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The Tardy Blogger: In Which Dr. Salewski Relates His Latest Goings On

I know, I know. Seems like I fell off the edge of the world, it's been so long between entries. But I have an excuse, I swear.

Winter is supposed to be the slow time for vets, especially those of us who work on a lot of horses, but, amazingly enough time has been at a premium in early 2011. Daniel, my oldest, played basketball for his school (and was nicknamed "Bullet" by the coaches). My youngest, Colin, had a birthday in February, which not only involved a trip to the
Oregon Coast Aquarium, it was the perfect excuse for Lynne to make the best Devil's Food Cake on the planet (the secret ingredient is beets). And of course, tax season approaches. So what?, you might say. I have children, I have work to do, I have taxes to work on and my only pleasure in life is reading Written In Hindsight. To which I reply: well, really, shouldn't you be getting out more? Regardless, I was able to get back to it this week and will use the time to catch y'all up on some of the recent highlights here at the practice.

A Trip to UC-Davis

This happened last week, but obviously took some time to prepare for. A few months ago I was asked to be one of the speakers at the UCD Veterinary College annual Holistic Veterinary Symposium, which is open to both veterinary professionals and the public. I had a Powerpoint (well, a Keynote, the vastly superior Mac version) entitled Performance: Strategies for Animal Athletes, which I had given before and thought might be appropriate. Had aspirations of posting the presentation here, but it's a two-hour talk, and thought a summary of the main points might work better.

The idea behind this lecture is to define "performance" and follow up with discussion on various holistic/complementary modalities as they apply to this definition. In the dictionary, performance, at least in the context of this talk, is defined as "an action, task, or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed". Of course, success is going to be seen differently by different people. It might mean a blue ribbon to some, or getting through a course without penalty to others. Heck, it might be as simple as staying in the saddle for the whole ride. Point is, in my opinion there are three main factors influencing performance: movement, pain, and behavior. (Wonder if I can trademark something like The Performance Triumvirate? Hmmm, have to file that under Pretentious Ideas I'll Never Work On)

The lecture goes on to discuss therapies. Under movement, chiropractic, bodywork, and rehabilitative/physical therapies are put forth as the best option to optimize movement. Chiropractic frees up movement in the joints of the spine; massage releases restrictions in soft tissue; Physical therapy restores range of motion, neurologic health, and condition; especially following injury or surgery.

In animals with pain, all those above therapies can be utilized, but so can traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and homeopathy. TCVM holds that blockage of the channels, or meridians, is the mechanism that leads to pain. This blockage can be removed, most famously by acupuncture, but also with herbal formulas and tui-na, a type of Chinese massage. Homeopathy takes a different approach, using the energetics of very dilute remedies to allow the body to heal itself.

Behavior, in particular fear and aggression, are not generally treated effectively with the manipulative therapies. Acupuncture and homeopathy can have a place in altering behavior, but the botanicals really shine in this area. This includes Chinese herbal formulas, which work to balance the
Shen, or spirit; Bach flower remedies that dispel negative emotional states and aromatherapy, which affects the brain via the limbic system. Of course other herbal systems like Ayurvedic medicine and the North American herbs offer plant-sourced behavioral modification, like ashwagandha or valerian root.

Th essence of this talk was to give the attendees a different perspective on performance; looking at how what might be considered minor issues--a little stiffness here, a little anxiety there, can mean the difference between being in or out of the ribbons. An animal may still be able to go in the ring and do the job, but by having a good game plan we can optimize the chance of success.

Fingers To The Bone

More than a few people have been asking about my writing lately; and not just scolding about the dearth of blog entries. Mostly it's been about the sequel to my last novel, Barn Politics, and when that might be finished. Well, I'm happy to report that I've been getting a lot of writing done recently. Unfortunately, this has not taken the form of fiction writing. Jordan Pascoe and his latest adventure will take a back seat and remain in outline form for the time being.

