Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guest Blogger: Mark Rowley of Efficient Arena "Arena Maintenance or Lack Thereof"

As many of you know, time has been at a premium lately. This month my good friend Mark Rowley has been kind enough to guest-host the blog with a terrific write-up on arena care.


Arena Maintenance or Lack Thereof

Upon visiting any arena, I always inspect the maintenance tool of choice and, preferably, speak with the person in charge of the arena. These inspections reveal tools that ranging from high-tech to extremely well used junk. It is common to see harrows with flat tires that are bent and broken, missing pieces, fused with rust, or simply the wrong tool for the application.

Question to maintenance person:
When did you notice the footing banking?
Oh, about a month ago.
When did the wheel fall off of the harrow?
Answer: Oh, about a month ago.

Many problems with footing can be caused, or solved, by arena maintenance. A quality, well-loved harrow suitable for your surface is an investment that will save money and frustration and add years of use to an arena. Adequate watering and a good harrowing program will produce a surprising improvement in the quality of most footings.


Maintain your maintainer

If a tow vehicle or harrow is not level, neither is your footing. An easy way to check is to take your harrow out onto asphalt or concrete. Lower the harrow within an inch of contact and visually check for levelness of tines, leveling bars, or rollers. If a harrow is not level, the tips will wear unevenly. Take the time to check tire pressure. Lubricate the top links so they can be adjusted properly. Harrows that have experienced a “fender bender” should be taken to a local welder for repair as soon as possible, before costly damage to the arena footing or base occurs.


Speed kills

Having the wind blow through your hair while on your horse can be exhilarating. Please do not try to replicate this experience while harrowing your arena. High-speed harrowing will cause footing to bank and the harrow to “ski” across the arena. Slower speeds allows the harrow to penetrate into the footing, introducing air and properly mixing the components of the footing.


Water, poo, and you.

Optimal moisture content varies with the type of footing, the riding discipline, and the user. As a general rule, a handful of footing should always feel damp. Footing wears more quickly when dry, and obviously produces more dust. The performance of most footing will improve dramatically if thoroughly and properly watered.
Manure left in an arena almost instantly turns into a stinky, dusty, gooey, mucky mess. A gallant effort should be made to remove manure from any arena as quickly as possible. Strategically placed muck buckets and manure forks will remind riders to do their duty and clean up after themselves. If this does not work, tell riders that “the arena guy” has developed a manure tester that can tell which horse the offending apple came from.
For those of you lucky enough to have someone else drag your arena, please take the time to watch as the arena is maintained. Notice the speed and pattern of harrowing. Take a walking tour inside of your arena. Check for moisture content, banking and consistent depth. Ask for feedback from your maintenance person. Is it time to finally fix that broken wingamajiggy on the tractor or harrow?

Spend a few extra minutes maintaining your arena and keep your equipment in tip-top shape and it will look and feel great.

Mark Rowley is the owner of Efficient Arena in Canby, Oregon and has built many of the best arenas in the Pacific Northwest. He can be reached at 503-266-1563

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Tardy Blogger: In Which Dr. Salewski Relates His Latest Goings On

I know, I know. Seems like I fell off the edge of the world, it's been so long between entries. But I have an excuse, I swear.

Winter is supposed to be the slow time for vets, especially those of us who work on a lot of horses, but, amazingly enough time has been at a premium in early 2011. Daniel, my oldest, played basketball for his school (and was nicknamed "Bullet" by the coaches). My youngest, Colin, had a birthday in February, which not only involved a trip to the
Oregon Coast Aquarium, it was the perfect excuse for Lynne to make the best Devil's Food Cake on the planet (the secret ingredient is beets). And of course, tax season approaches. So what?, you might say. I have children, I have work to do, I have taxes to work on and my only pleasure in life is reading Written In Hindsight. To which I reply: well, really, shouldn't you be getting out more? Regardless, I was able to get back to it this week and will use the time to catch y'all up on some of the recent highlights here at the practice.

