Sunday, February 26, 2012

Health care for our animals

Do you have a pet? I had a dog for many years. He died two and a half years ago. Since then, I've been conflicted about whether or not to take on another for many reasons. One of the major reasons I have hesitated is because the world of veterinary science has become as over medicalized and expensive as human health monitoring. In some ways it's even worse, as most vets insist that we coat our animals with poison on the outside to protect against fleas and ticks, and on the inside, to prevent heart worm. This well accepted practice of routinely poisoning our animals goes against everything I believe about good health, and yet I was shamed by a number of vets when I admitted that I didn't give my dog the heart worm medicine in the winter when there are no mosquitoes.

Likewise I think we over-immunize our animals. Even when my dog was an old, feeble dude, they wanted to pump him full of rabies vaccine. There was no way, at that point, that Jake could ever have behaved in such a way as to develop rabies. It's very extreme and to my mind, cruel. And we wonder why so many animals become cancerous! Good lord.

I'm thinking about it today because friends mentioned that their dog has been throwing up every day for a month. After $500 worth of tests, the vet says the dog is fine, but of course he's NOT fine. Even though his blood tests and x-rays are clear, something is very wrong. My friends are bewildered, wondering if they should continue with the testing (because of course there are further tests that can be done, to "rule out" a number of problems.) They could rack up a bill of several thousand dollars if they pursue the diagnostics. While they wonder how to proceed, their dog suffers. This makes me crazy.

There are a number of "alternative" vets in the DC area who use herbs, acupuncture and homeopathics to treat animals, but most of them insist that people go the medical testing route before coming to see them. The field of "alternative" veterinary science is small and is still in its infancy since, fifty years ago, when your dog got sick, you simply had him put down.

One thing I can say for vets is that they do get to know their patients, so that helps. However when push comes to shove, when no one can figure out what's wrong with the animal, or when it becomes old and feeble, the decision about when to euthanize falls squarely on the beleaguered shoulders of the pet's owner. In France it's customary to allow the vet to decide when to euthanize. Someone who studied this approach reported that pet owners were free to grieve the loss of their pets and were less likely to blame themselves for deciding "too soon" or "too late" to have their animals euthanized.

I highly recommend to all pet owners the book "Four Paws, Five Directions" by Cheryl Schwartz, a vet in the San Francisco Bay area. Here is a link to the book. I used the book almost constantly throughout my dog's lifetime, often with success especially when Jake was a young dog with a very dodgy stomach.

Dogs and cats are good for us. In study after study it has been shown that people who have pets are the better for it on many levels including physically. Ah but when the pet becomes ill, how does a person such as myself proceed, because I wouldn't pursue the western options for my own ailments except as a last resort. I depend on my doctor of Chinese medicine, my osteopath and the massage therapists I see to keep me well and happy. That route isn't possible with animals at this moment in time. Hence, I remain petless.

Do you have a pet? How do you deal with the inevitable ills and injuries your animal sustains? Will you give your dog or cat a scratch behind the ears for me? Thanks and Shalom.


kbrow said...

I used a holistic vet when we lived in HI, and learned so much from her. We treated Ella's incontinence with Chinese herbs, with lots of success. I think she and my hairdresser were among my hardest goodbyes when we moved! My current vet, here in GA is more traditional, but supports my minimal vaccinine philosophy, and has been reading up on the use of herbs as canine remedies.

I give heartworm meds every other month here. I'd skip them altogether, but our winters are so warm that our mosquitoes don't all die off. I think that traditional heartworm meds are so high-dose that you could probably get away with giving them every 6-8 weeks even in the summer. I do not use any anti-flea dosing whatsoever, now, but I imagine that would all change, were I to find a flea on either dog. We had a terrible infestation in HI (house, yard, car, Ella and the puppy Cricket) and it was a nightmare. My dogs are much more homebound, these days, only getting local walks in our woods and fields, no dog parks, no training classes, so I think our flea and disease threat is minimized.

Ear scratches and big sloppy kisses in your name have been administered to both dogs.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks! Made me smile. Xx

Infinite Possibilities said...

Daisy and Sunshine have been duly scratched and send licks. Because I don't give heartgard over the winter I pay a big bill in the spring for blood tests because they won't sell me heartgard in case my dogs contracted heartworm over the winter when everything was dormant. Deep sigh. But I had a dog years ago who reacted badly (couldn't walk, barely could stand, very ill) after a barrage of shots and so I made the decision many of my friends with children make. Each shot is decided on it's own merit. Single shots and only rabies, distemper, and parvo. Even Daisy and Sunshine who are young do not need so many shots. Although they do not seem to react badly except for soreness at the injection site.
It is a heartwrenching decision to have to put a beloved pet down but each time mine have made it clear that they were done. I try to listen to what they are telling me and not get caught up in my own desire to keep them with me. It is never easy though.

debra said...

We have 3 dogs, 2 cats and assorted chickens. Two of the dogs are rescues, one of which is 15 and the other 13. Lily the toy poodle is 9 thinks she is a cat and acts like a puppy. Since this winter has been so mild, we have had fleas in February! I am highly allergic to flea bites so we did use flea treatments once.
We are holistically inclined and only use conventional medicine when we need to. We only vaccinate for rabies because of the law and because we are surrounded by woods.
All dogs have been duly petted and ears have been scratched. They say thank you.

Kerry said...

I agree that veterinary medicine has become insanely test-oriented. We spent nearly $1000 last summer to prove Eddy didn't have Addison's disease, and just last month a vet wanted to re-test him for it, even though I was convinced the problem was a much less severe one. And sure enough, it was.The vet says "Your pet can't tell us what's the matter; that's why we have to run these tests."

I keep E&R off of heart guard for 8 months; luckily heartworm is not a huge problem here in OR, or I would be in for a big lecture every year. When we lived in the south it was a different matter: heartworm, fleas, was tough.

I must give kudos to our vet for the way they sweet-talk Reub, however. He is a difficult patient, and they really take their time with him.

OK, I'm going to go give them both a hug from you.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you all for your responses. Pet owners are beautiful humans!