Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
THE UNLIKELY ZEN DOC
IALWAYS CONSIDERED MYSELF THE MOST UNLIKELY OF EASTERN medicine practitioners. During my years as an emergency veterinarian, I was fueled by adrenaline and the immediacy of critical care. The finality of any incorrect decision was daunting. My minute-to-minute mission was keeping pets alive, each case centering on the question “Did I fix it?” I still retain that did-I-fix-it mentality. But now I add these caveats: how will I fix it, prevent it in future, and do the least amount of harm.
When I graduated from veterinary school, I never anticipated becoming an alternative practitioner. Having studied at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, I was all about hard science and modern technology. A published researcher, I was heading into my residency in zoo pathology with a strong background in chemistry and no-nonsense medicine. Why would I step off the beaten path and possibly expose myself to ridicule? For a very good reason, as it turned out. Much to my surprise, alternative medicine proved capable of generating unexpectedly positive results. And positive results are what it’s all about.
Years ago, when I started doing acupuncture, someone jokingly asked me whether an animal has to believe in acupuncture for it to work. I quipped that my needles would make an animal believe in anything. Even Chinese medicine. Animals obviously are not influenced by placebo effects. Their response is determined 100 percent by the effectiveness of the treatment. I am happy to say that acupuncture has been tremendously effective for my patients.
I began to look for alternative options when I started working with racing greyhounds that had been retired from the track—often with severe ailments. Greyhounds are a uniquely sensitive breed, with hair-trigger reflexes. (Thus their suitability for racing; although, in terms of temperament, they are quite happy to live the life of a couch potato.) They also are highly sensitive to many medications, which can make traditional Western treatment problematic. As I became more aware of the problems faced by these cast-off former athletes—and became increasingly anguished about their plight—I decided to explore the possibility of treating them with acupuncture. This was the first step down the road that eventually led to profound changes in my practice and in my life.
I remember a pivotal case early in my integrative career. It involved a greyhound named Lightning, just retired from the track. He was emaciated and anxious, and suffered from dental disease and a broken foot. His overall health had been compromised by the constant demands of racing and by poor medical care.
I began by providing Lightning with the best practices of traditional Western medicine. His foot was set, he was neutered, and his teeth were cleaned. He was also given several vaccines, medication for pain, and a balanced meal of kibble for the first time. But despite all of that, his condition worsened and his leg was slow to heal. He lost his appetite and became increasingly anxious and difficult to approach.
My training at that time was leading me down blind alleys. I considered adding more drugs to treat anxiety in this unhappy fellow. Instead I decided to give my new alternative tools a try, and that new approach proved to be a lifesaver for Lightning.
One of the most basic principles of Chinese medicine is that food is medicine and body type determines the proper prescription. Although Lightning’s most obvious medical conditions had been treated, there were many fundamental problems that had gone unnoticed.
During his life as a racing dog on the track, Lightning had been fed a raw meat diet. Dry kibble did not appeal to him, nor would his handlers have given it to him. They knew the low protein in a kibble food would never have gotten him through a race. In addition, the sudden change from a trackside cage to a large, unfamiliar, yet loving foster family was stressful. All of the medical interventions, which included anesthesia, had stressed his immune system and his psyche.
I decided that I needed to take a step back and reevaluate the needs of this particular animal after considering both his own medical history and the evolutionary history of his breed.
As a greyhound, Lightning needed a high-protein, meat-based diet. Proper nutrition and comfort are a greyhound’s best defense against panic and anxiety. He needed to be supported more effectively through the transition he was making in life.
Fortunately, after a simple diet change back to raw food, some acupuncture, and herbal supplements (milk thistle, turmeric, and boswellia, for the pain and to help him detox from anesthesia), Lightning’s health and attitude dramatically improved. He went from being a lethargic patient to an active family member. The rest of his life was lived comfortably, and he adorned many a couch in his retirement.
Sustained health usually involves a combined approach—something beyond an exam and a prescription. In order to be an effective healer, it is necessary to see the animal, not just the disease it presents; to build a foundation of health, not to merely eradicate one disease after the other. This is the true foundation of medicine.
Conventional Western veterinary medicine, while certainly helpful, trains us to look for the magic bullet—usually a pill or surgery. I have had greater success trying to find and access the cause of an animal’s health. Only then can I uncover the original cause of an animal’s imbalance—which may be something fundamental, such as inappropriate diet, a genetic predisposition, or a deeper systemic or hormonal or environmental issue.
A serious health imbalance can cause a cascade of symptoms. This cascade can not only disguise the root cause but also result in the animal being bombarded by treatments that may prove to be more damaging than the original problem.
A dry, hot nose indicates a sick dog. Not true. A cold, wet, hot, or dry nose can all indicate a healthy dog.