A Trip to UC-Davis

This happened last week, but obviously took some time to prepare for. A few months ago I was asked to be one of the speakers at the UCD Veterinary College annual Holistic Veterinary Symposium, which is open to both veterinary professionals and the public. I had a Powerpoint (well, a Keynote, the vastly superior Mac version) entitled Performance: Strategies for Animal Athletes, which I had given before and thought might be appropriate. Had aspirations of posting the presentation here, but it's a two-hour talk, and thought a summary of the main points might work better.

The idea behind this lecture is to define "performance" and follow up with discussion on various holistic/complementary modalities as they apply to this definition. In the dictionary, performance, at least in the context of this talk, is defined as "an action, task, or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed". Of course, success is going to be seen differently by different people. It might mean a blue ribbon to some, or getting through a course without penalty to others. Heck, it might be as simple as staying in the saddle for the whole ride. Point is, in my opinion there are three main factors influencing performance: movement, pain, and behavior. (Wonder if I can trademark something like The Performance Triumvirate? Hmmm, have to file that under Pretentious Ideas I'll Never Work On)

The lecture goes on to discuss therapies. Under movement, chiropractic, bodywork, and rehabilitative/physical therapies are put forth as the best option to optimize movement. Chiropractic frees up movement in the joints of the spine; massage releases restrictions in soft tissue; Physical therapy restores range of motion, neurologic health, and condition; especially following injury or surgery.

In animals with pain, all those above therapies can be utilized, but so can traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and homeopathy. TCVM holds that blockage of the channels, or meridians, is the mechanism that leads to pain. This blockage can be removed, most famously by acupuncture, but also with herbal formulas and tui-na, a type of Chinese massage. Homeopathy takes a different approach, using the energetics of very dilute remedies to allow the body to heal itself.

Behavior, in particular fear and aggression, are not generally treated effectively with the manipulative therapies. Acupuncture and homeopathy can have a place in altering behavior, but the botanicals really shine in this area. This includes Chinese herbal formulas, which work to balance the
Shen, or spirit; Bach flower remedies that dispel negative emotional states and aromatherapy, which affects the brain via the limbic system. Of course other herbal systems like Ayurvedic medicine and the North American herbs offer plant-sourced behavioral modification, like ashwagandha or valerian root.

Th essence of this talk was to give the attendees a different perspective on performance; looking at how what might be considered minor issues--a little stiffness here, a little anxiety there, can mean the difference between being in or out of the ribbons. An animal may still be able to go in the ring and do the job, but by having a good game plan we can optimize the chance of success.

Fingers To The Bone

More than a few people have been asking about my writing lately; and not just scolding about the dearth of blog entries. Mostly it's been about the sequel to my last novel, Barn Politics, and when that might be finished. Well, I'm happy to report that I've been getting a lot of writing done recently. Unfortunately, this has not taken the form of fiction writing. Jordan Pascoe and his latest adventure will take a back seat and remain in outline form for the time being.

The last few months
Dr. Signe Beebe and I have put the finishing touches on Veterinary Applications of Chinese Herbal Formulas, a comprehensive textbook on the topic that has taken years to put together. We expect this work to be published within the next few months. That sounds like plenty of free time for fiction, eh? Well, about the time Veterinary Applications was nearing completion I was approached by a British publisher about putting an equine chiropractic book together. This, as many of you know, is a subject dear to my heart. I'm being given a very lose rein (rimshot please) for this project, meaning it will be geared more toward horse-people than veterinarians and I'll be able to write in my casual smart-ass style. The other good thing is a tight deadline, meaning I should be able to get back to that sequel by the end of summer.