The last few months
Dr. Signe Beebe and I have put the finishing touches on Veterinary Applications of Chinese Herbal Formulas, a comprehensive textbook on the topic that has taken years to put together. We expect this work to be published within the next few months. That sounds like plenty of free time for fiction, eh? Well, about the time Veterinary Applications was nearing completion I was approached by a British publisher about putting an equine chiropractic book together. This, as many of you know, is a subject dear to my heart. I'm being given a very lose rein (rimshot please) for this project, meaning it will be geared more toward horse-people than veterinarians and I'll be able to write in my casual smart-ass style. The other good thing is a tight deadline, meaning I should be able to get back to that sequel by the end of summer.

A Little Audio

Last month Megan Ayrault at All About Animal Massage interviewed me for some online training classes offered on her website. MP3 files of those interviews are below:

Equine Back Pain:

SalewskiEquineBack


Canine Hip issues:

SalewskiDogHips


Hope that's enough to keep everyone entertained for a bit!
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By Request: A Look At The Stifle

The idea for this blog post, late in coming as it is, was given to me by a client who wanted to understand a bit more about her horse's stifle, which has been causing problems on trail rides. A different client had her dog injure a cruciate ligament, so here we are with what will be an overview of the anatomy of the stifle in both horses and dogs, along with the more common problems associated with this joint in each species. Any in-depth discussion on the subject would take up a huge amount of space, so I've provided extensive links for those who might want to do a bit more reading on specific points.

What some people fail to realize is the joint that we call the stifle in four-legged animals is anatomically the same as the human knee. (it doesn't help that equestrians call a joint in the front leg the "knee"-- in reality this joint is the anatomic equivalent of the human wrist). Flexion and extension of this joint is one of the main sources of power for locomotion. Pain, or restriction in motion here can not only cause lameness, but reluctance to jump, turn, go up stairs or steep hills, or even transition from one gait to another.

knee_arthroplasty_anatomy02_bklt

The Human Knee


Here's a drawing of the right knee of a human, as seen from the front. Notice that the quadriceps (your "quads") blend into the patella (kneecap) and continue as the patellar tendon. This is the tendon a doctor thumps with a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. When the quadraceps contract, the knee extends. On the back side of the femur are what we call the biceps femoris (hamstrings), which flex the knee when contracted. The knee joint is the space between your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) and between the patella an femur. Between the femur and tibia are cresent-shaped pads of cartilage called meniscii as well as a couple of ligaments that stabilize the joint (the cruciate ligaments--more on them in a bit). Connecting the bones on the inside of the thigh is the medial collateral ligament, on the outside the lateral collateral ligament. These are the most important structures to think about as we go forward. Find them on yourselves. Get on all fours (hands and feet, not hands and knees) and see how this joint aligns in a dog or horse. Same joint, slightly different lengths of bone and alignment for moving on all fours rather than upright.

dogknee

The Canine Stifle

Look familiar? The same structures are all there, proportionally a bit different, but very recognizable, and the muscle and joint work together in the same fashion.













EquineStifleJoint

The Equine Stifle


Before I get started, this is a
left stifle so things are a mirror-image. See that little bone on the right? That is the fibula--it's in the dog and human image as well--and is on the outside of the leg. This was the best image I found, so hopefully not too confusing. Anyway, again, this should look familiar, but right away there are obvious differences. The end of the femur (colored blue here) is much larger on the inside and there are three patellar ligaments rather than one. This becomes very important in one of the problems we see in the horse: locking stifles. But don't let this confuse you; all those important parts are there: the quadriceps blends into the patella and continues as the patellar ligament(s); femur on top, tibia on bottom; shock absorbing meniscii (in yellow) between. This images shows those collateral ligaments very prominently, bridging the joint on either side.


