Treating chronic bowel problems in dogs with homeopathy and integrative medicine
Diarrhea and other bowel problems are common among canine patients. Homeopathy along with other therapies, such as probiotics and herbs, may effectively resolve these issues.
Chronic bowel problems are very prevalent in the canine population, and a cause for great anxiety and stress among many clients. These clients have to face not only the inconvenience of diarrhea in the home, but also the worry that their dogs are potentially malnourished, may lose weight and are clearly not in optimum health. Beyond these concerns, financial commitments can be heavy. Often, clients come to us looking for alternative treatments after having tried a long string of medications, including antibiotics.
General points about the canine bowel
It is difficult to provide a general overview of the issues facing the holistic veterinarian in such cases, as there is a wide spectrum of presentations and one attempt at description cannot cover all. However, we can make several general points. The lining of the bowel serves a similar immune function to that of the skin — i.e. keeping the inside in and the outside out. It is part of the immune fortress’s ramparts. In addition, it has a digestive and absorptive duty that requires it to act as gatekeeper of the fortress, allowing the “good guys” in and keeping the “bad guys” out.
The mucosal lining is furnished with myriad villi, massively increasing the surface area exposed to ingesta. In addition to those structural and functional considerations, we have the population of microscopic organisms that necessarily populate the bowel, in a symbiotic or commensal relationship with the body. These serve digestive, immune, synthesising and regulatory functions. It is only relatively recently that the absolute vital necessity of a healthy biome to the host’s health and well-being has been widely recognised. Gut flora represents the vast majority of this biome.
What happens in chronic bowel disease?
There are three main categories of local damage we have to face in patients with chronic bowel disease:
- The result of inflammatory processes in the mucosal lining and bowel structure
- Destruction or withering of the villa
- Changes to the biome.
These factors give focus to some of the adjunctive treatments we have to consider. They present a challenge to both our therapeutic skills and communication skills; we need to bring the client alongside the need for overcoming the structural results of long-term damage, which does not necessarily respond immediately to treatments.
Causes of chronic bowel disease in dogs
Chronic bowel disease can result from a failure to overcome an acute infection caused by a bowel pathogen, such as Salmonella, Giardia, Parvovirus, Distemper or Campylobacter. Since the bowel is such an integral and large part of immune “system”, bowel disease can result from any stimulus that damages the immune system and bodily balance in general. Under this heading, we would have to consider such disturbing influences as systemic viral or bacterial infection and adverse vaccination reaction. Problems can result from an unhealthy and unsuitable diet, or even be triggered by a failure to recover properly from a one-off dietary indiscretion or toxic event. There is also much evidence, particularly in the case of colitis, IBD or IBS, that Mycobacterium avium (subspecies paratuberculosis) infection is responsible, possibly arising from dairy products or meat
In homeopathy, we have over 4,000 described medicines, and the prescriber can make further special medicines as required or indicated. This presents a challenge in prescription selection in our quest to stimulate full recovery from chronic bowel disorders in canine patients. Herbs, auto-nosodes, bowel nosodes, probiotics and prebiotics, along with diet, also aid in management.
For the homeopathic intervention, we have to use a selection process that suits our way of working. The correct prescription will be the homeopathic medicine that best fits the whole symptom picture. The patient’s own individual characteristics are very important in developing a prescription for chronic disease. The “picture” of the homeopathic medicines, which has to be matched to that of the patient, is recorded in the Homeopathic Materia Medica. Many remedies are available, with dissertations on the individual medicines varying in depth and detail.
The most obvious technique for medicine selection, and one that can be taught relatively easily, is that of repertorisation. This involves the use of a repertory, or index of symptoms. There are several such works available; one of the most commonly used is Synthesis. It relies heavily on the accurate definition of symptomatology. Accurate symptom identification is important, both of “local” signs and of patient characteristics and mental indicators. If the information fed into a computer program is incorrect, then the answer is likely to be incorrect.
Which homeopathic medicines to use?
The correct homeopathic prescription needs to be selected on the basis of the patient’s individual expression of the disease, rather than for a specific syndrome. The following are a few commonly applicable medicines used in cases of chronic bowel disease, along with some of their individual characteristics to help guide your study.1,2,3
- Arsenicum album – Stools profuse, watery, bloody, excoriating, painful, fetid odor and mucus. Unhealthy appearance, dejected, restless especially at night, seeming near to death, fearful. Frequently thirsty for small sips of water.
- Bryonia – Very thirsty for large amounts of water. Worse from being jostled, or from any movement — even the motion of the stool coming out can be painful. These dogs cannot tolerate heat. Stools are large, dry and even burnt-looking. The dog can have chronic diarrhea as well, and may be irritable.
