Anxiety is a common disorder seen in practice that has serious implications for the human-animal bond. One of the leading reasons that dogs and cats are relinquished to shelters is due to behavioral issues including destructive behaviors. It is important to use the integrative approach to strive to salvage the human-animal bond and improve the quality of life of the affected pets.
In general, anxious dogs exhibit the following symptoms; Visual body signals like a tucked tail, self-licking and biting, diarrhea, escape behavior, hiding, reduced activity, trembling, and nervousness.
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) classifies anxiety as a Shen disturbance. Shen could be translated as Mind or Spirit and this energy resides in the Heart meridian(energy pathway) and is considered part of our consciousness. In Traditional Chinese medicine for humans, Shen disturbance is generally due to Qi and blood deficiency, emotional trauma, and fire in the Liver meridian. The TCVM approach to diagnosing anxiety includes a good physical exam and palpation of special points in the spine. In addition, taking a good history and asking the time of day where symptoms seem worse helps in finding which meridian is affected. The physical signs we often find include a thin, fast pulse, a red, dry tongue, restlessness or nervousness, and insomnia. For example, a dog that starts restlessness after dark could be suffering from global Yin deficiency because the night belongs to Yin whereas the day belongs to the Yang energy. A dog that consistently wakes its owner between 1 am to 3 am could be manifesting Liver Qi stagnation because those hours are where the Liver meridian energy dominates.The constitution of the patient is a big clue as to the root of anxiety. The Water (shy), Wood (dominant), and Fire(friendly and hyper) constitutions are at high risk of developing Shen disturbances when unbalanced.
The best way to demonstrate the positive effect of acupuncture is to share a recent case. Medes is a 5 years old neutered domestic shorthaired cat that came to visit us due to excessive grooming on his belly to the point of self-mutilation! he was also hiding, and being distant for about 3 months. There were outdoor strays coming outside to the house and also a new kitten in the household which caused a lot of stress and perceived fears. His physical exam was unremarkable except for the eosinophilic granuloma and alopecia on his ventral abdomen.
Medes is an affectionate vocal cat which in TCVM is considered a trait of a Fire element personality. His tongue was red and thin, his ears were hot and his left pulse was weaker. A diagnosis of Heart Yin Deficiency with Shen disturbance and Liver Qi stagnation was made. Balance Acupuncture was done using vitamin B 12 subcutaneous injections. The Chinese herbal formula Shen calmer powder was prescribed, 1 small scoop in the food once daily. After just one session Medes was doing great and quit self-mutilating. The owner was impressed, and Medes was enjoying interacting with the family, even with the little kitten.
Over the last years I’ve been extremely proud to be part of twhe teaching family at the Chi institutes in Fl and Costa Rica. I have been able to influence hundreds of students through my instruction of basic and advanced acupuncture as well as my lectures. I recently was asked to be a test instructor and I realized I was heavily invested in the outcome of my students tests. It felt as if with each one of them that passed the practical test it validated the time and effort I dedicated in the teaching of those points. I got to say that although being a teacher was not something I thought I could do, I discovered that it’s something I really enjoy doing!
I was honored And humbled to be named Veterinarian of the Year by the Florida Veterinary Medical association. I love living my passion of healing animals and being part of this compassionate profession.
I recently became certified in Fear Free level 2 training and I did it because I want every patient to feel welcomed at my practice. What is this Fear Free certification about?
A visit to the veterinarian should not be a stressful time for your pet. Stress can decrease the immune response, cause unnecessary traumas and affect future behavior of dogs and cats. There is a new initiative of many veterinarians to create a stress free environment at their hospitals. This is a voluntary animal behavior education and training culminating in a Fear Free Certification.
The advantage of having Fear free certified doctors and technicians is that the pets are able to have a pleasant experience while they get treated. It is safer to treat a happy, calmed animal than it is to treat an anxious, stressed and petrified one. The scared pets are in a defensive frame of mind that can result in injury to them, their owners and the veterinary personnel. We all want pets to have good associations with the vet’s office and we might use some classical behavioral training techniques like desensitization, classic conditioning and counter conditioning.
The main principles of a Fear free visit include a considerate approach, gentle technique and a touch gradient. That means nobody should ever jump on your dog, put a muzzle and then use a harsh restraint. The pet should have a chance to acclimate to the office, the scents and the people they meet. The doctors should use an array of tools to make the visit a pleasant one. Starting with the environment, the office should be clean, not noisy, and soothing scents like lavender or species specific pheromones should be employed. Using treats is essential to asses the level of anxiety, to distract from less pleasant procedures and to offer a positive association for your pet. Sometimes, the Fear free certified doctor will either postpone a treatment or utilize sedation to perform it. The decision of using sedation is for the benefit of your pet because the level of stress and anxiety is too high, or the expected procedure might be too scary or painful in an already petrified animal.
What are the signs of Fear,Anxiety and Stress (FAS)?
In cats obvious behaviors that indicated FAS include hissing and growling but less obvious sigs include dilated pupils, ears to the back,tail flicking, hiding and crouching. Sometimes the cats will “freeze” and the owners think the cats is calmed but in reality he is so scared that he has enter a state of helplessness. In dogs the obvious sigs of FAS are barking, backing away, growling and snarling but less obvious signs may include yawning, panting, fidgeting and refusing treats.
How can you help decrease the FAS before you take your pet to the vet?
Sometimes giving an over the counter calming treat or nutraceutical can help. walking/exercising your dog prior to the appointment can also help. For cats something as simple as spraying the carrier with a calming pheromone and putting a towel over it to decrease the sensory input can make a big difference. There are other ways that owners can work with their Fear free certified veterinarians in order to make the visit a pleasurable or at lest non intimidating experience, just ask them.