Veterinarians integrate treatments to heal the whole animal
by Eve Becker
Holistic healing may sound intriguing to many people with pets, but what does it entail for our four-legged companions? A holistic approach does not have to mean long-distance Reiki healing sessions for your cat. Instead, veterinarians trained in holistic medicine take an in-depth look at treating the whole animal using a combination of conventional and complementary, alternative therapies.
“We look at the whole pet, not just the immediate problem. We try to treat the basic cause, not just symptoms,” explains Dr. Nancy Scanlan, DVM, based in Mount Shasta, California, and executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). “We try to work with natural substances whenever possible. We use all available diagnostic skills and treatments—whatever works best and is best for the pet.”
When a dog is in pain from arthritis, the traditional treatment is to give the dog painkillers to ease the discomfort. A holistic vet will not only address the symptom (pain) but also treat the root problem, says Scanlan. A holistic vet might give an arthritic dog glucosamine to help the joints, and massage therapy and acupuncture to stop muscle spasms.
“Conventional medicine is great for emergencies and surgery. Blood, urine, and fecal tests as well as X-rays and ultrasound are very helpful for diagnosis,” Scanlan says. “But holistic veterinarians who also use Chinese medicine will look at the tongue and pulse in a different way than a non-holistic veterinarian and add those findings to their final diagnosis. They may use herbs or acupuncture or chiropractic or massage therapy instead of a conventional painkiller that may have bad side effects affecting the liver, kidney, or the gastrointestinal tract.”
Dr. John Hanover, DVM, a third-generation veterinarian based in Wadsworth, Illinois, has created an integrative practice that utilizes chiropractic, acupuncture, herbs, and nutritional supplements, alongside traditional medicine.
Hanover has used holistic treatments to help dogs with arthritis and hip dysplasia to walk again, and to enable dogs with severe allergies to stop scratching and re-grow hair. He has also used acupuncture and herbs to stabilize dogs with kidney failure, and positively impact their quality of life, so their families could enjoy a few more months with them.
Many people with pets are hearing about various herbal remedies. Yet, with a growing number of herbal supplements on the market, it can be hard to know which product is right for your pet. “To be sure you are using the correct form and dose from a trustworthy company, you should use herbal medicine that is prescribed by a veterinarian with training in herbal therapy,” Scanlan says. Cats are very sensitive, so it’s important to discuss brands and dosage with a veterinarian familiar with herbal supplements, she advises.
Holistic practitioners have differing opinions on the use of vaccines. Some suggest that an overuse of multiple vaccines is causing a general decline in the health of the pet population and believe yearly boosters are too much.
It is important for puppies and kittens to get the initial vaccines, Scanlan says, but most follow-up booster vaccinations can be given every three years, as opposed to yearly.
“Puppies and kittens need [vaccines] for the diseases that are deadly or really difficult to treat, such as distemper, parvo, and rabies, among others,” she advises. “However, booster vaccinations can cause side effects. One way to decrease this possibility is to wait longer between vaccinations. Cats are more sensitive than dogs, so we know that for cats, the more often you do these things, the more often you can tend to have a reaction.”
Hanover customizes a vaccine schedule based on each animal’s health, risk factors, and immune system status. “There isn’t a set formula. It’s got to be monitored and customized,” he says. “A dog who lives in an apartment and never steps a foot on grass should probably not get lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines, because they’re not at risk for those diseases. A dog who [already has] allergies or immune system problems probably should not be getting all the vaccines all at once.”
Hanover advises people to look for a vet who is open to traditional and holistic worlds, and can address the pros and cons of both kinds of therapies. “Realize that it’s usually a balance between the best of both disciplines that gets the best results,” Hanover says. “There’s an appropriate time and place to use antibiotics and steroids and what we consider Western medicine, and there are a lot of times when holistic treatments are going to be as effective, or more effective, or have less side effects than Western treatment.”
To find a holistic veterinarian, do your homework in advance, he advises. “Go in for a consult before your pet is in a crisis, and figure out what their treatment strategies are.” Armed with knowledge of holistic practices as well as traditional treatments, you’ll have even more options to help your pet to optimal health.
Easy Steps for you and your pet to become more holistic:
- Use natural pet foods. Do not eat trans fats and do not give your pets treats with trans fats.
- Do not include artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives in your own or your pet’s diet.
- Add digestive enzymes and essential fatty acids to your pet’s diet.
- Get more exercise for you and your pet.
- Discuss delaying booster vaccines to every three years with your vet.
- Search ahvma.org for referrals to holistic veterinarians.