Archive for January, 2009

It’s not all cats and dogs

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

While lately I have been working with almost exclusively cats and dogs, there was a time when I worked with the very little guys. Unfortunately I haven’t found a good way to do acupuncture on a rat although I have tried a few times. They are just too little.

I think guinea pigs are also too little to do acupuncture on although I have treated quite a few bunnies.

I recently did get the pleasure of treating a ferret although it took three of us juggling him and a bottle of ferratone (very addictive liquid ferret food-that is if you are a ferret) to keep the needles in. Boy did the dogs I treated that day enjoy tracing everywhere the ferret had been with their noses!

I think most of them had never smelled a ferret before!

In celebration of Melbrey

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

melrecentWe are so very thankful to have our fuzzy friend Mel still in our lives. You never realize how fragile life is until you see your dog laid out on the table and know that there is a less than 50% chance that you will never be able to look into his eyes again and tell him you love him. Watching his chest rise and hearing his heart beat but knowing that he is one wrong move away from death.

It was three months ago today that we almost lost our dog Mel to adrenal cancer. On October 29th Dr. Tim Kraabel at Lien Animal Clinic removed a large adrenal tumor and Mel’s left kidney is a three hour surgery. Tim said it was the most difficult surgery of his twenty year veterinary career.

We know that there is still the possibility that the cancer will return but for now we have our friend. He is pretty much back to normal except for the fact that he will no longer eat anything unless it has duck in it. Go figure.

We are also so thankful for having Tim Kraabel’s help. He diagnosed the tumor on a radiograph when both the board certified radiologist and I missed it, and he performed a very difficult surgery most veterinarians would not have been able to do and saved Mel’s life. How to offer thanks for saving a friend’s life? Words can not say enough.

Let them eat dirt! And a few worm eggs, too!

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I found this interesting article in the New York Times today Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You. While lately we have been hearing about how a little dirt and animal hair is actually good for us, this article goes one step further in explaining that intestine worms may also be good for our immune systems.

In fact they have found that some intestinal worms actually help people (should be the same for our animal friends) with autoimmune diseases such as asthma, allergies, or even some of the more severe ones like MS, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. It makes me wonder if some of the rise in autoimmune illness in animals is linked to the routine deworming some of our animals receive. I hope they do more research on this subject!

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – that is the question. Part 1 cats

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

<People often ask, “Should I vaccinate my animal friend? And if so, how often?”

Many holistic veterinarians will tell you not to vaccinate. I disagree, after all vaccination can be a very good thing. After spending many years working and volunteering for shelters and rescue groups I know first hand how devastating some of these diseases can be. We have vaccines which work really well, but we give them way too often and we also vaccinate for things we don’t need to. Vaccines are not benign and not without risks.

Here is my vaccine protocol for cats who are not in kennel or shelter environments

  • FVRCP (modified live without chlamydia) one vaccine at 16 weeks of age, booster at 1 year of age
  • FeLV only if they go outside, use the same schedule as FVRCP. Use the vectored (recombinant) vaccine if possible. Hopefully there will be more information on how long the recombinant FeLV vaccine lasts soon. Until then, I do not offer an alternative recommendation for the recombinant form of this vaccine.
  • Rabies as required by law

In this article I would like to share my thoughts on vaccination and provide some information on the different vaccines we have available for cats. I promise to share some dog vaccination information soon!

In cats we vaccinate mainly for viruses. There are three main types of virus vaccines we use

