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Hi, friend!

This is Cal, my number one best buddy and the pooch who has gotten me through much of what life has thrown our family over the last few years.
He was so sick last week that all he could do was lay on the floor getting cuddles…
 
Here’s the story of how we got him better – and what our conventional veterinarian missed.

It's a long tale, but if you're a dog lover, I'm sure you'll have no issue stickin' with me.
 
First, a few important notes:
 
This is NOT a statement AGAINST what I called the “conventional veterinarian.”

I’m merely using that term to define the difference between the more “mainstream” veterinarians and the “holistic” veterinarians AS WE’VE EXPERIENCED THEM IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES (you’ll see what I mean) over the last few years, especially as it pertains to this story.
 
I believe that complementary care spanning both conventional and holistic veterinary medicine is what has helped us to best help our pets. If you can make it happen, I highly recommend this arrangement.

That’s what this email is meant to convey, using our personal experience as an example.
 
We choose to use the services of both a “conventional” veterinary practice and a "holistic" veterinary practice. We LOVE them both. The "conventional" practice is filled with kind, attentive people who have taken great care of us (and helped us fix up sweet June Bug for her forever home).

We also adore the “holistic” veterinary practice, because they truly treat Cal as a “whole dog,” seeking root issues and offering doggie lifestyle ideas from diet to exercise and beyond. They also offer "conventional" treatments meds and surgery; they just don’t necessarily go for the conventional options right out of the gate. That's something our conventional vet practice simply doesn't make a point to do.
 
(Interestingly, our conventional vet DOES have an independent animal chiropractor on-site several days each week - a holistic practitioner that was instrumental in Cal’s recovery. Many vets offer services that cross the conventional and holistic spectrums. Just not all of 'em!)
 
For acute situations, like sudden illness, injuries and accidents (these happen out on the farm), we head to our conventional vet for immediate diagnosis and patching up.
 
For maintenance care, dietary advice, second opinions, and complementary care, we head to the holistic vet. Since they're farther away, we opt to stick with the conventional vet for the immediate needs.
 
Much like the way I keep myself well, we keep our pets healthy with a combination of conventional medical care along with holistic wellness strategies. And whether we’re talking us or our pets, this actually ISN’T more expensive – it’s more efficient, and has saved us quite a bit of money.
 
A few examples of how both conventional and holistic veterinary care (I’ll call them CV and HV from now on) have been used, and worked together, in our lives:
 
  • We have a CV in the family. He’s the first person we call when we notice something’s wrong, to get some guidance on what to do and where to go. 
     
  • When Cal tore his cranial cruciate ligament (a major tissue injury), we went to one of the best CV orthopedic surgeons in the country for consultations and surgery, and worked with them to choose follow-up HV care – including manual therapy, chiropractic, massage and physical therapy. This shortened Cal’s healing time immensely! 

    (Yeah. My dog’s basically my child.)

    This surgeon helped us understand that early neutering (which most dogs experience nowadays) can affect the hormonal signals that enable the skeletal structure to develop, especially in larger breeds, and that we’d need to watch out for this during Cal’s life, and seek HV care to keep him healthy and prevent another injury like this one.
     
  • When Cal didn’t seem to be effectively thriving on or tolerating his carefully-planned raw food diet (no, not all dogs do well on raw – I’ve talked about this on the Balanced Bites Podcast) the CV recommended a highly processed “bland” food brand that they sold at their clinic. She had little knowledge of grain-free or higher-quality food brands.

    We asked the HV for a second opinion – who told us some surprising things about raw food and why it might NOT work well for Cal at this point in his life, but that didn’t mean he had to eat highly processed, bland junk. He’s thriving on freeze-dried and high-quality cooked food now, along with some herbal and digestive support.
 
So, as you can see, at one time or another, I’ve gotten good information from all across the veterinary spectrum.
 
And now, on to the most recent experience, where holistic veterinary care out-performed conventional veterinary care and got my pooch well faster than I ever could have imagined.
 
