Natural Healing, Healthy Living for Your Animals

Understanding the Basics  -  How Bodies Work (Part 2)

(Did you read the first page?  This is the third... and Part 2 of the section titled "Understanding the Basics..." - Part 1 is on the previous page.)


The Digestive System

The digestive system (and eliminative system, combined) has a part in ridding the body of wastes "manufactured" in the digestive process.

Let's start at the top...with the mouth.  Chewing, as we all know, begins the digestive process.  It's important that an animal be able to chew (e.g., no problem teeth, jaw properly aligned) and have time to chew (e.g., not have to wolf food to protect it from others, not be rushed because the food dish is taken away too soon).  Also, most critters need some tougher food to chew on, as this cleans the teeth, and the pressure on the teeth in their sockets promotes circulation in the gums.

An animal should also be able to eat at its own level - that is, a cat or a short dog can eat from ground level; but as horses need troughs at their own height, a tall dog needs a feeding stand at least a foot off the ground.  (At several years of age, my samoyed suddenly started upchucking her food...  I'd been naively feeding her from the ground.  Raised food and water dishes cleared that problem right up... after I paid plenty for a few negative internal medicine tests!)

While some digestion takes place beginning in the mouth, the stomach is where the hydrochloric acid indispensable to digestion is secreted.  (Bloating and gas are caused by poor digestion, i.e., not enough hydrochloric acid which leads to poor assimilation of food.  Bad breath is another symptom of insufficient hydrochloric acid.  Dr. Malstrom cautions that "commercial antacids and soft drinks should be avoided because they inhibit the formation of and destroy hydrochloric acid."...  That shouldn't be a problem for your pet, but you might like to know that!)

The intestines both digest and eliminate substances.  Most of the digestion and absorption of food and drink takes place in the small intestine, the "good stuff" there being transferred to the lymph and thence to the bloodstream and the cells.  This is where alkalinization takes place, after the (we hope!) acid bath of the stomach.  Enzymes and hormones are also secreted here to help with the rest of the digestive process.

The large intestine mainly reabsorbs liquids and solidifies the remains of food (the feces) that are stored in the last portion (the descending colon), though the top two portions (the ascending colon and the transverse colon) also have a role to play in digestion.

The pancreas secretes into the small intestine several substances critical to digestion:  the enzymes trypsin (which breaks proteins down into amino acids, lipase (which breaks fats down into fatty acids), and amylase (which breaks complex carbohydrates down into simple sugars); and the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar levels.  Any of these substances may have to be supplemented if they are in too short supply.

The liver is a complex organ that has a hand in many bodily functions.  It purifies the blood.  It regulates bodily fluids.  It secretes bile necessary for fat digestion and absorption.  It stores and converts glycogen (synthesized from proteins and sugars) to glucose, for blood sugar maintenance and energy promotion.  It manufactures several blood proteins.  It stores some vitamins and minerals.  And it detoxifies harmful substances (including bacteria, poisons, and heavy metals) taken into the body or resulting from the digestion process.

The gall bladder concentrates and stores bile from the liver.  When stomach acid is present, the gall bladder excretes bile into the top part of the small intestine (the duodenum, where stomach contents are emptied).  Bile digests fats and is essential for metabolizing the fat-soluble vitamins.  (Did you know that bile is partly composed of cholesterol? - yes, you vitally need some cholesterol!)

Gall stones result from too concentrated cholesterol "...and inorganic calcium which, under abnormal conditions, may become crystallized."  One of the abnormal conditions referred to is too little water... our old friend. 

The kidneys filter water, glucose, salts, and nitrogenous wastes (including urea and uric acid) filtered from the bloodstream (proteins being filtered out).  Dr. Malstrom says that "this mechanism is dependent upon and extraordinary amount of  pressure.  Consequently, increases or decreases in blood pressure affect the flow of urine."  Urine itself is a concentrate of the liquid that passes into the kidneys - most of its constituents are returned to the bloodstream, some are retained and others manufactured as wastes (e.g., ammonia).

The bladder, of course, stores the urine, which is excreted via the urethra.  As with humans, if animals are forced to hold their urine for too long, the flexibility of the bladder can be impaired, making it more difficult to retain urine for long periods of time.  An inflamed bladder or urethra is extremely painful.  "Bladder complaints are often the result of putrefaction of waste matter in the colon and consequent absorption by the bladder. ...Toxins building up in the body cause fever and loss of appetite."  Look for those signs, along with difficult and/or frequent urination, greater thirst, and cloudy, bloody, and strong urine.

Good muscle tone is important for both digestion and excretion, from the jaw muscles to the peristaltic action of the esophagus all the way down to the end of the intestines. ...That means exercise, of course.

Massage and acupuncture/acupressure are excellent for stimulating the entire digestive/eliminative system (or specific organs) as well.  Remember that subluxations can affect one or more elements of this system - it's important to clear the pathway of the nerve impulses to suffering areas.