  • The first is a modified live vaccine, which is made from a living virus that has been modified so it cannot cause disease. These modified vaccine viruses replicate in the body just like a normal virus does and have the advantage of creating a very strong immune response and very good protection against the virus. However because they can replicate these vaccines can induce a mild disease in normal animals and occasionally can make a debilitated animal very sick or even cause death. Because of this modified live vaccines should never be given to very sick animals or animals with severely suppressed immune systems. One interesting note on modified live vaccines is that since the vaccine virus replicates in the body it can be shed and passed on to other animals. Many times these vaccinated animals can spread immunity. However on the flip side of this, recently vaccinated animals should not be around very sick animals or animals without intact immune systems.
  • The second type is a killed vaccine, which is made from real viruses that have been killed. They stimulate an immune response in the body but not as strong or long lasting a response as a modified live vaccine. The big advantage is that this type of vaccine virus cannot replicate in the body and will not make an animal sick from the killed virus itself. However this type of vaccine usually need to be given in series of two or more shots and killed vaccines are almost always adjuvanted or modified with an agent that causes a stronger immune reaction. These adjuvents can lead to strong vaccine reactions, can cause cancer and can induce autoimmune diseases. So while the virus cannot make your animal sick the adjuvant can. Many times the side effects of the vaccine adjuvant will take years to emerge.
  • There is also a third type of vaccine called a vectored vaccine. This uses a virus, that we know is harmless, which has been genetically modified to have the proteins on the surface that are the same as a harmful virus. The animal is given this virus vaccine and gains immunity to the virulent virus that it is being vaccinated against. These vaccines are mainly in the development phase and we know much less about if there are any longterm side effects.

Here is a little information about the different feline vaccines out there.

  • FVRCP should be given to every cat, but only once or twice. This is usually a modified live combination vaccine against Feline Panleukopenia (also called Feline Distemper), Calici Virus, and Rhinotracheitis. This combination vaccine sometimes also vaccinates against other diseases such as Chlamydia. Make sure it is just the three above. Chlamydia is something we almost never see in cats and the vaccine for Chlamydia which is added to the FVRCP has a lot of side effects.

    Panleukopenia can be a very deadly disease and cats should be vaccinated against it. It causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and death especially in young cats and brain damage to kittens in utero.

    Calicivirus and Rhinotracheitis are both upper respiratory viruses and are usually not deadly.

    This vaccine has a very high protection rate against panleukopenia approaching 100%, however recently a major problem has emerged with the vaccine. The vaccine virus is made by growing virus on feline kidney cells. The problem with this is that small amounts of kidney cells get in the vaccine and can cause not just an immune response to the vaccine but also to the cat’s own kidneys. In other words it can cause the cat’s immune system to fight against and destroy it’s own kidneys. Many of us believe that the overuse of this vaccine has created the epidemic of kidney disease that we see in cats eight year of age and older. And recent studies have shown that cats do develop antibodies against their kidney cells.

    Here are some good resources for more information on kidney disease and the link to FVRCP vaccination.
    Colorado State University Insight
    Parenteral Administration of FVRCP Vaccines Induces Antibodies Against Feline Renal Tissues

    Given correctly, I believe this vaccine is a very good vaccine. However most cats are over vaccinated, increasing their chances of having kidney related problems. One dose of FVRCP given to a cat over 16 weeks of age will usually last for the cat’s lifetime, yet it is routinely given every one to three years. Why? Because the vaccine companies have not done studies past three years. They would prefer that you buy their vaccines every one to three years and have no incentive to do these studies. Luckily some universities are doing them and so far the results are showing that FVRCP has lifetime immunity.

    I recommend people vaccinate their cats at 16 weeks of age and booster at a year to cover any chance of vaccine failure. This vaccine does not have to be given again. In shelters younger kittens should be vaccinated every couple weeks until 16 weeks of age but ideally an intra-nasal vaccine would be used. This is because of the high risk of deadly panleukopenia in this environment.

  • FeLV should never be given to indoor only cats.It is an adjuvanted vaccine and has been linked to deadly fibrosarcomas in cats. FeLV is a real and deadly virus which usually causes death within 2-4 years of catching it. Something to remember however is that it is not a virus we can bring into the house. It is spread through direct contact or sharing drinking water. This virus can not live on dry surfaces. Indoor only cats not only don’t need to be vaccinated for FeLV but they shouldn’t be because the risk of them getting cancer from the vaccine is highly than the risk of them getting outside and catching FeLV. Outdoor cats should probably be vaccinated and given one booster three weeks later for this virus.

