including the immune system. Incoming toxins from more bad food may not be eliminated, but instead reside in the eliminative organs and in the blood, festering. A stressed-out immune system is also more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria from outside. Strictly speaking, a poor diet may not cause disease. What it does is create conditions that lead to disease.
I remember a painful incident in my own life that helped me appreciate the true nature of disease. I know exactly when it happened: on a late-fall Sunday afternoon in 1986, at exactly two minutes before one o’clock. Every Sunday, I would rise at four o’clock in the morning and try to get all my casework and errands done in time to be sitting in front of the television, with my lunch on my lap, at the kickoff of the weekly pro-football game. Usually, as hard as I worked, I still slid into my seat a few minutes late.
This day was different. This day, I was on time. At two minutes before one o’clock, my lunch fully prepared, I slipped around my kitchen counter toward the TV room. Just as I did, the little toe on my right foot encountered one of the legs of a wood-burning stove. That hurt. I hobbled to the TV room anyway, and watched the game, but noticed that the toe was askew and assumed I’d dislocated it. Later that night an X ray confirmed that I’d broken it.
The next morning, I described the incident by phone to my chiropractor, and decided to do nothing more than wear loose-fitting sneakers and let it heal itself. Within a few days, I was able to jog without undue pain, and the toe, though a little red at the fracture site, appeared to be on the mend. Then, that Saturday night, I was invited to a party where all kinds of tempting, rich foods and drinks were served. Having stuck for weeks to a rigorous diet of all-healthy, all-natural meals, I splurged on every snack in sight. Two hours later at the party, my toe began to throb. When I took my sneaker off at home later that night, I saw that the toe had swelled to twice its size. Sunday morning, it was black and blue for the first time—a week after the injury. This incident got me to see what really causes disease.
There’s no better first step for your pet than recognizing just how toxic his diet probably is. Even a pet who eats nothing but healthy food, however, is subject to a broad range of threats from his immediate environment. Not all are visible; not all can be dispelled. Still, a pet’s environment is the next crucial factor to consider in maintaining his health.
In the course of a year, many pounds of dirt and dust are blown in or tracked into your house or apartment. Much of it may be benign; some of it, however, may include pesticides dangerous to your pet’s health. Lead particles from auto exhaust, flaking paint, or even the ink from color-print newspapers may, if ingested in quantity over time, lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and various internal problems. At the same time, synthetic fibers from certain factory-made rugs may cause respiratory problems. Far worse, of course, is asbestos, which while no longer in use can occasionally be found as insulation in older houses. Though no house can be completely pollutant-free, some obvious measures can be taken: keep your house as clean as possible; avoid deep-pile synthetic rugs; and check to see that you have neither lead-based paint nor asbestos insulation (both of which, to be sure, pose health hazards to the rest of your family as well). One other step: install an air filtration or purification system that removes dust motes (and mites), environmental toxins, and fumes. I’m partial to a brand called Alpine, which has the added advantage of an ion and ozone generator. I’ve got an Alpine system at the clinic and at my house (Smith Ridge is a distributor). When I walk into my home from outside, it’s like walking into a rain forest.
If you live in a house with a yard, your pet is probably fenced in from passing cars. But what about the yard itself? You may have a gardener who uses weed killers like Roundup that a pet might lick off the patio—or his own paws. As well-known holistic veterinarian Richard Pitcairn and his wife, Susan, report in their Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats: “The National Cancer Institute found in 1991 that dogs whose owners used 2, 4-D, a common broadleaf weed killer, had twice the rate of lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph system) as dogs whose owners did not use it.” Your gardener might also use a poison for moles and voles, or you yourself may put out rat or ant poison.
Those toxins, at least, you can control. Beyond your property, alas, other potential hazards lurk. If you live near cultivated fields, pesticides will almost certainly be used to protect the crops, and a breeze may blow them your way. A pet may ingest other toxins in the neighborhood which his owner wouldn’t because the pet spends so much of his life with his nose to the ground and tends to lick whatever he smells. Antifreeze, which tastes deceptively sweet, is one of the most common and destructive dangers; motor oil is another. The chemical-saturated runoff water from a nearby golf course can be terribly toxic. In the city, toxins are leaked by passing traffic. You can’t hope to eliminate them altogether, either in the city or in the country: the fact is that your pet (and you!) lives in a world infinitely more toxic—and disease-ridden—than it was a century ago.
Many of these toxins come to us as pollutants in water and air. But all of us who inhabit this planet—on two legs or four—are now subjected to low-and high-frequency radiation, invisible to us but almost certainly a contributory factor to the steep rise in many cancers. Human beings, who created the dangers, absorb the most direct of them: X rays and radiation, long-term proximity to power lines, microwaves, computer screens, and more. As man-made pollution erodes the ozone layer, more ultraviolet rays than our skin can safely withstand beam down on us, adding to the increased incidences of skin cancer. Whether or not pollution at the same time creates the so-called greenhouse effect, or whether El Niño is to blame, the fact is that aberrant weather conditions of recent years favor certain species at the expense of others, and may even lead to rising water levels that imperil entire landmasses and the life-forms on them.