Various vitamins and minerals are called upon in these complex processes, so a good supplement for your pet is important.  Many herbs are useful for specific organs.  Cayenne is excellent for toning the entire system - and as it is superb for stopping bleeding, both internal and external, it is very healing for bleeding ulcers, diverticula, and hemorrhoids.

Internal parasites affect the health of many animals (as well as people, did they but know it!).  In any such disturbance, this is one possibility that should be considered.  A lack of "friendly" bacteria in the intestine is important too - animals may be helped greatly by the introduction of "probiotics" (a range of bacilli that aid in digestion) as a supplement to their diet.  (Most yoghurts contain only one or two of the many bacilli that might be found in a probiotic supplement available at the health food store.)  Digestive enzymes (specific to the animal - I've seen them for dogs or cats) may also be worth a try.  (And hydrochloric acid??)

It's very important that animals eliminate regularly - any change in their stools or the quantity/color of the urine that they pass is a sign that something's wrong with the digestive/eliminative system.

Most animals (including humans) need raw foods regularly.  They contain crucial enzymes that are destroyed (some largely, some wholly) by cooking, freezing, drying, etc.  Every animal will also thrive on food that is uncontaminated by pesticides, hormones, offal, etc. - it's incredible what detritus is found in most pet food!  Giving your critter the best food you can find (yes, it's more expensive) will save on vet bills even though they live longer (and they will)!

The Endocrine System (the Glands)

The glands of the endocrine system are the pituitary, the pineal, the thyroid, the parathyroids, the adrenals, the pancreas, and the testes or ovaries.  The endocrine system works with the nervous system to coordinate and regulate the body's activities.

The pituitary (in the brain) secretes several hormones, regulating cerebrospinal pressure, sleep, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, skin pigmentation, uterine muscle contraction, water and electrolyte reabsorption, and antibody formation, as well as stimulating several other glands. ...No wonder it's called "the master gland"!  Its secretions are controlled via the nervous system and feedback from the other glands.

The pineal, also located in the brain, is still poorly understood.  It's believed to be "the third eye" that's involved with extrasensory perception and intuition.  "Many biochemists consider the pineal gland to be the key to controlling the mind, which is the computer (psychic organ) which activates the entire body."

The thyroid (located in the neck) regulates the body's metabolic rate and growth processes via two hormones.  As you may know, many people suffer from an underactive (hypo) thyroid (actually, many more than know about it), some an overactive (hyper) one.  The same holds true for animals - some breeds of dogs are prone to thyroid problems (particularly the northern dogs, e.g., samoyeds, malamutes, and huskies).

The parathyroids are four minute glands next to the thyroid.  They regulate blood clotting, cell membrane permeability, the blood's calcium-phosphorus ratio (related to neuro-muscular activity), and some enzyme activity.  Underactive parathyroids can result in depression, sleeplessness, and restlessness (neuro) and cramps, spasms, and convulsions (muscular).  Overactivity can cause bone decalcification.  Increased calcium-magnesium intake can usually correct the imbalance.

The thymus is located above the breastbone.  It's related to the lymphatic system, acts as the filter for the glandular system (via the lymph tissue of the tonsils - yes, they do have a purpose!), and is called into play in stress situations.  Many people also believe that the thymus' common atrophying post-puberty is related to boredom, and that it is joie de vivre that keeps the thymus active.

The adrenal glands are perched atop the kidneys.  They produce over 50 hormones (!), notably the indispensable steroids.  The adrenals affect the body's water-mineral balance, sexual functioning, and lymph activity.  They aid in protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism, blood pressure maintenance, and antibody regulation. And of course they are largely responsible for the body's complex response to stress, including blood sugar regulation.  (Both hypoglycemia and diabetes are stress diseases and can deplete the adrenals as well as overwork the pancreas.)

A good diet with adequate protein, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals may be most important for support of the endocrine system.  Stress can easily upset the balance of the glands, so make sure your pets (and you?) are as comfortable as possible in their daily lives.  The stress of moving or being left by their owners can start or augment symptoms of many kinds.  (My samoyed developed severe respiratory allergies and hair loss when we moved to another state - ... but she remained happy!).

The Reproductive System

Much of the reproductive system is dependent on the proper functioning of various glands, as mentioned above.  Many pets are routinely "neutered", which also has certain ramifications for their future health.

I won't concern myself much with fertility issues here - there are too many pets as it is; I'm far more concerned about keeping the ones extant alive and well than about breeding.  (Though I do have one A.K.C. dog, and I do recognize the value and delight of different breeds of animals!)  But reproductive health reflects overall health, and is therefore important.  (And of course good nutrition is needed to produce good sperm, healthy offspring.  And herbs, massage, acupuncture/acupressure, homeopathy, etc. may be useful for birthing and post-natal trauma.)  Besides, many animal pregnancies aren't planned, I realize!

Dogs, I know, also experience prostate and uterine problems akin to those of aging humans - I suppose other animals must too.

As with the other systems, toning exercise and good nutrition are important for reproductive health.

NEXT...  "Applying the Basics"