Did you know there’s an actual "Change Your Pet’s Life Day”? Yep! And there are many ways to do it. One of the most popular in recent years is through holistic or alternative veterinary care. My dogs see an herbalist and acupuncturist. Herbs help Shermie with anxiety. Bruiser, diagnosed with disc disease in 2005, gets relief from regular acupuncture.
Does your dog or cat have mobility issues? Chronic pain? A persnickety appetite? The following can help you identify modalities that could make a big difference in his or her daily comfort and quality of life.
Tips to put you on the right path, courtesy of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association:
What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?
The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction. Holistic thinking is centered on love, empathy, and respect.
Can you combine conventional Western technology with alternative techniques?
In many acute situations, treatment may involve aspects of surgery and drug therapy from conventional Western technology, along with alternative techniques to provide a complementary whole.
CREDS & STATS
Modalities include acupuncture, herbs, flower essences, Reiki, and Tellington touch.
Some have certification programs with a year or more of courses, exams and evaluation of clinical ability. Veterinarians can be certified in veterinary homeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese Food Therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy. Just because a provider has taken a course or is certified does not ensure he or she is thinking holistically. Ask questions and do your homework.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2003 National Pet Owner Survey, 21 percent of pet owners have used some form of alternative medicine on their pets. Compare this to the 1996 survey, in which only six percent of pet owners said they’ve used alternative therapies on their pets.
ALTERNATIVE TREATMENT OPTIONS
Acupuncture: Dr. Becky Jester of Natural Healing Veterinary Acupuncture says acupuncture is a great way to treat pain, simulate the appetite, and treat nerve, organ, and many other conditions. Basic massage and joint manipulations are incorporated in treatments to ease needle insertion and aid the body in regaining function.
Top candidates: According to Dr. Jester, acupuncture often helps with arthritis, degenerative disc disease (from severe pain to neurologic dysfunction), idiopathic vestibular disease (geriatric vestibular disease —circling/falling and/or head tilt not caused by ear infection), gastrointestinal issues, and kidney and liver dysfunction, to name a few.
Massage: Massage helps with osteoarthritis and decreases inflammation. Is your dog limping? Having trouble with stairs? Losing stamina? While these conditions call for X-rays for cartilage or bone changes, massage can help reduce stiffness and fatigue by increasing circulation and flushing waste products from the muscle tissues.
“Massage can be very beneficial for animals recovering from surgery, geriatric care, or at any life stage to help maintain the health that they're currently at. Massage helps boost immune function, increases circulation to help flush residual anesthesia, lubricate osteoarthritic joints, create homeostasis with all of the major systems, increase range of motion to specific osteoarthritic or post-surgical joints, decrease inflammation, and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system for better healing and overall comfort,” says Rubi Sullivan, owner of Heal NW.
T-Touch: TTouch addresses pet behavior and/or health issues in a positive, respectful, cooperative manner, focusing on helping pets feel safe and confident. Using just a few simple techniques can really improve a pet’s life. TTouch workshops are offered frequently at various locations throughout the region.
Herbs: According to Dr. Jester, “Herbal therapy can be a great adjunct or alternative to conventional veterinary medication, depending on the condition. There are herbs that have actions very similar to conventional drugs, such as anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, but more importantly, herbs can support the body in a way that conventional medications do not.”
FINDING AN ALTERNATIVE PROVIDER
First ask your veterinarian; many now have alternative practitioners on staff. Or look for therapists with formal training and education in massage, TTouch, acupuncture or who specialize in herbs.
Questions to ask:
• How long have you been offering holistic services?
• Has training been followed by testing and certification by a recognized holistic organization?
• Will you keep our regular veterinarian updated on our pet’s progress and any problems that may arise?
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Ask prospective practitioners if you can observe them working on a patient. If yes, the animal should be relaxed during the experience. Get acquainted with your prospective practitioner — it may take more than one session for you or your pet to become comfortable with the practitioner or modality.
An initial consult generally involves a thorough history and hands-on physical exam to determine treatment needs. Follow-up sessions are typically every 1-2 weeks for the first 3-4 sessions, then spaced out based on your pet’s response to treatment. More involved cases (such as severe neurologic dysfunction) may require more frequent sessions at first.
WHAT ABOUT PAIN?
“Pain management is an area where holistic care, especially acupuncture, really shines,” says Jester. “I’ve had several patients who have had neck, back or nerve pain who’ve been unable to stand for several days, and after one acupuncture session have either been standing that day or the next. I think electrical acupuncture offers the quickest and longest-lasting relief in such cases. Many animals have responded favorably to electroacupuncture and herbs when conventional medication wasn't working or tolerated.”
PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT...
Herbs are a hot topic among holistic practitioners. “Dogs are drawn to various grasses, and holistic practitioners believe the impulse is an instinctive effort to address an imbalance,” says Greg Tilford, author of All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets. “Dogs have been self-medicating for many years, and animals are the earth’s original herbalists.”
Jester says holistic medicine is rising as a whole, including nutrition, as people increasingly seek the same options for pet care as for humans.
Reiki is also trending, a hands-on healing method that originated in Japan. The practitioner channels healing energy through his or her hands to the animal through a light touch on or near the body.
As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy atmylifewithdogspdx.com.