As practicing veterinarians, we share and discuss with each other about complicated and challenging cases. Either to get some support or to learn from each other. One of the most bizarre types of cases that we can’t find good scientific proof or explanations yet, are “sympathy illness.”
A dog has been limping for one week, after the X-ray, he is diagnosed with cranial cruciate ligament tear. ( Same as ACL in people) The owner is in shock because she herself had just recovered from an ACL surgery.
A dog has really bad skin allergies with secondary infections, and as I’m explaining and suggesting the allergy testing, the owner nods and interrupts me, “I know all too very well of the allergy tests, because I grew up with very bad eczema.”
A cat starts losing weight and drinks lots of water, once he is diagnosed with diabetes, the owner says to the cat, “Buddy, now we both need to get the insulin shots.”
Sometimes the similarities between the pets’ and the owners’ conditions could be as mild as a loose knee cap, but sometimes, it would be as sad as an aggressive form of cancer.
I’m not sure if there’s a specific term for this types of scenarios, and “sympathy illness” is the closest one I could find.
One of the most likely explanations, is that statistically, many degenerative diseases, including osteoarthritis and cardiovascular diseases, are commonly seen in both aged pets and senior citizens. Therefore, it is not surprising that a 13 year-old Labrador, who belongs to a 75 year-old gentleman, has arthritis, just like his owner.
Granted, indoor pets and humans share the same living environment, as a result, they are under exposure of similar risks, such as chemicals, pollutions, and cigarette smoke. Please see the links of an Scientific American article and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study webpage provided below for details.
As part of a company that supports evidence based products and recommendations, I won’t go deep into personal opinions and assumptions here. However, I do believe that the relationships between us and our pets, the bond we share with each other, and the impact we have towards each other’s life, are more profound than we think.
That means, when we take good care of our pets, we will start taking better care of ourselves. That means, when we are more involved in our own health, our pets will be benefit from it as well.That means, don’t wait on either. No matter which direction you pick, start offering both yourself and your pet(s) a better life!
Most of the indoor cats are very stationary. They enjoy life by sun bathing, eating, napping, cuddling, and being a couch potato. As a result, as a cat’s human, it is very easy to miss the early subtle signs that the master in the house is in pain, but s/he is too proud to tell you so. Besides losing interests in food, hiding, here are some commonly seen indications that your cat might be in discomfort:
As veterinarians, Dr. Chiu and Dr. Chen have caught many early onset of diseases via the help of the very observant pet parents, who did not ignore any “weird feelings” or a “hunch,” even though they couldn’t point fingers to what exactly was going on. When it comes to your babies, trust your instinct!
This past winter, we got so much rain even in Los Angeles. The scenery has been amazing- snow in the mountains, and the blooming of the wild flowers. All the sudden southern California became “green” in stead of the “yellow” that we are accustom to.
However, we also have been seeing so many more itchy pets compared to this time of the year in the past, because of the change of season, as well as the wild party those pollens are having this year.
It’s a well-accepted concept that our pets, are just like us, can suffer from allergies. Weather it’s seasonal allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies, contact allergies from chemicals, detergents, fertilizers, or allergies from insect bites such as fleas, ticks, spiders. The signs (symptoms) can be quite similar to humans. Itchy skin, rashes and bumps sometimes with crusts, itchy face and ears, watery eyes, sneezing, and the more severe ones can get secondary yeast or bacterial infections from non-stop scratching and licking. Just like in human medicine, most of the available medications address the signs by suppressing or tricking the immune system. You see, the reason for allergies is because for some reasons, the immune system overreacts to a stimulant which it doesn’t recognize, or it “thinks” that it doesn’t recognize. Just like our friend Fourthie, he barks ferociously and works himself up like the worst dog abuser is approaching, whenever there’s someone who is not his mom or a close friend walks up to their doorsteps. That someone can be legitimately a stranger, but most of the time, that person is an acquaintance that he has already met. Almost always, we tell Fourthie to stop by giving him firm verbal order, or distract him with a funky voice, a toy, or something else. That’s what we do in conventional medicine as well. We use medications to suppress, or to distract the immune system, so it won’t continue releasing cells and chemicals that trigger all the amplified responses, and drive the body crazy with rashes, pain, fever, severe itchiness, low appetite and energy, indigestion, and more.
