Holistic Pet Care

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Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M.

One of the most important aspects of being a pet parent is providing for the emotional and physical well-being of your animal companions. Veterinary practitioners who offer an integrated approach to healthcare – combining the best of conventional medicine with that of complementary and alternative therapies – may offer a helpful and viable option beyond what traditional care can offer.

Holistic Pet Care

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As a vet practicioner, I have spent most of my career searching for ways to provide better care for my patients. Learning about alternative therapies convinced me to share my discoveries with others through the Natural Vet book series (published by Prima). This allowed me to share everything I had learned about natural pet care with other doctors and pet guardians.

This desire to offer alternative care to my patients in no way indicated any displeasure on my part with conventional medicine. Rather, I concluded that conventional medicine had certain limitations. The integration of complementary and alternative therapies with my conventional training allowed me to go beyond those limitations by using an either/or approach. Some of the holistic options I’ve examined include acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine and nutritional therapy.

Beyond Conventional Medicine
Why are some veterinarians and pet caretakers interested in alternative health care? In some cases, no conventional treatments are available. For example, milk thistle is a wonderful herb that helps heal the liver; there are no conventional medications that can provide the same benefit. Probiotics and glutamine are wonderful complementary therapies to heal a diseased intestinal tract, yet there are no conventional medicines that do the same.

Complementary therapies are often chosen to minimize side effects from conventional approaches. Probiotics, for example, can minimize damage to the intestinal tract when antibiotic therapy is needed.

Many owners view complementary therapies as safer than conventional ones. While some therapies – especially herbal ones – can be toxic, most complementary methods are safer than conventional medications. Glucosamine and chondroitin, for example, are safer for treating pets (and people) with arthritis than corticosteroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Finally, many complementary therapies cost less over the long term for the treatment of your pet.

Give It a Try
Anyone can easily initiate an integrated approach to pet care. Start by feeding the best, most wholesome diet possible. Supplement it with healthy, whole food sources of vitamins and minerals, fatty acids and digestive enzymes that can improve digestion, minimize inflammation and decrease harmful effects from cellular oxidation. Finally, minimize any unnecessary medications, including vaccines.

I’m often asked for proof that complementary or alternative therapies work. While there is more clinical support for the use of these therapies in people, there is an increasing body of knowledge that has demonstrated positive results in animals, as well. Having treated thousands of animals with the various complementary and alternative therapies at my disposal, my favorite “proof” is how my own patients respond to these therapies. Either the pet gets better or he doesn’t. If the therapy doesn’t work, we try something else. If I used only a conventional approach, many of my patients would not improve, as some diseases have a limited number of therapies that may be helpful. By listening to the pet’s body and observing his response to the chosen therapy, the integrative approach allows me to create a program that works best for each and every patient.

I encourage you to learn about this fascinating aspect of pet health care. Discuss your new knowledge with your own veterinarian. Slowly incorporate some of the things you learn into your pet’s preventative health regimen. You can then begin to take a holistic approach to pet care.

Dr. Messonnier (naturalvet@juno.com) is a veterinarian and author of
The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats.

© 2003 ASPCA

ASPCA Animal Watch – Spring 2003

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