How can Holistic Veterinary Medicine Help My Pet?
By Anna Maria Gardner MA Vet.MB MRCVS
Holistic Veterinary Medicine is becoming increasingly popular for pets and a brief introductory article was included in another article on this website. More and more pet insurance plans are including holistic coverage as popularity increases. Because this method of treatment is unfamiliar, people are not always sure how exactly it can help their cat or dog. Since holistic treatment includes many modalities and treats the animal as a whole rather than just removing symptoms it is not always clear what approach might be most suitable for each individual animal or condition. For example, certain diseases respond better to acupuncture or homeopathy, while other may be better treated with Bach Flower Remedies or nutritional supplements. It is important to assess the animal overall, and get an idea of the general health and condition. This will determine how well they will respond to treatment and what the expected results might be to a particular modality. This may be affected by the age, condition, nutritional status and any disease that the pet is suffering from. Furthermore, and of great importance, is the actual diagnosis of any disease condition that may be present. This is where conventional medicine comes in and bloodwork, x-rays and other tests may be necessary to determine the diagnosis. Then the holistic practitioner, who may also be the same veterinarian under a different guise, will be able to decide what approach is likely to work best for that individual animal as well as being able to assess the possible response and outcome that might be expected. Some examples of individual cases that have been treated are discussed below.
So how does holistic veterinary medicine work?
As discussed in the previous article conventional medicine tends to concentrate more on the removal of symptoms and suppression of disease, by the use of drugs such as antibiotics and cortisone. While antibiotics are life-saving drugs and should certainly be used in severe infections and diseases a lot of minor problems are better treated more naturally. This enhances the immune response, which then becomes stronger, so next time an infection is encountered the body can fight it off without any or little treatment. Holistic treatment allows the immune system and resistance to become stronger and works in the opposite direction to conventional medicine so the body becomes much healthier. This means the animal is getting stronger each time they are treated, rather that becoming weaker. Drugs such as corticosteroids work directly on the body to decrease the response of the immune system and that is why they work to remove symptoms. The beauty of the holistic approach is that there are much fewer side effects and it actually prevents disease by improving the immune system and overall health of the animal. So animals treated this way live longer and healthier lives. Often holistic treatment is sought only as a last resort, but when animals are born and raised this way the effects are much more rewarding as the difference in health is so obvious. Animals appear younger and have so much more vitality it is a joy to see them. In addition they hardly ever get sick, or if they do, they get better much more rapidly, without serious ill effects. As the old adage says, prevention really is better than cure.
THOR – who needed good nutrition
Thor was a stray puppy that was dropped off in a bread bin by a dumpster, suffering from severe mange, rickets and hip dysplasia. He was so weak that he could not stand or walk normally. In fact he looked like he did not have much chance at all of becoming a normal healthy dog. He had no hair and had oozing sores all over him. His front legs were so weak that they were no longer straight and his hips were obviously abnormal. He was started immediately on a natural diet, with lots of meat and vegetables and was given nutritional supplements for his skin and to strengthen his joints and ligaments. The supplements included bone meal, garlic and brewers yeast, and some powerful natural supplements designed to build up joints and bones. He was given a shampoo and a mild dip and some herbal oils were rubbed on the skin. Calendula ointment was applied to the sores as this helps heal open wounds and is very soothing. The next day the sores had dried up and he was a little more lively. A homeopathic remedy was given, which was Sulfur 30 C, as this is good for skin conditions and mange. He had an excellent response to this and in a few days was happy and lively. The hair started to grow back and after a few weeks he had a healthy shiny coat. The more severe hip problems caused by malnutrition also began to improve, although he was kept in a small area so he did not overstrain himself. He had an acupuncture treatment and gradually his limbs became straight and he could walk and run and play like any other puppy. Now, almost two months later, the ugly duckling has become a swan and Thor has become a beautiful healthy Rottweiler.
DEJA VU – who needed homeopathy
Deja vu was at that time a sixteen year old calico cat, who was having early signs of kidney failure. She was not feeling quite herself and had started to lose weight and drink more water than normal. Her owners decided to try holistic treatment, since there was not much that could be done conventionally to prevent the kidneys from failing. She was started on a natural home prepared diet which her devoted humans began to prepare for her each day. The diet consisted of brown rice, vegetables and grains, with a low amount of protein, since the kidneys were no longer able to process meat in her diet, or processed cat food. Deja vu took to the diet well, and did not mind the homeopathic remedies she was given too much. She was doing well for about six months, when the liver went into a crisis and she lost some more weight. At that time she was given additional supplements, and also some acupuncture, to try and strengthen both her liver and her kidneys. While there is no cure for old age acupuncture has been well known in China for enhancing longevity and there are specific points described in ancient Chinese texts for this very purpose. Certainly no-one had informed Deja vu she was over one hundred in human years and she responded well to the treatments she received so that her liver and kidneys returned to normal values. She continued to improve and gain weight and started to behave like a young cat again, indeed her favorite pastimes are to climb trees when she is allowed out and terrorize the lizards in the back-yard.