It all seems to make sense, and it is important to help the overly reacting immune system to snap out of that intense and unnecessary status, with something that works quickly and effectively on the acute phase. However, just like Fourthie will bark at the next person coming up, the immune system will most likely to react when it encounter the next stimulus which it deems “bad.”
In other words, allergies are more “manageable” rather than “fixable.”
Once we address the acute phase where the pet is constantly bothered by itching, infections and sneezing, we should have a sustainable longterm plan to decrease the recurrent episodes of severe discomfort. Here are the options for the directions of pursuit:
Written by Helen Chiu, DVM, CVA
Happy Lunar New Year! Hope you and your furry friends are having a healthy and a great start this year! In traditional Chinese culture, there are 12 horoscope signs representing each lunar year, and this year, is the year of the Pig.
In northern part of Thailand however, many provinces replace the pig by the elephant.
The Asian elephants have a complicated relationship with Thai people. (Actually all animals whose natural habitats are altered by either human exploration or pollution due to civilization all have a very complicated relationship with the human species) Culturally, they are the symbol of Thailand, and the white elephants* are considered especially noble and belong only to the king for the religious reasons.
Historically, elephants in Thailand had been used for wars, logging, and later in tourism since Thai government banned logging in 1989. In the early 1900s, there were an estimated 100,000 elephants domesticated in Thailand. In mid-2007 there were an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 captive elephants, and roughly a thousand wild elephants left.
Over the past 4-5 years, more and more Western travel agencies have eliminated elephant riding and performance from the trip itineraries due to ethical and animal welfare concerns, and more and more tourists opt for spending time at an elephant-friendly sanctuary rather than engaging in activities that potentially contribute to elephant exploitation. As a member of the animal-loving community, Vetcreations encourages you to learn more about elephants in Thailand and globally, (even in some parts of the U.S. and U.K., it is still legal to have elephants and/or other wildlife animals to perform in a circus) as well as ethical tourism, and to decide how to think and do about the issues on your own terms. You can find more articles below under “resources.”
Today, we just want to tell you a story:
Chang Sam is a 16 year-old male elephant who was rescued from a circus, and now lives with other rescued elephants at a big open space where they can roam around freely, and there will always be food provided by the sanctuary staff. Chang Sam was separated from his mom at the age of 1 week. Traditionally, in order to put elephants to work and to obey people, all the babies need to go through the process of “breaking the spirit.” Chang Sam was chained and starved, threaten by loud cursing and yelling, occasionally beaten with sharp bullhooks once he was separated from his mom. Till one day, he forgot who his mom was, and all he remembered was to follow the instructions given by the trainer. Chang Sam was popular in the circus because he was cute, he knew lots of tricks, and he was especially loved by the young audience. They would scream his name and offer him lots of bananas and sugar canes. The trainer taught him to raise one of his front legs as a gesture of “thank you” whenever he was rewarded, and the “handshake” always won him more prizes and excited screams.
After 3 years living in the circus, he has developed habits of swaying side to side, pacing back and forth constantly, out of stress from being confined in a small space, as well as lacking of natural habitat and normal socialization. Relatively lucky enough, Chang Sam was negotiated and successfully rescued by an elephant sanctuary, to retire from being a circus star.
When we visited Chang Sam at the sanctuary, he had already been living there for almost 13 years. He seemed content and at ease. He was surrounded by other elephants, and there was no chain tying him down. He didn’t need to perform, to do tricks, to be ridden on, in order to survive. No one would yell at him, beat him, or punish him. All he needed to do, was just to be.