All this may seem remote from the present condition of your pet, and in a sense it is. There isn’t any yardstick by which to measure how much a decreased ozone layer has contributed to the melanoma I might have to excise on a Tuesday morning from a worried-looking golden retriever. Nor is it easy to tell if the antifreeze your dog lapped up is what’s given him kidney failure—unless your veterinarian suspects it and does a screening test for it. But certain climactic changes do affect the health of our pets in obvious and quite dramatic ways.
Take violent storms, of which there’ve been so many more in recent years—either as a result of imbalances created by global warming, or coincidence, take your pick. The old farmer who says he can predict a storm by feeling it as pain in his bones is right. The falling barometric pressure of an impending storm packs the air with positive ions. The calcium in the farmer’s bones and joints also carries a positive charge. The positives repel each other, like two positive magnets. That stirs the calcium in the farmer’s bones, and causes his arthritis to flare up. Some measure of calcium will actually be displaced into the blood as the storm arrives; as a result, the farmer’s urine during and after a storm will change in hue as the calcium is excreted.
Animals with arthritis—or bursitis, or hip dysplasia—are irritated by oncoming storms, too. Last summer, during a string of summer storms, the phones at the clinic began to ring off the hook. Pets who’d been doing fine, their arthritis tamed by acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, and nutritional supplements, were experiencing discomfort, some even to the point of near paralysis. Increased acupuncture and homeopathic treatments helped—but so did a change in weather.
Back in the mid-1970s, I started noticing that electrical storms also appeared to provoke urinary problems in both dogs and cats. When a breeder I knew complained that cats in her cattery were experiencing bladder infections, especially during seasonal changes, I informed her of my suspicions about positive ionic charges. Intrigued, the breeder bought two negative ion generators to neutralize these effects on her animals, and during seasonal changes ran them twenty-four hours a day. From then on, the incidence of bladder infections diminished substantially.
Barometric pressure and the positive ions it produces may also be what causes many domesticated dogs to react fearfully to approaching electrical storms. Well before the first thunderclap, many dogs are under a bed or chair, literally trembling with fright. I think the barometric pressure is affecting the fluids in their brains, exerting a pressure that gets communicated as a signal of change that may be dangerous. If that seems crazy, consider the proven effect of a full moon on all the water on our planet, from the ocean’s tides, which can rise several feet during a lunar cycle, to the fluids in our brains, which lunar pressure affects, too—provoking, if we set store by the root meanings of words, lunatics and fits of lunacy. More traffic accidents occur during full moons; hospital emergency rooms report increased bleeding from patients, whatever the direct cause may be. In my own practice, I’ve noticed that epileptic dogs have more seizures when the moon is full, too. Just last week I treated Bud, a dachshund, for chronic lower back pain. “My nickname for Bud is Budrometer,” his owner told me, “because his back always gives out with severe shifts in barometric pressure.”
You can argue, if you like, that the ozone layer is fine and that UV light is the same as it ever was; you can shrug off global warming and say that the heat waves and hurricanes of the last decade are merely a historical blip. But no one can dispute the fact that the pollen count is reported in certain areas to be higher than ever before—aggravating allergies in pets and people alike—and that a changed environment of warmer weather is the cause.
Almost every year now, in most of the United States, winter shrinks and the growing seasons expand. Goldenrod and the many other plants that pollinate have more time in which to do so; sufferers from hay fever and other allergies struggle that much more to cope. In dogs, for example, a common allergy called atopy is a hereditary predisposition to react to certain allergens: molds, trees, ragweed, wool, flea saliva, and house dust chief among them. In recent years, I’ve seen far more pets with allergies than ever before, enduring the four standard symptoms: sneezing, itching, tearing, and paw licking. (We rub our eyes; dogs lick their paws.) Both dogs and cats can be helped with homeopathic remedies, herbs, and nutritional support, and these, like other holistic treatments, boost the immune system first rather than suppressing the symptom chemically.
Simply put, an allergy is the reaction of an antibody to an antigen. The flea saliva, to take one of those provocations, is the antigen; the immune system’s antibodies react to it. A healthy body is strong enough not to be thrown out of balance by the antigen. In other words, it’s insensitive to the allergen, which is good. In an unhealthy body, toxins overwork the antibodies of the immune system and so sensitize them to this antigen, causing the allergic reaction.
Why, to put it another way, do we know that pollen doesn’t itself cause hay fever and other allergies? Because if it did, all of us would have these diseases. That most of us don’t is an indication, to some doctors, of the role of hereditary traits. I see it as yet another issue relating to immunity, which is affected by the environment but also, with proper care, easily helped. And again, what persuaded me was personal experience.
