A lady takes her dog to the vet because it hasn’t been feeling well. The dog is put through a number of diagnostic tests and she is informed that her dog has malignant cancer. She is devastated by the diagnosis and turns her focus on how to proceed with a treatment. She is told by the vet that chemotherapy is the standard treatment protocol and that she will need to make an appointment with the oncologist.
She goes to the oncologist and is told that her dog will likely live 2-3 months without chemotherapy and 6 months to one year with chemotherapy. She is then told that the chemotherapy will be 16 weeks of treatment and the cost will be around $3000. She asks the oncologist if there are any other options and the oncologist tells her that there aren’t. She goes back to the regular vet and the vet puts her dog on prednisone and sent home to die. Door A or Door B?
Let’s face it, no one likes the word cancer and no one likes the thought of having anyone they love have chemotherapy. But, absolutely no one wants to give up and not do anything. The thought of giving up and not doing anything is what drives most people to opt for chemotherapy even though their gut is screaming at them not to.
As a small animal veterinarian for over 40 years, I have treated so many pets with cancer and now that I do phone consultations for pet caretakers, about 80% of my clients have pets with cancer. This shouldn’t be a surprise as they are all given the same options and feeling stuck, desperate and hopeless.
Let me start by saying that I have treated many cancer patients over the years with chemotherapy. It wasn’t that long ago that many vets did chemotherapy in their hospital without the use of an oncologist. This was not difficult because the treatments for specific cancers are the same now as they were forty years ago. When the FDA stepped in and told general practitioners that the chemotherapy drugs were hazardous to people who handled them and that the hospital would have to have special vented hoods and other safety devices installed in their hospitals, most practitioners opted to send their cancer patients to the oncologist.
I must admit that I have had three dogs die from cancer and two of them were treated with chemotherapy. However, this is no longer the case, because I now have a Door C as an option. We must realize that all vets, including the oncologist are trained from the same perspective, which means that treatment consist of either surgery or drug therapy, and cancer is no exception. This conventional approach creates great limitations and we end up with two options for most cancer patients; chemotherapy or nothing. That is what the book said and that is what is practiced in the clinics across the country. No other options considered.
Of course, cancer is not the only disease that falls into the category of one treatment or nothing. Urinary incontinence in dogs is another great example. In vet school we are taught that urinary incontinence in dogs is due to a lack of estrogen due to spaying the dog, which removes the ovaries which is the source of estrogen. Like many human females, post menopause, will start leaking urine due to the influence of estrogen on the bladder sphincter and the control of urine. However, not all dogs that have urinary incontinence are females and not all dogs that are spayed develop the problem which begs us to realize that estrogen is not the only factor involved in the disease.
When these dogs are treated, they are given the option of using one of two drugs or both (synthetic estrogen or phenylpropanalamine). Both of these drugs have potential serious side effects and both of them have been taken off the market in human medicine due to these side effects. Unfortunately, the FDA did not do this for vet medicine and the drugs are still used as the primary treatment. When the empowered pet caretaker does her due diligence on the drugs and questions the vet about the side effects, she is asked, “Do you want to use the drugs or do you want to have your dog wake up each morning lying in urine?” Door A or Door B? The client usually chooses the drugs. Door A or Door B is presented to caretakers for many clinical problems and it is time to look for another option, Door C.
Fortunately, we are moving away from the limited perspective and results with only considering conventional vet medicine. More pet caretakers are seeking the help from holistic veterinarians who have chosen to move outside the box of conventional vet medicine in hopes of offering their patients better opportunities and more options. This may include a better understanding of pet nutrition and the role that it plays with gut function and the immune system. It usually includes the use of supplements to help with clinical symptoms instead of using drugs. The holistic vet will likely be trained in alternative modalities like Chinese medicine and acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic and others. Each of these has its own benefits which can offer other options without having to use drugs.
Nowadays, I treat all of my patients using a holistic approach to health care. Since the majority of my phone consultations are for cancer pets, I combine using a diet that will starve the pet, herbs and supplements that will boost the immune systems ability to reduce cancer growth and a Chinese medicine approach to deal with the underlying imbalances that have caused the cancer. Not only are we benefiting the pet, but we are teaching the caretakers, who in turn become ambassadors for a holistic approach to health care. It all starts with empowering ourselves to look at Door C as an option when it comes to pet health care and ends with the oncologists being “perplexed” because she can’t understand why the pet is doing so well without the chemotherapy.