Dr. Fallek is a contributing writer for Guideposts

All Creatures Magazine.



by Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.

Does your inner voice sometimes warn you that something just doesn't feel right when you are given a certain diagnosis or recommended a particular treatment by your veterinarian? Are you too afraid or intimidated to speak up?  You are not alone.  The most important lesson we can learn in life is to trust our inner voice. It is never wrong. This lesson is particularly crucial to protect the pet you dearly love.

I have been a veterinarian for almost 30 years, specializing in holistic veterinary medicine for the past 20 years.  The most important lesson that I can teach my clients is to trust their instincts.  We are ultimately responsible for our own well-being and for the dependents that we love.  We should never give complete control of our beloved pet's health to someone just because they have initials after their name.  We need to have faith in our inner voice and common sense, which unfortunately is something that I find is often sorely lacking in the veterinary profession.  You may not have a medical degree, but you do have an internal wisdom, and if you trust it, you will inevitably be better off.  I so often hear the following lament when clients first come to me: "I just felt that something was not right; I should have trusted myself!"

Insecure initially in my profession, with little clinical experience behind me, I constantly asked my bosses which antibiotic was best, and what was the proper drug to administer or procedure to perform.  I wanted to make sure the pet was receiving the best care possible, believing that someone with more years in the field would surely know more than I did.

In holistic practice, however, I often found myself with no 'authority' to turn to, so I was forced to call upon my innate wisdom. It has always served me well.

Very early in my holistic career, I was presented with a case that was startling in its absurdity.  I received a call from the dog rescue group for which I did volunteer work.  They had a corgi mix, Lucas, who they needed to rehabilitate and re-home.  Mark, the volunteer who was fostering Lucas, had already been to three veterinary hospitals before he called me in desperation on that cold winter night in December.

The rescue group had spent a small fortune on this dog, using up much of the reserves they had so industriously labored to raise for the abandoned, orphaned and homeless.  The problem, it seemed, was that Lucas could barely walk.

Mark had brought Lucas initially to his own local veterinarian, who upon seeing the dog's condition immediately took X-rays of his spine.  After examining the X-rays, Veterinarian A proclaimed that Lucas had been hit by a car, which broke his back; the resulting arthritis was so painful that the dog was unable to walk.  This vet prescribed very strong anti-inflammatory drugs for the pain.

The pills did nothing but give Lucas terrible diarrhea.  Mark felt something was amiss, so he stopped the drugs and went to a different hospital for a second opinion.

The second veterinarian, Veterinarian B took more X-rays and declared that the dog's heart was enlarged, indicating heart failure.  He prescribed very powerful cardiac drugs and diuretics.

Lucas became very weak and started vomiting. Feeling again that something was not right, Mark took him off the drugs and decided to confer with a specialist.

The third stop was the best facility in the county.  It was a referral hospital with board- certified veterinarians in every field.  Here, surely, he would finally get the correct diagnosis and proper treatment allowing poor Lucas to walk.  These veterinarians ran hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of tests.  They authoritatively told Mark that Lucas had Cushing's disease.  This they diagnosed from the high level of Alkaline Phosphatase in the dog's blood.  Cushing's disease is caused by a tumor of either the pituitary gland or the adrenal glands.

Lucas was started on chemotherapy, which nearly killed him. Mark's intuition told him that there had to be a better way, and suddenly he remembered me, the holistic veterinarian.

I remember so well that bitterly cold evening when Mark carried Lucas into my office.  He came armed with all the blood work, doctors' notes and X-rays as I had requested.  What a sweet dog Lucas was!  He looked a bit concerned about being on yet another veterinarian's table, but his tail wagged tentatively as he smiled up at me.  He was a strange looking creature.  Mostly Corgi, he had a large long body, very low to the ground, with a big head and ears disproportionate to the rest of the body.  Who knows what else was mixed in there, but the Corgi element was predominant.

The first place I looked was in his mouth.  That is where I always start an examination, as I had been taught in veterinary school.  I was shocked.  Lucas could have been no more than nine months old; he was still a puppy!  I looked into his eyes, his ears, listened to his heart.  The heart sounded ok; no signs of a failing heart in this dog that I could detect.  As I moved my way down his body, I discovered that he had no front legs!  Well, not exactly none; he was like the Thalidomide children.  No arms, just paws attached to the trunk.  Lucas was born with this deformity.  I had never seen this congenital anomaly in a dog before, but there it was!  This was the reason Lucas could not walk.  He had no front legs.

I now examined the X-rays.  There was indeed severe arthritis of the spine, very unusual in such a young dog.  I could only logically conclude that it was due to the pressure put upon the spine by the steep tilt resulting from the lack of proper front limbs.  This poor dog must have been suffering from very early puppyhood.  He exhibited pain all along the spine as I performed a thorough examination of his back, both from a conventional perspective as well as a Traditional Chinese Medical standpoint.

I looked closely for any signs of heart failure.  The heart did appear to be slightly bigger than one would expect for a dog this size, but given it was a Corgi mix, I felt it was totally appropriate for the shape of the rib cage.  These dwarf -type dogs, along with Bassett Hounds and Dachshunds for example, often have a heart-to-chest-size ratio that is disproportionate.

Lastly I turned to the blood tests.  Yes, the Alkaline Phosphatase, an enzyme that can be of either bone or liver origin, was somewhat elevated; but in a young, growing dog this is totally normal and of skeletal origin, not a disease.  In addition, the level was not anywhere near what you would find in an older dog with Cushing's disease, where the liver would be hyper-secreting the enzyme.

I gave Lucas a few acupuncture treatments for the spinal pain.  He responded beautifully and was much more mobile.  His gait was as good as could be expected, given his flipper-like front legs.  A few months later, I met Mark and his wife walking Lucas and their two others dogs in a wooded park. They were so happy with Lucas that they had decided to keep him.

Three different veterinarians, three different diagnoses, none of them correct.  The only other person who had come close to Lucas' true problem was the groomer.  When I had explained to Mark the congenital abnormality, he told me that the groomer had remarked there was something wrong with his legs.  Oftentimes, I find this to be true—the dog groomers are the ones to discover the problems; they are the ones who go over every square inch of the dog's body.  A good physical examination of the dog or cat is crucial for the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of the animal. Too often, veterinarians rely on bloodwork  and other tests rather than using their five senses, their power of observation and good old common sense to figure out the case.

Unfortunately, the story of Lucas is not an isolated example, and I have learned not to take any diagnosis for granted.

Lucas' story has a happy ending primarily because Mark trusted and followed his inner voice.  It persisted in warning him when treatment was not progressing in a positive manner, despite the reassurances of the 'experts.'  He followed his internal guidance and persevered until the best possible outcome materialized.

Note: My intent with this story is not to diss any veterinarian, conventional or otherwise. Most veterinarians work very hard for the well-being of your pet.  We all make mistakes, myself included.  The lesson that I wish to impart is that we need to listen to our inner voice, to honor and trust it.

Disclaimer:  The case histories that I write about are chapters from my upcoming book, and are based on actual animals that I have treated.  The names of some clients and patients have been changed to maintain their privacy.  The facts are written as accurately as possible, based on my medical notes and phone and/or in-person interviews.  Some minor details of setting or other non-medical facts may differ slightly due to lapse of memory after so many years. I apologize in advance for any such errors.

Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.