A Little Audio

Last month Megan Ayrault at All About Animal Massage interviewed me for some online training classes offered on her website. MP3 files of those interviews are below:

Equine Back Pain:


Canine Hip issues:


Hope that's enough to keep everyone entertained for a bit!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rose City Classic

Not really a blog as such, just some photos from the Rose City Classic Dog Show





_DSC0090 - Version 2

_DSC0091 - Version 2


_DSC0095 - Version 2

Sunday, January 16, 2011

By Request: A Look At The Stifle

The idea for this blog post, late in coming as it is, was given to me by a client who wanted to understand a bit more about her horse's stifle, which has been causing problems on trail rides. A different client had her dog injure a cruciate ligament, so here we are with what will be an overview of the anatomy of the stifle in both horses and dogs, along with the more common problems associated with this joint in each species. Any in-depth discussion on the subject would take up a huge amount of space, so I've provided extensive links for those who might want to do a bit more reading on specific points.

What some people fail to realize is the joint that we call the stifle in four-legged animals is anatomically the same as the human knee. (it doesn't help that equestrians call a joint in the front leg the "knee"-- in reality this joint is the anatomic equivalent of the human wrist). Flexion and extension of this joint is one of the main sources of power for locomotion. Pain, or restriction in motion here can not only cause lameness, but reluctance to jump, turn, go up stairs or steep hills, or even transition from one gait to another.


The Human Knee

Here's a drawing of the right knee of a human, as seen from the front. Notice that the quadriceps (your "quads") blend into the patella (kneecap) and continue as the patellar tendon. This is the tendon a doctor thumps with a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. When the quadraceps contract, the knee extends. On the back side of the femur are what we call the biceps femoris (hamstrings), which flex the knee when contracted. The knee joint is the space between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) and between the patella an femur. Between the femur and tibia are cresent-shaped pads of cartilage called meniscii as well as a couple of ligaments that stabilize the joint (the cruciate ligaments--more on them in a bit). Connecting the bones on the inside of the thigh is the medial collateral ligament, on the outside the lateral collateral ligament. These are the most important structures to think about as we go forward. Find them on yourselves. Get on all fours (hands and feet, not hands and knees) and see how this joint aligns in a dog or horse. Same joint, slightly different lengths of bone and alignment for moving on all fours rather than upright.


The Canine Stifle

Look familiar? The same structures are all there, proportionally a bit different, but very recognizable, and the muscle and joint work together in the same fashion.


The Equine Stifle

Before I get started, this is a
left stifle so things are a mirror-image. See that little bone on the right? That is the fibula--it's in the dog and human image as well--and is on the outside of the leg. This was the best image I found, so hopefully not too confusing. Anyway, again, this should look familiar, but right away there are obvious differences. The end of the femur (colored blue here) is much larger on the inside and there are three patellar ligaments rather than one. This becomes very important in one of the problems we see in the horse: locking stifles. But don't let this confuse you; all those important parts are there: the quadriceps blends into the patella and continues as the patellar ligament(s); femur on top, tibia on bottom; shock absorbing meniscii (in yellow) between. This images shows those collateral ligaments very prominently, bridging the joint on either side.

Common Problems: Canine



Here's another image of the dog stifle with the patellar ligament removed, which makes it much easier to see the cruciate ligaments. The one labeled "cranial cruciate ligament" is often abbreviated CCL. "Cranial" means towards the head, so it is the one in front. In humans we say "anterior" or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), because it is "in front", but not towards the head since we are upright. (Don't you just love anatomists?) Actually, I tend to say ACL in dogs too, because so many of us have either had personal experience or know someone with an ACL tear it makes communicating the problem easier. Anyway, back on track.
CCL tears are probably the most common stifle injury/problem in dogs and is often caused because the femur and tibia align too steeply, (a "straight-legged" conformation) which make hyperextension injury more likely. Once the ligament is torn, the stifle is unstable, and most dogs will either be chronically sore or be lame after exercise. The best solution to this problem is surgery, and the best surgery is one called the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, or TPLO. A TPLO is not lightly undertaken as it involved cutting the tibia and realigning it at a new angle to the femur. It is an expensive procedure, and recovery is long, but I have seen many dogs go back to full athletic activity afterwards.

If the CCL is only strained, or the problem is with a meniscus or collateral ligament, other therapies may be preferable to surgery.
Stem cell injections, where cells are harvested from a dog's abdominal fat, processed, and reinjected into the joint, can be very helpful. Prolotherapy, cold laser, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy can all work to decrease inflammation and speed healing. For pain management NSAIDs like Rimadyl may also be appropriate, at least in the short term.


