While more people are choosing chiropractic care for themselves these days, it is most commonly for treatment of back, neck, or even jaw pain. I still get the questioning looks when I discuss its value for more internal conditions. This modality can be very effective in treating conditions as far ranging as diarrhea or inappropriate urination in cats. It can even improve the function of the immune system and improve liver or kidney function. See, this is where I lose people…
Lets start with an explanation of what we are really doing with a chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic medicine is based on the theory of the subluxation or the subluxation complex. In conventional medicine, the term subluxation is often used to mean a joint or opposing bones that are physically out of place. This is not necessarily the case in chiropractic medicine. In chiropractic fields, subluxation is used to mean a joint which may not be physically misaligned, but has a decreased range of motion on palpation. This is often caused by a slight change in the positioning where the joint surfaces meet. What this is, and what a chiropractor is actually feeling when they choose to adjust an area is a decrease in movement between two vertebrae in the back. A normal joint should have a bit of “give” when palpated while a subluxated or “stuck” joint has decreased or no motion. The goal then is simply to restore movement to these joints.
Generally speaking then, the more functioning joints, the better range of motion. Did you know that an owl has 14 cervical vertebrae? This is twice the number of people dogs or giraffes, and, this is what gives owls such great range of motion in their necks. They can actually turn their heads 270 degrees in either direction; but I digress.
When there is a joint in the group that is not moving, it puts strain and stress on the joints above and below, as these neighboring joints are then forced to compensate in the body’s effort for range of motion. Picture the childs’ toy wooden snake that you can hold by the tail and the body moves back and forth with all of those little joints. The idea is that each joint moves only a small amount, but you put this range of motion together and your back and neck can really twist.
Alright, so now you can buy how a subluxation can be of detriment to your back, and can even surmise that this additional strain on the other joints can cause some local pain and dysfunction. These sorts of changes are termed kinesiopathological. Now lets look at some of the other effects a subluxated joint can have. Neuropathological changes involve changes in the nerves and the cerebral spinal fluid and are caused by direct or indirect pressure on the nerve roots as they exit the vertebrae or on the spinal cord as it runs through the affected area. Similar effects can be seen in the vessels which are traveling between the vertebrae. Connective tissue pathology involves changes in everything from the synovial fluid in the joint which consolidates or sludges, to the cartilage which shrinks and begins to calcify and develop adhesions. You should now be getting a sense that the structures around these intervertebral joints depend greatly on movement for their health and well being.
This brings us to the distant effects of a subluxation. Along with all of the other structures coming out through the spaces in and between the vertebrae are nerves which affect the distant organs. Some of these nerves are responsible for nourishing and moving distant muscles in the body. Myopathological changes or effects on the muscles lead to muscle weakness and lactic acid build up due to atrophy from disuse. There are also sympathetic and paracympathetic nerves exiting between the vertebrae. Let us look at the vagus nerve for a minute. It is vulnerable between the skull and the first cervical vertebrae and it’s nerve fibers travel to the peripheral blood vessels and abdominal organs. The theory that follows is that irritation to this nerve at the level of the spine can alter transmissions along the nerve fibers leading to increased or decreased sympathetic tone to the sturctures innervated by those fibers. See, clear as mud.. Put another way, when the nerves are pinched or irritated by a subluxation, they will not work correctly and thus not send the right signals to the organs that they are in charge of. Long term changes in these nerves can lead to organs or muscles not functioning up to their full potential. Remember that all bodily functions are controlled by nerves and these nerves all exit between the vertebrae in order to communicate with the central nervous system. Thus, correcting subluxations and improving nerve function can directly affect organs, skin, joints, and glands. It can affect blood flow and hormone levels as well. Only about 10% of nerves register pain, the rest are keeping the body functioning to its maximum potential. So chiropractic can really do more than just help your back feel better.
That said, I still tend to use spinal manipulation, chiropractic care, as a first line of treatment for its spinal benefits; Pain relief, improved mobility and strength. I do not forget, however, that there can be many other benefits that can be seen from a manipulation and will often add an adjustment into a treatment regime as it is ongoing. I am routinely amazed at what a difference it makes to a wide variety of patients. Discretion is always needed in picking cases where manipulation is appropriate as some animals and some conditions should not be adjusted.
Unfortunately, studies on the effects of manipulation in animals are few and far between. We have to rely primarily on the human literature and extrapolate. That said, I do believe that chiropractic care can and does benefit a great number of animals. I see it happen every day.
One of the most frequent questions that I get asked as owners are passing the time waiting for their dog or cat’s acupuncture needles to be taken out ( this is a time period of anywhere between 10-20 minutes on average) goes something like this… So, what is the most interesting animal that you have ever done acupuncture on? It was never a question I particularly enjoyed as I never felt that I had a great answer. Most of my practice is dogs and cats with the occasional rabbit or pocket pet thrown in. Past this, I occasionally see injured wildlife- usually small mammals or birds. So, until recently, my best answer to this question was generally along the lines of squirrel, rabbit, guinea pig.
Over the last year, however, my attitude toward this question has changed. I can now claim to having treated two sea turtles.