Common Problems: Canine



Trauma


Canine-knee

Here's another image of the dog stifle with the patellar ligament removed, which makes it much easier to see the cruciate ligaments. The one labeled "cranial cruciate ligament" is often abbreviated CCL. "Cranial" means towards the head, so it is the one in front. In humans we say "anterior" or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), because it is "in front", but not towards the head since we are upright. (Don't you just love anatomists?) Actually, I tend to say ACL in dogs too, because so many of us have either had personal experience or know someone with an ACL tear it makes communicating the problem easier. Anyway, back on track.
CCL tears are probably the most common stifle injury/problem in dogs and is often caused because the femur and tibia align too steeply, (a "straight-legged" conformation) which make hyperextension injury more likely. Once the ligament is torn, the stifle is unstable, and most dogs will either be chronically sore or be lame after exercise. The best solution to this problem is surgery, and the best surgery is one called the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, or TPLO. A TPLO is not lightly undertaken as it involved cutting the tibia and realigning it at a new angle to the femur. It is an expensive procedure, and recovery is long, but I have seen many dogs go back to full athletic activity afterwards.

If the CCL is only strained, or the problem is with a meniscus or collateral ligament, other therapies may be preferable to surgery.
Stem cell injections, where cells are harvested from a dog's abdominal fat, processed, and reinjected into the joint, can be very helpful. Prolotherapy, cold laser, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy can all work to decrease inflammation and speed healing. For pain management NSAIDs like Rimadyl may also be appropriate, at least in the short term.

Arthritis



Degeneration of the joint, either from age or previous trauma, is also very common and can cause chronic pain, especially in older dogs. Many of the same therapies mentioned above are very helpful. In chronic pain a multi-modal approach generally works best; that is, using a combination of medication (like NSAIDs, opiates like
Tramadol, and/or Adequan, which protects the cartilage) , acupuncture, injection therapy, and physical therapy is the best bet for a good qualtity of life.

Luxating Patellas



This
problem is one most commonly found in small or toy breeds. The joint itself is not anatomically normal, so the kneecap is able to pop in and out of the groove it normally slides in. This causes discomfort and eventually, arthritis. This problem can be corrected surgically, but in my experience only the most severe cases seem to do better than if they had no surgery at all. The most beneficial approach seems to be the same as for chronic pain: use multiple modalities to manage the condition.

Common Problems: Equine



Locking Stifles


Technically called Upward Fixation of the Patella (
UFP), this usually occurs in young animals, especially those who have been very fit, but are then given time off for a while and lose muscle tone. Horses have a "stay apparatus" a mechanism of interacting ligaments that allows horses to sleep standing up, and the patellar ligament is part of this mechanism. Young horse, because they are growing, typically have looser ligaments than adult horses and the inside (medial) patellar ligament can sometimes get caught over the end of the femur. This same thing can occur when young, fit horses are let down and lose strength in the quads. Look at the illustration of the horse stifle above again and you can see that the inside of the femur has a much larger "roller" and that the ligament branches right above it. Usually, this issue can be corrected with exercise; that is condition the horse so that the quadriceps become stronger and tighten up the ligaments of the kneecap. Sometimes, the problem is severe enough and occurring frequently enough that a horse is not able to be conditioned appropriately. In these cases the medial patellar ligament is "blistered", injected with an irritant that causes inflammation, scarring and tightening of the ligament which will then allow conditioning to resume. Back in the old days, when I was in vet school, we used to grab for a scalpel first thing, and the most common treatment was to cut the medial patellar ligament completely. Of course, the law of unintended consequences reared it's head, and studies have shown that upwards of 20% of horses undergoing this procedure will fracture their patella at a later date. Understandably, this procedure is now reserved for only the most serious cases.

2009_05_vet_03

Osteochondritis Dissicans (OCD)


OCD is another very common disease of the equine stifle. This is a developmental disease, where the cartilage of the joint malforms in a growing animal, leading to pothole-like defects on the joint surface, bone chips, swelling and pain of the joint and eventual arthritis. The best treatment usually involves arthroscopic surgery to remove any chips and smooth out defects on the joint surface. The result is not a perfect joint, but most animals do very well after surgery.

Trauma



Like the dog, trauma is another significant problem in the equine stifle. Strains of the collateral ligaments and tears in the meniscus are fairly common. Fortunately CCL tears are not; the size and mechainics involved in stabilizing the horse stifle mean that a horse with a full CCL tear will likely never be fully sound again. Treatment is very similar to dogs, with rest, anti-inflammatory, and physical therapy being the best bet for recovery.