Degeneration of the joint, either from age or previous trauma, is also very common and can cause chronic pain, especially in older dogs. Many of the same therapies mentioned above are very helpful. In chronic pain a multi-modal approach generally works best; that is, using a combination of medication (like NSAIDs, opiates like
Tramadol, and/or Adequan, which protects the cartilage) , acupuncture, injection therapy, and physical therapy is the best bet for a good qualtity of life.

Luxating Patellas

problem is one most commonly found in small or toy breeds. The joint itself is not anatomically normal, so the kneecap is able to pop in and out of the groove it normally slides in. This causes discomfort and eventually, arthritis. This problem can be corrected surgically, but in my experience only the most severe cases seem to do better than if they had no surgery at all. The most beneficial approach seems to be the same as for chronic pain: use multiple modalities to manage the condition.

Common Problems: Equine

Locking Stifles

Technically called Upward Fixation of the Patella (
UFP), this usually occurs in young animals, especially those who have been very fit, but are then given time off for a while and lose muscle tone. Horses have a "stay apparatus" a mechanism of interacting ligaments that allows horses to sleep standing up, and the patellar ligament is part of this mechanism. Young horse, because they are growing, typically have looser ligaments than adult horses and the inside (medial) patellar ligament can sometimes get caught over the end of the femur. This same thing can occur when young, fit horses are let down and lose strength in the quads. Look at the illustration of the horse stifle above again and you can see that the inside of the femur has a much larger "roller" and that the ligament branches right above it. Usually, this issue can be corrected with exercise; that is condition the horse so that the quadriceps become stronger and tighten up the ligaments of the kneecap. Sometimes, the problem is severe enough and occurring frequently enough that a horse is not able to be conditioned appropriately. In these cases the medial patellar ligament is "blistered", injected with an irritant that causes inflammation, scarring and tightening of the ligament which will then allow conditioning to resume. Back in the old days, when I was in vet school, we used to grab for a scalpel first thing, and the most common treatment was to cut the medial patellar ligament completely. Of course, the law of unintended consequences reared it's head, and studies have shown that upwards of 20% of horses undergoing this procedure will fracture their patella at a later date. Understandably, this procedure is now reserved for only the most serious cases.


Osteochondritis Dissicans (OCD)

OCD is another very common disease of the equine stifle. This is a developmental disease, where the cartilage of the joint malforms in a growing animal, leading to pothole-like defects on the joint surface, bone chips, swelling and pain of the joint and eventual arthritis. The best treatment usually involves arthroscopic surgery to remove any chips and smooth out defects on the joint surface. The result is not a perfect joint, but most animals do very well after surgery.


Like the dog, trauma is another significant problem in the equine stifle. Strains of the collateral ligaments and tears in the meniscus are fairly common. Fortunately CCL tears are not; the size and mechainics involved in stabilizing the horse stifle mean that a horse with a full CCL tear will likely never be fully sound again. Treatment is very similar to dogs, with rest, anti-inflammatory, and physical therapy being the best bet for recovery.


Degenerative joint disease in the horse is also very common, and like the dog can result from normal wear and tear, as well as develop after an injury or as a result of OCD. Because of their size and relative ease of the procedure, direct injection into the joint is much more common in horses than dogs. Steroids, hyaluranic acid, stem cell, and platelet rich plasma (
PRP) are all commonly done, and quite effective for arthritis. Like with dogs, a multi-modal approach is often best and combining injections with systemic meds like Legend, Adequan, NSAIDs, and acupuncture can be very valuable in keeping horses performing comfortably.

The stifle is a very important joint in both humans and animals. The ability to flex and extend the joint without pain or restriction is vital to speed, power and agility. This look at the function and treatment of the stifle is by no means comprehensive, but if you do have an animal with joint problems it will hopefully give you a nice place to start.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Story Time: Twas A Week Before Christmas

Forgive me for pulling out another Alaska-themed tale, but the timing for this one is perfect: this time of year nineteen years ago I made my move west and north and it makes for a pretty good story.