- Lycopodium — Constipation or diarrhea. Flatulence common, loud and smelly. Dog is fear aggressive, yet acts guilty. Wants to be near owner but not petted that much. Often has a history of or concurrent urinary tract problems. Associated with liver disease.
- Mercurius solubilis – Straining, never feels done so the dog squats continuously in the yard or on a walk. Mucus and blood. Does not want to be too hot or too cold.
- Natrum sulphuricum — Diarrhea occurs on rising, and is worse in cold, wet weather. Concurrent asthma or liver disease. Sadness.
- Nux vomica – Diarrhea or constipation with frequent, ineffective urging. Normally sweet animals, these dogs become very irritable when ill, so as the chronicity of the GIT illness progresses they become grumpier. Desire for heat.
- Phosphorus — Seeks company, outgoing, vocal. Startles to noises. Thirsty for cold water. Can vomit after water or food warms a bit in the stomach. Blood is common in any discharge. Open, protruding anus.
- Pulsatilla – Sweet, affectionate, likes cuddles and feels better from attention. Prefers cold and open air, has very little thirst and discharges, even stools are bland with little odor, and change a lot. Constipation may alternate with diarrhea. Worse after eating or at night.
- Silicea –– Often used for a longer duration of problem. These dogs prefer heat. It’s hard to push out the stool so they often feel constant urging. Sensitive animals.
- Sulphur — Worse in the morning. As with Arsenicum, the stool can be excoriating with itching or pain. Dog is very thirsty. Prefers cold. Looks messy and unkempt.
Nosodes and tautodes
A Nosode is a medicine made by the homeopathic dilution/succession process, from diseased material, in this case from the bowel. A Tautode is made the same way but from a substance considered to be part of the cause, such as a toxin, dietary ingredient or vaccine.
In stubborn cases, I have sometimes resorted to making an Auto-Nosode (in which a medicine is made from the diseased material of the ill individual).
Additional management therapies
If the bowel is structurally damaged, which is highly likely in such a chronic condition, homeopathy alone may not be sufficient to bring about a cure. While searching for the remedy that will help healing, other management tools should be considered.
An inflamed and sore bowel lining may be soothed by herbs such as slippery elm or marshmallow. Another herb that serves to soothe the bowel, firm the stool and act as a valuable prebiotic is psyllium husk.
A vicious spiral occurs in chronic diarrhea problems. When inflammation damages the digestion process, more higher quality nutrients progress to the lower parts of the bowel. This results in increased populations of bacteria in those lower regions; owing to population expansion, the bacteria begin to migrate further up the bowel than normal. The products of their fermentation are alien to those higher portions of the bowel and inflict damage on the villi and mucosa. This results in a further failure of digestion and even more higher quality nutrients escaping the attentions of the proximal bowel, leading to further population growth and migration of flora from lower portions of the bowel. The process is self-aggravating, and if it has persisted for a considerable time, presents a challenge to the veterinarian who has to try to achieve restoration of more normal microbial distribution and function, and restore structural normality to the bowel lining. Large doses of high quality probiotic are possibly the best ally in this endeavor. Large numbers of microorganisms and a wide spread of species are needed. Just giving the dog live yoghurt, kefir or sauerkraut is unlikely to be sufficient. The client must understand that this restorative process will not be instant. (Micro Biome Restorative Therapy can often help restore normal gut flora.)
If modern pharmaceuticals have already been tried without success, then they probably have no further part to play. Antibiotics, of course, are deadly to the friendly biome and present a risk of generating dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains (AMR). One should be very cautious with their usage. In chronic cases, the use of pharmaceuticals in the past may have resulted in the suppression of symptoms/signs, thereby increasing the risk of the disease becoming chronic. There is also the risk of “side effects” which have to be considered against the possible benefits (e.g. sulphur drugs and kerato-conjunctivitis sicca). Anti-diarrheals, such as Kaolin, may prevent or delay the necessary elimination of toxic and damaging material.
Allergy testing may help find foods that irritate the bowel further. However, allergy is a fundamental immune malfunction and triggers can alter from time to time. This means that relying on the results of allergy testing may be an unproductive route to follow. Likewise, desensitising treatments may not get to the source of the problem. Generally speaking, a dog should be able to eat a species-suitable fresh diet, with no chemical additives, without it leading to diarrhea. If he can’t, then there is an immune problem and bowel microflora balance issue that need to be corrected.