As we offered him some bananas, he raised his right front leg.
I often think that we as human beings are not that much different from the animals. We have incredible strength, and yet we are vulnerable and easily to be conditioned. Just as Chang Sam, he thinks he needs to “shake” in order to be rewarded. But he doesn’t need to do that anymore. He gets to decide where he goes and what he does now, and the order of lifting his arm is now not from a trainer, but from himself.
In the year of the Elephant, maybe it’s time for us to claim the ownership of our own beliefs and behaviors, in order to let go of the ones that have been chaining us down. Are you ready?
*Fun fact: Do you know that the “white elephant game” we play during the holiday season, was originated from Thailand? Legend had it that in the days of Siam dynasty, Thai kings would gift the precious white elephants to the rivals as a gesture of peace, or to the people whom the king favored. However because the white elephants are considered sacred and could not be put to work or be given away. As a result, the people who received the white elephant ended up being stuck with this supposedly noble and yet labor intensive, expensive “burden”—hence the holiday exchange game.
Helen Chiu, DVM, CVA
My husband and I started getting more involved with the community of Los Angeles animal rescues and shelters on behalf of Vetcreations early this year. At first, it was more about learning how things work from the rescues and shelters’ perspectives, as well as trying to collaborate. Just like many other “foster parents,” even though conceptually we knew how scarce the support and resources were for the homeless pets in need, once we really witnessed how that meant in reality, we couldn’t help but rolling up our sleeves and took our first litter of orphan kittens home.
That was the end of April, and since then, we have fostered 7 kittens and 2 dogs. (By the way, our current foster kittens are up for adoption. Please email us if you are interested!)
Being a foster parent for pets has been a very unique, rewarding, and emotional journey for me, personally. Each animal that we have hosted and raised, holds a special spot in my heart. From feeling completely strange and uncertain, to appreciating each different personality and knowing their individual voices, “trouble-making patterns” by heart, is truly incredible. Throughout the process, each of the animals has connected to me, and taught me something in his/her own beautiful way.
Our current foster kittens are Leafy and Ninja.
Leafy came underweight, and Ninja was extremely fearful. They went separately to the shelter, and because Ninja was hissing and hiding, unwilling to eat, the staff paired them together so Ninja would have a buddy. They were handed to us the first time they met each other.
The first day was brutal to everyone. Ninja felt so alone and scared that she was constantly crying heartbreakingly and trying to run away. Head budding the gate, hissing, freezing and shaking when we got close to her. She had escaped a few times from the corner we set up for them, so we then named her Ninja. Leafy was very sweet and didn’t mind people at all, but he had diarrhea and was still trying to learn how to eat on his own. Being a week younger than Ninja, he was clueless and instinctually following her around. When Ninja freaked out, Leafy then freaked out with her. When Ninja escaped, Leafy followed her steps. When Ninja hissed at us, Leafy picked up the behavior as well.
At first, we thought that Ninja just needed more personal space to settle in. It was a lot for a sensitive young kitten. New environment, new food, new people, even the dude with a stinky butt next to her was new! (Leafy) However after a day or so, she just seemed to be more scared and disconnected, we then tried a more proactive approach called “touch therapy.” Every few hours, we would gently cradle Ninja (and Leafy too, since he started hissing at us) for 10 to 15 minutes, to help her get used to human touch and presence.
The touch therapy didn’t seem to work on Ninja the first few days. We would only see Leafy around when we were in the house. However after about a week, we started hearing two kittens chasing and playing with each other at night when we were in bed, and Ninja wouldn’t rush to hide when she saw us playing with Leafy.
One day, when I was watching TV, Ninja quietly and a bit hesitantly walked up to me. She didn’t make eye contact with me, but she made a brave decision to sit right against my lap. AND SHE PURRED.
Everything after that was just like magic. Ninja started talking to me, following me around, and enjoying cuddling with us. She is still shy and cautious, and yet she has become this sweetest little loving kitten that melts our hearts.
