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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Pet Palliative Care: Extending the Reach of Holistic Veterinary Medicine

Sep 01, 2020 06:02PM ● By David MacDonald

It’s not unusual in veterinary medicine that a medical diagnosis is matched with a prognosis—a projection of the progress of the disease state and expected survival time. It is appropriate to establish expectations for the patient, which helps guide treatment, both short- and long-term. Not all diagnoses are good, nor are they bad. Similarly, not all prognoses are good, nor bad. 

Unfortunately, challenging medical problems often carry a poor prognosis. In veterinary medicine, the intention is to always provide the best medical care for the best outcome. When including holistic options, it is possible to extend healthy living well beyond the usual expectations, therefore improving the prognosis. Examples of exceeding expectations include treatment for kidney disease, liver disease, endocrine disorders and immune-mediated disease, including allergies. 

Holistic veterinary medicine has an opportunity to shine a particularly illuminating light on patients with a cancer diagnosis in two important ways; first, the concept of how cancer might develop, and second, offering treatments that are associated with better outcomes. 

Cancer and Holistic Options

Cancer is, and will likely continue to be, the most challenging medical condition to treat in pet patients. Of course, there are many different types of cancer and variations on the impact of the body. In holistic veterinary medicine, rather than thinking that a particular thing causes cancer, it is accurate to consider that cancer represents a dysfunctional state of how the body performs normal functions.

There are many components yet to be determined in the sequence of events that are responsible for this transformation, but it is likely that diet, gut health and the metabolic state of the body are all pieces of the puzzle. These and other components should be considered critical to understanding the nature of the cancer patient. 

This conceptual approach does not suggest that a full understanding of cancer has been fully illuminated at this time, but taking the step of choosing a different perspective is more likely to bear fruit than the current methodology of treating only the manifestation of cancer. 

Investigated therapies found to be beneficial in cancer treatment include Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C therapy, Chinese and Western herbs and acupuncture. Many of these treatments are compatible with traditional medications, and do not interfere with conventional cancer treatments. Ultimately, when undertaking a multi-modal approach, a synergy is observed, and better outcomes are achieved than if only one treatment were chosen. 

Holistic veterinary practitioners are on the front lines of treating cancer cases, and many cases have a poor prognosis. The condition and diagnosis are not to be disputed; however, given the opportunity to utilize other treatments, adjustment in the patient’s prognosis may be considered. In many ways, quality of life becomes the focus. When using holistic veterinary medicine, the ability to improve quality of life despite a poor prognosis is predictably achievable. 

Case Study

The principles of extending quality of life with a cancer diagnosis are best illustrated by examining a case study of a canine patient with lymphosarcoma. 

An 11-year old, female, spayed beagle mix presented for a routine dental procedure but was observed to have severe bruising on the body and under the tongue. The dental was postponed, and bloodwork showed a drastically high white blood cell count and a severely low platelet count. The dog was transferred to an emergency hospital for acute care of the life-threatening blood disorder. 

In the course of care, it was discovered that the low platelet count was an effect of cancer called lymphosarcoma in the lymph nodes of her chest. The dog was discharged and started on a corticosteroid. Prognosis was grim at a few weeks, maybe a month to live. 

Through a holistic consultation, diet was improved, and treatment was enhanced with three different Chinese herbal formulas to address the swollen lymph nodes, improve the platelet levels and minimize the spread of the cancer. The dog stayed on the steroid, but at a much lower dose. The dog improved clinically and was stable without any bruising within two weeks. Bloodwork performed during recovery showed that the white blood cell count and platelet levels normalized after three months. 

The dog remained in stable equilibrium for an extended time and ultimately was humanely euthanized 15 months following diagnosis.

Despite the cancer diagnosis and a grave prognosis, holistic care allowed the dog to survive with an excellent quality of life for longer than expected. The early treatment at the emergency hospital and the steroid were still important; however, the addition of effective diet and Chinese herbs extended survival time. 

Dr. David MacDonald is a veterinarian with Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, located at 380 N. Shady Retreat Rd. He is a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) and a certified veterinary spinal manipulative therapist (CVSMT). To request an appointment, call 215-345-6000. For more information, visit

Doylestown Veterinary Hospital  Holistic Pet Care - Doylestown PA

Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care - Doylestown, PA

Exceptional veterinary services in an atmosphere of comfort and care Welcome to Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, dedicated to the health of your pet since 1972. ... Read More »