I greatly enjoy featuring remarkable stories of pet owners going through the process of managing their pet's illness. As our pets are truly part of our families, we are compelled to help them recover from health problems just as we would our human children. This is a concept with which I am greatly familiar, as a veterinary heath care provide and dog dad (see Using Integrative Veterinary Medicine to Treat Illness Affecting My Dog Part 1 and Part 2).
Our Journey to TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine)
When Jasmine came into our lives seven years ago, little we realized what challenges were lying ahead of us all. As smart and lovely and amazing dog as she is, she's been also plagued with multiple-dogs-worth of health issues.
She was the largest female from the litter, which we believed would have also made her the healthiest. It didn't take her long to steal our hearts.
When we brought her home, her stools were not very good, but we figured it was from the change, and it would sort itself out. Well, it did not. However, frequent vet visits didn't bring neither an explanation or a solution. More over, it seemed that we were the only ones worried about it, as the vets certainly were not.
Gullible owners as we were at the time, our worries eventually turned into acceptance. Perhaps she just had a weak system and bad stools and poor appetite were normal for her. It wasn't getting any better but it didn't seem to have been getting worse either.
This issue was soon overshadowed by another. As she turned two years of age, every now and then she'd have a restless night. She would be panting and pacing around the house, asking to go outside (but for no apparent reason), scratching at doors and corners, and looking upset.
It was disconcerting, but it didn't happen too often, and we figured that maybe she smelled or heard something outside that got her agitated.
Slowly, however, these would increase on frequency, intensity and length. She was able to go this way all night. More vet visits and yet again no answers.
I figured that perhaps her belly was upset so I'd take her for walks in the middle of the night so she could walk it off. Sometimes it would help and sometimes it would not.
Nobody except me seemed to have been taking this seriously, possibly because I was the only victim who had to bare witness to the episodes, as we started calling them.
Surprisingly, denial did not make them go away. In the spring of 2008 they got so bad that I declared that neither her or myself can go on this way. We were going to the vet and we were not leaving until an explanation for this was found.
In desperation the vet decided to check her thyroid hormone levels, and indeed they were very low. What I think today about running test for T4 only and not looking any deeper won't change the past. Fact is, however, that starting Jasmine on thyroid medication seemed to have resolved the problem.
Her episodes slowly faded and I was very relieved that finally we found something that helped.
My relief was short-lived.
In the summer of that year she started limping on her rear left leg. As the lameness wasn't going away, it was discovered that she had a substantial tear in her left crucial ligament and that the ligament in the right knee didn't look very good either. Recommendation was made for TPLO surgeries.
In the process we have found a new vet who is truly amazing and he had diagnosed and fixed many of Jasmine's issues.
Her stool and appetite issues turned out to be a result of food allergies which by then had developed into eosinophilic gastroenteritis. With limited ingredient home-cooked diet there was some improvement in the stool quality, but not in the appetite.
More important, Jasmine's episodes had returned. Her thyroid levels were stable. Could it be that the medication helping was just a coincidence?
Thankfully, her new vet was taking the symptom seriously and we started investigating. Blood test, urine analysis, more tests, x-rays ... all with no clear conclusion. Specialists (cardiologist, neurologist ...) at our teaching hospital reviewed her labs and a tape of one of her episodes and guess what they concluded? "It's probably just restlessness." The one thing I knew it was not!
The best conclusion we could arrive to with conventional medicine was that it is either caused by pain from her IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) or pain from an abnormality that has been found in the spine in her neck. Solution? Either steroids or pain killers, with a coin toss in between those two.
I felt that we reached a dead end. I believed that conventional medicine took us as far as it could, and that if we wanted to go further we had to choose a different path.
I first heard of TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) some time back when I was researching alternative options for dealing with her bad ligaments. I talked to people who had great success using TCVM for treatment of various issues and became intrigued by the idea. I got my hands on Four Paws Five Directions (author Cheryl Schwartz, DVM) and studied the principles.
It was time to try something else and perhaps TCVM was a way to go. I talked to Jasmine's vet about my thoughts, explaining that I felt that he was a wonderful vet but limited by the tools he had available, and that perhaps adding some different tools might be helpful. Of course he would remain Jasmine's primary physician. He warned us not to put much hope into that but ageed that'd we consult with a TCVM vet.
After the TCVM exam we did get our hopes up. The TCVM vet came up with a TCVM diagnosis which did come with a treatment other than steroids or pain killers. We started a course of acupuncture and herbal supplements.
The herbs had very strong scent and flavor, and just the fact that Jasmine accepted them in her meals surely meant something.
Today Jasmine has beautiful stools (I celebrate every one of them) and ravenous appetite. Her episodes had been curbed and there seems to be continuous improvement. Her main vet does feel that including the TCVM treatment did bring visible improvement. We are hoping that eventually this issue might get resolved completely.
Jasmine is a constant challenge and a work in progress. Rules don't apply to her, and she can always dish out a new surprise. She is doing better than she has for a long time. We are glad we integrated TCVM into our efforts.
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Jana Rades Guest Blog 1: Help a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Battle Syringomyelia