I am a sincere believer in love and patience. However little Ninja has shown me the pure heart of courage and openness is so valuable and powerful. Her instinct tells her to run away, to fear, and to suspect. She did those, but at one point, she also decided to bravely try something different, in spite of the primal fear. And that courage, has transformed our dynamic tremendously and brought so much joy and ease.
I feel very fortunate to witness the little warrior coming out of Ninja. It has been truly an amazing and beautiful experience.
From our foster family, I began humbly realizing the meaning of “Giving is not a duty but a privilege.”
Yuwen has been working as an architect for the past 20+ years, and she is a very good one! Thanks to the combination of her modernly elegant taste, slickly simple design, and sentimentally classic soul. Yuwen’s passion towards nature and animals has also given her artsy work a special touch. There are always dogs in her life, and we are excited to learn about how she incorporated her living space with her dogs’.
Q: When you first designed your own house, besides the “standard doggie doors,” what other elements were inspired by sharing the space with your dogs?
A: There is a “window-like” clear area at the lower corner of the front door. That was originally created for one of my past dogs, Fufu, a chihuahua-terrier mixed. Fufu was an anxious dog, and she would always wait by the door eagerly whining and crying when we were gone, in spite of her brother Benny (a Beagle) being by her side. It broke my heart. I felt that maybe she was even more nervous because she couldn’t see what’s going on outside. As an experiment, I made a “Fufu’s window” just at her eye level on the door for her. So she could see outside, and it worked! She calmed down and was able to relax more since. Even though she was still waiting by the door most of the time. The breakfast nook at the corridor was inspired by Benny originally. Because of Fufu, Benny used to hang out at the front door a lot too. He would just lay there and enjoy the sun. One Sunday morning I laid down next to Benny and learned that the sun warm up the worn wood planks and the view out to the garden makes it a perfect chilling nook, so I deck it out with a simple armchair, coffee able and area rug. It’s very tranquil so that corner ended up becoming my Sunday morning spot with Benny. Reading news, drinking coffee, taking the time. Now Fourthie (Yuwen’s current dog) also likes to spend his Sunday mornings with me there too. The Feng Shui does seem to be better there. We also re-arranged the plantation in the back yard. We used to have a Golden Barrel Cactus on the raised garden that was exposed but hidden, especially when it was small. Benny somehow liked to potty on the raised garden. It was fine at first because the plant was small, and we didn’t think much of it. Throughout the year as it became bigger, one day Benny went on doing his business, and as he lifted his leg, he was poked by the spine…. We then changed the plantation, but he didn’t potty at the garden for a very very long time….
Q: What have you learned about Fourthie that you really like?
A: He has a very good attitude towards life. He is very confident and determine. Very honest with his feelings too. Because of him, we establish a healthy routine to always take some time to play and to be active, otherwise he gets agitated. He loves to play with other dogs, and he is very excited when we visit a new dog park. It has become a fun routine for both of us, to explore different parts of the town on the weekends together. Nothing seems to matter that much to upset him long. He lets go of negativities easily. He loves cheap and expensive toys equally, as long as we are playing and spending time together. Overall he is a content and happy dog, and I’m always so looking forward to go home to him at the end of every day!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that nurture can be more powerful than nature. Even if an individual was born weak, sick, and underdeveloped (weak prenatal Jing), love and care will reverse that (Zang Fu Jing). With the right nutrition! (Gu Qi)
In conventional Western medicine, the same concept has been translated into the health of gastrointestinal tract (GIT, digestive tract) and appropriate diets/nutrition. Most recently, it is further defined with the terms of “epigenetic” and “microbiome/microbiota/gut flora.” We are well aware of the importance of a healthy gut, however, just as complicated and swiftly changing as the modern diets and lifestyles, the dynamic and relationships between our digestive tract and us are shifting constantly as well. Think of the GI tract as a deep ocean inside us. We know it is crucial in regulating the weather and providing sources of lives. With how deep and how complex it is though, the current technologies can only detect limited range and gather partial information.