Fresh-faced, black-haired, and naive, the wanderlust I spoke of in a previous post had taken hold and I accepted a job offer in Chugiak, which is outside of Anchorage. Preparations included getting Lynne's Jeep Grand Cherokee tuned up and having the transmission replaced. The West Virginia inbred who repaired the car installed the wrong transfer case and I had no four-wheel drive the entire trip, though was blissfully ignorant of this fact for most of it. Front seats were moved all the way forward to allow the back of the car to be filled with various possessions (mostly milk crates stuffed with books, if I recall), forcing me to drive knees to chest across the continent. A plastic clam-shell secured to the roof filled with what wouldn't fit inside added aerodynamic style. To save money, of which I had little, the passenger seat held a cooler packed with trail mix and jerky. My gastrointestinal system still holds a grudge over
that decision. For entertainment, my buddy Gary gave me a stack of cassette tapes of various comedians--Gary Shandling, Robin Williams, Robert Klein--invaluable during those long stretches where the only radio signal was from some Children-Of-The-Corn community in the American outback. Gary would continue to abate my homesickness by sending tapes of the Howard Stern Show to Chugiak. That my friends, is a true friend. My last act before leaving was to put an engagement ring on Lynne's finger. To this day I'm unsure if this was a gesture of commitment or a male marking his territory. Either way, it was apparently the right move because I've somehow managed to hold onto that little jewel ever since.

Day 1: Fairfax, VA to Altus, OK (1,456 miles)
Picture 1

Coffee is a miracle. A full 24 hours of driving the first day. True, I was fueled by excitement as well as caffeine, but it still made for a long first leg. Looking at a map, you'll notice that this is not the straightest distance between two points. There was a method to this madness. My friend Matt worked for the Air Force at Altus and had a free place to crash and grab a meal or two (did I mention how small my travel budget was?). In the end, I spent most of my time there in bed, moving on shortly after waking, but his was the last familiar face I'd see for almost a year.

Day 2: Altus, OK to Salt Lake City, UT (1,045 miles)

Aside from a free night's stay, going through Oklahoma also set me up to cross the Rockies near Albuquerque, something I thought might be best in late December. As it turned out, I hit an ice-storm in the Texas panhandle and drove through a fog in Utah that turned to ice on the windshield faster than the defroster could melt it. I drove a winding canyon road hunched over, navigating through the clear spot just over the defroster vent. When I finally found a cheap dive of a hotel on the outskirts of Salt Lake I was exhausted. I hated spending money on a room I would only be in for about six hours, but it was way too cold to chance sleeping in the car.

Day 3: Salt lake City, UT to Bellingham, WA (924 miles)

Woohoo! A sub-thousand mile day! I was in a groove now. My ass was conforming to the car seat (or vise-versa) and the miles seemed to fly by. Things got interesting going over
Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. See, to this Virginia boy, the word "pass" conjures up visions of a low spot in the mountains where cars can pass freely in all seasons. The concept that a pass might actually close due to weather was beyond me. My AAA TripTik had no elevation markings, just a blue-highlighted I-90 that seemed to shout "clear sailing, by Jove that's a pass up ahead". I found myself in a blizzard, semis splattering my windshield with dirty snow. Cleaning fluid ran dry. It was then, trying in vain to see lane lines through a muddy smear, I realized, not for the last time, that I might be in a bit over my head.

Fortunately, on the other side of the pass snow turned to rain, which allowed for better visibility and a chance to get off the highway and replenish my washer fluid. From there it was a wet, but easy drive to Bellingham. The next day I would be headed over the Canadian border for my date with the AlCan Highway.