As a child, I had more allergies than anyone I knew. Every week, I had to go to Dr. Gould, a stern allergist who, after 177 skin-testing injections, determined that I was allergic to dozens of agents, some of which I’d never eaten, seen, or been affected by in any way. I refused to go in after that for regular allergy shots, and fortunately, my mother backed me up. The allergies persisted into my early teens. Almost overnight, as I went through a maturation process and grew six inches taller within several months, they disappeared. From then on, the only allergen that caused a reaction was fleas, but the swellings from their bites diminished to pinpricks after I changed my diet and got healthier in my thirties—until one memorable Sunday.
After a week away at a health retreat, during which my pets stayed with a friend, I walked into my house to meet a cloud of fleas that had taken up residence in our absence and grown voraciously hungry. I was their meal for the few minutes it took me to stash my gear and change clothes for a Sunday picnic with friends. But in my state of optimal health, I barely noticed the tiny red dots the flea bites provoked. At the picnic, all manner of tempting foods was served: sugary, nonnutritious foods. Forgetting my new diet, I ate and drank everything in sight. Within two hours, the flea bites, which had almost vanished, swelled to huge red welts. The lesson was inescapable: what had provoked my allergic reactions were the toxins I’d ingested, which then stimulated my white blood cells to “remember” how they used to react to the allergen—what’s known as an anamnestic response.
If you’ve owned a dog or cat in the last five years, you hardly need me to point out two other unfortunate consequences of warmer weather on animal health. But think of them now within the larger picture of global change and disease.
Not so long ago, fleas were a manageable nuisance during summer and fall, peaking during Indian summer but gone with the second or third frost. About a decade ago, however, I began to see flea cases well past autumn. During the warmer winters, they persisted right on until spring, when the insect population traditionally reappears. Powerful new products are currently on the market, as a result, to try to keep the fleas at bay: pills, collars, chemical baths, sprays and liquids, even concentrated, flea-deterring chemical drops that are applied to the skin between a pet’s shoulder blades, along with the ever-stronger battery of toxic insecticides sprayed throughout the home by professional exterminators. I’ll consider those products specifically in Chapter Seven, along with holistic alternatives. Suffice it to say here that they’re not part of the solution. They’re part of the problem.
In the last five years, too, much of the Eastern Seaboard has become overrun by white-tailed deer infested with deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. An earlier change in the environment brought about by humans produced the burgeoning herds in the first place: the development of rural areas chased away or simply wiped out the deer’s biological predators. But now warmer weather has extended their calving seasons, and seemingly fostered additional tick hatchings. And so a disease that appeared only yesterday—its first case recorded in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut—is now a widespread health threat to people and pets alike. I’ll consider Lyme at length in Chapter Seven, but let me say this for now: for pets, the Lyme vaccine does much more harm than good.
For pets, probably the most commonly prescribed drug—the number one drug of choice the veterinary world over—is cortisone. Over the years, it has acquired a reputation as “the reliever of all and curer of none.” It’s a steroid that brings quick but short-term results. And it comes in many forms. It’s used topically, for inflammation of the skin. It’s in eye ointments and ear preparations. It’s also given orally, or injected, for everything from allergies and asthma to colitis and joint disease. Although I use it, I do so in doses small enough to avoid provoking the side effects so commonly seen at prescription-dose levels. Then I back up its effects with natural products that either have the same effect as the drug itself or enhance those effects at a much lower dose until the pet can be successfully weaned from it.
Nearly as ubiquitous are antibiotics. Penicillin, the first and best-known, isn’t used much anymore. It derives from a fungus and is, in that sense, more natural than its successors, but the new synthetic antibiotics are more effective, especially against bacterial infections that have grown penicillin-resistant. Amoxicillin is a common choice. So is tetracycline, which comes in a black-and-yellow capsule, and Baytril, which comes as a pretty purple tablet. All affect the immune system in the long run. But that’s not all they do.
The fact is that antibiotics don’t merely subvert the body’s natural process of expelling toxins. They add toxins—from the drugs themselves, from the chemicals used to bind their components together, from the synthetic agents used to color their casings. Those toxins fester in the body, straining and eventually nullifying the immune system’s power to heal. At the same time, the drugs lose their capacity to suppress disease symptoms. In China, the use of antibiotics is so pervasive that many diseases are no longer affected by them at all. In the U.S., too, there’s growing concern among doctors that antibiotics are losing their efficacy in cases where people and pets have ingested too many of them. More alarming, certain bacteria appear to be growing impervious to antibiotics altogether by mutating to new strains. In the U.S., staphylococcal infections were once easily thwarted by penicillin. When penicillin began to lose its effectiveness against staph, other drugs were used. Gradually, some strains of staph have become impervious to all of them; doctors now acknowledge that unless some new, even more potent antibiotic can be devised, they’ll have nothing left in their medical arsenal. And so staph will be, in a word, unstoppable.
