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Holistic Pet Care: Healthy Choices for Our Four-Legged Friends

by Ellen Lovinger Eller


Veterinarians have a difficult task—trying to help patients that are, for the most part, unable to communicate what’s bothering them. Conventional veterinary practice has long emphasized annual vaccinations and the treatment of symptoms with antibiotics and other drugs, or surgery. In too many cases, when standard procedure doesn’t work, owners face a heartbreaking next step—seemingly the only way to alleviate a beloved pet’s suffering: euthanasia.

But according to veterinarians who appear in an eye-opening documentary called "Dr. DoMore" (available on DVD at DrDoMore.org), many animals are suffering unnecessarily from ailments that are preventable: gum disease and tooth loss, allergies, immune disorders, dementia, and an alarming increase in cancer, even in young dogs and cats.

In response, reflecting the views of practitioners around the world who focus on prevention and natural healing, the "Dr. DoMore" veterinarians explain how and why they moved beyond the allopathic disciplines they first learned and now integrate alternative treatments into their work.

Their holistic, or integrative, approach takes all aspects of an animal’s life into consideration, emphasizing healthy diet and exercise, and combining conventional medical skills and information-gathering tools, like X-rays, with complementary techniques proven to ease pain and discomfort, and help the patient’s body heal itself.

Love at First Bite: Nutrition

While browsing a website called holisticpetfood.wordpress.com recently, I came across a blog by Teresa Holladay, "an IT Project Manager by profession…an animal rescuer by avocation."

Writing about the benefits of natural pet foods made without by-products, gluten, corn or chemicals, Holladay refers to the scientific evidence linking colon cancer in humans with eating processed meats, like hot dogs and bologna—and points out that there’s also a link between the processes for obtaining those mysterious by-products many pet foods contain and the rising rate of cancer in pets.

Clearly, "you are what you eat" is as true for your dog or cat as it is for you—which means to raise a healthy pet, you need to understand his nutritional needs. Even if you are a vegetarian, your dog and cat are, by nature, meat eaters with omnivorous leanings, so keep that in mind when making their food choices.

Today’s experts describe a healthy basic diet for dogs as approximately 25% protein (more for young, very active and/or working animals, pregnant females and growing puppies); about 50% grains—usually cooked brown rice with other organic whole grains, like oatmeal, barley or millet, added for variety; and 25% vegetables, lightly steamed, boiled, pureed or raw, however your dog most enjoys them. (I’ve had dogs that really loved romaine lettuce, carrots and cherry tomatoes!)

Ideally, dogs should eat raw meat—as long as you know the beef, chicken, rabbit, etc., is organic and fresh. A healthy dog’s stomach contains enough acid to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. And, as many veterinarians and raw-food advocates assert, no one cooks for wolves, coyotes and cats in the wild. (Avoid feeding raw pork, however, because parasites like trichinosis are a very real danger.)

If you prefer, it’s fine to gently steam or boil your dog’s meat, especially if you’re unsure about its source, or if the dog is unwell, getting older or has a sensitive stomach that doesn’t tolerate raw food.

Many dogs enjoy an occasional egg—cooked or raw—and wild carnivores will eat fish if given the opportunity, so try that as well. You can also offer a small portion of fresh liver once a week, although organ meats are not essential to a canine’s well being, and dogs may ingest too much vitamin A if they have liver more often.

Remember, too, there’s nothing like a large organic beef bone every week to keep a dog’s teeth free of plaque and gum disease.

Cats require a diet that’s higher in protein—about 60% organic beef, chicken, turkey, perhaps some fish, and a bit of heart, kidney or liver up to twice a week (with the same caution as for dogs). Many people feed their cats raw meat, but steaming or boiling it is fine. The resulting broth can be used to flavor rice or vegetables.

Vegetables should make up about 20% of your cat’s diet—anything from broccoli to cucumbers, if he’ll eat them. And feel free to offer your pet pieces of fruit, like melon or apple. Many cats (and dogs) savor such healthy treats.

