My First Trip to a Holistic Vet

On Monday I took my dog, Marc, to a holistic vet. I'd heard Dr. Sanderson's name come up numerous times over the past few years and generally wrote off the idea of holistic veterinary care. I also did the same thing with raw feeding, and many other things. Hazards of being a natural skeptic I suppose.  But in the four and a half years that I have had Marc, though overall a hearty dog, he has had some lingering allergy issues that have caused him significant enough discomfort that I felt compelled to try to resolve them.

We tried changing food. Grain free first, then playing with different protein sources. Each food change brought one of two issues: either it did not resolve the skin allergies, or it caused issues with his stool. Then I tried a food that only had beans and legumes as the  carbohydrate sources. That didn't work either... and it made him as gassy as you'd expect. Marc's tail is already deadly if it hits you while it's wagging. That back end didn't need ANY more fire power. We also tried feeding raw. This seemed to resolve most of the issues, other than those caused by environmental irritants, but I could never find the right mix of bone, type of meat, fat... that kept his stool looking good (I can't believe I'm talking about poop so much) AND kept weight on him. He just got really lean. Too lean.

We tried prednisone, a steroid, once in the first year after adopting Marc. It was terrible. He lost a ton of weight (muscle wasting is one of the side effects), was dehydrated (and drinking tons of water because of it, the only time he's ever had accidents in the house and the crate), and it made him really edgy. He startled very easily, and had aggressive tendencies, something very uncharacteristic of him. We took him off the steroid and all of that went away.

So this multi-year experiment went on. Lately, Marc has been eating Verus. If you are feeding dry food, it and Fromm are some of the best as far as I can tell. But all of a sudden he started losing weight and his skin issues have come back in full force. He had one lick granuloma on his foot that was a bit raised and concerning. So I took him to Dr. Sanderson to see if there was anything I hadn't tried yet. 

Before I go any further, I think it's important to say that my experience at Animal Wellness Center was the best vet experience I've ever had, regardless of "traditional" vs. "holistic" treatment.

When I walked in, I was surprised to see that there was no large lobby waiting area. The place where all the people who love dogs, but don't "know" dogs, interact with your dog inappropriately, or have dogs who are so wildly inappropriate you have to wait outside. I checked in and was taken to a private waiting room. So all that stress that normally build up before you even start the actual vet appointment... not an issue.

Marc's weight was taken, which required two words: "Place" for Marc to get up on the scale as I pointed to it, and "Sit" so that he would be still which allows the scale to get a more accurate reading. And then we reviewed the information I provided over the phone prior to our appointment. Dr. Sanderson came in next and immediately started his exam after a brief introduction. He was calm and cool and didn't freak Marc out with any of the stuff that lots of vets do: they talk too much to the dog, they use that high pitched voice that's great praise from a dog's owner but really creepy from a stranger, they hold the dog in odd ways, or they are tentative in their movements. Dr. S did none of those things which instantly makes him more awesome than most vets in my opinion. 

Dr. S remarked that Marc was "very dry". His skin, gums, etc. He then explained to me the difference between a dog eating dry food and drinking water, versus a dog eating moist food, and how the body processes these things a bit differently. His first suggestion was a change in diet that included many different whole food sources, as well as a few supplements. The recipe for the food can be found HERE. He said some things that didn't completely make sense to me about yin/yang balance, and I didn't really ask him to expand on it too much, something I will do in our follow up appointment. He went on to recommend an herbal blend. The food that I will be providing to Marc for the next month or so will be cooked, but I do plan to transition him back to raw again. Dr. Sanderson supplied me with additional information on a local co-op where I could get cheaper prices on some of the more obscure ingredients (green tripe anyone?) but I will probably go back to either Mangers Meats or C&C Wholesale Meats for the bulk of Marc's food when I do make that transition.

