On Tuesday, we posted Part 1 of our Q+A with Dr. Ella Woods, holistic clinician for both people and pets! Following is Part 2. … Thank you again, Dr. Woods!
1. I know that you provide acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment for both pets and humans. Are the treatments pretty much the same across species, or do they vary?
In some ways the treatments are the same, and in some ways they are very different. It amazes me just how similar our human bodies are to the bodies of dogs and cats. Yet there certainly are differences, structural, functional and chemical. For example, dogs have 13 thoracic vertebrae and humans have only 12, humans have opposable thumbs but dogs and cats do not. So the locations of some acupuncture points are quite different on the dog and cat from the human. Some substances that humans can handle without problems, such as onions, are toxic to cats and dogs. So some of the technical end of this medicine is different for animals.
I find that one great difference is in the emotional aspects of the process. Humans choose to come to see me, they give consent to being treated. Animals are brought in, and don’t always get a vote in the matter. With all species, building trust is an important part of therapy. An animal can be restrained for the short period of time it takes to conduct a Western medicine procedure, such as taking a blood sample. But an acupuncture treatment may take longer, and the patient needs to be tolerant of a number of tiny needle pricks. Much of the time they barely feel it, sometimes they do. But they are much more patient with the process if they feel they know me and trust me. That is actually quite true of human patients, too, but it is more striking with animals.
Another huge and endearing difference is that animals are not invested in their illness. Sometimes we humans get so accustomed to our maladies that we have a hard time giving them up. Not so with animals. Can you imagine a Labrador lying around with her feet on the coffee table once the sciatica is gone? No way. In fact, I find that if I can help an animal to feel better, they are far more adept at associating the improvement with the treatment than humans are, and they often gladly come back to see me. And no one can claim there is a placebo affect, since the animal is not expecting any outcome from the treatment.
2. Are there any kinds of veterinary conditions that could especially benefit from a holistic approach?
Any condition can respond to a holistic approach.
Even if the patient is facing a life-threatening acute disorder, any invasive and/or strong allopathic (Western medicine) therapies can be supported by and their side effects minimized by concurrent holistic care. We do find that for the most part, acute disorders respond more quickly to allopathic medicine. For instance, a broken bone definitely needs intervention with Western medicine … setting the bone, perhaps even surgical implantation of a metal rod or plate, is likely to be necessary. But acupuncture and an appropriate herbal formula can speed bone repair and healing.
Chronic problems often respond better to a holistic or an integrative approach than to Western medicine. For instance, in the area of pain management, which is my doctoral area of specialty, it is widely and generally accepted that acupuncture plays a very beneficial role, often when Western medicine is no longer helping the patient. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both acknowledge the effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain.
According to the WHO, human diseases and disorders for which acupuncture therapy has been proved through controlled clinical trials to be an effective treatment include: adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, allergic rhinitis (including hay fever), biliary colic, depression, dysentery, epigastralgia, facial pain, headache, hypertension, hypotension, induction of labor, knee pain, leucopenia, low back pain, malposition of fetus, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, neck pain, pain in dentistry, periarthritis of shoulder, postoperative pain, renal colic, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, sprain, stroke, and tennis elbow. Many of these diseases and disorders have corollaries in animals, and are equally treatable in these patients.
I believe that the future of veterinary medicine will involve a growing level of reliance on “integrative medicine” – meaning the use of both allopathic (Western) medicine and holistic medicine. Examples include:
- giving surgical patients postoperative acupuncture treatments and herbal therapy to speed healing, reduce postoperative pain and enhance recovery
- treating cancer patients with holistic methods even as they get chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, just as progressive human medical centers do (such as UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine)
- harnessing the power of using acupuncture and herbal therapy in conjunction with drugs for gastrointestinal disorders, hyper- or hypothyroidism, dermatology disorders, and the list goes on
3. How closely linked are the emotional and the physical well-beings of animals?
Oriental medicine is strongly rooted in the theory of the whole, the intertwining and interrelation of the mental, emotional and physical in effecting the health state of the whole patient. In fact, we see that imbalance of an internal organ can lead to imbalance of the emotional/mental state of the patient and vice-versa. It can be difficult to determine which came first, the organ imbalance or the emotional/psychological imbalance. In our medicine, it doesn’t matter. If you treat the organ imbalance, the emotions will tag along on the trail to recovery. And when you treat the emotions, the organ benefits as well.
