AVH conference re-inspires

Just back from the Veterinary Homeopathy conference in Portland.  I always love going to be with like minded veterinarians and to be reminded and re-inspired by listening to people talk about their successes with homeopathy, by their practices and how they’ve structured them to educated and help people in a way that is so different than the mainstream conventional vet clinic.

One of the take home lessons for me is the reminder about chronic and acute disease, and that although homeopathy is so great at treating the acutes, if we don’t address the underlying susceptibility, we can expect that patient to soon be ill with some other imbalance.  A case in point was a young Sharpei cross that the vet treated for acute onset fever and joint swelling.  This is a disease called Sharpei fever and is not only costly but also somewhat difficult and can be quite involved to treat conventionally.  She saw this dog, who was normally quite friendly and active, lying under the table not wanting to move at all, with quite a high fever, and prescribed a homeopathic medicine called Bryonia.  After 4 doses of this, the dog’s fever was on the decline and by the next morning she was eating and on the mend.  A few days later she was completely back to normal activity.  The presenting vet also did a comparison in her cases of cost and showed that whereas conventional treatment, with supportive care, hospitalization, and IV fluids, would have cost upwards of $800, the homeopathic exam and medicine was under $300.   In this case the client was so happy with the results and got her dog back to normal, that the vet remarked that it then becomes difficult to convince the client to do a homeopathic follow up to address the layer underneath – the why the dog got sick in the first place.

There were also a few interesting presentations on treating cancer with homeopathy.  One case was a dog with indolent lymphoma.  This was something I had not heard of, but apparently can be up to 40% of lymphoma cases, especially in Golden Retrievers around the age of 10.  These cancers, different than the regular lymphoma, actually do better statistically without chemo and prednisone and can live for 30 months without any treatment!

The take home message for me about cancer was to do a lot of follow up and make sure the patient is continuously under the influence of a remedy, whether that means more frequent dosing or giving homeopathic medicine in the water daily.  This also means that clients need to be in close communication with us, their homeopathic veterinarians!




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hope and Fear

I remember when I first read Pema Chodron and how she talks about Hope and Fear. I deal with this every day in my work, maybe we all do. It’s really in your face when you’re dealing with your own best buddy’s health, the fragility of their health.

Tanner had his left hind leg amputated 6 weeks ago. The bone cancer had taken over the femur and pretty much had dissolved the bone. He tripped or slipped, or maybe did barely nothing at all, while I was out, and when I got home his leg was swollen and dangling. I knew it was broken and that I had 2 choices.
At that point I was no longer a veterinarian. If I ever forget how to relate to the stress and angst and painful responsibility that my clients are struggling with, I will think back to this difficult decision.
I chose to have his leg amputated.

The days following the amputation were difficult. Tanner, my talkative, cheerful, silly guy was painful, confused, depressed, disoriented. In vet school we were taught not to ascribe complex human emotions to animals, not necessarily because they don’t have them, but because it’s not useful for treatment. Perhaps this is true, but how could I ignore the look of “what have you done to me?” when he would try and get up and didn’t understand why he could no longer walk to the park and pee.

I am grateful for many things at this moment when I think back to those very difficult days: supportive friends and family, Tanner’s previous homes who were sending love and emotional support, and Dr. Sue Armstrong, who is my homeopathic vet in England. I know what it’s like to be a client and to have a vet who I can trust to respond, who will stay calm and tell me what to do when I panic.

I’ve made the difficult choice not to do chemotherapy. I couldn’t put the Tan through any other procedure that might compromise his quality of life in any way, now that he has bounced back and is almost his full self, minus one leg, again. I’m putting my trust in homeopathy and in an experienced compassionate homeopath and veterinarian who I trust. I don’t know if we’ll have a miracle, but I can hope for one. I fear the return of this cancer, and I also know the Tan dog will not be with me forever. For now, I’ll try to enjoy every walk we go on, our weekly swims at Waterworkz pet spa, every time he talks to me in his growly voice when I arrive home.

tan and shira

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Palliative care for our furry friends

My dog Tanner was diagnosed with bone cancer a few days ago. I knew it was bad as soon as I felt the swelling above his knee a few weeks prior, but was in avoidance mode. Now I, like many of the clients I see day in and day out, have to get down to the business of assisting in healing, hoping for cure, and preparing to let go, sooner than I would like.