About a year ago the dedicated folks at the Marine Stranding and Rescue Center in Virginia Beach, VA brought two sea turtles in to a clinic where I was working for evaluation and possible acupuncture treatments. Both turtles had problems with mobility. There was a small green sea turtle named Frosty who was about the size of a dinner plate and a large loggerhead sea turtle who weighed upwards of two hundred pounds. His name was Atlantis.
We decided to give it a try as other therapies were not improving the turtles’ conditions. Amazingly, we found references to a few acupuncture points in turtles, so myself and a second acupuncture trained veterinarian began with these. I coupled these treatments with chiropractic adjustments on their necks.
The initial treatments went well, but it was decided that the stress of the hour long trip would be too much on the turtles on a regular basis. Thus began my travels to Va Beach to the Stranding and Rescue center. This center is an arm of the Va aquarium which too is based in Va Beach. The Stranding and Rescue center is off site from the main aquarium to ensure that the rescued animals and their caretakers do not expose any of the aquarium stock to disease. It is an old warehouse filled with many massive tanks temporarily housing everything from turtles to seals. The goal for every animal who comes into the center is release back into the wild.
Frosty originally arrived at the Center with a scar over his shell, suggesting some type of trauma. His issues all involved severe weakness in his hind flippers, and it was thus presumed that he had sustained some sort of spinal injury secondary to trauma in the wild. Atlantis, on the other hand, was at the Center being treated for other issues when he suddenly developed a head tilt, inability to float flat in the water and loss of mobility in his front flippers. It was not clear whether these symptoms were the result of a brain lesion, infection or some other unknown pathology. When first brought in for acupuncture, both of the turtles had plateaued in their recoveries and the fear was that they would not be releasable.
Both of these species of sea turtle are listed as threatened in the endangered species act and the green sea turtle is also listed as endangered. Given this status, release was especially significant. I should note here that I am referring to both of these turtles as “he”, but we did not know their sexes. One female sea turtle has the potential to lay 100 plus eggs per nest and a loggerhead may lay four to seven nests in one laying season. These eggs are then left unprotected and the majority of the hatchlings will never make it through their first hours of life, but given the dwindling numbers of turtles in the seas, each one can make a difference.
Both turtles took well to their treatments and did not fight either their adjustments or their ever changing acupuncture point protocols. As time went on, I learned that the turtles’ shells are very sensitive and began acupuncturing them through their shells as well. Frosty, a firecracker of a turtle, responded first and showed a steady pattern of improvement in strength and mobility. Atlantis was more difficult to judge, he would seem better some days and worse others. I finally added some Chinese herbals into his protocol, and we began to see the improvements that we were looking for.
The happy ending to this story is that both turtles were released into the Chesapeake Bay in late June of 2008. Tracking devices were placed on them at the time so that the stranding and rescue center can keep track of their progress and potentially learn more about the habits of these elusive creatures in the seas. I am honored to have been able to be a part of their recovery.
For many of us, the term stem cells brings to mind associations with debated moral and ethical issues. There is, however, another side of stem cells and stem cell therapy. I am very excited to report that stem cell therapy has arrived in the veterinary arena without controversy or contest. The process uses stem cells collected from an adult body’s own fat. A company called Vet-Stem is currently working with certified veterinarians to provide stem cell therapy for their patients. Currently, we are able to offer this treatment option for dogs, cats and horses.
So how is it that an adult body still has stem cells? Stem cells are simply undifferentiated cells that can be found in most tissue in the body. These cells remain primitive or undifferentiated, waiting for the body to need them. Many people think of their bodies and cells working in a very quiet and orderly fashion. This is, however, far from reality. Our bodies are like a war zone inside- there is chaos and destrucion everywhere- and on a microscopic level, the body is constantly rebuilding just to maintain. Our bodies call on these undifferentiated cells every day to maintain health in our organs, in bones and on the skin. Without stem cells, we could not survive.
A single stem cells is able to differentiate or turn into many different tissues such as tendon, cartilage, bone or organ depending where it goes. The controversy on the human side, is over using embryonic stem cells. These cells, taken from embryos, have the ability to form whole beings- to create an entire new person, dog or sheep. Adult stem cells on the other hand, have the ability to differentiate into many different types of tissues but work to “repair”. This makes these cells very useful for healing tissues or potentially organs.
In animals, we now have a way to harvest adult stem cells, collect and process them and then replace them in the body where they are needed. The amazing part is that the cells take care of the rest. Stem cell therapy is also known as regenerative medicine. The cells will regenerate the tissue in its close environment.
Currently the process is open for treatment of osteoarthritis, tendon and ligament injuries. Once an animal has been deemed a candidate for treatment, he or she undergoes a short surgical procedure to collect fat. The fat is most often harvested from around their shoulders or pelvic area. Fat, especially from these areas, is a rich source of stem cells. In fact a small amount, less than 1/2 a cup, can potentially provide enough cells for multiple treatments for your animal. After collection, this fat is shipped to the Vet-Stem company who harvests and processes the cells and sends those needed back to the veterinarian for injection. The number of cells harvested varies from animal to animal depending on the “quality of their fat” so to speak.
