• Pet Health and the Microbiome

    Last week, I was discussing a canine patient’s case with one of the veterinarians at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center. The dog had a long history of severe digestive problems, and the vet brought up the suggestion of a fecal transplant for the animal. I thought it was a great idea, and was pleasantly surprised that a conventional veterinarian—especially a board-certified internal medicine specialist—would consider doing such a non-conventional treatment. So what exactly is a fecal transplant and why would anyone think it’s a good thing to do?  Before we dive into that subject, we should discuss what the microbiome is and why it is important to your pet’s health. The term describes the population of up to 1,000 different bacteria and yeasts that live in or on an animal’s body. It has been estimated that bacteria outnumber an animal’s body cells by a ratio of 10 to 1, with most of those bacteria residing in the large intestine. These microscopic organisms are responsible for essential vitamin production, breakdown of toxins, digestion of plant fiber and prevention of growth of harmful bacteria. Although it sounds quite unappealing, rabbits actually need to eat their own feces to get the nutrients that are formed by the effects of bacterial fermentation in their large intestines.There has been an enormous amount of research in the last few years into the relationship between the microbiome and health issues for animals and humans alike.  Imbalances in the gut microflora have been related to conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease to rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. It is also believed that a mother passes on her microbiome to her offspring, and so may be a way that disease states can be passed on from one generation to the next. Recent animal studies have suggested a link between certain types[Read More…]

  • Vexing Vaccines

      One of the major reasons I started my journey into holistic medicine 20 years ago was the issue of vaccinations. About 10 years into my career as a small animal veterinarian, I started to question the need for annual boosters for diseases such parvo in dogs and distemper in cats. It started to dawn on me that for all the health issues I had seen in my years of practice, I never treated animals with infectious diseases that we routinely vaccinated for—even in pets who hadn’t had any vaccines for many years. Why was it that children received immunizations for various diseases, but that none of these were continued into adulthood? I remember pulling out my Veterinary Immunology textbook and being shocked that I could find no scientific support for the practice of yearly vaccines for most of the serious contagious diseases. No clinical studies were ever done to find out how many years the protection from the vaccine lasted.   When I presented my “revelation” about vaccines to my boss at the veterinary clinic where I was working at the time, it quickly became clear to me that it was not a subject he was very interested in discussing. When I brought it up to one of my colleagues over a beer one evening, she reasoned that even if the vaccines weren’t necessary in adult dogs and cats, they served the purpose of encouraging pet owners to bring their animals in for regular visits. Many serious health problems could be overlooked without regular physical examinations, she argued. Since serious vaccination reactions were rare in her experience, the greater good was being served. The vaccines were generally safe, and pets were getting important regular check-ups and improved preventative care. While I was certainly committed to providing good preventative medical[Read More…]

  • Veggie Dog!

          “Eat your vegetables.” Most of us heard this from our mothers when we were kids… and for good reason. Everybody seems to intuitively know that vegetables are an important part of a nutritious diet. But what about our dogs?  Do they benefit from eating vegetables too?   The answer is yes. Even though they are direct descendants of strictly carnivorous wolves, dogs have adapted to living alongside humans and eating their leftovers over the last 15,000 years or so. Cats… not so much. They subsisted through the eons on the rats and mice that frequented human habitation and never evolved digestively the way dogs did. A recent study in Sweden showed that dogs have the ability to digest starches found in plants, but that wild dogs (and cats) do not. So even though a wolf would never eat a carrot, most dogs certainly would—and would be able to get some nutritional value from it too.   Vegetables are loaded with beneficial nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—nutrients that are frequently degraded or destroyed the the manufacture and storage of commercial dog diets. (See my previous article,The Kibble Conumdrum, at www.animalkindvet.com/kibble-conundrum.) By offering fresh vegetables to our dogs, we are improving their immune function, decreasing inflammatory conditions, improving organ and glandular health, and even helping to prevent cancer. Because dogs (and humans) lack the ability to digest cellulose, the structural fiber in plants, most vegetables are best cooked or pulverized in a food processor to get their nutritional benefits. Tell that to our Goldendoodle, Gibson, who loves crunching on raw kale stems and cucumbers…   Not all vegetables are appropriate to feed to dogs however. Large amounts of onions and garlic can cause a toxic reaction that damages a dog’s red blood cells, resulting in anemia.  Raw[Read More…]

  • Snakebit!

