Have you ever watched a small child playing with its toy, trying to put a round peg in a square hole? There is usually a display of interest, then frustration and maybe anger. In time, the child, due to frustration, quits.
I see this tendency often in conventional pet health care. The doctors try everyday possible to put that round peg in a square hole, searching for a new method or a new angle, but in the end, it just won’t work. Unfortunately, for health care, giving up usually means letting the pet go.
When we take a close look at conventional medicine, it is not hard to see why this happens so often. The system is set up to treat the symptoms and by doing this, hopefully, the problem will be resolved. We don’t recognize that most of the symptoms are a signal from the body that there is a problem. Instead of looking for the underlying problem, we focus on fixing the signal.
Imagine that your car suddenly stars flashing a warning signal on your dashboard panel that there is a problem with the engine. You take it to the mechanic, he disconnects the flashing signal indicator and sends you down the road. In time, the engine’s problems get worse and it quits. This is often what happens with a conventional medicine approach to diseases.
Let’s use the example of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a very common disease that is found in both dogs and cats. Symptoms may include vomiting, loss of appetite and/or diarrhea. Initially, the vet will likely treat the symptoms in hopes of resolving the problem. When the symptoms persist or return when the medication is discontinued, the vet often begins a diagnostic search for a disease. This usually includes blood work, X-rays and ultrasound. The ultrasound usually reveals a thickening of the bowel and a diagnosis is made that the pet has IBD.
The conceptual disease, IBD, is now treated according to the current methodology; anti-inflammatory drugs. Notice that the vet initially treated the obvious symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) and now the vet is treating the underlying symptoms of inflammation. Nothing but the drugs has changed. There has been no focus of attention on what is causing the inflammation of the bowel.
A diagnosis of a specific disease has been made and a specific drug is used for the conceptual disease, which is nothing more than another symptom. As the disease progresses (remember the car engine), in time the symptoms get worse, the vet runs out of drugs to use and everyone gives up. If the symptoms are milder, the drugs are continued throughout the pet’s life until the gut gets worse and moves from inflammation into the next stage, cancer. We know how that ends up.
This failure to address underlying causes is seen in most chronic disease as well as recurring diseases. How many times has a pet or human had a lower urinary tract infection? Not all individuals deal with recurring urinary tract infections, so it is obviously an individual problem being treated as a conceptual disease. This means the pet is given antibiotics each time, symptoms are resolved until it recurs. This is not resolution and in time the engine (underlying problem) will show itself as another, more serious disease.
Our approach really fails when we deal with idiopathic diseases. Idiopathic basically means that we don’t know what causes the problem. Again, emphasizing that the only option is treating the symptoms. There are many examples in veterinary medicine; idiopathic epilepsy, degenerative myelopathy, laryngeal paresis and many others. I would go so far as to say that every chronic disease that we find in pets should be labelled idiopathic because we rarely search for the genuine underlying cause.
I recently was contacted by a client that I had done a phone consultation with. Her dog was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy and was having severe seizures. In spite of all the drugs that the dog was given, the seizures were getting worse. I asked her if she had been giving the Chinese herbs that I had recommended and she admitted that she had not. She said that the vets didn’t want to overwhelm the dog with all the medications by adding some natural herbs. Remember the child with the square peg?
When we pet caretakers are faced with diseases that are chronic, that don’t have good options or don’t have any options, we must open our minds to moving along a different pathway. There comes a time when it becomes obvious that the current plan is not working.
Vets, like myself, are trained to follow one pathway and one pathway only. I say that we all read the same books. If the answer to the pet’s health problem is not in the books, then we need to read a different kind of book. There are so many options these days for health problems that fall outside the limitations of conventional medicine. We owe it to our pets to look at all possibilities while remembering that we will most likely not get guidance or approval from our conventional vet. That’s ok. When we stand back far enough, we can objectively watch the child trying to get that square peg in the round hole and make a change.