Happiness and an end to suffering. That is the goal for almost all of mankind. We want it, crave it and desire it on many levels. Disease occurs on many levels and impacts all of us either directly or indirectly. The perception of that disease, whether if it affects us our pets or our horses, can vary from person to person. One may say it is acquired or there is a genetic predisposition to that condition. On the other side of the coin, another person may say the disease is a reflection of our environment, diet and other factors…essentially implying we created it. It is all relative, in my opinion, but one thing is for certain and that is that with a complete understanding of what is occurring, we stand a better chance of prevention as well as management.
Cancer is on the rise and has been for the past couple of decades, despite recent advances in research, cure rates for all forms of cancer have generally remained unchanged. We all know at least one person, if not multiple that have been affected by cancer. Aside from cancer, we have what I perceive as an alarming rate of gastrointestinal problems ranging from colitis to irritable bowel problems, not only in people but animals as well. Emotional issues such as depression also top that list, as do neurological impairments including ADD, ADHD, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease. General aches and pains, which include arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and spinal issues such as sciatica are also extremely common. Body weight is another major area, which includes obesity and metabolic related conditions including diabetes. One last notation is the rise in allergies, ranging from seasonal allergies to general food allergies.
In companion pets, there is a tremendous rise in allergies ranging from skin to food allergies. Arthritis is a common problem, but so are back problems. Obesity and metabolic conditions including diabetes is also extremely common and on the rise. Cancer, of course, is also high on that list including many different forms from leukemia to lymphoma to overt bone cancer or osteosarcoma.
In horses, we have a multitude of problems which are really similar to their human counterparts. Body condition and metabolic problems are on the rise and more common now than 10 years ago, in my observation. Laminitis, joint disease including arthritis, back pain and tendon injuries are also extremely common, impacting competition and companion horses. Allergies are also very common in our equine companions, almost identical to humans and pets, ranging from seasonal allergies to food allergies, impacting not only the skin but resulting in respiratory conditions such as COPD and IAD.
As a veterinarian, I can look at this in one of two ways. First, I can make the remark that it is all good for business from a veterinary hospital point of view, or I could look at it as a puzzle that is begging to be figured out. For myself, I take the second approach as it is in my nature. All too often, however, despite our hippocratic oath, we fail the patient by not looking deeper, connecting the dots and figuring out the disease. Unfortunately, I think we all too often just look at the disease, as being an entity in and of itself, and not realizing there is a root cause for that condition. We blame it on many things, such as environment or lifestyle, which are active contributors…but despite seeing this, we don’t take it seriously enough to do something about it. Essentially, we often just think or believe that these medical conditions just came out of thin air…just appearing overnight. This reminds me of veterinary practice, when often we’d have a pet come in with a very large tumor hanging from the belly or other location. In reality, this tumor had been developing for many months if not years…but when asked, the owner would act as if it just appeared over night. “It wasn’t there last week..”, was a common response. This is simply not true and either the owner was not observant enough of their pet or they were more so in state of denial, until things became intolerable.
In all fairness to my colleagues, today’s society brings a heavy case load of chronically ill patients in both the human and veterinary world. Time is short and due to the high caseload, we often resort to medications as palliative agents. Education is attempted, often in the form of a handout or brochure, but the contact time is not there, to actually make a difference for that patient.
Many do look at disease as ‘just occuring’ or ‘just happening’. That person just developed cancer or that person just had a heart attack, or maybe that pet just developed diabetes. In the equine world, we may look at it as this horse just developed an injured tendon, a back problem or other lameness. Maybe that allergy just came up this year. This approach is almost looking at the disease as if we just acquired it, like we caught a cold. I guess that is one way to look at it or one perspective, and with this perspective it makes sense to rely on medications, almost as if they are cures for a common cold. Even in the case of a tendon injury, in human or equine, it may seem acute, and it is in a time perspective, but in reality, something led up to that condition, something contributed as there are many others doing the same feat but not suffering those negative consequences. What you are seeing, in regards to the acute disease or injury, is actually a manifestation of something else.
However, I don’t view any disease as being something readily acquired. I guess some are, such as a cold or infection, which is transmissible, but even then if 10 people are exposed, not all of them ‘acquire’ or catch that cold. So, what’s the deal?
I tend to view disease as being created, by each of us, on some level. I will agree fully that environment, lifestyle and diet are full players in the course of disease, but they are choices that each of us make, thereby in my opinion being part of our creation. We can maybe agree that this is true for us as humans, as we make our choices, but it is also true for our companion pets and horses. They rely on us to make choices for them, and often those choices contribute to their health conditions.