In my heart I deeply believe that homeopathy has the power to heal in a way that is unknown by conventional methods. I’ve seen animals outlive their grave conventional diagnoses by years, good quality years. Yet, there comes a point when the body wears out, and all beings have to make that transition from the furry form that we are deeply attached to, to something unknown. We know that no one lives forever, but we kind of like that little delusion.

I wish we had a course in Vet school on treating the dying animal, but instead, what I experienced, and what I believe most veterinarians have in their minds, is that when there’s no further treatment plan that promises some hope, or even control, we reach for the euthanyl. Better to end suffering than to witness it, and especially to witness it without a plan, without any control, and with knowing that death could come at any moment.

I have clients who come to me with a story of cancelled euthanasia appointments, with friends and families telling them that they should end their friend’s suffering (sometimes with the added thoughtless comment of “just get another dog/cat”), but something prevents them from doing it. Their friend is still eating, still enjoying petting, maybe even still enjoying a fairly good quality of life despite the grave prognosis.

More and more I believe there is a time to help an animal transition and that often animals can die at home, peacefully, with good palliative support, surrounded by love and care, and when they’re ready. I see that the suffering and grief around this loss seems to be less, or somehow easier, than when the euthanasia is premature, when all parties are not ready. And yet, the job of palliative care is not for the weak of heart. Although I believe we can do a good job of pain management and keeping animals comfortable through the stages of terminal disease, it can be difficult to witness. It’s painful to see our friend stop eating, stop grooming, not be able to go for long walks anymore, maybe not be able to get up. There may be messes to clean and smells to deal with. How do we know when it’s time to let go?

It’s so individual. But there are some guidelines that I’ve found over the years, to help us through.
We can ask ourselves these questions:
– is there any indication that my friend still wants to be around, even when I’ve told him that I’m ready to let him go? Is he still eating, drinking, showing interest in the activities of the household?
– has his behavior radically changed? Elizabeth Severino, author of The Animals’ Viewpoint on Dying, Death and Euthanasia, says that when there’s a sudden and radical change in a terminal pet, like going off to hide in the closet, that can be a message of readiness to transition.
– is there a physical symptom that is causing too much distress and can not be adequately addressed such as pain, difficulty breathing, incontinence or immobility to a degree that it is causing great stress?

The decision to let go and help an animal pass on is such an important and difficult one. We feel the burden of a great responsibility, and we shouldn’t have to do this alone. I hope that working with my clients and in communication with the animal through non verbal cues and our best heart intentions, we can make this process as meaningful and filled with love and compassion as possible.

Elizabeth also says that animals appreciate a ritual for their passing. Many of my clients find meaning in playing music or chants, lighting candles or incense, or just in the process of letting an animal pass outdoors in her favorite spot in the garden, where perhaps later some ashes can be scattered or a pawprint placed.

In the end, we will all have to say goodbye and it’s not something we really want to think about, but it will stretch our hearts and help us to love and grow. Our animal friends will always live on in our hearts and in the spirits in which they touched our lives so deeply.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Charlie turns 16!

I went to visit Charlie today. Charlie is the dog with the brain tumor that I started treating about 4 years ago. He turned 16 in December.
Charlie is a senior citizen, that’s for sure, but I can’t believe how well he has done. I’m not sure what has been the determining factor for him: he’s had a combination of conventional treatment, homeopathy, herbs and supplements, a very loving and dedicated mom, a pretty great life over all, and I guess he may have some longevity genes in his favour.
In any case, it’s a pleasure to see an old dog who was given a poor prognosis years ago and is still chugging along, enjoying his life. charlie
Mom has made him some grip reinforced slippers so he can get by on the hardwood floors, he sleeps a lot of the time, and I think we need to readjust his meds because his hair is falling out and he’s lost a lot of muscle. I’m pretty sure this is a result of the low dose steroids the neurologist put him on years ago, thinking he only had a short time to live anyway. So, we’re going to try and get his meds down, I gave him some homeopathic pulsatilla and a few new supplements (and omega 3 and ubiquinol) and we’ll see if we can make it to 17!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Itchy skin drives us crazy!

