Hunter is a neutered, five-year old male Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He lives with two adults and two other Corgis. I met him after discussing his case with his mother on the phone. She had called looking for an evaluation to see if he was painful. Hunter had become grumpy over the past few months and he had nipped at a few people. His eating habits had also changed.
He had recently been examined by his primary care vet and no problems had been found. A full set of blood tests were also normal. The owner was concerned about his behavioral changes and wanted to be sure she wasn’t missing a painful condition.
Pain comes in many forms. There is bone pain, joint pain, nerve associated pain. Pain from surgery, pain from arthritis. Detecting pain in pets can be very challenging. Hunter had nipped at the staff of his primary care when they were drawing blood. While drawing blood isn’t painful, it can be stressful. It can also be uncomfortable for a pet to have blood drawn if they have a painful elbow or hip joint and have to be in certain positions. I try to keep my mind open to these when I do my evaluations.
Hunter came in and was immediately anxious. Panting, pacing and looking all around the room. He also stuck close to his mom. New hospitals can be stressful for any pet and taking the time to make a good first impression is key. I let Hunter wander around the exam room for about 15 minutes while I went through his history and asked mom questions about him.
For many appointments, I do not wear a white doctors coat. It can be intimidating to some patients, and there is a study that showed it can elevate the pressure within the eyes of patients with glaucoma. In human medicine, some people have elevated heart rates, blood pressure and stress levels from just seeing the doctors white coat. For Hunter, I wanted to minimize his stress. I also sat down and kept my voice soft. Being over six feet tall, male and deep voiced has its drawbacks to some patients.
After letting Hunter check me out and feeding him some treats, I was able to examine him. He let me check out every body part, move his neck, legs, and check all of his organ systems. Never once did he growl or snap. I did my exam on the floor so that he could step away if he got too stressed. I found no obvious sources of pain, atrophy or other complications.
Without a source of physical pain evident, I chatted with mom about other options. A consult with a veterinary behaviorist would be tremendously helpful. They have special training in animal behavior and treating it. Often times we can use Xanax or Prozac to help pets work through their problems.
While the owner agreed with the behavior consult she was not a huge fan of using anti-anxiety meds with him. Changing gears, I started to ask her my common background questions for Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). I found that Hunter had once been a confident, friendly and outgoing dog, but parts of his environment had changed lately.
The owners work schedule had changed, two new dogs had come into the house and the owners had been arguing at home. Hunter had been with his mom before the other two dogs and her husband had come into the picture. That is a lot of change.
In TCVM your mind is your Shen. Anxiety is a Shen disturbance. This emotional pain Hunter was carrying around was my suspicion for his behavioral changes. I discussed trying acupuncture and herbal therapy to help with this. I could not guarantee results nor would it be the whole solution, but I felt it would allow Hunter to minimize some of his stress or at least manage it better. I did three acupoints that day as his first treatment and waited to hear back from the owner.
Hunter had a consult with a veterinary behaviorist who diagnosed conflict aggression. She discussed pharmaceutical therapy as well as modifying how the owners introduced Hunter to certain situations and how to react when he was aggressive. The owner took a combination approach and did the exercises and re-training the behaviorist recommended along with acupuncture and herbal therapy.
After one acupuncture treatment, the owner said she had seen a change in him. This often doesn’t happen, but can in some cases.
I saw Hunter once a week over the next six weeks, each time making it a low stress, positive experience. He was my last appointment of the day on Saturdays so there were not many patients around for him to be stressed about. Each week he became easier and easier to treat. Initially he was timid about his needles but we worked slowly with that.
Acupuncture works on a cumulative effect and, over the course of the month, Hunter’s personality changed. He would now come in wagging his tail and jumping up to greet me. He enjoys his treatments and we are trying to see him less often.
The owners have made great strides at home minimizing the stress triggers for him. Taking the time to set the right environment at home and at the hospital helped this case succeed.
As I said before, pain can be very hard to identify in pets. The dog that holds its leg off the ground with a torn ACL is obvious. The subtle changes that arise from stress and emotional pain can be easily overlooked. But with a calm eye and heart, these troubles can be seen and alleviated.