Once the nutritional consultation was complete, we moved to another room to do the not-so-fun stuff. Dr. S wanted to run some tests just to make sure that the things he was seeing were not anything more serious. He did a skin scrape of one of the granulomas, a blood draw for a CBC and blood analysis (checking liver, kidney, thyroid function... this seems to be something that many vets don't do unless you ask for it), and some vitamin injections. These procedures are usually the part where vets lose me. Some vet tech comes in, puts your dog in a jujitsu move, pinning them down on the table while someone else stabs them in the ass cheek a few times and shoves a thermometer "where the sun don't shine" AND WE WONDER WHY DOGS DON't LIKE GOING TO THE VET?!?!?!?! 

Now, I understand why most vets do it this way... Because most people don't train their dogs. They "train" their dogs, to do things for food or in situations where there's so little going on that you don't need obedience anyway. But not many people TRAIN their dogs to persevere through situations that make them uncomfortable, or to be responsive and connected even when there are tons of more interesting things that are going on. You know... when it matters.

“Obedience, like insurance, must be obtained before the moment of need.” - William Koehler

So most of the time the vet needs to treat a dog while also defend themselves from an animal who was never taught to cope with stress, and to understand that sometimes certain things have to happen and the fastest way through those situations is not fighting.

Anyway... During the three vitamin injections in his back, and the HUGE blood draw that they took from Marc's neck, they let me handle my own dog. I placed Marc in a stand and held his head up, keeping his focus on me. Did Marc happily receive those needles? I don't think so, but then again, nobody has ever interviewed a dog so the best we can do is provide conjecture. He didn't look happy, but he was trusting, because this is not the first time that I've asked him to do something he'd rather not. And once they were done, he got a rousing praise party from myself and the two vet techs that were performing the procedures. He wagged his tail happily and knew he was done, and had made it through the not-so-fun-but-needs-to-be-done events the fastest way possible: by being calm and exerting some self control. 

Once that was done, they gave me his supplements and sent me to the front counter for billing. I always have sticker shock at the prices of vet services but this was by far the worst. And it's the only "bad" thing I have to say about my experience. The total for our visit... just shy of $700.  Now please keep in mind that there are two things that need to be considered with respect to the pricing of any product or service: cost and value. In trying different foods alone I've probably spent that much on Marc and given away hundreds of pounds of dog food when they didn't fix the problem. One trip to a dog allergist would probably have cost the same amount. And dosing him with something like apoquel would add up eventually too. If I'm able to give Marc some more comfort, naturally, I'm happy about that.

Because the Animal Wellness Center is a holistic vet practice, that also does conventional treatment, their focus is on healing the body by making sure the right stuff is going into it in the first place, but can also do complimentary care (supplementing holistic treatment with conventional). If this treatment, the changes in food and supplements resolve, even in part, Marc's issues, they'll be worth it. Marc did get his blood test results back and looks to be in good health.

I know that the pricing is steep, but that many people are interested in trying holistic remedies for various issues that their dogs are experiencing, here's a couple of resources that may be helpful. These were either recommended to me by veterinarians or other trainers who know a good bit more about this stuff than I do:

Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog

Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs

The Best Dog Diet Ever

Here's what I do know... The nice people, lack of waiting room and associated drama, no nonsense information, good handling, allowing me to handle my own dog, and matter of fact conversation from Dr. S were appreciated enough that I'll be continuing to use them. The lack of frustration, anxiety, and the fact that Marc actually enjoyed his trip there overall makes it worth it to me. On the way out, he wasn't anxious to leave. Instead, he wanted to make sure he said goodbye to the nice lady at the front counter who checked us in. 

I'll try to post a part 2 after our follow up visit where I'll be sure to get more details about the "why" behind the "what" of the treatment recommendations that were given to Marc. Still waiting on the results of the skin scraping that they did, but all the blood tests came back normal. Yay!

And for those that are looking for awesome conventional veterinary care for their animals, please check out Frederick Road Vet Hospital in Catonsville, or Essex Middle River Veterinary Center in Essex. They rock!