Day 4: Bellingham, WA to Dawson's Creek, British Columbia, Canada (722 miles)
alcan006 alcan007

Slept in for the first time and was well rested crossing the border, with more than a few suspicious looks from the officers there. Sure, I
said I was moving to Alaska, but I had a car packed to the roof with all my stuff. Who would know if decided to find myself a cozy little town in the interior and become a Canuck? The drive on this stretch was not as easy going and fast, but the British Columbia scenery was fantastic, and I started to see the first wildlife of the trip, stopping to let a herd of Bighorn Sheep cross the road. (the pictures here were taken with a disposable camera almost two decades ago and scanned, so no cracks about the photography!). Across Canada I would see caribou, moose, bison, fox, lynx, and even a lone wolf on or along the road. There are definite benefits to driving dawn to dusk with almost no traffic on the road.

Day 5: Dawson's Creek, BC to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada (967 miles)
alcan012 alcan003

Getting pretty far north now and the scenery was white and desolate, but no less beautiful for it. The road was now a line of packed snow and the distances between services so long I had to consult my Milepost to be sure I didn't pass up a chance for gas and get stranded in the Yukon like some character out of a Jack London story. The trip was wearing on me now, no doubt about it. The lack of sleep, the poor food, the concentration of driving on snow. You can hear a stand-up routine only so many times before the jokes get old (the official number is three, like a Tootsie Pop). By now I had figured out that there was something going on with the four-wheel drive. I had slid off the road, trying to stop too quickly to get a picture of a moose (by the end of the trip, seeing moose was such a common occurrence it barely raised an eyebrow) and had to get towed off the shoulder and back onto the road by some helpful locals. The Jeep wasn't in deep snow, so this was surprising, but i wasn't about to stop and try to figure it out--not that I could have done anything about it anyway. Future wildlife sightings were handled with much less enthusiasm--stopping in the middle of the "highway" was not an issue when you rarely saw half a dozen other cars in a day anyway!

Day 6: Watson Lake, Yukon Territory to Tok, Alaska (1,058 miles)
alcan008 alcan009 - Version 2

USA! USA! Christmas Eve spent on a fourteen-hour marathon drive just so I could get across the border. I was able to find one hotel still open in Tok (it might have been the
only hotel in Tok, now that I think about it). The room had no phone, only a small tv with antenna reception. In the cliche of cliches, on the one grainy channel that was viewable, the thing playing when I checked in was--you guessed it--It's A Wonderful Life. I called both Lynne and my family collect from the phone booth in the parking lot, shivering so badly from cold I cut both conversations short and ran back to the warmth of the hotel. My room was tiny and dirty and I slept fully clothed on top of the threadbare comforter. I was very depressed and lay there wondering if I had made a terrible decision.

Day 6.5: Tok, AK to Chugiak, AK (303 miles)

Morning didn't start out much better. It almost didn't start at all. The first turn of the key produced a weak "rrrrrroww" sound under the hood. Ugh. Of course. Too cold for the engine block. Second try: "rrrrrrow". On the fifth it started, I breathed a sigh of relief and was on my last, short sprint to the end. I had some money in my pocket and treated myself to a Christmas breakfast at a diner along the way. As is typical throughout the state, portions are of a size befitting Alaska itself and I gorged on pancakes, eggs and sausage. It was a cold, clear, gorgeous day and between the weather and the food, my dark mood lifted away. I sat at the counter next to a trapper. No, I mean it. An honest to God guy who made his living setting a trap line and checking it every day on his snowmobile. No electricity at the house except via gas generator which they fired up on Christmas to light the tree. Fascinating to talk with and the conversation renewed the sense of wonder this adventure had produced at the beginning. I pulled into my new job late in the afternoon, 6000-plus miles and a week after leaving Virginia. What more could a boy ask of Christmas?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Big C

Cancer sucks. I've procrastinated writing this entry because it's a very personal subject, as I'm sure it will be to many readers. My grandmother died at a very young age from colon cancer. I lost a dog to liver cancer a few short years ago, and of course have lost many wonderful patients to cancer over my career. But it's an important subject, and I felt it would be good to blog about since it affects so many people and animals, so here goes:


Traditional Chinese medicine looks at cancer in an interesting way. In a healthy body, qi and blood circulate through the meridians and imbue movement, nourishment, strength, and vitality to an animal. (For more on Chinese theory, please see the articles in the Services section on
acupuncture and herbal medicine) Cancer begins with the accummulaion of an abnormal substance roughly translated as "phlegm" in English. Phlegm can be thought of as energetic fly-paper: sticky, goopy stuff that accumulates within the body and interrupts normal function. It can be carried through the body, lodge in a meridian and block the flow of energy, causing heart attacks and strokes, or it can act in a more subtle way. As qi and blood course through the body they can be grabbed by phlegm, like fly-paper or a spiderweb ensnares a passing fly. As qi and blood continue pass by more of these energies are trapped and accumulate, eventually tangling together. I envision it like a snarled fishing line; the more line you feed it, the bigger it gets. (Yes, I am the King of Simile). This tangle grows until we appreciate it as a mass, and just like fishing line is a bear to undo once started.

So what creates this phlegm in the first place? If I knew the answer to that in every case, the rest would be easy. Certainly things that damage normal function, like toxins and viruses, are culprits. Aging animals also create phlegm as the body becomes less efficient and waste products build up. Food plays a big role. We know that certain foods are likely to produce more phlegm in the body than others. In carnivores like dogs and cats high carbohydrate loads, commonly found in processed kibble and grains are factors that lead to phlegm. Dairy is another. Herbivores are another matter, they have a higher tolerance for grains and carbohydrates, though excessive sugars like molasses can lead to problems in them as well. Perhaps a better way to look at food is that the feeding of a
species-inappropriate diet leads to phlegm accumulation. With this perspective, maybe we can look at high cancer rates in dogs and cats as opposed to the relatively low occurence in horses as being correlated to the types of food we put into their bodies. Which species is being fed closer to their optimal evolutionary diet? Dogs? Hardly. How often would a wild canine come across, and eat, any grains? Horses, especially those being fed high levels of hay and grass and little grain at least approximate a wild equine diet. And yet, there are dogs out there (I know, I see them all the time) fed fantastic raw food or home-cooked diets and still get cancer. Why?

Part of the answer lies in an individual's constitution, or genetics, to put a more modern spin on it. Hang around dogs long enough, you'll find certain breeds have a much higher predilection for cancer: Golden Retrievers and Boxers are two that come to mind. One thing that most of the individuals of these breeds have in common would be their constitution, as defined in Chinese medicine. We consider these animals a Fire constitution, and they are characterized by their exuberent friendliness, energy, and overall joyful and happy personalities.

With Fire we think of heat, and indeed, these breeds are prone to many other diseases with heat at their core: allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and ear infections, to name a few. Chronic heat may also lead to cancer. Think of it this way: if you want to reduce a sauce to something thicker, you leave the pan on the heat for longer, right? Phlegm can manifest in the same fashion: heat, over time, thickens normal fluids in the body until they become a more dense, stickier substance which eventually transforms into phlegm, which in turn has potential to start the cancer-tangle. Of course, not every Fire individual will get cancer, but in some individuals, this constitution is so strong that they may overcome one type of cancer only to succumb to a wholly different tumor down the road.


The first bit of advice I give to people who have an animal with cancer is
"Get Ye to an oncologist". This is not to say that I have nothing to offer, simply that in most cases Western medicine has a better answer, and when time is of the essence better is, well, better. Chemotherapy, radiation, and even surgery offer faster and more aggressive treatments, an approach more likely to garner results in the short term. There has been great advancement in veterinary oncology in the last couple of decades, to the great benefit of patients. The down side to these therapies is that they can be expensive, they may not gain as much additional time as we would like, and they sometimes result in side effects that make you wonder if the time gained is of worthwhile quality. So where does Chinese medicine fit in?