princessAlthough not exactly life threatening, itchy skin can definitely be quality of life threatening. It keeps us up at night, makes us put the cone of shame on our dogs to keep them from chewing themselves bald, and can be extremely frustrating to treat. Conventional vets dispense those beautiful bright pink pills which are a combination of steroid and antihistamine and they can work miraculously…. unless the steroids make your dog drink and pee like an uncontrollable race horse, or you stop them. As miraculously as it seemed to disappear, the itch makes its grand reappearance, and sometimes it’s even worse.
Princess was this kind of case. A 10 year old Sheba Inu, she’d had allergies off and on, but since moving to Vancouver recently she’d been a bit of a mess. When I met Princess she was grouchy and I couldn’t exactly blame her. She was itchy and was wearing what looked like an overgrown whooppee cushion around her neck to keep her from chewing her hind end raw.
Luckily, Princess was a pretty clear case homeopathically. I gave her ars. alb 200C, just 3 doses in water.
Luckily for Princess, her people are dedicated and patient. It took almost a month of waxing and waning, but Princess is now itch and cone free and is a much happier dog. In fact, her person reported that her mood changed and she was much calmer almost immediately after the remedy, it just took a bit longer for her skin to really calm down too.
This was a good lesson for the homeopath too. Sometimes when a remedy doesn’t seem to work right away, especially when everyone’s anxious and losing sleep because of itching and scratching, I can be pressuring into prescribing something else. In this case, we were lucky that I was quite confident about this remedy and the clients were willing to be patient. It sure paid off!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The yearly check up

The other day I went to do a follow up on an old dog who has some mobility issues. I had seen this old girl about 2 months prior and started her on some supplements and a homeopathic remedy. According to the clients her energy had increased but she was still quite lame.
In the course of checking in, it came up that they had received a notice that the old dog was due for her yearly vaccines. Being conscientious dog people, they diligently went in and had their dog examined and vaccinated.
My heart sinks when I hear this. As a profession we are taught to do no harm. Do vets still believe that giving yearly vaccinations – a combo of puppy diseases – is necessary for a 14 year old dog with health issues that has already been vaccinated every year of her life?
I graduated from vet school in 1997 and I remember my professor of immunology telling us that he vaccinated his dog as a puppy and that was all. He admitted that there was no proof that the vaccines would hold for the dog’s life, but obviously he felt that the risks were low enough to outweigh the possible harm of continued vaccination.
The questions remain unanswered: do vaccinations harm the immune system? Are they necessary every year, every 3 years, every 10 years? Should we be doing blood titre tests to check on antibody protection?
One thing I do know: We humans don’t go to our doctor for a yearly check up to get a shot.
People can learn to bring their animal friends in for a yearly check up. As vets we need to trust that we can transition to this practice and assess each animal individually as to whether they are at risk for these (predominantly) puppy and kitten diseases or not, and what the risks of a vaccine in a dog with an already stressed immune system might be.
Ask your vet: do you vaccinate your dog or cat yearly? Is my pet still at risk for these diseases? What are the risks of the vaccine? And perhaps most importantly: Can I have an annual check up without the vaccine this year?

