This afternoon I examined a dog at our clinic that had been diagnosed with a disease of the parathyroid gland—a tiny nodule that sits on top of the thyroid gland and controls the calcium levels in the bloodstream. In this particular dog’s case, the glands were enlarged and were secreting an excessive amount of a hormone that caused the animal’s blood calcium level to be elevated dangerously high. The recommended treatment was to surgically remove the enlarged glands, but it was a very expensive procedure, and the surgeon could not be certain of the results. The client came to me for a second opinion and to find out if there were any alternative treatments that could help her beloved pet.
When I first took a look at my patient, I was instantly struck by his extremely dull, dry hair coat. An area of skin on his belly that had been shaved for an ultrasound exam had almost no regrowth of fur even six weeks afterward. His tongue was dry and pale, and I had a hard time feeling his pulse on the inside of his thighs. The client told me that her dog had become more anxious in the last year or so, while at the same time his joints had gotten stiffer and his overall energy level had decreased. Although I spent a considerable amount of time going over this dog’s medical history, blood tests, X -rays and ultrasound results, his appearance and behavior changes were even more striking and important to me—but the conventional veterinarians hadn’t thought to mention these changes in their medical records. How could the observations that one physician finds essential to understanding and treating a patient be completely ignored by another?
Modern medicine, veterinary and human alike, has made enormous strides in the last 50 or so years in understanding the incredible complexities of our mammalian systems and the diseases that affect us and our animal companions. The use of powerful diagnostic technologies such as MRIs, CAT scans and DNA studies has given us tools to be able to assess and intervene in many health conditions that would be unimaginable even a few years ago. None of these advances, however, provide much insight into why these problems happen in the first place, much less how to best improve the patient’s overall health. Modern medicine is great for describing a medical disorder in incredible detail, but mostly overlooks the big picture, or pattern that gives rise to these states of “dis-ease.”
In my personal journey as veterinarian over the last 30 years, I have been fortunate to have been introduced to many different medical traditions besides the conventional Western approach I learned in veterinary school. Most of these, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda (from India), Native American and European herbal traditions, are thousands of years old and rely on detailed observations and a recognition of patterns, rather than data or advanced imaging technology. Instead of discounting this body of traditional knowledge as primitive or simplistic, I find the insights obtained through these ancient medical traditions to be of utmost importance in understanding the underlying nature of disease processes. This approach not only aims to eliminate a particular set of symptoms, but also serves to enhance the health and vitality of the patient and helps prevent re-occurrence of disease down the road.
Going back to the dog I described earlier, it’s pretty easy to understand the conventional Western treatment. The parathyroid gland is diseased. Remove it. Problem solved. But is it really cured? Hopefully the surgery would be successful, and the dog’s calcium blood levels would be returned to normal for a time. In my mind, however, the patient’s real disease is what allowed the gland to become abnormal in the first place—something that won’t be addressed by the surgery alone. While the conventional approach may allow this dog to live a while longer, it won’t do anything to improve his overall health or prevent other related diseases from occurring.
So what is this mysterious underlying pattern that is so important to recognize and address? In this dog’s case, it’s actually pretty simple. His Blood is Deficient. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is anemic and doesn’t have enough red blood cells. It means his blood system is not carrying adequate nutrients and can’t properly nourish and profuse his various body tissues. Skin and hair coat become dry and dull, and slow to regrow after shaving. Joints become “dried out” and stiff. Anxiety results from the brain tissue not getting the nutrients it needs to function properly. Finally, body organs and glands, in this case the parathyroid, become diseased when they are malnourished. As it turns out, this dog had been fed what I consider to be a rather poor quality dry dog food for his entire 11-year life. While it would be easy to say that “stuff happens” in any dog over 10 years of age, I contend that if this dog had been feed an adequately nutritious diet his whole life, this condition would never have occurred in the first place.
My treatment approach would be to first try to get this dog’s parathyroid gland to go back to normal function. I recommended feeding nutrient dense whole foods such as grass-fed meats, organ meats, eggs and cultured foods (such as yogurt), which have loads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and beneficial omega 3 fats. I also prescribed an herbal formula that helps to “build blood” and improve circulation to malnourished body parts and tissues. While I can’t be certain this treatment approach will completely cure this dog’s particular disease condition, I’m hoping that he will respond well enough to eliminate the need for an expensive and uncertain surgical procedure, while at the same time improving his overall vitality and quality of life.
There are certainly many different disease patterns in addition to the one that I described here. Not all cases are this straightforward as this one in which ALL the signs and symptoms were pointing to state of “Blood Deficiency.” I often see very sick animals where the conventional diagnosis is confusing and elusive, but responds beautifully to pattern-based treatments. This is not something you can do with pharmaceuticals and surgery, as powerful and advanced as they may be. Nutritional and herbal treatments are, however, especially suited to this type of medicine due their broad-acting and supportive nature. Essentially, I find that treating each patient as a unique individual with a particular pattern is much more rewarding and ultimately more successful than treating a particular disease alone.