                A couple of weeks ago, two of our dogs were barking and lunging at something in the lawn below our house. My wife ran over and saw what turned out to be a two-foot-long gopher snake slithering through the grass. Luckily for the snake, it found a hole and escaped. We were glad the snake was not harmed, but realized that things could have gone quite differently. If the dogs had found a rattlesnake, it’s a good bet—based on how they reacted—that one of them would have been bitten, and we quickly would have been dealing with a serious problem.   Oregon is home to 15 native snake species. Of these, only the Western Rattlesnake (Croatus viridis) has poisonous venom that is dangerous to pets and humans alike. An adult rattler can be recognized by its broad triangular head, which is much wider than its neck, its vertical pupils and the rattles on the end of its tail. Dogs risk being bitten when they accidently step on a snake, or if they approach the snake curiously or aggressively—a good reason to keep dogs on leash and in control during outings to rattlesnake habitat. Cats, horses and livestock are potential victims too. For more information on Oregon’s native snakes, including the Western Rattlesnake, check out the fact sheets provided by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/snakes.asp.   Rattlesnake bites usually occur on the head, face or legs. If enough venom is injected (which doesn’t always happen), the result is severe swelling and pain at the bite site. Depending on the severity of the bite, many victims will go into shock with critically low blood pressure, and some will some will develop blood coagulation problems. Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center gets an average of about[Read More…]

  • Epi-what-ics?

    Epigenetics. Epi = on top of; genetics = that class you barely passed in school. In short, the term describes recently updated concepts that profoundly change the way we understand heredity and health. Dramatically improved technology in the last couple of decades has allowed scientists to gain fresh insight into the way cellular DNA functions. Without a doubt—this is way beyond the X’s and Y’s of your high school pea plant crosses.   Maybe you remember (or maybe not) learning many years ago that one parent has a set of genes that mixes during reproductive processes with the other parent’s genes. This results in an offspring with a certain mathematical chance of carrying and expressing particular characteristics of each parent. For instance, the pups of two Labrador Retrievers might be different colors, depending on the parents’ color, but no one would expect to see a poodle in the mix. What epigenetics tells us, however, is that many more important factors aren’t quite so etched in stone. We now know that there are mechanisms by which parts of the DNA molecule can be turned on or off in response to environmental and nutritional influences. This means that the conditions experienced by the parents during the time before conception has a significant influence on the health, behavior and overall well-being of the offspring. One of the most primal imperatives of any animal is to ensure the successful propagation of its species. Epigenetics gives flexibility to the genetic code, thus offering the best chance for the survival of an animal’s offspring. Take, for example, a wild animal that experienced a succession of exceptionally dry summers with less to eat. The animal’s offspring would be born with metabolic changes mediated by chemical “switches” on the parent’s DNA, allowing it to better survive such harsh conditions.[Read More…]

  • Why Do Dogs Bark?

    Why Do Dogs Bark? It may seem like a silly question at first. Dogs bark because… well, “dogs are dogs, and that’s what they do.” Could you imagine the UPS guy coming to your door and your dog not barking? But doesn’t it seem interesting that adult wolves, ancestors of modern-day dogs, hardly ever bark? They may howl, growl or even “yip,” but they certainly don’t bark the way dogs do. Wolf puppies, however, do bark. And this fact offers a key to understanding something about the nature dogs, and why we humans are so bonded to them. In Siberia, over 50 years ago, a Russian geneticist named Dmitri Belyaev wanted to better understand how and why the behavior and physical characteristics of domesticated animals differed from their wild counterparts. In a now famous experiment that spanned decades, he studied a captive colony of Arctic foxes. Belyaev observed that as these wild foxes were selectively bred for tameness over several generations, other characteristics changed profoundly too. Hair color changed, as well as reproductive cycles. Noses became more rounded; and upright, pointy ears started to fold over. These foxes actually enjoyed the attention of humans, unlike the foxes at the start of the study who behaved—understandably—like wild animals. So what does this tell us about “man’s best friend?” Basically, it suggests that dogs are genetic adolescents, never maturing into a full adult stage. Scientists use the term “neotony” to describe a condition in which adults retain characteristics of a juvenile. In the evolution of dogs, the wolves that were more “tame” got more access to human food leftovers, and were thus better nourished and more likely to breed successfully. Because human interaction selected wild canines for tameness, a behavior trait of immature animals, we also unintentionally selected for other puppy-like characteristics.[Read More…]

  • Drugs of the Future?

                          Drugs of the Future?   Pharmaceutical drugs are the mainstay of healthcare in both human and veterinary medicine today. Since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, pharmaceuticals have grown to a trillion-dollar-a-year industry in the human field, and over 8 billion a year in veterinary medicine. While no one would argue that advances in modern pharmacology have saved untold lives – of humans and animals alike – it is becoming increasingly clear that our modern drugs are not able to adequately address many of the health issues in human or veterinary medicine. Veterinary Pet Insurance lists skin allergies, ear infections and urinary tract problems as the  top three reasons for veterinary visits for pets. All the above conditions have symptoms that can be alleviated by the use of various pharmaceutical medications, but not always truly cured. Take, for example, a dog brought to a vet for an ear infection. An oft-prescribed medication would be an ointment containing an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory drug. The dog’s owners are happy that the problem seems to be resolved after a week of treatment. Six weeks later, however, the dog is back at the vet’s office with the same problem. It’s not uncommon for this scenario to be repeated many times over for myriad health conditions. The reason? While modern drugs are well suited to treat symptoms, they really don’t treat the underlying causative factors of disease. Consider the use of an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection. Although the drug is highly effective in eliminating the bacteria involved, it does not address the underlying true disease – the reason the infection occurred in the first place. So what is the nature of this disease? It’s one of chronic, or long-term, low-grade[Read More…]