The last 20% of your cat’s diet should be grains, with steamed or boiled brown rice as the staple and cooked oatmeal, barley, millet or perhaps amaranth mixed in. Since cats can be finicky, experiment to find the most appealing combination.

If you can’t buy and prepare organic meals for your pets, you can choose from a variety of healthy commercial pet foods now on the market—nationally and regionally popular brands like Wellness, Wysong, Primal Raw, Flint River Ranch and (yes) Newman’s Own. Look for nutritional content that meets your dog or cat’s basic needs, making certain the food is gluten and corn free and made without animal by-products, preservatives or other chemicals. (The website holisticpetfood.com was a handy resource—and not only for buying pet food. It had links for everything from holistic veterinarians to toys, treats and natural odor eliminators.)

Don’t forget that cats and dogs need vitamins and minerals, too, which can be provided daily in natural supplements such as nutritional yeast and bone meal, with olive or safflower oil and vitamin E added for beautiful coats. There are high-quality products sold in health food stores, organic pet supply houses and online, which simplifies matters for even the busiest people. But before you buy anything, talk to your vet to determine which supplements are right for your pet, and how much to give.

Vaccinations & Titer Tests

Like parents who question whether their children’s "routine" vaccinations are actually more dangerous than the diseases they’re supposed to prevent, a growing number of pet owners, and veterinarians, are asking whether annual booster shots for dogs and cats are necessary, or safe.

Researchers have long recognized that early vaccinations tend to confer a long-lived immunity, which is why people don’t need yearly small pox or polio boosters. Their immune systems were stimulated in childhood and their bodies’ cellular memory "wakes up" to combat any challenges from those diseases.

It’s the same for animals. Owners may spend substantial money on yearly vaccinations, but their dogs and cats are still likely to be benefiting from the immunity established when they were puppies and kittens—not really getting a "boost." What’s more, that immunity may interfere with subsequent vaccinations. For example, if you vaccinate a puppy or kitten that’s too young, the antibodies received from its mother’s milk are still in its system and will obstruct the vaccine’s attempt to provoke an immune response.

State laws may require that dogs be inoculated against rabies at one- or three-year intervals (most places don’t require rabies shots for cats, yet people with outdoor cats often follow a regular booster schedule). Yet the rabies vaccine given to young animals is usually so effective, it affords life-long protection.

As for most annual viral vaccinations, some are useless or just unnecessary in animals over a year old. Take the dreaded Parvovirus. It’s almost always a disease of puppies under one year, and occasionally elder dogs with weakened immune systems (often caused by unhealthy diets and over-vaccinating). Adult dogs rarely die of Parvo, so why vaccinate yearly throughout their lives?

A lot of what conventional medicine recommends is based on schedules set by vaccine manufacturers, according to an article by Lorie Long published in the December 2002 "Whole Dog Journal." And owners’ desire to protect their pets against every "evil germ" out there is largely based on fear.

Ironically, the potential risks of over-vaccinating are far more frightening: serious inflammations, such as encephalitis; upset of the natural immune system; toxic reactions; degenerative diseases of the joints, blood and GI tract; injection-site sarcomas. So before giving that annual booster shot, many veterinarians now offer titer tests.

Titer tests measure how much antibody to a particular virus or antigen is in the animal’s bloodstream. The idea is that if titer levels are satisfactory, the pet has sufficient antibodies and his "immunologic memory" from a previous inoculation remains strong. Further vaccination is not needed at that time.

There are titer tests for both dogs and cats, and while they are sometimes inconclusive, they give pet owners a welcome option. Talk to your vet, and go prepared. I found great information about titers and vaccinations online at wingedwolf.citymax.com, petlvr.com, onlynaturalpetcommunity.com/forums, thepetcenter. com and austinholistic.com/petvaccinations.