Even antibiotics that do appear to work effectively—if treating symptoms, rather than curing disease, can be said to be effective work—are often used excessively to a patient’s detriment, especially if that patient is a pet.
Take a dog at six months old that begins to exhibit itchiness, inflammation, and pustules containing staphylococcal bacteria (a condition called staph or juvenile pyoderma). A conventional veterinarian will assume that this is a bacterial infection of the skin, and administer antibiotics. A holistic veterinarian, mindful that the skin is a powerful eliminator of toxins, will first consider that any inflammation is part of a healthful process. As in throat infections, toxins that are being eliminated promote bacterial growth, which white blood cells then “clean up.” What do I do about it? Nothing more than support the overall health of the patient—and perhaps add a homeopathic remedy or herbal preparation to help relieve symptoms—because this elimination, and the bacteria that appear with it, is part of a pet’s maturation, just as acne is associated with puberty in humans. If the bacteria are killed by antibiotics, the symptoms will subside, but the overall effect will be one of retained toxicity, especially if cortisone is used in conjunction with the antibiotics. Then the dog’s dermatitis—itis means inflammation—will reappear as another inflammation, perhaps of the ear (otitis) or the throat (tracheobronchitis), the intestines (enteritis) or the anal sacs (anal sacculitis).
Externally and internally, a pet’s body, like a human body, heals via inflammation. Sprain an ankle, and it swells. Get a cut, and the skin around the cut inflames. Ingest poisons, and the liver will swell. As the poisons get eliminated, the lining of the colon will inflame (i.e, colitis). A body whose inflammations are repeatedly suppressed by drugs will exhibit increasingly serious symptoms, or “diseases,” until they grow powerful enough to be potentially lethal.
This too is a factor so important for pets that much of Chapter Nine addresses it in one way or another. Here, let me raise just a few questions that point toward the role of emotions in disease.
• Does your pet love you?
• Does he care about you?
• If you became incapacitated, how might he feel?
• If you began to act brusquely toward your pet for some reason—perhaps because you were sick, or distracted—how would he feel?
• If he couldn’t win your approval and love, which he craves, how might he react?
• If he incurred a debilitating disease and you conveyed only anxiety and fear, how do you think he would feel? And might those feelings affect his condition?
Of the four causes of disease, three, at least, are within our power to influence today. The fourth, sadly, will only change with time.
When I began my practice, I would have said that environment was the principal cause of disease among pets. As my perspective broadened, I began to appreciate the role that diet played. Eventually, I came to see how important the emotions are, too. I discovered, from my training, that some diseases do get passed genetically from one generation to the next. But I would not have said, until very recently, that mutant genes do more to cause disease in pets than any of the other three causes. I say it now partly because I’ve treated more pets and the evidence has grown. Partly, it’s because there’s more genetic disease—much, much more—than there was a quarter century ago.
At first glance, that might seem a curious supposition to make. If a pet inherits a mutated gene that makes him likely to get a certain kind of cancer, then surely a parent, or a grandparent before him, had the same genetic predilection, right? Wrong. Most genetic traits, it’s true, tend to appear in every generation, or every other generation, in a pet’s line, stretching back as far as we can document it. So are genetic predilections among humans: that’s why we can look at a sepia-toned photograph of a long-dead great-great-grandfather and see strong hints of our own physical features. Unfortunately, a genetic tendency toward disease can be introduced into a current generation and then become ingrained in a pet’s genetic code. In fact, the mutation can worsen in successive generations.
What introduces those mutations? Any of the environmental factors mentioned above. Principal among them, I feel, are the myriad chemicals brought into the world within the last thirty or forty years—chemicals whose genetic effects on living creatures we don’t yet fully understand. Since pets’ life spans are so much shorter than ours, and since so many generations have come and gone just in the course of my own human life, those effects have grown more evident, more various, and more imbedded. So quickly is medical science advancing the frontiers of genetics—by the time this book appears, the whole human genome may be identified and catalogued, an unbelievable prospect even ten years ago—that in our lifetimes, science may manage to undo some of the genetic damage it has caused. Meantime, all we can do with genetically passed diseases is to treat them on an individual basis, strengthening the immune system and, sometimes, enabling a pet to heal himself.
This I know: that the more we change the environment, the more any animal’s body will be changed. The more we prop up the body with chemicals instead of encouraging it to protect itself from those changes, the weaker it will be in the long run. We perceive that weakness as disease, because the body isn’t what it used to be. In fact, the body is simply creating a new balance with nature, one that takes such changes into account. It may die, as a result, but that’s of no concern to nature, only to us. Or it may reacquire the balance it used to have, the one we call health, if we help it to help itself.