Arthritis



Degenerative joint disease in the horse is also very common, and like the dog can result from normal wear and tear, as well as develop after an injury or as a result of OCD. Because of their size and relative ease of the procedure, direct injection into the joint is much more common in horses than dogs. Steroids, hyaluranic acid, stem cell, and platelet rich plasma (
PRP) are all commonly done, and quite effective for arthritis. Like with dogs, a multi-modal approach is often best and combining injections with systemic meds like Legend, Adequan, NSAIDs, and acupuncture can be very valuable in keeping horses performing comfortably.

The stifle is a very important joint in both humans and animals. The ability to flex and extend the joint without pain or restriction is vital to speed, power and agility. This look at the function and treatment of the stifle is by no means comprehensive, but if you do have an animal with joint problems it will hopefully give you a nice place to start.
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The Big C

Cancer sucks. I've procrastinated writing this entry because it's a very personal subject, as I'm sure it will be to many readers. My grandmother died at a very young age from colon cancer. I lost a dog to liver cancer a few short years ago, and of course have lost many wonderful patients to cancer over my career. But it's an important subject, and I felt it would be good to blog about since it affects so many people and animals, so here goes:

Theory

Traditional Chinese medicine looks at cancer in an interesting way. In a healthy body, qi and blood circulate through the meridians and imbue movement, nourishment, strength, and vitality to an animal. (For more on Chinese theory, please see the articles in the Services section on
acupuncture and herbal medicine) Cancer begins with the accummulaion of an abnormal substance roughly translated as "phlegm" in English. Phlegm can be thought of as energetic fly-paper: sticky, goopy stuff that accumulates within the body and interrupts normal function. It can be carried through the body, lodge in a meridian and block the flow of energy, causing heart attacks and strokes, or it can act in a more subtle way. As qi and blood course through the body they can be grabbed by phlegm, like fly-paper or a spiderweb ensnares a passing fly. As qi and blood continue pass by more of these energies are trapped and accumulate, eventually tangling together. I envision it like a snarled fishing line; the more line you feed it, the bigger it gets. (Yes, I am the King of Simile). This tangle grows until we appreciate it as a mass, and just like fishing line is a bear to undo once started.

So what creates this phlegm in the first place? If I knew the answer to that in every case, the rest would be easy. Certainly things that damage normal function, like toxins and viruses, are culprits. Aging animals also create phlegm as the body becomes less efficient and waste products build up. Food plays a big role. We know that certain foods are likely to produce more phlegm in the body than others. In carnivores like dogs and cats high carbohydrate loads, commonly found in processed kibble and grains are factors that lead to phlegm. Dairy is another. Herbivores are another matter, they have a higher tolerance for grains and carbohydrates, though excessive sugars like molasses can lead to problems in them as well. Perhaps a better way to look at food is that the feeding of a
species-inappropriate diet leads to phlegm accumulation. With this perspective, maybe we can look at high cancer rates in dogs and cats as opposed to the relatively low occurence in horses as being correlated to the types of food we put into their bodies. Which species is being fed closer to their optimal evolutionary diet? Dogs? Hardly. How often would a wild canine come across, and eat, any grains? Horses, especially those being fed high levels of hay and grass and little grain at least approximate a wild equine diet. And yet, there are dogs out there (I know, I see them all the time) fed fantastic raw food or home-cooked diets and still get cancer. Why?

Part of the answer lies in an individual's constitution, or genetics, to put a more modern spin on it. Hang around dogs long enough, you'll find certain breeds have a much higher predilection for cancer: Golden Retrievers and Boxers are two that come to mind. One thing that most of the individuals of these breeds have in common would be their constitution, as defined in Chinese medicine. We consider these animals a Fire constitution, and they are characterized by their exuberent friendliness, energy, and overall joyful and happy personalities.

