Natural Approaches to Behavioral and Neurological Issues in Pets
Neurological diseases run the gamut in dogs and cats, from behavioral issues like anxiety and fear that can dramatically effect an animals’ lifestyle and management, to medical issues like seizures and autoimmune brain inflammation. We are fortunate that Lyme disease is not a known contributor to chronic neurological signs in dogs or cats, as cats have never been shown to get infected by Lyme organisms and dogs are easily tested and treated in the early stages of disease. Tick borne organisms do rarely cause severe neurological signs in dogs, but again, these are typically responsive to antibiotic therapy. While other neurological issues are rarely so simple to treat, there are many ways to address them successfully.
Anxiety is an exploding diagnosis in our dog and cat populations. For many rescue animals, their early experiences have primed them to be anxious. Even being in the womb while the mother was under a lot of stress can change brain development in the young. Poor breeding can perpetuate a genetic makeup where anxiety is programmed as a behavioral survival mode. Poor nutrition or undiagnosed pain can contribute to anxiety behaviors, too. The current social context dogs and cats live in may also contribute. A few decades ago, many dogs were still roaming off leash, living on their own rhythms outside, finding their own social lives, and perhaps fulfilling a job they had been genetically selected to do (such as hunting, herding, or guarding). Many cats were still indoor/outdoor creatures and did hunting on their own. These days, we experience more pressures from dense social living and more adults working outside the home. Many dogs are only ever outside on a leash, which protects them from getting lost and from unexpected aggressive encounters. Some dogs may have no canine social life besides encounters on their outings, and others have social lives at dog parks where there are large numbers of dogs and where the members can change significantly from day to day. Some dogs experience social isolation when the owners are away for large portions of the day, as we have fewer household members serving as homemakers. Most of our cats are exclusively indoors to protect them from cars and predators, and to protect our local wildlife. Our increasing desire to protect our animal family has worked, but there have been some increased social pressures that may make some animals more vulnerable to anxiety.
On the plus side, our animals are more pampered than ever, our options for training and planned socialization have exploded as the need has been recognized, and our training techniques have evolved to include more positive rewards and relationship-based training. There is expanded awareness of the value of puzzle feeders and socially aware feeding protocols for cats. However, we still see a lot of anxiety in dogs and cats. Some of the anxiety is triggered by specific situations, such as separation anxiety that occurs when an owner leaves a dog alone, or thunderstorm anxiety. Some of the anxiety is fairly general, such as anxiety with any new situation or an overall inability to be fully relaxed even at home. Some anxiety in animals can cause dangerous behaviors to other animals or to people. Anxiety in cats may not be appreciated until it is translated into medical issues, such as overgrooming and inappropriate urination; but we also see cats who are reactive to other animals in the household or will bite or scratch unpredictably.
For some individuals, like those whose genetic makeup is such that significant lasting change is unlikely, pharmaceuticals or herbal management combined with environmental modification may be our biggest helpers. Herbs are also a relatively low budget way to help temper the effects of anxiety on an animal’s life.
Acupuncture can be an amazing addition to behavior modification. Traditional Chinese Medicine style acupuncture can have a profound calming effect and allow the body to have access to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” way of being. Classical acupuncture styles can access emotional traumas that have been stored in the body and “hidden” from the conscious mind. These issues are very difficult to modify with training. This style of acupuncture can help transform these traumas so that they do not continue to play out in an animal’s behavior patterns.
For those patients who may not tolerate contact or travel, Theta Healing is an energy modality that has shown effectiveness in changing difficult behavior patterns. Theta Healing is a very specific method of energy healing that requires an in-depth conversation to help create an understanding of the situation(s) that helped form the behavior. This discussion is followed by an energetic analysis and interaction to shift the identified barriers to more normal behavior. Long term aggressive and fearful behaviors have been seen to shift significantly.
Medical neurological diseases like seizures and some forms of encephalomyelitis can be quite responsive to herbs. Even seizures that are poorly controlled by pharmaceuticals often are improvemed with these modalities. Challenging cases of brain and spinal cord inflammation like granulomatous encephalomyelitis have clinically resolved on Chinese herbal formulas.
One of the most common neurological issues seen in dogs is disc disease, where the cushioning disc between two vertebrae of the spine ruptures toward the spinal cord and cause loss of normal limb strength and function. The origin of this disease is outside the nervous system, but the signs are neurological. In its most severe form, this problem is best treated with surgery, but in its milder form it is often responsive to gentle and sensitive chiropractic care, acupuncture support for the nerves and spine, and herbs and nutraceuticals to help manage swelling and support nerve health.
Although neurological issues of all degrees can be very challenging for patients and care-givers, the good news is that there are pathways to explore that have the potential to be life changing.
Submitted by Amy Matthews, VMD, Phd (Immunology), trained in chiropractic, herbs and acupuncture. All Creatures Holistic Health, Center Shops, 3 Turkey Hill Rd, East Granby. 860-888-7796. AllCreaturesHolisticHealth.com.