Anyone who has loved and lived with an animal has experienced having their animal friend become suddenly ill when they (the person) traveled. Sometimes it happens just before the trip, sometimes during the trip. Pet sitters find it all too common. It could be coincidence, but is likely due to the emotional stress of being left behind. And it seems to me that our animals, not having control over their own comings and goings, just might assume that we have no such control over ours, and fear that we might be kept away forever through no fault of our own.
Anyone who has worked with rescue animals will tell you that they seem to experience something like depression at times. The San Francisco SPCA even has a policy of putting a dog or cat into a foster home for a few weeks if they have been too long in the adoption center, in order to mitigate “shelter fatigue” (i.e., depression).
I have treated animals who developed life-threatening disorders just after losing a very dear friend, sometimes an animal friend, sometimes a human friend. I am currently treating a beautiful and sweet female radgoll cat who developed liver disease shortly after the sudden death of her male companion cat. Her family saw her as clearly depressed after this untimely death of her friend. In Oriental medicine, frustration is an emotion associated with the liver, and her frustration at being suddenly without his friendship and companionship is seen as a critical part of the etiology of her liver disease. I have used acupuncture points and herbs that treat her spirit as well as heal the liver, and the love and attention of her family have done the rest. She is doing very well now, is engaged with her family again, plays with them and has taken the new kitten under her wing and is growing into a wise leader-cat.
4. Do you have any pets of your own? What holistic practices have you incorporated into your daily care routine with them?
I have cats at home. My dog finally “crossed the rainbow bridge” a year ago at approximately 16 years of age. Everyone in my household gets holistic care. High-quality balanced diets are a critical part of that care, and we all get a wide variety of foods. Acupuncture is used both for preventive health care and for those who need it and will tolerate it. And everyone gets herbs and supplements now and then as the need arises. I believe that food, exercise and love are the very best medicines for all species.
All of my companion animals are rescue animals, most came to me as adults. So selling acupuncture to them has not been easy. One still utterly and “hissily” refuses. Of course, she doesn’t even believe in annual wellness exams, but she does compromise on this.
Two of them are poster children for the merits of integrative medicine. One, Nina, was diagnosed with lymphoma in the large intestines and kidneys about a year ago. She had surgery and about 8 months of chemotherapy as well as regular acupuncture and herbal therapy. She still gets regular acupuncture and daily herbs. Her last ultrasound revealed no cancer. The continuing acupuncture and herbal therapy is targeted to keeping her balanced so that her body can keep any microcosms of cancer cells in check.
Another, Snowball, had crystals obstructing his urinary tract about a year ago, and this was quickly followed by an idiopathic chylothorax. A chylothorax is the leaking of lymph fluid from the thoracic (chest) lymph duct. The fluid fills the chest until there is insufficient room for the lungs to fill with air, and the patient is left gasping for breath, breathing with an open mouth, which is never normal in a cat. The most common reason for this condition is a mass in the chest or cancer of some sort. Snowball had neither. We still do not know why this happened in his case. Because his condition was quite acute – life-threatening – the thoracic duct was surgically repaired. Unfortunately it began leaking again, shortly after surgery. What finally worked for Snowball was a combination of drugs (prednisone) and herbs. We had to tap the fluid off his chest a couple of times, but slowly the leak stopped and his strength and energy returned. I gradually decreased the prednisone, and now he is doing very well on just herbs, acupuncture and good food. His latest ultrasound found no fluids in the chest.
5. Do you have any free time? If so, what do you enjoy doing away from your practices?
I write articles for professional journals. My latest one is about using integrated medicine to treat MRSA, the penicillin-resistant staph infections, and was published in the winter. I am working now on an article on the prevalence of use of veterinary acupuncture. I will present data on this study at the North American Research Conference on Integrative Medicine in May, and hope to publish the article in the summer or fall.
My “playtime” is filled with hiking, gardening, music and time spent with friends and family, both two-legged and four-legged. And I plan to start bicycling again this spring.