With Fire we think of heat, and indeed, these breeds are prone to many other diseases with heat at their core: allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and ear infections, to name a few. Chronic heat may also lead to cancer. Think of it this way: if you want to reduce a sauce to something thicker, you leave the pan on the heat for longer, right? Phlegm can manifest in the same fashion: heat, over time, thickens normal fluids in the body until they become a more dense, stickier substance which eventually transforms into phlegm, which in turn has potential to start the cancer-tangle. Of course, not every Fire individual will get cancer, but in some individuals, this constitution is so strong that they may overcome one type of cancer only to succumb to a wholly different tumor down the road.

Treatment

The first bit of advice I give to people who have an animal with cancer is
"Get Ye to an oncologist". This is not to say that I have nothing to offer, simply that in most cases Western medicine has a better answer, and when time is of the essence better is, well, better. Chemotherapy, radiation, and even surgery offer faster and more aggressive treatments, an approach more likely to garner results in the short term. There has been great advancement in veterinary oncology in the last couple of decades, to the great benefit of patients. The down side to these therapies is that they can be expensive, they may not gain as much additional time as we would like, and they sometimes result in side effects that make you wonder if the time gained is of worthwhile quality. So where does Chinese medicine fit in?

Personally, I like the integrative approach. Now "integrative" may be the latest catch phrase, along with complimentary, comprehensive, and mixed medicine; all ways of saying "let's throw everything at this case and hope something sticks." Actually, that's not as bad as it sounds, because often something
does stick, leading both oncologists and alternative practitioners to claim credit, in spite of all that other nonsense that was tried. When chemo, radiation, or surgery is opted for I'm more than happy to sit on the bench and use herbs to treat side effects like nausea, diarrhea, or loss of energy. Herbs can treat the anemia that results from many chemotherapy regimens or help with healing and pain relief after surgery. Once patients are through their primary treatment, additional herbs can be used for fighting cancer and keeping it in remission.

What if an animal is too fragile for aggressive treatment, or the treatment is too expensive, or a patient has severe enough side effects that treatment needs to be discontinued? Well, in these cases herbs can be used alone. This is done in a stepwise approach. First we spend time, sometimes weeks, using herbs that "untangle" blood and qi, get phlegm out of the body, and break down the mass. This might include herbs like
San Qi (pseudoginseng), Tian Nan Xing (arisaema), Qing Dai (indigo), or Hong Hua (safflower). After a time, the herb mixture is changed to do less untangling and more breaking; this is when tumors might actually shrink. It is also the time when acupuncture might come into the mix. There are different views on using acupuncture to treating cancer patients. My own is that it should be avoided in the initial stages of treatment, because acupuncture can strongly move qi and blood, and if the tangle is tight there is a good chance of feeding into the tumor and accelerating the disease. In my mind, once a formula has changed to focus more on breaking down a mass, then acupuncture is more appropriate. Herbs used to fight cancer are strong, and can cause side effects similar to chemotherapy, though not usually as severe, so delicate patients are less likely to be at risk of harm.

There are, of course, cases that are impossible to cure, or even slow the progress of, the disease. In these patients, herbs are chosen to help make whatever time is left as comfortable as possible. A real-life example is a dog I saw about ten years ago, an older German Shepherd riddled with lung cancer. Now, as is often the case, this dog showed no outward sign of being ill until he had only a few weeks to live. All of a sudden he was lethargic, anorexic, and generally miserable. His owners were a bit shell-shocked and not ready to say goodbye. We came up with a mixture of herbs that perked him up, allowing him to resume the nightly walks he so enjoyed, and got his appetite back on track. He didn't live but another two weeks, but in that time he was happy, and it allowed his family to come to grips with his passing and spoil him rotten in the meantime, and it allowed this dog to enjoy himself for a while longer. It felt really good to be able to do this for both the dog and his people.

Yes, cancer sucks, and there is no magic in Chinese medicine, just as there is no magic in Western medicine. We do what we can, hope for the best, and pray that in the end we did right by our patients.