The entire process is generally completed in three days. The costs will vary, but it would be safe to ball park at least several thousand dollars. For the animal, the procedure involves a surgery for fat collection and then usually sedation to inject the harvested and processed cells back into joints,tendons or ligaments two days later. If enough cells were able to be harvested, the Vet-Stem company will store those cells not needed for the first round of therapy and hold them for later use. Since the cells are autologous (supplied by the animal for its own use) there is no chance for rejection.
Studies are presently ongoing for use of this therapy in treatment of liver failure, irritable bowel syndrome and various auto-immune conditions. I have only used the procedure to treat arthritis thus far and the results have been impressive. Decreased pain with improved mobility. A win win combination. It is exciting to think where this therapy could lead us. What it has to offer presently, and what it could offer to our animal friends in the future.
For dogs with a fear of thunderstorms, spring and summer can be very trying times. Fear reactions can range from a mild case of nerves and unease to a case of sheer panic. Conventional options tend to rely on sedatives or antianxiety medications to get the dog through the storm. In theory, this is a great solution, but problems tend to arise this time of the year when storms are predicted every day and when they sometimes pop up without warning. These medications generally need some time to enter the system before they are effective and often by the time this happens the storm has passed.
Storm phobias are very difficult to treat behaviorally. It is all but impossible to actively simulate a storm. The rain, lightning, thunder and barometric changes can all be triggers for the dog’s fear. For some dogs with mild issues, positive conditioning can be effective. Every time it storms, you get out a very special treat which is given regularly for the duration of the storm thus conditioning the dog to associate the storm with treats and pleasure. A rawhide bone or kong, squeaky toy or ball can often be used similarly. For dogs with more severe fear issues, this is unlikely to make much of an impression. Even so, you want to try to provide any comfort you can.
Be sure that your demeanor does not heighten the feeling of panic. If you get tense over the expected reaction from your companion, they will not only pick up on this but feed off of it. Try to remain calm. Take deep breaths. Close curtains or go to an internal room to try to avoid experiencing the flashes of lightning and dampen the sounds of thunder as much as possible. Turn on some white noise or soothing music. Finally, watch that the attention you are giving to your pet is not reinforcing the behaviors. Be supportive and attentive but do not reinforce the belief that something bad is happening. Let your dog know that there is nothing to be worried about.
Many dogs seem to find comfort in a tight space. Bathtubs are a favorite refuge. They are seeking the security that a small or covered space can offer. For many dogs, you can provide comfort by putting them in a tight shirt or leotard, providing the sensation of being wrapped and protected. There are commercial variations on this theme. Many have magnetic properties or other special features which set them apart. What they generally have in common is that they are expensive. I generally recommend that owners start by putting an old shirt on the dog. You can snug it tight with rubber-bands and see if this helps calm the fears. If this provides some relief, you can feel more confident that the purchase of an anxiety wrap will be of benefit to you. I have many clients who just continue with a shirt and others who try the commercial products. For those who buy, there are a percentage who seem to improve further and then of course there are others who did as well with the shirt. I used to be surprised by the effectiveness of such a simple concept until I thought about the difference in laying down yourself with no covers or blankets- it is a feeling of exposure- which goes away quickly and irrationally if you just pull up a sheet.
For dogs who need more support than this, I recommend we begin trying a variety of natural remedies to determine how to best support the particular dog.
The DAP diffuser releases a canine calming pheromone into the air. It plugs into a standard outlet, and for some dogs it does provide relief. Plug it into an area where the dog would be comfortable. There are no negative side effects from this product and thus it is definitely worth a try.
Homeopathic remedies can also offer some relief and have the advantage of generally being fast acting. Phosphorous in the strength of 30c can be dosed to be absorbed in the dogs mouth every 15 minutes until you see an effect. You can re-dose if you see the fear returning. The standard pill size that you find in health food stores is meant to be placed under a person’s tongue and held in the mouth. Since this is not practical for dogs, I find it best to crush the pill and then dump the powder into the dog’s mouth. This is best done without touching the pellet as homeopathy is energy medicine. All organic beings have their own energy and it is possible that you will make the remedy less effective by transferring your energy to it.
If the Phosphorous remedy doesn’t work, try Aconitum Napellus 30c for the next storm. Homeopathy will generally either work or not. Side effects or negative effects are generally not noted.
Flower essences are dilutions from botanicals used to treat a wide variety of emotional disturbances. Remedies need to be matched to the patient and can be mixed together. Again, this class of remedy should have no side effects. Rescue remedy or Five flower essence (depending on the company you use) is generally a good starting remedy to check for effect. Single remedies which are often helpful in thunderstorm fears include Rock Rose which works for terror and panic or Mimulus which is for fear of known things. You can dose these directly in the mouth or mix with water to administer. I generally use 2-6 drops to make up a dose, administered directly into the dog’s mouth. You can also add 5 drops or so to the dog’s drinking water two to three times daily to give some low level effect through thunderstorm season. Dose directly as needed in addition to this. The dosage in the water should be safe for all pets in the household.
If these measures do not help, some people do have to resort to prescription medications and for some dogs, these will prove effective. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before trying any of these remedies to be sure that they should be safe for your particular pet.