Healing Ways

The beauty of holistic pet care is that animals benefit from the same healing modalities as their owners. Here are a few of the possibilities your veterinarian may choose…

Acupuncture: clinically proven effective for controlling both chronic and acute pain and treating conditions such as joint stiffness, allergies, renal dysfunction and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as various diseases.

Reiki: light-touch energy therapy that enhances the patient’s natural healing ability by helping to re-establish a normal flow of life force (ch’i) throughout the body; often used to complement other forms of treatment.

Massage Therapy: hands-on stimulation of muscles and tissues through gentle kneading, stroking, stretching limbs, etc., to alleviate soreness and stiffness, improve blood circulation, remove toxins from tissues and generally enhance your pet’s quality of life and well-being.

Bach Flower Remedies: especially effective for alleviating emotional and psychosomatic conditions, such as anxiety and depression, as well as to aid in the treatment of disease by soothing the mind and feelings; well suited to animals’ intuitive nature.

In addition, your vet may recommend traditional Chinese Herbs or "Western" Herbs like Arnica, Goldenseal and Slippery Elm Bark…Chiropractic or Network Chiropractic, to adjust misaligned vertebrae or relieve muscles to ease pain and promote recovery from physical injuries…Homeopathy, to stimulate self healing rather than suppress the body’s natural reactions…Ozone Therapy, to activate the immune system, break down pollutants in the body or help heal infections. And they’re just some of the options available.

If your current vet is unwilling to pursue any of those options, or attempts to intimidate you when you ask to try an alternative therapy, get in touch with a pet care professional you can work with.

Ask folks at your local health food store or an established holistic health practitioner (acupuncturist, reflexologist, etc.) if they know a holistic veterinarian or an allopathic vet who is open to supporting your desire to care for your pet holistically. Ask your family and friends. Or look up holistic veterinary organizations on the Internet.

In choosing a holistic veterinarian, look for someone experienced in complementary forms of healing and whose goal is to make your cat or dog healthier for life, not just to get rid of the current symptom. He or she should ask questions about your pet’s diet and overall energy level, what problems there were in the past, what changes may have occurred in the household or environment, and if anything seems to make the problem better or worse.

Observe how the vet touches and talks to your pet, take note of how your pet reacts—then trust your instincts.

Animal Communication—

Professional & Personal

Have you ever wished your dog could explain why he’s afraid of water…or that you could tell your cat to stop tearing up the couch…or that your aging pet could let you know exactly what hurts him? Call in an animal communicator.

Offering consultations by phone or in-person, depending on the situation, professional animal communicators can telepathically tune in to household pets (and other animals) to learn their likes and dislikes, the reason for undesirable behaviors, or simply how they’re feeling.

Clients are often astonished by how accurately an animal communicator picks up on a pet’s distinctive personality as he responds to the communicator’s questions with pictures or feelings. If a dog has a sore leg, for instance, the communicator may see an image of the limb or feel pain in his own leg. He then becomes the animal’s voice, translating the information received into words the owner can understand.

It can be extremely helpful to your veterinarian, a useful tool for you when it comes to feeding and training…and, above all, it adds another layer to the bond you and your pets already share.

May Your Four-Legged Friends 'Live Long & Prosper'

It’s no surprise that a person’s commitment to living holistically extends to how he or she cares for pets. Realistically, a great deal depends on how much time, effort and money an owner is willing, or able, to spend.

The important thing is not to worry about being "perfect," but rather to focus on being knowledgeable, making informed decisions and doing the best you can…consistently, and with love…so that the animals in your care will enjoy long and healthy lives.

Visit these informative websites: theholisticpet.com, thisgreenlife. wordpress.com, rainbowcrystal.com, PetEducation. com.

Ellen Eller grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and worked as a copywriter for Doubleday’s book clubs before moving to Shelburne Falls, Mass., in 2004 with her husband, Michael, and daughter Emily, a MA teacher. She is now a freelance writer and editor serving both private and corporate clients, including Chicago Review Press, the Gorilla Foundation and the West County News. She has been writing for Wisdom since 2005.


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