In Memory Of Barclay

barclay face002






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Healthy Muscle, Happy Horse

Equine-Musc-web
("Equine Muscle Structure" courtesy of BH Visual Art, target="blank" >www.bhvisualart.com

Recently I have been inundated with requests to consult on cases involving equine muscles: tying up, strains, EPSM (Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy), and other primary muscle conditions. This is likely due to a number of reasons: the show season is coming to an end, miles are adding up and aches and injury are following; snow is finally clearing out of the high mountain regions and allowing horses to be taken on longer and steeper rides; and the summer heat is leading to overexertion and dehydration. Of course, muscles are important for every horse, whether for competition or just getting up that next hill in the North Cascades, and keeping those muscles as healthy as possible should be every horse owner’s goal. Like many things, prevention is a much better option than treating an emergency, so rather than discuss an individual muscle disease it makes more sense to look at what can be done to optimize muscle health.


Diet

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Muscles get their energy by synthesizing ATP from ADP (don’t you wish you had stayed awake in biochemistry now?). One way to do this is called glycolysis, which uses the glygogen stored in muscle. The byproduct of this pathway is lactic acid, responsible for the “burn” we feel while working out. Another process oxidizes fat and results in the byproducts of carbon dioxide and water. Endurance horses become very efficient at using this cycle. The bottom line is that if horses have too much energy stored in the form of glycogen, and are exercised, it can result in a cascade of events that result in severe cramps, impaired blood supply to the muscles, permanent tissue damage and in some cases, severe kidney problems. Some animals are genetically predisposed to these events and have to be fed very carefully, to avoid them. Feeding concentrates (grain) in large amounts, or choosing feeds with high sugar concentrations can worsen the condition in predisposed horses, or set up less than ideal muscle function in horse that aren’t. Diets higher in fat and lower in carbohydrate can help minimize and possibly eliminate the problem in some cases, but this method of feeding is probably optimal for muscle function in all horses. This means feeding carbohydrate at less than 15% of the total weight of a diet and fat at more than 10% (in tough cases even lower carb and higher fat percentages are recommended). There are commercial feeds like Re-Leve, SafeChoice or Strategy that provide these proportions in a complete feed, but these goals can also be achieved by adding high levels of rice bran or corn oil to other diets. In any case, it’s a good place to start.

Supplements

Even with a good diet, and in animals that don’t have a specific muscle dysfunction, there are supplements that can improve muscle health and help with performance.

Selenium is a trace element important for muscle and thyroid function, two tissues vital for performance. Though not a common deficiency because selenium is often added to salt blocks and commercial feeds, horses with recurring muscle problems should have selenium levels checked. This is especially important information to know before arbitrarily starting a selenium supplement, because high levels can be toxic.

Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant that can scavenge free-radicals and decrease muscle damage from exercise--microscopic tears that result in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Supplementation reduces the sore-muscle grumpiness of horses and helps that Monday morning ache of weekend-warrior trail horses. Most horses can get by on 1000-2000 IU per day, though horses with specific diseases and those in intense exercise can be given double this amount with no problem.

CoQ10 makes Vitamin E more available and improves its efficiency, so CoQ10 at 100mg per day in conjunction with Vitamin E should be considered for any horse in training.

Herbs

The Chinese have a unique view of muscles and performance. Exercise depletes the essential energies of the body (qi and blood) and if not replaced can lead to atrophy, cramps, and weakness that may lead to injury. There are many herbs that replace these energies. Take for example the formula
Ba Zhen Tang, which uses eight herbs to replenish both qi and blood. In it, ginseng, atractylodes, poria mushroom and honey-fried licorice replenish qi while rhemannia, angelica, white peony root, and lovage root tonify blood. Often ginger and Chinese date are also added to help digestion. From a western perspective, this combination of herbs increases red blood cells, relieves muscle spasm, stimulates the immune system, and counters the effects of adrenal stress.

cordyceps
For athletes, additional herbs can be added to modify this classic formula. Two of the most famous are cordyceps (see image), which helps stamina and endurance by increasing oxygen utilization and eleuthero root, which is an adaptogen that helps the body deal with stress and fatigue.

Mares and nervous horses are more prone to cramps, likely due to hormonal changes in mares and tension in nervous horses. If cramping is situational, (a mare in heat, a spooky horse in a new environment) herbs can be given for this as well. Raspberry leaf can effectively mitigate some of the hormonal changes of estrus, and valerian root can help with anxiety. Of course, traditional Chinese formulas made up of multiple herbs to address specific imbalances of an individual are also available to treat such cases.

