By Nancy Scanlan, DVM, MSFP, CVA
Executive Director of the AHVM Foundation
Are all dogs the same size? How about cats? Do they all like the same food? The same toys? Does the couch potato cat that lives only indoors have the same chance of being attacked by the local tomcat as the indoor-outdoor cat? Does the dog even get feline AIDS? Do all animals get the same amount of exercise?
No? Then how can there be one single cure for every case of cancer; one supplement that prevents or cures most diseases; one cause of most diseases; one problem that affects every single animal or person? Easy answer: There isn’t one.
Whenever you see the words “always” or “never” connected with any aspect of life, suspect the information (“only,” too). Aspects of life come as a bell-shaped curve. There are lots of things in the middle, and only a few instances out at the extremes. Within this bell curve, there is lots of variety. Size is a good example. Cats come in many sizes, but there aren’t too many giants and midgets. Most normal cats weigh 6 to 10 pounds – a few smaller; a few, giant.
No matter how much alike members of a species may look, life is designed to constantly vary. This allows survival when the environment changes by providing different forms that might be better suited for the new conditions.
We skew this natural variation by selective breeding, so that a specific breed almost always has certain characteristics. (For example, the number of black hairs on a Great Pyrenees is extremely low.) We can create a creature of a specific size, shape and color. Nature, however, keeps fiddling with the genes in an animal, constantly swapping out gene parts, trading around chromosome arms, changing genes and otherwise messing with our prefect ideal. Even the way the environment acts on us can cause differences in our bodies and how they respond. (Identical twins are subtly different.) So without constantly re-weeding out the “less desirable” traits, we keep getting animals that don’t look like what we had in mind, and they don’t always respond like that mythical creature: the “average” dog or cat.
In addition, attached to the traits we’re looking for, we often get things we don’t want or didn’t plan for. This is how new colors, coat types and body shapes come to pass. This is also how breed problems sneak in. some health problems are directly related to the unusual trait we seek, such as back problems in Dachshunds and skin problems in Shar Peis. Other problems are passed on when a popular line is also a carrier such as Von Willebrand’s disease in Dobermans. The ideal is no necessarily the best or healthiest animal.
In addition, some people forget that, though they may mirror our diseases and problems, our pets aren’t people, and vice versa. What’s good for one isn’t necessarily the same for others. Some foods are good for us (onions), but poisonous for cats. Some diseases (distemper) that afflict animals, don’t affected us. Some animal diseases (irritable bowel disease) respond differently than would be the same disease in us.
So what are the problems with treating everyone exactly the same? Every individual’s weakness is different. The trick is to find the problem area and to strengthen it is so disease can’t sneak in that door and worm its way into other parts. Even beings who don’t seem to be affected by anything can be overcome if they are stressed enough by severe weather, toxins, or even emotional issues. Under the right circumstances, anyone can catch a fatal disease, no matter what its diet or herbal regimen. How we prevent this disease depends on the being’s weak spot. In one animals, we strengthen the intestinal system; in another, we help the kidneys; and in a third, the liver.
Not all body systems are a like either. The ideal diet is designed for reasonably healthy animals with no terminal diseases and a good chance of recovering from mild chronic problems. If the major detoxifying organs (liver and kidneys) can’t function, a different diet is called for, sometimes with more protein, sometimes less. If almost everything causes diarrhea, the animal may need lots more fiber, or lots less. In a healthier animal, the diets that help diarrhea, can sometimes cause it.
Also, just because an animal feels better doesn’t mean it actually is better. This false sense of well-being obviously occurs with the short-term effects of cortisone, but I have also seen it in patients with long-term kidney and liver failure that were put on a holistic healing diet and supplements. While these patients live longer than they would have without holistic treatment, and felt lots better, they weren’t cured. They just lived healthier with the disease. Some people believe that supplements that have had similar effects have cured their animals, and they have offered testimonials to that effect. Without confirming laboratory tests, though, you can’t claim anything. Feeling well doesn’t mean you are well.
The same feel-good effect often occurs with cancer patients. We can help a companion fight off the effects of cancer, we can make the animal feel better, the cancer may disappear for awhile, and the animal may live a normal, healthy lifespan. But if you truly follow the animal to the end, you discover that it still died of cancer. It lived a longer, healthier life, but we haven’t actually cured the cancer.
Some may say, “Who cares? They were healthy and happy and lived a normal lifespan.” Considering the claims made for such cures, you should care. Dying from cancer at the end of a normal lifespan is not a cure. This misleading quick fix can lead to other problems. If you believe the cancer is “cured,” let down your guard and stop following your entire holistic regimen, the cancer may reappear faster. Some of the herbs used to treat cancer have long-term toxic effects on the body and cancer may return when you stop taking them. Sooner or later, you may have to decide whether the animals dies from cancer or from herb poisoning.
How do we know that if a claimed cure is actual? How do we know if it’s just a temporary feel-good quick fix? How do we know if we need to treat indefinitely, or if we can stop once good results are obtained? One of the best ways to tell is through laboratory testing, which is probably the most significant contribution of all allopathic medicine to overall health. If you are concerned about the needle prick pain suffered by your companion, consider this one of those trade-off situations: A little discomfort yields a lot of information and guidance for further treatment. The tests will tell us if what we’re doing is effective and whether we need to change supplements, acupuncture points, homeopathic remedies, etc. If someone advises you not to test, not to follow anyone else’s advice or not to use anything else besides their own brand of supplements or healing methods, examine where most of their income comes from (especially if it’s from selling products or distributorships, instead of from diagnosing and healing). If all a product’s claims are from testimonials, and none are supported by biopsies or laboratory tests or controlled studies (comparing them with a different treatment or no treatment), be highly suspicious.
Even I, perfect and all-knowing as I am, consult the experts in other fields from time to time. No one can know everything there is to know about healing-the subject is too vast. New discoveries are constantly being made, particularly about diseases that mimic known ones, but must be treated differently. This information can change the nutrients or herbs I use, and the way I diagnose the problem. You can’t treat all diarrhea or all skin problems the same way. I continually explain this to people who call and want me to tell them what to buy instead of cortisone, without any diagnostic tests or inspection by a holistic veterinarian.
When I hear about the one cause for all disease, the one cure for all cancer, the one diet that is good for everything or the one herb-juice-mineral product that will save us all, cure everything and help us live forever, I have to wonder-what is their primary income source, and when was the last time they looked at real life?
by Nancy Scanlan, DVM, MSFP, CVA
“Reason and the Ridiculous”. Natural Pet. p14-15,p61. June 1997.
Revised: April 2017.