06/17/2010 08:19 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Understanding the First Phase of Disease in Dogs and Cats

Every organ and tissue of your pet's body is organized to achieve maximum survival. It's miraculous and makes for fascinating study. As a veterinarian, I am intensely interested in how these responses lead to health and disease. When I first went to veterinary school I dreamed of finding cures and fighting diseases. As my understanding of biological therapy increases, I realize that there are many things we can do to assist our pets in maintaining their states of wellness and health. Biological therapy contains very specific tools we can use evaluate and impact health.

The word, study, means, "to look." We evaluate our pet's health the moment we begin to look honestly and simply duplicate what we are seeing. Healthy bodies glow. We describe them as bright eyed for a reason. The iris is the colored part of the eye. It is made up of thousands of tiny blood vessels and connective tissue. When the blood supply brings adequate nutrition and carries away toxins, your pet's eyes are bright. The nerves and muscle respond crisply and the brain works well to transmit and evaluate the information that the eyes receive. When all those parts are integrated and functioning fully, we see vitality. We instantly recognize that condition as healthy.

The word "health" comes from the same root word as heal. It literally means "whole." If all the parts of a body are fully operational, are in communication, can control their functions, have adequate raw materials (nutrition), and can get rid of their toxic accumulations, then we have health. If any part of that equation is affected, then the entire condition of the organism falls to some extent. The body knows this intuitively and constantly strives to maintain communication, control, nutrition and excretion.

The whole idea of "good" and "bad" really relates to how a particular thing affects the biological system at a precise moment in time. A state of health comes from approaching or possessing "good" things while removing, reducing or escaping "bad" things. Health also involves the exchange of these good things and bad things. Each cell produces things that are needed and creates waste. The separate tissues and organs of the body work together to coordinate these efforts.

A German physician named Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg discovered an interesting tool that allows us to view health and disease in a meaningful way. As he considered the reasons behind the many diseases he saw daily in his clinic he realized that all diseases seemed to be the body's active efforts to remove or reduce the presence of toxins. This idea translated into a tool we call the Disease Evolution Table. As toxins enter the body from outside, or as the body generates toxins and wastes from normal bodily processes, it must remove the toxins before they cause damage to vital tissues. A doctor can use this table to locate where a patient is and develop strategies for approaching their disease, understand whether they are healing or worsening, and predict their chances for recovery. Let's look at how that works.

As a toxin contacts the outside or inside of the body, it irritates cells and tissues. The body responds quickly to irritations of the lining cells of the skin, eyes, nose, throat, gut, lungs and urinary organs.

Think about tobacco smoke. When smoke gets into the eyes and throat it irritates the tissues and triggers and Excretion Phase reaction. The body simply tries to wash the toxins away and dilute them by adding water, oily secretions, or mucus. Diseases that we see daily fit into this phase and include watery eyes, runny noses, coughing, phlegm, vomiting, diarrhea, oily skin, and sweating. It's easy to treat these issues by simply adding water, providing fresh air, easily digested food, and a safe environment to rest and recover. Sometimes homeopathic agents, herbs or nutritional items can be used to gently stimulate the excretory process, but recovery tends to occur quickly by just allowing the excretory process to clear. Nux vomica is a plant used by homeopaths and herbalists for diarrhea.(1) It is a useful agent for simple diarrhea as well as for recovery from excessive tobacco smoke exposure.

Simple diarrhea is a commonly seen issue in veterinary hospitals across the world. While we hate to deal with diarrhea, it actually removes material that needs to be cleared from the body. Many years ago veterinarians liked to give medication to stop diarrhea and vomiting but now we find it healthier and more effective to simply fast the pet and then introduce an easily digested diet like chicken and white rice. Providing ample water and electrolytes helps replace what is lost and assists the body in clearing the material. Using probiotics and absorbents like bentonite clay can assist in the absorption and elimination of toxins, too. (2, 3, 4)

Most simple cases of diarrhea resolve in 72 hours on this simple therapy. Many years ago veterinarians used to give strong antibiotics for diarrhea. It seemed to work, since most patients would clear their diarrhea in about a week. Then one day a veterinarian asked the question: "Is that really a good treatment?" He split cases into two groups and treated the control group with no treatment. The other group received the normal antibiotic treatment. He discovered that 80 percent the untreated group of diarrhea patients got better in three days while the treated group took a week. The antibiotic therapy actually prolonged the diarrhea. The Disease Evolution Table would predict that as the antibiotic acted as a toxin by killing good bacteria that we now know are responsible for the proper functioning of the gut and immune system.

If we trap toxins in the body by stopping the Excretion phase, then those toxins can gain access to deeper tissues and must be handled inside the body, where they may do further damage. That damage can lead to other problems like skin conditions, ear problems, pancreatic and liver issues and even allergies and cancer. If the diarrhea or excretion is too severe then it may be necessary to slow things down but each time we do that we risk further penetration of those toxic substances. If diarrhea or other Excretion phase disorders persist more than three days, occur repetitively, involve blood or pain, or if the pet appears uncomfortable, then it is wise to seek veterinary care. In young dogs and cats it is wise to check for viral diseases like parvo virus diarrhea. Intestinal parasites can occur at any age and can spread to humans as well. These diseases require more specific treatment and actually represent disease that is deeper on the Disease Evolution Table.

The Disease Evolution Table covers six total phases. (See "What is Homeopathy"). You can examine them in the link and consider how this applies to your pet's health. At each step, we see how the toxins are affecting the tissues and can take specific actions to assist in recovery. I'll talk much more about this table in the future, but since we see so many Excretion phase disorders in the practice I wanted to start here. As toxins reach deeper tissues we see diarrhea, vomiting, and skin problems occur, but these conditions are different than simple, Excretion Phase diarrhea. The treatment depends upon what phase of disease we are seeing. Knowing where a pet is on the Disease Evolution Table makes it possible to approach their health more precisely and to cooperate with their innate, natural systems for recovery and repair.

1. Shoba FG, Thomas M. Study of antidiarrhoeal activity of four medicinal plants in castor-oil induced diarrhoea. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001 Jun;76(1):73-6.

2. Herstad HK, Nesheim BB, L'Abée-Lund T, Larsen S, Slacker E. Effects of a probiotic intervention in acute canine gastroenteritis--a controlled clinical trial. J Small Anim Pract. 2010 Jan;51(1):34-8.
3. Kelley RL, Minikhiem D, Kiely B, O'Mahony L, O'Sullivan D, Boileau T, Park JS. Clinical benefits of probiotic canine-derived Bifidobacterium animalis strain AHC7 in dogs with acute idiopathic diarrhea. Vet There. 2009 Fall;10(3):121-30.

4. Wang JS, Luo H, Billam M, Wang Z, Guan H, Tang L, Goldston T, Afriyie-Gyawu E, Lovett C, Griswold J, Brattin B, Taylor RJ, Huebner HJ, Phillips TD. Short-term safety evaluation of processed calcium montmorillonite clay (NovaSil) in humans. Food Addit Contam. 2005 Mar;22(3):270-9.

What health concerns for your companion animals would you like to see covered? Any topics in integrative veterinary care of particular interest to you? Almost nothing makes me happier than to help people support their pet's optimal health and to witness that special bond they share. Leave a comment below and let me know what you'd like to see presented. Follow me on Twitter and I'll let you know when I post my next blog.