I’ve been a veterinarian for going on 32 years and every day I marvel at what I do not know. I am also very grateful for what I do know. Practicing conventional veterinary medicine with drugs has helped so many of my patients.
Yet, there have been times when drugs were not the answer and I would say “we will just have to see if they will get better on their own with your care”. One of the reasons I explored chiropractic care and acupuncture for animals is because it allowed me to help the animals get better on their own. Both modalities of treatment help the intelligence of the body, giving it the guidance to heal itself. The body after all is a miracle in itself! I recently started to read a very heartwarming and soul-opening book written by Allen M. Schoen, DVM called “Love, Miracles and Animal Healing”.
It turns out that starting to read this book was a reminder that life is not a series of coincidences. There is a “greater plan”. A plan that our animal companions help orchestrate for our learning. I would like to share with you a very touching animal healing story that involves “balance” on many levels.
The teacher is a friend, who is a very wise soul. He walks on four legs, occasionally likes to voice his opinion with a woof, never turns away from a pat on the head, and melts your heart with his big brown eyes. His name is Riley! Riley is a dog that lives each moment to the fullest and is always willing to share his love and fun.
The Saturday morning I got the call was a chapter of life that is always so hard to face, but one that we all must endure when we let pets into our hearts. As a vet, I deal with this chapter over and over and it is the one that opens my heart to the unconditional love that our animal friends share with us so freely and the trust…oh the trust!
It was just about 7:00 a.m. and I was awakened by my phone ringing. “Riley is really sick, he vomited all over, he is drooling and his back legs are really shaky, he is having a hard time standing, he seems weak.” My good friend, Riley’s mom, was gone for the weekend, but I recognized the voice of the pet sitter.
She was amazingly calm, but I could feel the deep concern in her voice. My head was still very foggy and I was not totally in the moment. I told her I would be over as soon as I could and to keep him comfortable.
Before I hung up, I heard the beep of another call coming in and I knew it would be Riley’s mom. Riley is an older fella, 14 years old, and his health recently was wavering. I told his mom I did not know what was happening, but I would go to the house and see what I needed to do to help the immediate concerns. She told me she would be back home in five hours and I replied that we would figure out the right action to help Riley.
At the end of the call, I got the question in my head, “what about the eyes?” I called the pet sitter back and asked her to look at Riley’s eyes. They are moving back and forth really fast and they do not want to stop moving she told me. The answer was coming to me now. I just needed to see Riley myself and confirm what was happening to his body. I told her I believed he had Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome and his body felt like it was really drunk and totally “off-balance”.
With that, I called his mom and told her what I believed to be happening. She had a very long drive and I wanted to give her whatever hope I could find. Before I hung up, she asked me how I knew this to be the cause. I told her after our first conversation I got the message about the eyes and she told me that her prayers were being answered!
Half an hour later I was at the house and when I looked at Riley’s eyes I received many answers. Yes, he had the “nystagmus” of vestibular disease. The disease was making him so nauseated that drool was everywhere. The vestibular nerve was inflamed which caused severe motion sickness. But the eyes spoke so much more to me…a slight glimmer said I am glad you are here, please help. However, the most profound part was the sudden feeling of love and trust that came from that slight glimmer. His front and back legs were not able to support weight and when he tried to walk he would wobble and fall to the side.
I knew his disease was very serious. I got him started on injectable medications to stop the vomiting and drooling and told him his mom would be back really soon. The medication helped immediately, but he had a very long recovery time. I had to leave to continue with my scheduled appointments, but told him I would return later when his mom was home. The pet sitters did not leave his side! I rearranged my schedule that day so I could get back to Riley when his mom arrived home.
My clients that day were so understanding. The “greater plan” was in motion. When I went back to Riley, the pet sitters were just leaving and I could see the concern on their faces. As I walked into the house, I didn’t know what to expect. His mom was with Riley, on the floor where I had left him earlier. He had known to stay in one spot and be still, but his eyes had a new glimmer… happiness and so much love…his mom was with him!
