Doesn’t man’s best friend deserve the same quality of healthcare as their human companions? Vets think so. From acupuncture to physical therapy to laser treatments, we’ve stitched together some of the most “meow-worthy” topics in pet care.
BY: Tere Albanese
There are a myriad of procedures and medications to help animals live longer but lately, veterinarians have been looking to preventative and alternative methods like physical therapy, acupuncture and supplements to keep Fido healthy. To find out more about the latest buzz in veterinary medicine, we visited Dr. Evelyn Sagastume at her aptly named Petsadena Animal Hospital.
In the past, veterinary medicine consisted almost exclusively of general practitioners. Now, veterinary care is taking on a humanized approach. There are specialty vets specializing in everything from psychology to dermatology to oncology. Common surgeries that are performed on humans, such as repairing an ACL tear (anterior cruciate ligament tear of the knee) and hip replacements are now done on animals.
Dr. Sagastume is considered a general practitioner, who is trained to identify where the problem is and is capable of treating most common problems and performing common operations. However, she maintains an extensive network of specialists with whom she consults regarding recommendations and alternative therapies and procedures.
One of Dr. Sagastume’s patients is a dog that has hip dysplasia and is at the beginning stage of requiring some type of pain management. After speaking with an orthopedic specialist, she recently learned that there are stem cells being used for relieving pain. Previously, as hip dysplasia progresses, a total hip replacement would be recommended. However, now there other modalities to utilize when replacement might not be affordable or is too invasive for certain patients due to the risk involved with the procedure.
Another innovation that seems to have magical results is the use of laser therapy.
Laser therapy for humans has been around for 50 years, but has only recently begun being used on animals. In a basic sense, the procedure causes a biological reaction to the red or near infrared light produced by the laser. Damaged cells have a physiological reaction that helps promote their regeneration. The procedure is called cold laser therapy because the low levels of light are not enough to heat the body’s tissue.
Veterinarians across the country are implementing therapeutic lasers into their practices. It has become a low cost alternative to surgery when used on bone fractures, ligament tears, dental problems, back problems, and numerous other applications. Animals that suffered injuries or had ailments, which otherwise would have required them to be euthanized, are now being cured. Dr. Sagastume related the story of a dog in another clinic she knows who was brought in after being hit by a car. The dog showed signs of neurological damage, had no bladder or bowel control, a broken vertebra and could not stand. Dr. Linda Baty, the clinic’s vet, used the laser on the fracture for 10 days, rendering the fracture location undetectable. The dog made a full recovery.
Dr. Sagastume has her own example of a cat that had a large puncture wound, which she normally would have recommended surgery for. However, because it was near the rectum she didn’t feel that there was enough skin to clean the wound out and close it up. She used the laser on it, combined with antibiotics, and within a few days, it was healing beautifully. She administered one more treatment and in 10 days, it was nearly completely healed and did not require another treatment.
“Now, I’m going towards using the laser after every surgery and every patient that is recovering from getting procedures done, whether it’s the mouth or getting spayed, neutered or mass removals, because it really does speed up healing time. It’s one of those things that are difficult to explain because it’s happening on a cellular level. It increases blood flow, reduces some of the inflammatory mediators and helps cellular regeneration. It is helping the body to heal itself.”
Another medical practice that is used on humans also recently became an option for their pets: acupuncture. Rooted in Chinese culture going back to 200 BC, acupuncture has still does not enjoy total acceptance from the mainstream medical community. The ancient belief that Qi, or energy, flows in meridians throughout the body has been replaced by a neurological model based on evidence that acupuncture needles stimulate nerve endings and alter brain function, specifically the intrinsic pain inhibitory mechanisms.
Acupuncture is used for pain management in the joints, arthritic pain and spinal problems, such as disc disease. According to Dr. Sagastume, it shows more immediate results than anything else she uses for pain. “We have an acupuncturist come in to administer that procedure. It is administered exactly as it is in humans. The needle goes in just far enough that the dog or cat may notice, but it isn’t so much a pain perception as it is that they slightly feel something. They may jump a little, but then they relax,” explains Dr. Sagastume. “I am looking into getting the training for it myself because I do see improvement in my patients that are having issues with pain.”
