Have you wondered how a holistic veterinarian treats a dog with IVDD or DM? Do you think the care would be different than a veterinarian trained in Western medicine?
It is a question I’ve been curious about for a long time. Years ago, when my German shepherd, Bear, developed cancer I incorporated Chinese veterinary medicine with the chemotherapy he received from a veterinary oncologist. The holistic veterinarian prescribed an herbal blend to stop a problem my dog was having with internal bleeding. The treatment worked and Bear improved for a while. I believe it gave my dog four extra months with our family.
Not long ago, I interviewed the well-known holistic veterinarian who founded Herbsmith, Inc. about how she manages the care of dogs with two of the most common spine and neurologic conditions. I asked Dr. Chris Bessent about her holistic approach to treating dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and Degenerative Myelopathy (DM).
She has treated hundreds of dogs with IVDD and DM during her 30 years as a veterinarian in Southwestern Wisconsin. She says these dogs are some of her most successful patients. Dr. Bessent answered my questions about the benefits of herbs, supplements and alternative therapies. She also explained how Chinese medicine interprets each of the conditions.
This story originally posted in 2017, but I think the information is important enough to share again in these updated details.
The interview is below, but first here is a brief definition of IVDD and DM. These are two of the leading causes of paralysis in dogs.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column bulge, rupture (herniate) or prematurely dry out.
Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. It causes the protective outer coating of myelin on the spine deteriorate. When the myelin is gone it stops the communication between the brain and spine. Dogs become paralyzed, incontinent and ultimately die from the disease.
My interview with Chris Bessent, DVM, MSOM, Diplomat of Oriental Medicine
Dr. Bessent, how do you manage the care of dogs with IVDD?
“Chinese medicine describes IVDD dogs as being hot, inflamed and obstructed,” said Dr. Bessent. “When a disc in the spine has ruptured or is bulging it stops the movement of blood in that area. Traditional Chinese medicine says that it stops the Qi (chi). My job is to get the blood and Qi moving again.”
When a dog first comes to see Dr. Bessent for an IVDD incident, she uses a combination of Chinese herbs and Western pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. The Western medications are prescribed for a short period of time while the dog is in crisis. Dr. Bessent said steroids like prednisone can have a negative effect on a dog’s liver so she uses them for the shortest time possible.
Her goal is to switch the dog to herbs and acupuncture for ongoing treatment. She prescribes herbs like Frankincense and Myrrh as the primary course of action. Each are given twice a day.
Sometimes Dr. Bessent’s patients need surgery for a ruptured disc. She uses herbs in conjunction with Western pharmaceuticals to help them recover and ease their pain.
Dr. Bessent explained that if a dog has deep pain sensations or partial feelings in their limbs, she prescribes herbs and acupuncture. She talked about dogs brought to her office on a gurney because they were unable to walk, but if there was feeling their limbs, she was able to get them back to whole.
When a dog has no feeling in their hind limbs, Dr. Bessent believes they are a candidate for surgery. Then she is able to follow up with holistic care.
Are there holistic treatments you recommend to prevent IVDD?
Dr. Bessent believes strongly that prevention is the best practice for Dachshunds and other breeds prone to IVDD.
“Every Doxie puppy should get a referral to a veterinary chiropractor and make it a lifelong habit of care. I recommend that my patients come in every 6 months for a treatment.”
“Discs don’t rupture overnight. Chiropractic care and good nutrition will minimize disc issues. With preventive care, dogs like Dachshunds can have good spinal health.”
Dr. Bessent also recommends that owners have their dog examined when they first notice any sign of pain. The earlier treatment is given, the better the outcome. She suggests that dogs exhibiting the early signs of IVDD see a holistic veterinarian immediately for a combination of chiropractic care, acupuncture and herbs.
What type of holistic care do you prescribe for dogs with DM?
“In traditional Chinese medicine dogs with DM are considered to have Wei (atrophy) syndrome,” said Dr. Bessent. “By definition, this is a group of disorders that cause the gradual decline of strength and loss of muscle mass in different parts of the body. For dogs, this tends to be in the hind end. DM is treated quite differently than IVDD.”
Wei syndrome is treated with herbs that tone and build the level of Qi in the body. Chinese medicine says that Qi builds strength. One of the best ways to build that strength is with acupuncture and electro-acupuncture. Dr. Bessent prefers electro-acupuncture because the needles send a warm wave of electricity to a dog’s spine. This stimulates the nerves in the hind legs.
Dr. Bessent recommends seeing a holistic veterinarian as soon as a dog shows signs of DM such as hind end weakness or dragging a paw. Patients do better when treatment is administered early and dogs are still able to walk.
According to holistic and traditional Chinese medicine, dogs with DM need to tone their muscles and keep their blood moving. A great way to support this is with consistent, moderate exercise like swimming (hydrotherapy) and short walks.
She also prescribes omega-3 oil made from Krill. Omega-3 oil nourishes spinal cord tissues and when the source comes from little fish like Krill, it is less likely to have toxins or heavy metals.
Dr. Bessent suggests that dog breeds prone to DM use herbs their entire life. These breeds include: German shepherds, Boxers, Golden retrievers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Dalmatians, Weimaraner, Great Pyrenees and more.
When dogs come to see Dr. Bessent with a confirmed diagnosis of DM, she likes to use a prescription strength herbal blend called Morinda Hindend Support. The blend is helpful for toning and strengthening the hind limbs.
Are there supplements you recommend for healthy dogs?
Dr. Bessent believes strongly that all dogs should be on a daily regimen of a probiotic, prebiotic, omega-3 and glucosamine. She recommends a pre/probiotic that includes at least 10 billion colony forming units. Dogs need these good bacteria because commercial food can be sterile and upset a dog’s gut.
Wrapping it up
Dr. Bessent explained that some of her most successful cases have been dogs with paralysis. She said she has lost track of the number, but there have been many patients who have gone on to live healthy, vibrant lives. Dogs with IVDD and DM respond well to Chinese and holistic medicine. She offers hope and a bright future to dogs and their families.