Please forgive me as I go on, because I may butcher a bit of the veterinary terminology. Veterinary medicine is NOT my area of expertise; I got a solid understanding of what was going on with Cal as we put together the pieces over time, but sometimes, the terminology escapes me.
 
The story begins last year, when Cal suddenly began walking strangely, tensing up his stomach and back and taking very small steps. It looked like his stomach was in extreme pain. He didn’t want to get up, and when he did he shrieked in pain. I’d never seen him so sick.
 
It was utterly heartbreaking.
 
We immediately called the CV, who speculated that this could be pancreatitis. Cue doggie mom freak-out. I immediately asked a friend of ours, a veterinarian, what she thought. She said this sounded either like a structural issue (as in, he'd tweaked his back or strained something) or maybe like pancreatitis; although she said pancreatitis was unlikely.
 
Pancreatitis in dogs can be extremely bad, and she knew Cal to be a very healthy, properly-fed, well-digesting pup.
 
We went to our CV appointment and, as I wrung my hands and thought the worst, they did blood tests and x rays. The blood tests showed elevated pancreatic enzymes, and (my worst fear) they diagnosed him with pancreatitis. My heart sank.

They couldn’t explain why he had it – mentioning something about “fatty food” and table scraps, which he never gets – and told us we needed bland food and medicine.
 
They gave us an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer, and stomach acid suppressors. They recommended we change his food completely to a bland (and, I noticed, slightly crappy) soft food, asked us to let them know immediately if this ever happened again because it could be very serious, and sent us on our way.

They did NOT mention any kind of chiropractic or manual treatment, even though, strangely, an animal chiropractor works directly out of their clinic several days each week.
 
The CV was incredibly compassionate through the whole process, but I was unsettled when my veterinarian friend remarked that most of the medications we’d been given were NOT standard for pancreatitis. It seemed they’d diagnosed him based on blood work, but medicated him based on something else entirely. Yet I accepted the pancreatitis diagnosis - that is, until our recent experience.
 
Although I accepted the diagnosis as fact, I was still confused, so we sought a second opinion from the HV. They recommended a chiropractic treatment, an acupuncture treatment, and some herbs, but as holistic-bent as I am, I was just too skeptical in that moment to think some “hokey holistics” (which I usually LOVE to incorporate) would be the firepower we needed.

Nope. I was pretty sure we needed pharmaceuticals to blast this issue out of town, quick.
 
To be quite honest, based on what we’d read, we were so afraid of this “pancreatitis” diagnosis that we still followed the conventional vet’s advice, largely forgetting the visit to the holistic vet. Fear can really cloud your mind.
 
(We didn’t use the stomach acid suppressants, though – I know too much about digestion to see how THAT could help. Wink.)
 
After a few weeks on the pills and a few CV follow-ups, Cal got better, and we assumed this was because of the medicine. He must have really had pancreatitis after all. We were just happy to have our sweet guy back to normal.
 
Then, a few weeks ago, it all happened again. And it was worse than before.
 
Cal had all the same physical symptoms – scrunched up, extreme abdominal tension, shrieking, not wanting to move, and needing to be carried down the stairs. On top of that, he had diarrhea and even vomited once.
 
I was convinced this was another, more severe case of pancreatitis, and started to imagine the worst. The CV had prepared us for this, and I had lived in fear of recurring pancreatitis.
 
I rang the CV for an emergency appointment, and in my frenzy, also made an appointment with the HV and, to cover all bases, the veterinary chiropractor at the CV office. Whatever was happening, I wanted to attack it with every tool I had.
 
It just so happened that the first available appointment was with the holistic vet; the second was with the chiropractor, and we had to wait on getting in to the conventional vet. We hoped we’d be able to get in later that day, planning on begging our way in after the chiropractic appointment in their office.
 