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Post operative wonders

Let me introduce you to my new fella: Choco.
Choco is a 9 year old Chesapeake Bay Retreiver who came to me after having a TTA – a surgery to repair a torn cruciate ligament (the ligaments that stabilize the knee joint). Choco’s recovery was amazing. I quickly took him off the meds that he had been sent home with and gave him homeopathics – Ruta and Rhus tox mainly – and watched him improve daily. Unfortunately, shortly after he arrived here, I noticed that Choco has a loud click coming from his hip. After reviewing the x-rays from the clinic where his surgery was done, it became clear that this poor dude has severe hip dysplasia and may actually need a hip surgery one day. In the meantime, I have continued to treat him homeopathically. He has a sensitive digestive tract and a few other quirks, so when I looked at the totality of his case I came up with a remedy called Silica. So far he has done well with this and despite the clicking, does not show any pain or discomfort and he continues to improve in his mobility day by day. In fact, I seem to tire more quickly than he does! I hope we can avoid another surgery, but I know that if he ends up needing it, we can get him through it with great support from homeopathic remedies.


Posted in | Leave a comment

Scoobie the wonder dog

Scoobie is an 8 year old Maltese with a very strong mind of his own, so I guess it was not all that surprising when he decided to cross the street unexpectedly while on a walk with his person around Christmas time. Unfortunately, being a little Maltese dog, you’re not a great match for a car. Poor Scoobie, and his distraught people, ended up at the emergency clinic on a Sunday evening in pretty bad shape.

After emergency stabilization for shock and pain it was determined that Scoobie had multiple fractured ribs but seemed to be relatively lucky as far as internal injury goes. The emergency vets were concerned about Scoobie’s neurological status, though, as he would not stand or even right himself properly. A referral was made to a neurologist and Scoobie was sent home, partly because he was so distressed being away from home and from his family.

I saw Scoobie a few days after the incident and despite good conventional pain medication (fentanyl and tramadol), Scoobie was still extremely painful and would scream bloody murder when touched even lightly. He could walk but would fall over after a few steps. His people reported that he was quite restless, not eating properly and just seemed uncomfortable and freaked out overall. At this point they were still worried that he would not make it.

Knowing how incredibly powerful homeopathy is in the trauma department, I assured the clients that Scoobie’s chances of full recovery were good, but that it might take a little time and patience, especially for full mobility.
We started him on a homeopathic remedy called Aconite for the shock and fear and then after a few days of that switched to the trauma king of remedies Arnica.

Scoobie started eating properly quite soon after starting these remedies, and we slowly weaned him off his pain meds as things improved. Other remedies that we used over the week included rhus-tox (for joint pain), Chamomilla (a remedy Scoobie had done well on in the past when he had back pain), cuprum, bryonia and arsenicum (for diarrhea from the stress of it all).

Scoobie has continued to improve, and although I’m not sure he’s 100% normal (I’m not sure he was ever 100% normal and I think his people would agree!), he is currently a happy dog, going on his walks, running the house, and proud that he may be a small dog, but he challenged a car… and…. won(?!)

the last remedy that helped Scooby was Cina. I wonder if this is even Scoobie’s “constitutional” remedy since he had such a wonderful response to it (in fact, I haven’t heard from them in months, so I know he continues to do well!). Interesting, because Cina is in the compositae family, which are remedies that are known for injuries and for that feeling of being injured. Cina is also known for being a bit of a cranky personality and Scooby can sometimes attest to that!

Posted in | Leave a comment

Treating Cancer With Homeopathy

Just home after an incredibly inspiring seminar led by Dr. Sue Armstrong and Dr. Don Hamilton. We are a small group of 15 veterinary homeopaths that have met a number of times over the past few years at the San Geronimo lodge in Taos, New Mexico, to study the treatment of cancer with homeopathy and supportive care in animals. Dr. Sue leads the way with her experience in treating cats, dogs, horses and people. She takes us through the science and the conventional approaches, to make sure we’re up to date, and then she leads us through nutrition, supplements, organ supports, and the various approaches to the different forms of cancer. We learn from her cases and from each others’ cases. Perhaps we learn the most from our struggles.

