Vet Vicky Simon has written about her treatment of Hamish the lurcher when his owner Rebecka Blenntoft came to her with a very lame dog. We asked Rebecka to tell us more about him and why she made the decisions she did for Hamish’s future …

A tough start in life

Hamish was rescued after he was found as an unclaimed stray that had been hit by a car. He was about a year old, and the best guess is that his lurcher mix is Bearded Collie x Saluki. He is very ‘people orientated’ and very friendly and cuddly, despite his tough start. It soon became apparent that he had been kept in a very small space, and not socialised or walked at all. He ate his food and then immediately peed on the floor as if he had given up on being able to keep his living space clean. 

Learning to live again

On walks, he was lead reactive and scared of hosepipes. I suspect someone kicked or hurt him as his left elbow was very arthritic with a bone chip that had lodged between his radius and ulna. Learning to go for walks and develop a sense of smell was a big thing for him. I just let him take things in his own time as it must have been like his world had switched to technicolour – he was enthusiastic but somewhat overwhelmed. 

And breathe

Finding his most favourite thing on earth

I started him immediately on raw food with salmon oils and began taking him to small village fetes and events all summer, to just look at things and see other dogs. Over the years he’s improved massively. We started agility which he loved and running on the lure at a local monthly dog meeting. Chasing a toy rabbit on the end of a lure is literally his most favourite thing on earth and I firmly believe that lurchers need this sort of thing, to enjoy using what skills and prowess come naturally to them.

Four super years followed, and Hamish became a settled and happy dog who enjoyed his life.

Sudden lameness strikes

One day in September 2020 Hamish just didn’t want to jump at agility and pulled up lame. I went to our usual physio for suspected muscle strain but after the third appointment he got noticeably worse and started shaking and looking distressed so I immediately took him to the vet. The consensus was a possible disk or spinal issue and I was referred that same afternoon for an MRI. The MRI sadly showed lymphoma – a mass on the spine. By this time Hamish really could not walk unassisted. I had to hold a towel under his tummy to help him stand as his back legs were extremely wobbly. It was so distressing for him and horrendous to watch. I was told that he probably would not see Christmas. 

Holistic vet care

I immediately turned to Vicky Simon, who I knew could be 100% relied on to not only give the best advice for Hamish, but would also to try to figure out a plan of what to do. I wanted to feel like I had done everything that I could for him. I think that is so important for owners because I believe it helps give you closure for the inevitable grieving process that you know you will have to endure.

Soul searching ~ tough decisions are made

Having total trust is vital. I knew Vicky would “give it to me straight” and I knew I could ask her the tough questions and get honest answers. I decided not to go for chemo, for several reasons.

Firstly, it is palliative. It’s not going to make the cancer go away. Secondly, for Hamish to be left for a full day a week on his own in a clinic with separation anxiety (this was in full covid lockdown) would be distressing and stressful for him. He’s a limpet, always following me like a shadow and watching for me. To my mind, he wouldn’t cope with that.  I once made the mistake of leaving him with a nice groomer, but being left in a crate waiting for me to collect him totally stressed him out. His behaviour reverted, and I vowed never to leave him alone outside my own home ever again.  

Thirdly, to me, it’s all about his quality of life. Although it would be harder for me to bear, I’d rather have less time with him being spoiled and happy at home with me, his dog friends and family than potentially losing days with him feeling rough or having side effects from chemo. This was my own decision, taken after lots of soul searching and asking questions, and I admit this might not be what others decide to do, as every situation and dog is different. 

An integrative approach using conventional and complementary

Vicky thought it was a good idea to try steroids instead of just anti-inflammatories, due to the severity of the symptoms, and because they can often slow the rate of progression of cancer or neurological disease. We added more salmon and hemp oils into his food, and she supported him with a liquid herbal mix, homeopathic remedies and medicinal mushrooms.  At the start, he was on Gabapentin and paracetamol for pain. 

Some kind of miracle

What happened over the course of the next 48 hours was literally some kind of miracle. I walked him with the towel support and then he just decided to trot, so I took the towel away and walked next to him in case he needed me. He was wobbly but had a little canter and snuffled about. The following morning, he didn’t need any support and went for a run with his sister in a small paddock. Both myself and the neighbours just stood there with our mouths open, it was just unbelievable and so fast to take effect.

Six months later

Hamish has now been maintaining for six and a half months as I write this on 15 April 2021. He doesn’t need Gabapentin and only has paracetamol because his left elbow with the bone chip is often a little uncomfortable. He has a few side effects from the steroids which are normal (increased thirst and hunger) and he has days where he is a little less energetic than others but we take it a day at a time.

He runs with his sister and on the last Bank Holiday weekend, he went for an hour’s walk with friends and their rescue greyhound who he loves. He still jumps on the bed and lies upside down, and still mooches round the garden and watches all the farm animals. His expensive buggy sits in the garage but hasn’t been used yet. Every extra day is a blessing and a miracle. 

Good quality of life

Supporting the steroid treatment holistically has given him such a good quality of life and it is a joy because I felt it was so unfair that he only got 5 years of being in a loving home instead of his full life of an extra 6-7 years which he truly deserves.

I’m glad that every day he’s had extra have all been good days, fun and full of love and being spoilt silly. I’m also extremely fortunate to have Vicky’s support, advice and care, as knowing she is with me on this journey makes it a lot easier. She gave me the confidence to manage Hamish’s care and to try things and see if it gave any improvement. That was important as the Gabapentin really knocked him out and going to smaller doses to monitor the effect led me to be able to stop using it, which made his days more fun. Obviously, I will need to use it in the future but I am glad that we’ve had four months with none.

Tailoring treatments to suit the dog

If I had just blindly followed the first prescription without thinking, Hamish would have spent this time feeling quite zonked out, which goes to show that tailoring treatments and slowly adapting them if needed can be so valuable. 

I cannot be certain how much the medicinal mushrooms and herbs have done, as it’s hard to separate the effect of those from the steroids, but reading about medicinal mushrooms, I can’t help but feel they are definitely giving him something extra. The herb mix includes some pain relief, so that is likely to have allowed me to remove the need for the Gabapentan.

Vicky told me that in her experience steroids will buy a month or two alone, sometimes longer, but Hamish continues to do wonderfully so we are certainly doing something right! I just don’t think he’d have got this far without his holistic medications, and to me, it just makes sense to support the body’s system as much as possible from other angles.

There certainly isn’t anything to lose by trying other options, and potentially so much to gain, as I have found for Hamish. 


Useful links

Holistic Vet Vicky Simon’s blog

Blogs on herbshomeopathy and raw feeding

Rebecka Blenntoft

Rebecka is an equine lymphologist specialising in Chronic Progressive Lymphoedema and a long-term user of integrated veterinary care. Her latest project is found here.

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