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In May 2013, my 6 year old retired racing Greyhound was diagnosed with auto-mediated encephalomyelitis most likely caused as a reaction to her recent (mid-April) routine vaccinations. She had severe pain in her neck and paralysis of her back end that was progressing very quickly (she went from weakness, to stumbling to unable to walk within 1-2 days).

After treatment with high doses of prednisone for a month which caused severe muscle wasting followed by a round of chemo, her symptoms finally began to improve. In late July we began rehabilitation to help her gain strength and muscle mass back. Several months after her initial diagnosis she’s probably 90% back to her pre-illness state in terms of movement and control.

She is still currently on low dose of prednisone (15mg, every other day) and our neurologist is recommending to remove her altogether next month.

While we would love for her to be off of this drug altogether, we are very worried about relapse. What can we do to help keep her healthy and reduce the risk of relapse through diet, supplements, essential oils, and other more holistic options?

Dr Jeff FeinmanDear Jennifer-

Wow! I’m so very sorry to hear about your noble girl’s recent encephalitis. As if the difficult past life of a racing Grey wasn’t enough….

It never ceases to amaze me how many serious problems are associated with “routine” vaccines. Just the other day I spoke with an extremely distraught pet owner in Canada with malignant tumors at the vaccine site.

For over thirty years, immune-mediated dis-eases have been linked to vaccinations. In fact, a link to vaccine use has been found whenever it’s investigated. No association is found of course if the researchers don’t look for one.

Vaccine Associated Sarcoma (cancer) in cats is a great example. Before Cornell described this in 1997, it was not diagnosed and vets didn’t worry much about vaccinating. Just the opposite in fact. Annual vaccines were considered to be a harmless and essential part of routine vet care. Now however, this potentially fatal problem is relatively common. So much so that vaccination guidelines continue to be modified. This is a horrible dis-ease but in a way, we should be grateful for it. Research and extreme caution when vaccinating has multiplied since that time.

There is a plenty of research that links neurologic disorders like encephalomyelitis to vaccination. For those readers who don’t know the medical jargon, Jennifer’s dog suffers from a serious inflammation of the membranes lining the brain and spinal cord. This can lead to paralysis, seizures, blindness, mental changes, and even death.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is one well described condition. Many holistically oriented vets have also seen many cases of encephalitis and paralysis after vaccination. Gizmo was one such patient of mine. His paralysis which started two days after his routine booster resolved quickly and fully after homeopathic treatment. This was a simple and beautiful case and wonderful resolution. Unfortunately this is not typically the situation.

Many of my clients choose to only vaccinate their pets for rabies as required by law. This includes breeders with litters of young puppies. Early age vaccination and revaccination can cause many problems, often immune-mediated, throughout life. One of the top veterinary vaccinologists (scientists that study vaccination) only gives his dogs one “routine” vaccine. Ever.

In addition to vaccination, infectious causes such as from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and tick-borne dis-eases can cause encephalomyelitis. Especially in specific environments and areas of the country. Canine distemper and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever infections are two examples. In most dogs however, infectious causes are ruled out. This leaves a “diagnosis” of idiopathic encephalomyelitis (IE).

As in your dog, Jennifer, IE is treated by suppressing the immune system. In fact, a positive response to this treatment helps confirm IE. High dose steroid therapy along with other forms of chemotherapy are commonly used by conventional vets. Yes, steroids are considered a form of chemotherapy and are the most common drug used for treating cancer.

Many, many problems that we see in our beloved dogs are treated in this way. Potentially harmful steroids like prednisone and dexamethasone are commonly used to decrease itch and redness in dogs with allergies and ear problems. Nowadays even stronger immune suppressants and chemotherapeutics like cyclosporine (Atopica) are frequently prescribed for simple allergies. Using these drugs for three to six months is the current “standard of care” in the treatment of IE.