Deja lived to be a happy grandmother cat and looked and acted as if she was ten years younger, right until she passed away at the grand old age of 24, which I attribute to her diet and her excellent response to homeopathic medicine and acupuncture. She just returned (to her disgust) for periodic check ups to make sure she was doing fine, but sadly we cannot live for ever, and she used up the last of her nine lives in 2003. Deja was 24 years old and while her kidneys are not as strong as they were, and she developed some arthitis, she was still enjoying life and especially being waited on by her humans Rod and Sharon until her time came. I know the love and dedication both Rod and Sharon gave to Deja played a huge part in her long and happy life, despite her health challenges and age. There is nothing to replace love and care in healing and wellness for both people and animals. Deja needless to say is greatly missed by Rod and Sharon, and truly was an inspiration to us all. I know they were honored to have her in their lives.
BUBBA – who needed acupuncture
Bubba was a young black Labrador-Sharpei mix aged about eleven months. He was suffering from arthritis caused by hip dysplasia, which meant his hip joints were formed abnormally and the bones did not fit together like they should. He also had arthritis in the front legs which meant he was in a lot of pain. Consequently he could not walk or run, and was permanently lame and stiff. It was impossible for him to jump up onto things and he was on a lot of pain medication, and the long term prognosis did not look too good.As mentioned in the previous article the effects of acupuncture include pain relief decreased inflammation and increased blood flow to the area. Conditions such as hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc collapse, arthritis and nerve damage often respond well to acupuncture. Acupuncture appeared to be the best approach to treating Bubba. In addition he was given a better diet and nutritional supplements, once again, to help strengthen the bones and ligaments and counteract inflammation and pain. Vitamin C is very important in the treatment of hip dysplasia, as well as a good balanced diet. Bubba was also given shark cartilage and bone meal to try and build his joints back up and help in his development, as he was still growing at this stage. He was given his first acupuncture treatment and went home with his medication. Two weeks later he was doing much better. Bubba is an extremely strong and hyperactive dog and he hated not being able to get around, so it was great to see him return to his own self. He had two more acupuncture treatments, at two weekly intervals, and continued with the nutritional supplements after which time he was doing so well that he was able to stop the treatments, although he continues to take the supplements, which are preventing the return of his symptoms.
LUCAS – who needed nutrition
Lucas was a two year old orange cat, who had osteoporosis, which was thought to be caused by a possible virus that had affected the kidneys. He had multiple fractures in the hips and could hardly walk with his rear end, appearing to be very stiff and in a lot of pain. Initially he was started on a specific nutritional supplement for the bones, which is designed to reverse bone disease and supply the nutrients the bone needs to reform and develop. In addition a natural vitamin and sea mineral supplement was given and a homeopathic remedy, Hypericum, which was to treat the pain and stiffness he was suffering from. Some green lipped mussel extract was also used, which helps with arthritis and and muscle and joint pain. One month later Lucas appeared to be more comfortable and was moving around more easily. He continued to slowly improve and did not return for a visit for several months, although he continued on the natural medication he was prescribed. When he came back in for the recheck he looked like a different cat. He was walking around freely and happily and was obviously in a lot less pain. He had gained weight and was happy and purring. The most amazing thing about Lucas was that when he returned to the regular veterinarian for x-rays the bones had actually regenerated and were much stronger and thicker than when he was originally diagnosed with the condition. Now it is over one year later and Lucas is still doing very well and has even begun to jump up onto things by himself, which he was unable to do before. Now, unfortunately, his canine companion Williams has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, so let us hope that Williams responds as well to his treatment.
ZEUS – who needed homeopathy
Zeus was a mixed German Shepherd puppy who had been hand reared on a baby bottle by his loving owner. When he was about six weeks old he suddenly looked very ill and stopped eating. He was diagnosed with Parvo which is a serious viral condition causing vomiting and severe diarrhea, with blood. Because he was bottle raised and did not get the antibodies from his mother which would have helped to protect him from this deadly disease he got a extremely sick. Homeopathy works very well against acute problems like this and it was decided that this would be the best treatment. The most important thing for this disease is plenty of fluids and electrolytes, ideally directly into the blood stream via intravenous infusions. However, if this is not possible plenty of oral fluids, such as Pediolyte also helps. Zeus was started on intravenous fluids and was given various homeopathic remedies through the course of the next few days. At first it looked like touch and go and he was very weak and sick, and unable to eat or drink or keep anything down, but he slowly began to respond and stopped vomiting and having diarrhea. He was also given slippery elm, and goldenseal combination, which helps to soothe the irritated intestines and also boost his immune system, which becomes very suppressed by the virus. Slowly he got better and returned to normal, with a lot of loving care and nursing from his owner, and Zeus never looked back. Treatment of parvo with homeopathic remedies is effective and seems to decrease the severity of the condition and to speed the recovery time. Distemper, another well known infectious disease also responds well to homeopathy, and while it is more difficult to treat, can be reversed with large intravenous doses of Vitamin C. I have had several cases of distemper encephalitis respond to homeopathy, even though it is usually hopeless at this stage.
The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier, Plume Books, 1990.
Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM, Rodale Press, 1996.
Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats by Diane Stein, Crossing Press, 1993.
Dr. Anna Maria Gardner is a holistic veterinarian, based in Washington State, and is certified in acupuncture and homeopathy. She lives in Washington with her daughter, two dogs, seven cats, sixteen chickens, two goats, a donkey, a horse, two ducks, a pair of geese and one bossy parrot.