    There is a new vectored vaccine for FeLV, which should be a lot safer, however it hasn’t been out long enough for us to know for sure. We also have very little information on how long this vaccine will last.

  • Rabies is required by law in most states. Because of this it is the hardest vaccine to make recommendations on because of the public health issue. The vaccine can induce fibrosarcomas like the FeLV vaccine. It also has many side effects especially in older animals and animals prone to seizures. However in many places it is required by law for animals to be vaccinated every one to three years. If your animal is not vaccinated and they bite someone and the person who was bit presses it, in most states they can have your animal killed and tested for rabies. Because of this I usually recommend that people follow the requirements of the law when it comes to this vaccine

    The rabies vaccine used to be a modified live but it was occasionally causing real rabies so now it is a killed vaccine. For some strange reason it is still given like a modified live vaccine without a booster. The recent thought and studies have shown that because of this many animals are never getting full immunity even though it is given every year. It should really be given once and then boostered three weeks later. Currently titers are not accepted as proof of immunity in the continential united states. They should be! Hopefully the laws will change to accept titers soon. This vaccine probably only needs to be given two or three times on a correct booster schedule to induce lifetime immunity.

  • The FIP vaccine should never be given. Luckily it is rarely given these days. Please, please never give this vaccine and if your veterinarian recommends it, think about getting a new veterinarian. This vaccine does not protect against FIP and may actually induce it. FIP is a mutation of a corona virus that almost all cats carry. This vaccine only works if the cat has never been exposed to corona virus, which is less than 5% of the feline population. FIP is not a contagious disease. A cat with FIP can not pass FIP to another cat. In addition this vaccine can cause a higher rate of mutation to the deadly FIP in cats who have corona virus in their system. Please see FIP is not a contagious disease
  • If you vaccinate your cat for FIV they may be euthanized if they end up in a shelter. I do not recommend this vaccine. FIV is not a highly contagious disease and the vaccine is a killed adjuvented vaccine which holds a risk of fibrosarcoma. Fibrosarcoma is deadly, FIV is usually not. Currently there is no test that can distinguish between a vaccinated cat and a FIV positive cat .Once you vaccine your cat with this vaccine they will always test positive for the FIV virus and if they end up in a shelter will probably be euthanized. Their offspring will also probably test positive for FIV if the mother is vaccinated. If for some reason you give this vaccine always microchip your cat so they will not be euthanized if they get lost and test positive.
    Here is a informative article on FIV written by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Here are a couple important last thoughts

  • Never vaccinate your animal if they are sick or going under anesthesia. This makes their immune system have to do two things at once, get better from their illness or clear anesthesia and build immunity from the vaccine. It also can lead to a vaccine failure if their immune system can not mount a proper immune response against the vaccine because it is busy with other things. It is better to make a second visit in to the vet for the vaccine when your animal is well.
  • Also avoid giving more then two vaccines at a time. Ideally each vaccine would be given separately but with cats because of the stress of the trip to the vet (to both them and their humans:-), sometimes it makes sense to give two and avoid trips. I highly recommend not giving more than two at once because I have seen many animals become extremely ill after getting three vaccines.

Please send me your questions on this subject!

Part 2 Dogs

The most common and unusual names for cats and dogs

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I found this article today and thought it was fun to see what people are naming their pets. I’ve known many animals with the common names but none with the unusual ones. What’s the most unusually named animal you have met?

Top dog names
1. Max
2. Bailey
3. Bella
4. Molly
5. Lucy
6. Buddy
7. Maggie
8. Daisy
9. Sophie
10. Chloe

Top cat names
1. Max
2. Chloe
3. Tigger
4. Tiger
5. Lucy
6. Smokey
7. Oliver
8. Bella
9. Shadow
10. Charlie

Most unusual dog names
1. Rush Limbark
2. Sirius Lee Handsome
3. Rafikikadiki
4. Low Jack
5. Meatwad
6. Peanut Wigglebutt
7. Scuddles Unterfuss
8. Sophie Touch & Pee
9. Admiral Toot
10. Spatula