Case 1: Daisie, an 11-month-old female boxer with chronic diarrhea
First seen on July 13, 2006, with colitis and chronic diarrhea of a variable nature, with very poor condition (bony appearance). The problem had started on May 26, and there had been problems ever since. Daisie was ravenous and flatulent. She had been vaccinated in October of 2005, was spayed before her first season, and had been fed a fresh organic diet. Daisie visibly liked cuddles and warmth, had little thirst, a ravenous appetite, few fears, barked at animals on television and was quite excitable. Her left ear was crusty but not smelly. She had right pelvic misalignment (lumbo-sacral distortion).
Prescription: Homeopathic Pulsatilla and Mutabile. Chiropractic-type manipulation. Probiotic. Both Pulsatilla and the Bowel Nosode Mutabile suited the patient’s changeability and symptomatology. Pulsatilla also suited Daisie’s character to a tee. Each was given one time, orally.
July 17, 2006: A fecal sample revealed possible E. coli.
July 19: Daisie is so much better it’s amazing – no diarrhea since 24 hours after being seen. Different dog, energy levels brilliant, gaining weight, symptom-free.
July 21: Slight “blip” – asked to go out twice in night, with normal motion each time. In the morning, the motion was a bit soft and contained mucus (she’d been given two lamb bones the day before).
July 24: Stools either 100% or just tiny bit soft, much better in herself, vomited a tiny bit of potato and chicken bone on the Sunday morning.
July 27: Daisie doing really well. Every now and then, she passes a very firm stool with a bit of mucus/slime coating – otherwise all normal. She is great in herself, energy like you wouldn’t believe, even in very hot weather. She has definitely put on weight, so will carry on and keep in touch.
May 14, 2007: Daisie is seen for residual skin problems (recurrent eruptions, non-severe, with rumbling ear problems). Prescribed homeopathic Thuja. Her owner is nonetheless delighted, as Daisie is so well, in such good condition and has no problems with bowels/digestion.
This case illustrates “Hering’s Order of Cure”, in that the skin problem was almost certainly related to the diarrhea and was a more “superficial” expression of the health disturbance. This progression from “internal” to “external” signs was very encouraging for the prospects of a long-term cure. In fact, Daisie’s “skin problem” resolved uneventfully and she had no further GIT problems.
Case 2: Harvey, a 10½-month-old Weimaraner with chronic diarrhoea and digestive problems
Harvey was first presented on February 23, 2006. He had suffered from chronic diarrhea since September of 2005. He was in extremely poor condition, and his coat was dull. The diarrhea persisted despite dietary changes. He was passing profuse watery stools with blood and mucus, likely indicating colitis. He had a sad, dejected and unhealthy appearance. He could be described as “hang-dog”. His family was close to considering euthanasia. He had been vaccinated in July of 2005.
Harvey was given homeopathic Arsenicum and Gaertner (Bowel Nosode, selected in view of his severe malnutrition), supported by probiotic and followed by E. coli Nosode.
The Arsenicum was prescribed on the basis of his condition, his appearance and the apparent lack of hope among all concerned, including the patient. Harvey failed to respond fully until after the Nosode.
March 3, 2006: Much perkier and happier, bouncing when on walks — had diarrhea today.
March 7: Absolutely great. Hungry all the time. Passed a proper motion today. On a natural diet.
March 10: Doing really well. Back to normal self and eating well. Eats everything but won’t touch scrambled egg.
March 13: Small amount of diarrhea at the weekend — ate some treats given by a family member.
March 15: Everything settled well again.
April 20: Bowels normal. Harvey is a much more cheerful and happy dog who enjoys life. No remedies since the beginning of April.
July 20: Doing really well — brilliant – a different dog. Enjoying natural diet and bowels fine.
March 28, 2007: Has been brilliant but diarrhea again this week. Repeated medication.
June 29, 2009: Owners reported that Harvey is doing brilliantly. “Thanks for saving his life.”
As we all know, case anecdotes prove nothing individually. However, the weight of multiple cases can begin to add up to a pattern.
In acute disease, attending to symptoms/signs alone may reduce owner anxiety and increase patient welfare (as long as no adverse event follows), while the body sets about healing. However, this amounts to suppression and can lead to a chronic condition. Once the chronic situation sets in, little more than temporary palliation can be offered by pharmaceuticals that target symptoms/signs. The aim must be to stimulate a true healing process within the body, so that a real cure may be achieved. This appears to be the role that homeopathy plays in so many cases of chronic disease. However, it is also important to attend to potential “obstacles to cure”, such as diet, over-vaccination, environment, management, disturbed bowel flora etc., in order to enable healing.
1Day, Christopher. Homeopathic Treatment of Small Animals.
2Hamilton, Don. Homeopathic Care of Cats and Dogs. North Atlantic Books, 1999.
3Clarke, J.H. Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica. B. Jain Publishers, 1990.