At our first appointment, we had a detailed discussion with the holistic veterinarian about what might be going on. Once again, they weren’t concerned about pancreatitis (gasp! But my boy was in pain and I knew it was another attack of pancreatitis – the CV was sure of it, too!)
 
They again reassured me that is simply didn’t "read" like pancreatitis – it never had - and recommended the same “hokey holistic” treatments as before. They talked to us a bit about how structural issues (like back and muscle pain) could manifest as digestive issues.
 
This time, we listened. Cal got a bit of acupuncture, some manual diagnostics, and lots of love, and they were very happy to hear that I had a chiropractic appointment scheduled next.
 
We headed to the chiropractic appointment at the office of our conventional vet. Dr. McLeod (formerly Dr. Long) is phenomenal, and treats animals from horses to dogs to goats. (Although, not our goats. Yet.)
 
Chiropractic is very common in the “show animal” world, and while it has its skeptics, it’s one of the top treatments for elite human athletes, too. It’s been helpful to me personally and – fertility tip – can be really helpful to pregnant ladies. And goats.
 
Dr. McLeod is incredibly compassionate, calm, and sets the animals she treats at ease. Even though Cal was very afraid and protective of his back thanks to the pain, she calmly adjusted him. She asked whether he had digestive symptoms (yes!) because he was incredibly tense and inflamed in a specific area of his back where his nerves actually also “informed” his digestive tissues.

She NAILED it.
 
He had hurt his back (of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? He runs and plays like crazy all over the farm), and his nerves were signaling his digestive system, causing dysfunction.

This is one explanation as to why the anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers we’d given him during the last go-round had worked - eventually. They'd relaxed his back and made him lay quietly. Still, he’d taken weeks to recover that time.
 
But this time, having gone straight to the HV and the chiropractor, Cal recovered in about 24 hours. No pills, no change in food. I’d never seen him in so much pain, even when he’d ruptured an entire ligament, but within a day, he was back to his normal, bounding, playing, goofy, happy self.
 
Aside from a bit of stiffness the next few mornings, he was perfect. No CV appointment needed.
 
This wasn’t pancreatitis; and if it was, it was caused by something else. Something the conventional vet never considered. This was extreme digestive upset and muscle tension (possibly responsible for the elevated pancreatic enzymes, definitely responsible for the diarrhea and vomiting) that was caused by structural stress.

Now that’s getting to the root of the problem.
 
Now, this is all based on pieces I put together over time – a possibly wrong pancreatitis diagnosis, unnecessary medications given by a well-meaning veterinarian who diagnosed based on blood work while trying to address physical pain in absence of an understanding of the root of the problem; and my own denying of “hokey holistic” treatments because fear drove me in the opposite direction.
 
Maybe it’s more fair to say I missed something, and not the conventional veterinarian. I don’t know, but I do wish our CV was more well-versed in holistic and manual therapies.

At the very least, I wish they were willing to recommend those approaches while showing more motivation to identify the root cause of abnormal blood tests, rather than going straight for the meds and the doom-and-gloom.
 
I know there are veterinarians out there that strike a great balance. I’d say my holistic vets are among those veterinarians, and it’s my own fault I didn’t trust them the first time.
 
The argument here is for complementary care – using tools from both “sides of the fence” to keep our sweet furry friends well. (And to save some prescription and follow-up costs in the meantime.)
 
So that’s our story. Cal is all better, thanks to the folks at Mariposa and Dr. McLeod, and I have a much better understanding of how to fit together the pieces of the veterinary puzzle when it comes to caring for my pooch. 

Just like with our own health care, we have to research, advocate, and ask questions when it comes to our pets.
 
I’m so grateful for ALL the caring, kind veterinarians, both conventional and holistic, that we’ve seen over the years to ensure Cal (and now Scout, too!) stays healthy and happy.

My advice: find a veterinarian that's open to holistic as well as conventional care. They'll tell you if they aren't - you just have to ask the question. Seek second opinions, and don't be afraid to ask questions!
 
Feel free to weigh in on the Facebook page.

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