Most unusual cat names
1. Edward Scissorpaws
2. Sir Lix-a-lot
3. Optimus Prrrime
4. Buddah Pest
5. Snoop Kitty Kitty
6. Miss Fuzzbutt
7. 80 Bucks
8. Sparklemonkey
9. Rosie Posie Prozac
10. Toot Uncommon

My secret world of plants

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

ravenhongOn Mondays, I descend down into the basement to disappear into my world of herbs. Once there I spend a couple hours smelling, touching and tasting, to create formulas to help the animals I work with. As I work I can hear the ancient wisdom of the past herbal masters whispering to me and feel the vibrations of these plants, many which were on this planet before us. To me working with these herbs is like cooking, only I am making up a recipe for healing by harnessing the amazing powers of these living things.

fourherbs4One of my clients is a paralyzed dachshund. Making up a formula for him, I call upon four of my favorite herbs to form a blood tonic. The four are all roots – foxglove, peony, Chinese angelica, and lovage – and are earthy and strong. I love to tea these in the winter and sit on my window seat sipping the strong rich tea they make. I can feel how these herbs work to strengthen me from the inside so that I have the energy to heal. This is what I want for this little dog.

Roots are also very grounding because they come from the earth and they help to hold us to the ground so we do not float away with our thoughts. In China this herbs are cooked up with a chicken soup in the winter to help older people with aches and pains.

wormsMost of these dachshunds have closed channels because of traumatic disc injury. I can tonify the blood all I want but it is like trying to send water down a plugged hose. I add a handful of earthworms into this formula, which the Chinese say get into the blood channels and wiggle them open like a roto rooter opening a clogged drain.

After opening and tonifying, I add a few generous pinches of the light and vibrant orange safflowers to move and lift up these heavy grounding roots. These along with peach seed will help to move the blood down this little guy’s back legs so they can work again.


Finally to work with pain, I add corydalis, which is a powerful mover of blood, and painkiller.

Chinese Herbal Medicine is all about how the herbs work together and most formulas have ten or more herbs. It is an art based on the powers that emerge when these herbs joint forces. No one herb is powerful on its own but together these amazing plants can perform miracles.


Many times I will not know what I am going to put in a formula until I am staying in front of my herbs. Then one herb will just leap out and say, “use me!” Sometimes it will be an herb I am not familiar with but when I rush to my materia medica and look it up turns out to be exactly what I need.

Plants have an energy and a power of their own and often my job is to listen more than to think. When I think too much I come up with a generic formula, which may help, but my most powerful formulas come when the herbs lead the way.

By the end of my day, I am usually covered with herb dust and my nose is full of the many smells and flavors of the herbs I have mingled with. Up the stairs I go once again out to the busy world of traffic and electronics…until next week.

This formula is now available through my etsy store Kingdom of Basil

Welcome President Obama!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

When I am old, may I be treated as well as I have treated my dog

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Because I work with mostly geriatric animals, I have come to give a lot of thought to how we work with human family members as they age or become sick.

It used to be that older family members were a central part of their families and valued for their wisdom and their help in raising the children. Today because families are so fractured and our health care system is so terribly broken, most older people are institutionalized instead. When we institutionalize older people we take away from them their value in society and no longer learn from the wisdom they have to offer. When people are not valued for what they can give, their minds shrink and they began to waste away. I think when people see that they have become a burden on society and their families, they no longer want to live and many of them quickly escape into dementia or death. This is a very difficult thing to face.

Most of the geriatric animals I work with are well loved and cared for. Going one step further, they are an important part of the families they live with and are respected for what they give to their families.

Their human companions will say, “I have learned so much by being here with my dog during his illness and watching how he has lived with illness gives me inspiration for how I want to live my life.” People often express that their love for their animal companion is so strong that it is a large part of what keeps them going through the day. Many of these animals have helped their people through deaths in the family, depressions, job loss, illness, or other major life changes.