  • The Dreaded “C” Word

          Cancer. It’s the one word no one ever wants to hear when they take their pet to the veterinarian. The word itself has such a negative connotation that I frequently avoid using it when consulting with my clients. The strong emotional response to “cancer” is certainly understandable. Many of my clients have dealt with the heartbreak of cancer with other pets, friends, family members, or even themselves. The thought of a loved one suffering with what is frequently fatal condition is devastating. Financial concerns, which are often substantial, are another harsh reality. The notion of a part of the body growing out of control for no apparent reason is bad enough, but the aggressive and expensive treatments used for cancer, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can be frightening as well. It’s hard to determine if cancer in pets is more common than it was in years past, but many veterinarians who have been in practice for a long time seem to believe it is. Studies show that almost one in four dogs will develop cancerous conditions in their lifetime, and 50% of dogs and cats over the age of 10 will die of cancer. Cats have lower rates of cancer than dogs, but cat tumors are much more likely to be malignant than benign. Quite sobering statistics indeed. Cancer occurs when a cell’s damaged DNA no longer controls normal growth and division. The term “malignant” is used to describe tumors that aggressively spread into surrounding tissues, or spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Sometimes blood cells become malignant, and build up in the bloodstream or lymph nodes. Thankfully, not every lump or bump that you may find on your pet’s body is a malignant. Actually, most of the tumors I see in older dogs[Read More…]

  • The Kibble Conundrum

    The Kibble Conundrum Imagine that you are 60 years old and for your entire life have eaten nothing but a highly processed, dehydrated diet that comes in a factory sealed bag. No fresh food. No vegetables or fruit. Even if this diet were 100% nutritionally balanced, and was the best “human kibble” on the market…organic even… how healthy do you expect you’d be? If you’re thinking, “not very,” then why would you expect your dog or cat to eat kibble every day for 10 years and be completely healthy? The reality is that animals and humans alike need substantial amounts of fresh, minimally processed foods in their diets to have optimal health and vitality. Most of us understand this for ourselves and our families, but sometimes fail to realize that the same is true for our pets. You might think that your 9 year old Labrador Retriever’s arthritic hips are a normal age related problem. But I’ve seen many dogs, well over 10, that eat fresh, home prepared diets and are in the peak of health, with beautiful hair coats and no arthritis whatsoever. I’ve seen many cats on fresh diets live well over 20 years without ever suffering any serious health problems (with all their teeth intact!). I would go as far as to say that most of the chronic, recurring health problems I see in my patients are due in large part to their diet of only processed foods such as kibble.   Most people don’t realize that dry dog and cat foods are a relatively recent invention. Up until World War ll, most dog food sold was canned and made from horse meat. In 1950, Ralston Purina recognised a market for the rapidly growing pet population, and developed a technique by which ingredients were pushed through a high pressure tube, cooked quickly at high heat, and puffed with air the same process used to make Chex breakfast cereal stay crispy in[Read More…]

  • How I Came to Be a Holistic Veterinarian

    How I Came to Be a Holistic Veterinarian When I graduated from veterinary school in 1984, my goal was to become the best veterinarian I could possibly be. I committed myself to learning and using the most advanced, up-to-date medical and surgical treatments that were available at the time. I poured over my textbooks and journals after clinic hours, took frequent continuing education classes, and even took courses in advanced orthopedic surgery and dental techniques. My dedication served me well. Through my early years in veterinary practice in Austin, Texas, I felt confident that I was able to offer my clients very high-quality, compassionate veterinary care for their beloved pets. After a few years of practice, however, I began to question some of the standard veterinary practices that I had learned. Why, for instance, did we insist on lifelong yearly re-vaccinations for diseases that I had never seen occur in adult dogs and cats? Why was it that many of our patients’ common conditions could be treated, but would regularly re-occur down the road? Why was there no explanation for the occurrence of certain diseases in the first place? Why did the flea and tick products that we sold to our clients (and were assured were safe) get taken off the market following studies showing links to cancer and diseases of the immune system? My natural tendency to question authority had kicked in big-time. When I did a bit of research on my own, I found no scientific search that supported the use of annual vaccinations for most viral diseases. It was well established that most vaccines given to puppies or kittens created life-long immunity. When I asked my boss about the issue, he admitted that most animals probably didn’t actually need the vaccines as adults. “How else are you going[Read More…]