I had the opportunity to present a difficult case that I was working through and I had just the one. Julen is a 13 year old black and white kitty who is lucky to be in home with 2 wonderfully dedicated women who take superb care of him. Julen has not been doing well since about March, and since then has had periods of severe pancreatitis, fluid in his abdomen, numerous visits to the emergency clinic, a few ultrasounds and finally an exploratory surgery this past month. It did not look good in there. Although we did not biopsy, our assumption at this point is that Julen has metastatic cancer somewhere in his abdomen, possibly affecting his pancreas and stomach. The surgeon suggested that perhaps we let Julen go on the table, but I felt that Julen had some will to live left, so we sewed him up and sent him home. He recovered from surgery better than I expected and within not too long started acting like his normal self again.

Presenting his case was a bit of an exercise in humility, but it was one of the best learning experiences that I could have hoped for. We split into groups and then came back with suggestions from each group. The suggestions included organ support, nutritional support and homeopathic remedies.
I emailed the clients right away and we got Julen on some probiotics, alfalfa, dandelion and goldenseal, marshmellow tea and slippery elm, digestive enzymes, B vitamins. A small remedy, leptandra, was suggested but it turns out that no one in Vancouver has it! Right now Julen is on Calc-sulph in low potency because he has some drainage from his incision, but stay tuned….

The lesson that I learn from these wonderful animals and that was supported by this group of wise, compassionate veterinarians, is that there is so much possibility for healing even when presented with a very bad disease.
I love palliative care. I don’t know how I would practice it without homeopathy and other alternative therapies, but I think just having an approach which respects and supports a creature’s energy of life, and then recognizes when it’s time to die and helps that transition happen with peace and dignity, is such an inspiration for my practice.

Another great example of this:
Charlie is a 15 year old border collie who I started seeing 1.5 years ago because he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Charlie had had some seizures and a brain tumor was diagnosed by MRI. He was started on prednisone and phenobarbital. He was having some hind end weakness when I saw him and had a history of diarrhea and skin allergies.
Charlie’s care giver started him on Essiac tea and we agreed that Iams dry kibble was not giving him the nutritional support that he would need at this stage in his life, so he was started on a home cooked diet. At this point we all agree that Charlie eats better than his family and his veterinarian!
We also treated Charlie with immunosupportive mushrooms and a regime of homeopathic remedies – mainly Calc carb and Carcinosin.
I didn’t see Charlie from Nov. 2010 until today and I almost thought Charlie must have a twin brother when he came to greet me. I swear he looks younger and better than ever. He is on lower doses of his meds, has had no seizures, his skin and joints are doing well, and he looks like a healthy 10 year old dog for his 15 years. His only problem on examination today was that his teeth were pretty darn dirty, so we hand scaled them. No one really enjoyed the sound of scraping, but Charlie was a champ and I left him with a pretty nice smile if I do say so myself.
I have to admit that I don’t know what has helped Charlie the most – the diet change, the mushrooms, the essiac, the homeopathy, the supportive conventional specialist…. but this is truly an integrative approach and the result has been pretty incredible. Apparently even the neurologist is surprised.

Posted in | Leave a comment

the final days and home

My last full day in India was spent at Ajanta and I have to say that I disagree with the Lonely Planet on another front. They say that if you have to chose, Ellora wins over Ajanta hands down and maybe it’s just me and my personal spiritual inclinations, but I found Ajanta completely mind stopping. The setting is a beautiful escarpment in a sort of valley of low lying dry rocky hills and cut into the horseshoe shaped cliff are about 20 something large caves which are carved into shrine halls and meditation rooms with exquisite detailed pillars and buddha statues, but the real marvel is the remnants of the detailed paintings which covered every square inch of wall and ceiling at that time. The bits that remain show incredibly detailed depictions of the buddha’s life and stories and you can still see the bright colours that were used, all from natural dyes and lapis lazuli.

Despite the crowds, noise and tourist bustle, I found the caves deeply moving and peaceful. What a marvel that in the 5th century, without the technology and tools, that was possible. The amount of skill and work that went into that place is unbelievable, and I wonder what happened to the people that must have lived and practiced there? What caused them to abandon the place, when the final cave was still incomplete?

Posted in | Leave a comment