When addressing pain management, sometimes Dr. Sagastume combines acupuncture, laser therapy and medications. She terms this “multimodal pain management” and uses it in an attempt to see what works best for the pet. She goes on to note, “In older dogs, it is basically hospice treatment because what is causing their pain is not going to go away.”
Though these pain management methods have received many positive results, there’s no substitute for prevention and being a responsible pet parent. Dr. Sagastume administers all the standard preventive vaccinations, including one that is not so well known for the disease leptospirosis, contracted from the urine of wild animals. While clearly not wilderness, Pasadena is nevertheless teaming with raccoons, possums, rats and mice. They are nocturnal animals that you may rarely see but nevertheless their urine may be found in run-off water or puddles. If pets drink it, they can contract the disease. And it can be transmitted through the skin.
“People can contract the disease as well,” explains Dr. Sagastume. “And, I believe it will cause the same complications. If contracted, the disease can cause liver and/or kidney failure. I haven’t actually encountered the disease here, but because of how quickly an animal can get sick and the devastating complications that can occur, we recommend vaccinating for it.”
Vaccines are a powerful prevention tool and one pet owners should talk to their vet about. Living near the foothills, many pet owners hike with their dogs, who sometimes get bitten by rattlesnakes. There is even a vaccine for rattlesnake bites, which Dr. Sagastume recommends. However, she goes on to say, “The vaccine does not prevent anaphylactic syndrome and secondary effects that are associated with a bite. What it does do is give you more time to get to the hospital and get the anti-venom. The dog still needs to be hospitalized. The vaccine combined with a rattlesnake aversion class is going to help you avoid a rattlesnake bite in the first place.” Trainers teach classes that help dogs avoid rattlesnakes. You can find them online. “The aversion class is probably the number one preventative measure that’s going to save your pet from getting bit,” says Dr. Sagastume.
Pet owners also can prevent certain health issues by feeding their pet a healthy diet, full of the nutrients their pet needs. Many people are vegetarians or vegans these days and in many cases they feel guilty that they are not adhering to their beliefs by feeding their dog or cat a meat-based diet. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan dog and cat foods out there. However, Dr. Sagastume has some words of advice. “In particular, cats are more carnivorous. If you think about them and what they are descended from, they are so much like their wild counterparts and I think dogs are too, to be honest. However, dogs have some omnivore characteristics, which make me less concerned about dogs than cats eating vegetarian food.”
The issue of whether to feed your pet a vegan diet has become so mainstream that there are thousands of articles online. The articles refer to the specific dangers that can occur by feeding pets a meatless diet, and per Dr. Sagastume’s concerns, these problems usually occur in cats. Dogs and cats cannot make vitamin D in their skin, so it needs to supplemented. D3 is required and comes from animal sources. D2 comes from plant sources and humans and dogs tend to do okay using that. However, cats need D3.
Cats are actually the only domesticated animals that have not lost their wild instincts. If left outside, a domestic cat would instinctively start hunting and would have the hardwired ability to catch its prey. Dogs, not so much and this may be due to the fact that wolves do not hunt alone. They are pack animals and depend entirely on a close social system.
There are also concerns regarding consuming enough protein, an imbalance of certain amino acids, and a deficiency of vitamins and minerals only found in meat products. Medically speaking, the bottom line is vegetarian diets are not recommended, especially for cats.
Today, there are supplements for everything including shedding, digestion, skin conditions, nervous conditions, allergies, nutritional supplements and cognitive support of aging dogs. There is a product line, “Calming Essences,” which features Calm My Focus (for training and stress), Calm My Arthritis (to promote healthy joints), Calm My Senior (for graceful aging), and Calm My Rescue (to help rescue dogs adjust). To be safe, pet owners should educate themselves and speak with a trusted vet before adding anything else to a pet’s diet. Do they work? When it comes to an answer on supplements, Dr. Sagastume is a big believer in alternative therapies and techniques, but nevertheless echoes her general thoughts on all things not yet proven. Although not referring to any specific product, Dr. Sagastume cautions, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”