Horses with chronic muscle disease or damage from an injury are going to need a more aggressive approach, which often means combining a strict diet with supplements, massage, herbal formulas, and acupuncture.

Every horse, pasture ornament or FEI star, has muscles, and with sound nutritional and supplement choices, those muscles can be kept as happy and healthy as possible.
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Is Domestication Inherently Unhealthy?

There was a discussion on a radio program the other day I found fascinating. It involved Darwinian evolution and focused on an experiment begun by Dmitri Belyaev and domesticating silver foxes. This has been written about many times, and is highlighted in Richard Dawkins' excellent book on Darwinian theory, The Greatest Show on Earth. The method of this experiment was simple--all foxes were classified in one of three ways: Class I would flee and/or bite a handler that tried to hand-feed and stroke the animal; Class II would accept the handler but show no positive response; and Class III would approach the handler, wag its tail and show other positive behaviors. Only Class III foxes were bred, and within 6 generations Belyaev had tame animals. The truly remarkable part of this experiment were the unexpected changes that took place (seen in the top image to the right): the silver coat changed to black and white piebald, teeth became smaller, bones less robust, faces became rounder, ears flopped over, tails curled up, and females went into heat every six months rather than on
foxes
ce a year like the typical vixen. In effect, the foxes had become more dog-like and development had stopped at a juvenile phase: Belyaev's foxes had become Peter Pans of the canine world.

What really grabbed my attention was the explanation for why these physical changes are tied to behavior. Domestication experiments in both foxes and Norway rats show that structural changes occur in the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex, the area responsible for glucocorticoid (think prednisone) release--in a larger sense the flight-or-fight response. Makes sense right? If an animal has a weaker flight response it should be easier to domesticate. Where it really gets interesting is when we look at where these cells come from. The adrenals originate from the neural crest in embryonic development. These cells also differentiate into other tissue like craniofacial bone and cartilage (faces and ears), teeth, bone, heart valves, and some neural tissue.

This correlates very closely with Chinese medical theory. Centuries before we had any understanding of embryonic development the Chinese came up with their system. Within this system, six pairs of organs are said to be responsible for all the physiological processes in the body--one of which is the Kidney. This should not be confused with the (small 'k') kidney; the actual organ. The Chinese concept of Kidney includes the bean-shaped organs but also encompasses many other functions not typically associate with the western definition of the kidney. This Chinese Kidney is responsible for many things--
Jing, or Essence being one, which can be thought of as constitutional or genetic health. In addition to urine production, the Kidney also controls aging, bone growth, teeth, hair, and reproductive function. Interesting, huh?

All of this is important to the health of our animals. If, as the research indicates, domestication leads to a weaker adrenal-pituitary axis, might this explain some of the medical problems that seem rampant in our pets? There are the obvious, like dental issues that might arise from smaller teeth, or ear infections in floppy ears. But what of Cushing's or Addison's disease, both directly related to the adrenal/pituitary axis? How about conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and skin allergies? Both are overreactions of the immune system and commonly treated in Western medicine with steroids like dexamethasone and prednisone. What if in normal/wild systems the adrenal cortex pumps out just enough steroid to keep things in check--a feedback loop grown weaker with domestication? This is very much along the line of the research and treatment protocol of
Dr Alfred J Plechner's Endocrine-Imbalance-Syndrome.

Of course, the horse is out of the barn and we aren't going back to tying a wolf up in the back yard or roping a mustang to ride. But it might give owners and breeders a little pause when choosing an animal: maybe a little attitude is preferable to an animal that rolls on its back every time you look at it sideways.

This radio program ended with a discussion on what might be going on with our own species. Our ancestors had larger teeth and thicker bone as well as coarser facial features. Through the centuries, have social groupings like cities and events like war culled the most aggressive humans from our gene pool? Are human adrenals becoming weaker as we become more "domesticated"? If so, then the choices we make in diet, lifestyle, and medical care might be as important for the health of ourselves as that of our pets.
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