This potent immune suppression explains the effectiveness of these cancer drugs. However, short term clinical improvement is often associated with a longer term reduction of health and longevity. For example, many dogs and even some breeds have a high incidence of allergic disease from immune hypersensitivity. Temporary immune suppression using oral and topical (e.g. in the ears and on hot spots), steroids is common and leads directly to decreased itchiness and redness. Unfortunately, other more serious immune dis-eases like cancer may also be seen. I see this associated with increasing frequency in my practice.

The clinical signs and symptoms of immune over-reaction can indeed be very scary and difficult to live with for both you and your dog. Although I certainly do not want to jeopardize your pup’s quality of life, I agree with your neurologist that the steroids should be stopped altogether. But not abruptly in the next few weeks. In my experience Jennifer, the best way to help your dog at this time is by gradually weaning them while starting to work with her body. This will help improve her vitality and immune system.

Let me digress a bit to show you how you can do this and why it can help. Conventional veterinary and human medicine look at the body as a machine. Machines are made up of parts that can wear out and break down. This is true for all parts of the body like organs, glands, and even the immune system. Age-related and idiopathic disorders are often explained in this mechanistic way.

Alternatively, holistic practitioners, especially veterinary homeopaths, see the body as an energetic whole. Physiologic processes such as the working of the immune system function normally in the state of energetic balance. Dis-ease manifestations result from an imbalance in these vital processes. The problems of “old” age are merely due to an increase in this imbalance over time. There are no idiopathic diseases since the underlying cause is known. This “vitalism” is what characterizes all living beings until they die. Unfortunately, the modern mechanistic and reductionistic model of health has replaced this holistic perspective.

Fortunately, some veterinarians still work to increase this vitality. Our understanding and clinical observations are that by doing so, we can best help our patients. Often this starts with making lifestyle changes. Feeding a fresh food diet is key to enhancing vitality. Processed foods are dead. These only provide the basic nutrients required for functioning. Healing often requires more. Fresh foods are needed to increase the life force (which is also sometimes also called Chi and Prana).

Fresh air, sunshine, exercise and a loving supportive environment are also integral for optimal functioning and healing of your dog. Try to minimize any emotional or physical stressors which decrease vitality and reduce the healing ability.

Veterinary homeopathy gives us powerful tools to help even more. Veterinary homeopaths are trained both in understanding the pathologic as well as vitalistic functioning of the body. This knowledge gives the holistic veterinary homeopath the key to open the door to the best of both worlds and unlock the body’s innate healing ability. I’d strongly advise adding a vet homeopath to your pup’s medical team. Doing so is discussed in more detail in some other replies.

In addition to maximizing her vitality with lifestyle changes and homeopathic treatment, there are natural nutritional supplements that are useful. These immune modulators can help optimize her physiologic processes and reduce the chance of symptom recurrence while you wean your pup off of the steroids. Avoid immune stimulants. Preventing further immune over-reaction is important. Proper immune balance is the key.

The best supplements to use are the ones with which your vet has the most experience. There are many of these. I personally start many similar patients on an excellent probiotic such as Probio Defense and B-complex vitamins. I also use methyl donors such as dimethylglycine (DMG) and s-adenosylmethione (SAMe). You may already be using the latter supplement to try and minimize harmful drug effects on her liver. Many years of successful use of probiotics and SAMe in holistic practice have only recently led to their being adopted by non-holistically oriented vets.

For me, other invaluable supplements in similar cases includes Cholodin from MVP labs. It can also act as a methyl donor and liver support and this formulation has also been shown to reduce degenerative brain disorders in pets. Moducare products, reishi mushrooms and fatty acid supplements also can modulate the immune system and provide additional support during and after the steroid weaning process.

As you can see, there are many, many natural and holistic options to help your pup. You can start right away by improving her diet and enhancing other lifestyle factors. Adding a homeopathically trained holistic vet to her health care team is your best next step.

Good luck.

Dr. Jeff