The injection I had given him was helping and he wasn’t drooling anymore, although he wasn’t out of the woods. However, we were on the right path. The love and concern that his mom was feeling was so evident. I explained how Vestibular Disease is something from which they can recover, but it is not easy. She asked me if she needed to make a decision and I told her not now, but I would help guide her if that was the path that was ultimately chosen. I needed her to understand this was a disease process in which full recovery could be the outcome, but getting to that point is a long endeavor.
She would need people to lend her physical help as he is a big dog and moving him around would be the biggest challenge. I explained Riley’s symptoms would appear worse for the next several days and that they usually do not want to eat. Once the eyes stop the jumping motion, he would start to get better. In the past, my vet school teachings would have led me to give him steroids and antibiotics to try and help the symptoms.
We now know in vet med that with the Idiopathic form of Vestibular Disease the body does not need these drugs. It needs time and good nursing care to heal. This is where other modalities helped Riley on the healing journey. Saturday afternoon I treated him with acupuncture and Reiki. Repeating acupuncture and some gentle chiropractic on Sunday and another shot for nausea.
Riley is so blessed to have a mother who is a gifted healer, herself a chiropractor. She added her gentle touch to his healing. She also added some homeopathic remedies for nausea and wobbliness. He was receiving what we could offer his body to heal itself. The “greater plan” continued to unfold.
A friend was able to help with Riley’s care. She was flying to Florida that Saturday morning, but she got bumped off the flight, something that had never happened to her before! She was very instrumental in the “balance” that was needed to help Riley and his mom over the next week.
In our discussion about Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, I explained it always occurs in older dogs. The only analogy I could come up with was vertigo in people, but much worse.
Riley’s mom understood now what he was experiencing as she had episodes of vertigo and she recalled the “I just wished I was dead” that came with the total unbalance. I called on Monday to see how Riley was doing and I could feel the concern in her voice. She wasn’t sure what to say or do. She felt helpless in the situation. I could feel her despair for his condition.
I got over to the house as quickly as I could. When I arrived, Riley was still not able to get around on his own and he did not want to eat, but he was drinking water. His mom was at the point of letting go and so was Riley. I reminded her of what she had said yesterday and we all had a very loving conversation telling Riley the decision was all his. We could help his body with treatments of acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, and “love”, but if he did not want to be here then the “love” would also let him move on.
He looked at me with his big brown eyes and I knew we had his attention and his eyes were not jumping! As I examined him, I started to pinch his toes to make him move his legs and he growled at me! I told him “you can do it if you want to, you can move”. Treatment that day was acupuncture and K-laser (a device that helps the body heal inflammation).
When I finished the treatments, I went to wash my hands and when I turned back around he was standing with his head cocked to the left (part of the syndrome) and he was walking toward the door. He looked at me and his big brown eyes told me thanks… now let’s go outside. He had gotten himself up and was able to walk, not real steady, but that was a big accomplishment. He was actually smiling and quite proud of himself! So was I! Tuesday morning when I went to treat him I decided to bring some steak sautéed in garlic.
His mom had told me that he still was not interested in food, but was drinking water fine. After his acupuncture and K-laser treatment, the steak was exactly what the doctor ordered. That morning his big brown eyes said Riley was back here to stay and he wanted to be with his mom and family. He was getting up fine, his eyes were steady, and he was still a little unbalanced, but he could walk. He still had a head tilt, but it added to the look of the regal dog! Wednesday was a beautiful day and I received a wonderful call.
It was Riley’s mom and she told me that morning he wanted to go for his walk and he did really well. She was sitting outside with him in the sun sharing lunch (steak, of course) and full of gratitude to be sharing the beautiful moment with Riley. She said, “It brought a tear to my eye”. I must admit that call filled my heart with the love that is so present between a dog and their beloved companion.
The unconditional love they share with us and teach us to share with them and others. This story is about all kinds of “balance”….physical, emotional, and spiritual. As a young vet, I needed to learn everything about medicine and drugs to save animals.
At a point, I realized drugs did not do everything so I added other healing ways – chiropractic, acupuncture, Reiki, Chinese herbs, food therapy, and K-Laser to help the body balance and heal itself. As a young vet, the “magic of love” was not so evident to me. As a seasoned vet, I have experienced and know the “magic of love” is the balance of life!
Riley recovered quicker than most dogs I have treated for Vestibular Syndrome.