Good news is, there are always new discoveries and evidence based research. We are learning about our bodies and what it means to live a healthful life more and more every single day!
Same with our pets. We have recognized the importance of nutrition, and thus we have demanded more options for our beloved pets. As a result, besides the traditional kibbles, canned food, now pet owners can make nutritionally balanced and species appropriate meals for the fur babies at home by following carefully formulated recipes. If fresh ingredients are desired but there’s no time to cook, there are commercially prepared options of dehydrated raw, fresh raw, freeze dried fresh, vacuum packed fresh, …etc.
Moreover, recent researches have established the correlations between the GIT health and the good bacteria living in the gut. If we are feeding the good bacteria, the body will be stronger and healthier, with less chance of chronic diseases, cancer, pain, and even emotional/behavioral issues. There are hundreds to thousands different types of bacteria living inside us and the animals, and we are just getting to know them! We know that the populations differ drastically from individuals to individuals, and we know that the different bacteria need different nutrients and conditions to thrive. As a result, it is important to offer varieties of high quality options to strengthen the good groups of bacteria.
Feed balanced and consistent meals to your pets, but don’t forget to change things up every so often! (For pets with specific medical conditions, please consult with your veterinarians before making any drastic adjustments on the meals and care regimen. )
How to decide when to change the feedings and what to change to? The answer is, based on the seasons! In a more modern perspective, fresh, natural and in-seasoned ingredients are always better. The nutrients are more complete, with less “against the nature” efforts (i.e. chemicals, growth hormones, artificially created environments, transportation,..etc) spent on the processes. Better for the individual’s health, as well as the environmental sustainability.
From the Traditional Chinese Wellness view, the food that is consumed should help maintain the “harmony” of the body. For example, the weather is getting cold, and therefore more “warming food” should be considered to keep the body balanced. Some of the “warming food” include beef, lamb, chicken, turmeric, ginger, lentils, oats,…etc. To make it more relatable if this is a new concept to you: What makes you feel good after walking in the snow for an hour, when it’s 10 degree outside? A cup of hot cocoa? Or a glass of watermelon juice? Vice versa. Do you feel like some fresh cucumber lemonade or mocha, after jogging for an hour, under 80 degree sunny weather? If you have chosen the hot cocoa and the lemonade, your body "gets" the basic Chinese Food Therapy concept!
Email us or leave a comment if you have any questions!
---Helen Chiu, DVM, CVA
A Traditional Culture
In Turkey, Black Sea region is known for its dark sea, fish, balmy weather, enriched farmlands, hazelnut, honey, Laz people’s jokes, and most importantly, the lush plateaus.
The sea, the land, along with the weather, have cultivated the ways of living, especially for people who live in the small villages surrounding by the highlands. In the villages, people grow fruits, nuts, keeping bees, making yogurt. When it’s summer time, they take their live stocks to stay on the plateaus so the animals can enjoy the fresh grass.
A Different Type of Relationship
In many parts of Turkey, especially small towns where people live more traditionally, keeping indoor pets is still a less appreciated concept. Dogs and cats roaming around freely are more like part of the community instead. People are reminded to offer them water and food, especially on hot summer days. As a result, most of the dogs and cats are friendly towards strangers. You can easily pat a napping cat or quickly befriend a playful puppy.
Among the highlands in Black Sea, Kackar mountains are known for their high elevation and breathtaking landscape. Most of the visitors spend at least one night camping. There are two main camp sites along the route from the village Yayalar to the 3937 meters tall peak (~13,000 ft). The first camp ground, Dilberduzu, is on the plateau side before an intensive climb, and the other one is next to the Deniz lake deep in the mountains. There are more people gathered at Dilberduzu, and many tents are set up already. With more resources, most of the free roaming dogs mainly live around Dilberduzu. Among the dogs, there are a few Kangal Shepherd Dogs.