Personally, I like the integrative approach. Now "integrative" may be the latest catch phrase, along with complimentary, comprehensive, and mixed medicine; all ways of saying "let's throw everything at this case and hope something sticks." Actually, that's not as bad as it sounds, because often something
does stick, leading both oncologists and alternative practitioners to claim credit, in spite of all that other nonsense that was tried. When chemo, radiation, or surgery is opted for I'm more than happy to sit on the bench and use herbs to treat side effects like nausea, diarrhea, or loss of energy. Herbs can treat the anemia that results from many chemotherapy regimens or help with healing and pain relief after surgery. Once patients are through their primary treatment, additional herbs can be used for fighting cancer and keeping it in remission.

What if an animal is too fragile for aggressive treatment, or the treatment is too expensive, or a patient has severe enough side effects that treatment needs to be discontinued? Well, in these cases herbs can be used alone. This is done in a stepwise approach. First we spend time, sometimes weeks, using herbs that "untangle" blood and qi, get phlegm out of the body, and break down the mass. This might include herbs like
San Qi (pseudoginseng), Tian Nan Xing (arisaema), Qing Dai (indigo), or Hong Hua (safflower). After a time, the herb mixture is changed to do less untangling and more breaking; this is when tumors might actually shrink. It is also the time when acupuncture might come into the mix. There are different views on using acupuncture to treating cancer patients. My own is that it should be avoided in the initial stages of treatment, because acupuncture can strongly move qi and blood, and if the tangle is tight there is a good chance of feeding into the tumor and accelerating the disease. In my mind, once a formula has changed to focus more on breaking down a mass, then acupuncture is more appropriate. Herbs used to fight cancer are strong, and can cause side effects similar to chemotherapy, though not usually as severe, so delicate patients are less likely to be at risk of harm.

There are, of course, cases that are impossible to cure, or even slow the progress of, the disease. In these patients, herbs are chosen to help make whatever time is left as comfortable as possible. A real-life example is a dog I saw about ten years ago, an older German Shepherd riddled with lung cancer. Now, as is often the case, this dog showed no outward sign of being ill until he had only a few weeks to live. All of a sudden he was lethargic, anorexic, and generally miserable. His owners were a bit shell-shocked and not ready to say goodbye. We came up with a mixture of herbs that perked him up, allowing him to resume the nightly walks he so enjoyed, and got his appetite back on track. He didn't live but another two weeks, but in that time he was happy, and it allowed his family to come to grips with his passing and spoil him rotten in the meantime, and it allowed this dog to enjoy himself for a while longer. It felt really good to be able to do this for both the dog and his people.

Yes, cancer sucks, and there is no magic in Chinese medicine, just as there is no magic in Western medicine. We do what we can, hope for the best, and pray that in the end we did right by our patients.

In Memory Of Barclay

barclay face002

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Hallowine

Forget Snickers, Smarties, and the dreaded penny from that lame house around the corner; it's harvest time!

Lynne and I were invited to a friend's vineyard, Two Barns Farm, to help with the harvest today, a Tom Sawyer-esque bargain we were only too happy to take advantage of. The rains have come to the Pacific Northwest, but thankfully gave us a break this morning. It was cool and foggy, giving the grapes a sparkling cover of dew when the sun broke through. Pinot was taken off the vine last week; today was Riesling.


Having never experienced a grape harvest we were coached on using our shears to snip the plump, sweet clusters from the vine, carefully checking for mold before dumping them in our buckets. from there we wiped our sticky, juice-covered hands and transferred our bounty to the FYBs, or "F'n Yellow Bins", so called because they will only stack properly in one direction, which ultimately, is always the second direction you try to place them in.

After another sort for mold it was to the barn where the FYBs were weighed and put through the crusher; stems separated and the remaining slop went to the linen-lined press.


From the press, the juice (tasting strongly of apples and sweet enough to induce diabetes right there on the spot) was poured into containers to ferment and go from grape juice to pure awesomeness. (well really, is there any other way to describe the result?)

Such a great experience to help with the process in person. Unfortunately, we missed going back into the vineyard for a run of Chardonnay because we had to get back home to make sure our own little demons got to have their fun as well.

Sheesh, who do they think this holiday is for anyway?