These people do not see caring for these beings as a burden. They care for these animals with the respect that they would want someone to care for them and these animals are not pushed out of the family but given a central role in it throughout their illness

Some of the most vibrant older people I have know stayed active in their families and community into old age. One of my neighbors growing up was an active gardener and not only had a magnificent garden herself but also was active with community gardens in her neighborhood. When she passed away a few years ago we were shocked to find out she was in her mid-nineties!

My own great grandmother lived to be ninety-nine and even though she was in a nursing home her final years she read everything she could get her hands on, was always out talking to the staff, and stayed active in the family dynamics.

When we were looking for a preschool for my son, we found one within a nursing home, where they integrated the two programs. The children enjoyed having the extra attention of the older residents and the residents had a purpose and a job helping with the children. Not surprisingly they were considered the best program in the state and had a long waiting list. But why can’t we have more programs like this?

This problem reaches far beyond the fracturing of families. There is a larger issue with our broken health care system. Nursing homes are covered by insurance and government funding but in home care is usually not. Many families have little choice but to put their loved ones in institutions when the care becomes greater than they can provide on their own.

While I was treating one of my client’s cats for kidney disease, his mother was hospitalized for similar kidney problems. He flew home to be with her and when he came back told me that the hospital was so fast paced that he felt like he had to be with her or she would not get the care she needed. He questioned why his cat was getting better care for $85 a week than his mother was getting while running up hospital bills in the thousands.

My former dog walker’s mother was very sick with emphysema and kidney failure when I met her. She was a great animal lover and lived with her daughter who ran a doggy daycare in the house. The mother helped with the business by caring for the dogs in the doggie daycare when her daughter would take groups of dogs to the park. All the dogs loved her and she would make special biscuits for them because she loved to cook. She helped her daughter’s business because someone was always able to be at the house and she had an important job even though she could no longer even walk around the block. Whenever I was at their house she would always have a giant smile and a million stories to tell. I was often surprised that she lived so long with her illness and seemed so happy.

I hope as a society we can move towards integrated care for our older citizens. Us younger people have so much to learn from those who have been on this planet longer. There should be a way we can form communities of care, which include people of all ages and benefit everyone.

Animals have a way of bringing us all together

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I can upon this story today, Outlaw Bikers Rescue Orphaned Kittens, about a group of bikers, who had rescued 180 kittens about to end up on the streets. I found the group, Rescue Ink’s, website and learned that these men had committed themselves to rescuing animals and ending animal abuse. Believe me if I was an abused dog this is who I would want to come to my rescue. I don’t think these guys would be afraid of confronting anyone!

In my work I have found that animal people just have a way of coming together. It matters not how we look, our income level, our backgrounds, or our politics. There is just something about the people who speak for those who can not speak for themselves that you have to admire and love.

Some thoughts on osteosarcoma-a follow up to Maggie’s story

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Part 1 of this story

  • If I had to offer one piece of advice from working with these dogs it would be amputate if at all possible and the cancer has not yet spread to the lungs. Every dog I have treated has had problems with the pain before lung problems from metastasis. If they have three healthy legs and the cancer is in a leg, amputate and amputate early.
  • I have seen these dogs do so much better with combined treatments. Just chemo or radiation gets you so long, and just acupuncture can also extend life but the two together usually more than double the time and quality of life of these animals. Find a good oncologist or a veterinarian who specializes in cancer treatment and a good holistic acupuncturist and work with both.
  • Love, love, love. Once again a loved dog who has an important place in the family will do so much better.
  • Get many opinions. If one veterinarian tells you there is no hope talk to a second one. We all have our own experiences and expectations. There are many textbooks written on medicine but we all have our own tricks.
  • Find some support. Working with any family member with cancer is difficult emotionally and having someone who understands what you are going through can really help. Sometimes that is another member of the family but if you are all alone reach out through forums or support groups.
  • Research online. There is so much information available online although don’t believe everything you read.
    • Here is a super site on cancer in dogs.
    • Here is my cancer care page. I do not recommend using all the things listed on this page and usually do a consultation with clients to pick the best treatments for a particular animal.

Part 3 of this story