The Gentle Guardian
Kangals are originated from Turkey as working and guardian dogs. You see them frequently around the Black Sea plateau regions as protectors of the livestocks. They are extremely strong dogs that can even fight bears, but they are very sweet to people, especially great with kids. The Kangals at the campground are used to travelers, and therefore are very easy going. They know the mountains well, and an intensive 8 hour summiting hike for people, to them, is like a stroll in their backyard. The Kangals thus often accompany trekkers to explore the mountains. Sometimes for food, sometimes just for fun.
Each culture and each region has its own special way of living, and its own dynamic with the dogs and the cats. They are all different, because we are all different. However, the affectionate bondings between human and animals, are all based on love and respect towards life and nature. No matter how a society changes, no matter how the world progresses, we should never lose that special love and respect.
Remember Billy, the 10 year-old Lab mixed who suffered from joint pain but unable to continue the conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications because of his liver and kidneys conditions? Even though a newer, potentially milder version of NSAIDs was offered, combining with pain medications, Billy’s owners opted for more natural alternatives. After consulting with a holistic veterinarian, Billy starts receiving once a week acupuncture sessions, therapeutic doses of turmeric supplements, along with the previously initiated joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin.
Turmeric is one of the most popular natural herbal remedies that has been studied extensively over the past decade. Curcuminoids are the active components that give turmeric powerful medicinal properties, and curcumin is the most potent among the different curcuminoids. On average, pure turmeric powder has approximately 3% curcumin by weight. Curcumin is well documented in the literatures to show high safety range and positive effects on treating aging-associated diseases, especially inflammatory conditions. In other words, curcumin is a great alternative for Billy. Since Billy is hard to give pills to, the vet suggests to mix organic curcumin extract powder into his dish. However, here comes the issue: Billy hates the taste of turmeric, and goes on a hunger strike when his food is mixed with the powder! (To be honest, I don’t blame Billy…. We all love some yummy Indian curry, but, have you ever tried any turmeric tea or turmeric juice blend from grocery stores? Let’s put it this way, they taste healthier than healthy, and I needed to hold my breath to finish them.) To entice Billy, and meanwhile to increase the bioavailability, (improve the absorption of turmeric) Billy’s owners were advised to either look into turmeric supplements that Billy likes, (for example, Vetcreations Turmeric Supplements) or cook the powder and make it into homemade "golden paste."
After two months of taking turmeric, consistent acupuncture, and occasional pain medications when Billy is particularly sore, he is doing so much better! He eats well, has great energy, and his guffy party-loving personality is back! Billy's humans can't be happier!
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As health care providers, one of the many challenges that we face on a daily basis, is to customize individualized care/treatment plans every 20-40 minute or less, and be able to explain/deliver them in a clear and an effective way. There are general concepts, but there are no one-fits-all formulas, and therefore no matter how well a specific type of food works on your friend’s diabetic cat, and your cat has the similar symptoms as that cat, it doesn’t mean that the same food will help your cat. As a result, please consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns regarding your pet, as well as before making any drastic changes on the way you care for your fur babies.
“But doctor, which food should I feed my dog/cat?” “What do you think about raw food?” “Is people food bad for Fluffy?” “Should I avoid chicken?” “Is grain-free really better?” “What should I feed my 9 week old puppy/kitten” “Should I switch food now that my dog/cat is a senior?” ….
We will answer all those most frequently asked questions, but let’s take a step back to the basics first. More common than not, you will be able to answer many questions by yourself once you have a general idea on why and what to look for.
Hope these guidelines help! We will discuss more specific concerns in the future. Let us know what confuses you the most too when choosing what to feed your beloved pets!
More for references:
Offers home cook recipes that are designed by board certified veterinary nutritionists.
Learn more about what the terms used on the pet food labels mean.
3. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
Approximate daily caloric needs for average indoor dogs and cats.
----Helen Chiu, DVM, CVA