I’ve seen it for over 20 years as a veterinarian. I would have horses present with lameness conditions that are directly related to the shoes they are wearing or the saddle fit, but yet even when explained, the owners would not understand. We would also have horses that were overweight present for laminitis or metabolic problems, yet for some reason there is no connection between body weight and poor health. In companion pets, allergies were rampant, especially respiratory problems, but when I would remark that maybe smoking around the pet was a bad idea, it was quickly dismissed by the owner. Labradors would present for hip arthritis or lumbar pain, but despite being 50 lbs overweight, the connection was never made. Pets were diagnosed with diabetes and most of them also markedly overweight, yet a connection was never made. These same connections are evident in human medicine, but despite being evident, they are quickly dismissed as just being coincidental.
Out of 100 clients, I would guess maybe 5 were actually interested in the exact cause or at least contributing factors. They wanted to know everything and were determined to learn as much as they could. They didn’t just want to know about the health problem their pet or horse had, but what caused it, what contributed to it and what they did to create it as an owner. Then they wanted to know all of the options they had to help manage or resolve it, not only including medications, but dietary and lifestyle changes. The sad thing is that this group is about 5% of the general population, at least in my practice area, which implies that 95% either didn’t care to make a connection or they felt the condition was acquired and surely there was a prescription to make it all better again.
We could look at that 5% in one of two ways. Either it is truly a sad number or it is a good number, as it could be 1%. I look at it as a positive, being that it could be lower, but I do think we can do better and we must do better.
The purpose here is not to lecture, criticize or judge…but more so explain things for how they are…truly are. Like you, I’ve been there. As a veterinarian, I would see this struggle daily and it is one reason why I opted not to pursue medical school. I simply couldn’t turn a blind eye to the daily suffering that exists. The empathy factor was too high for me personally when it came to human medicine. We all strive for health, optimal health, whether if that is for us, our pets or our horses. The irony in many situations to me, is that often humans and animals often suffer the same fate, in regards to disease. An owner can work dilgently and be dedicated to improving their horse’s or pet’s health and succeed….but then they fail to implement the same philosophy or changes for their own health. Is this a lack of connection or lack of motivation? I don’t know the answer to this.
I do believe that in this life, we can chose to ‘do’ something or ‘be’ something…which can be one in the same or totally different. We can say that we ‘do’ health but are we actually ‘being’ healthy? That is the question. I know the concept of health is complex with many, many factors involved, but if we realize and accept that we have a choice and that the end result is due to our choice or our creation…then things can change. Do you survive cancer…or are you being a cancer survivor? We have to take responsibility for our health, as well as the health of our pets and horses. It is ultimately up to you to make those choices, but how aware you are of that dictates the end result. I accept responsibility for my own health, no one else is. I know how my job, stress, diet and other choices play into that health. Despite knowing this and being completely aware of it, it is still hard on a daily basis, not to be consumed by work, stress or other issues. I know this, I get this….but still, the end result is our doing. We can’t rely on medications to fix things, because simply put, they do not. Only through acceptance of what is and making changes to what we can, do we often actually realize true results when it comes to health.
One area of focus that I have developed over the years is on the topic of inflammation, which is connected deeply to many health problems from diabetes to allergies to cancer. It is there…it is a player and it is real. This is a complex topic to understand, but as time goes by, it becomes readily apparent to me how deeply connected diet is. Not only from a ‘what we are not supplying the body’, but also ‘what we are doing to the body’. In today’s society, so much of our diet, including once again our pets and horses, is prepared foods…processed foods. They have shelf lives, additives, preservatives and high fat loads. Many times, these diets are empty calories, offering no nutritional value at all, but more so just adding to the problem of obesity. So, not only are we not providing proper nutrition to the body, giving our cells what they need and crave on a daily basis, but we are potentially dumping things into our body, chemicals, that may actually be doing harm. Instead of natural nutrients, present in foods with cofactors that help to control cellular processes such as inflammation naturally, we eat foods with synthetic nutrients, empty calories, dyes and no cofactors. This is truth, this is reality. Despite this, not many ‘buy’ into the concept of how food impacts health. These same individuals are the ones that resist change, fully believing the processed or commercial food/feed they are using is optimal. This again, is a choice and that belief is not based on personal experience but more so is acquired knowledge, based on marketing, an opinion cast by another. Often, even when demonstrating how a diet change, going towards whole foods, can dramatically improve health, it is not believed or trusted. I do understand this mistrust as there is a lot of information out there, but in most cases we have nothing to lose by trying it as that patient is already compromised and not doing well. I also understand that it is human nature to want results now, immediately, and often diet does not provide this, but more so the results are delayed. However, we have to remember that herbs are also part of the diet and are natural foods essentially. With the proper combination of herbs, improvements can be noted quite quickly, but better results are obtained when the full picture is realized.
So, here’s the bottom line. We are all responsible for our own health, no one else is. We have a choice to make and we are free to make that choice, but the right choice varies from person to person, animal to animal. In order to make the right choice, we have to gain knowledge and understanding as to how thing interplay. The level of understanding that you chose is dependent on how far you want to go and how much you want to achieve. The information is there for the taking.
Tom Schell, D.V.M.
Nouvelle Research, Inc.