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Understanding "Holistic" Pet Care:
My Holistic Journey on the Road to Healing

Selecting the type of health care you choose for your pet is very much a personal choice. While most pet owners are familiar with the typical conventional practice, an increasing number of people are choosing a more holistic approach for their pets. Some owners choose this approach for their pets because they use a similar approach for their own care. Still others choose a holistic approach when conventional medicine can no longer help their pets. Regardless of the reason for the choice, I believe that a holistic approach offers the best of both treatment options for pets.

For those of us who have chosen an integrated holistic approach, combining the best of conventional medicine with the best of "natural" therapies, the road began with a search for "something more" that conventional medicine was not able to offer.

Part of the journey for me involved a search to offer better care for my patients, and one fork in this road convinced me to share my healing discoveries with others through the books that I write. These books allow me to share with other doctors and pet owners around the world everything I have learned about natural pet care.

Why did I begin my search for "something better," and why did I feel the need to share this with readers around the globe?

To start with, I had to admit something that was a bit uncomfortable. Even though I felt that I was a good doctor when I began my search, I was forced to admit that there had to be more than simply what I was already doing for my patients. While I had been trained to be a good "treater" of disease, I had to face the facts that I was not a good "healer." Only when I admitted that I needed to become a healer rather than treater could I admit my shortcomings and search for something better.

Once I found this great new world of natural therapies, I started seeing positive results in my patients, many of whom I had not been able to help with only conventional medicine. As a result, my motto became "hope for the hopeless." No longer did I have to tell a pet owner that I couldn't help his pet, because now I had twice as many treatment options available.

Terms You Should Know
There are several terms that are thrown around when discussing a holistic approach to pet care. Let’s start our discussion by defining these terms so we’re on the same wavelength.

Health is not simply the absence of disease. Many animals may appear healthy (they are not demonstrating signs of illness) but in fact are ill. As an example, a pet with diabetes may not show any clinical signs until the diabetes has advanced, yet blood and urine tests would show changes in glucose concentrations that would allow a diagnosis of diabetes prior to clinical signs. While this pet appears healthy, in reality he has subclinical (not yet evident) diabetes.

Holistic care refers to evaluating the "whole" animal, and the "whole" range of options that might be selected for treatment. For many conditions, the most holistic approach will involve a rational selection of recommended conventional and complementary therapies.

Complementary Therapy
By definition, a "complementary" therapy is used to "complement" rather than replace a conventional therapy. Depending upon the condition, the "best" therapy could be a conventional treatment, a complementary treatment, or (often) a combination of both. Another great synonym for complementary therapy is integrative therapy, where we integrate a non-traditional therapy with a conventional therapy.

Alternative Therapy
Alternative means instead of, or as an alternative to something. Because most holistic doctors use a combination of conventional and complementary therapies, they don’t consider their treatments as alternatives to anything. Therefore, most of us don’t refer to our therapies as alternative therapies.


Why Choose Natural Treatments?
Holistic therapies are chosen for several reasons. First, in some instances there are no conventional treatments available. For example, milk thistle is a wonderful herb to help heal the liver; there are no conventional medications that can do this. Probiotics and glutamine are wonderful natural therapies to heal a diseased intestinal tract, yet there are no conventional medicines that can do what these natural therapies do.

Sometimes a natural therapy is chosen to minimize side effects from conventional therapies. Referring to probiotics again, these supplements can minimize damage to the intestinal tract when antibiotic therapy is needed.

Third, many owners view holistic therapies as safer than conventional therapies. While some therapies, especially herbal therapies, can be toxic, most holistic therapies are safer than conventional medications. As an example, glucosamine and chondroitin are safer for treating pets with arthritis than corticosteroids or non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications. For long term control of pain and inflammation, their use is preferred over conventional therapies for their wide safety margins.

Finally, many holistic therapies cost less over the long term treatment of your pet than conventional therapies. The supplement choline, contained in a product called Cholodin®, costs much less when treating a pet with cognitive disorder than the conventional therapy Anipryl®.


Do They Work? Proof
Many people ask if these holistic therapies really work. Is there proof that they do anything? Are we simply seeing a result due to the placebo effect? Let’s take a look at these issues, as the answers directly relate to your decision to seek a holistic therapy for your pet.


Anecdotal Studies
These studies are not rigidly controlled but rather are the result of clinical experiences and observations reported by various practitioners. While not often thought of as highly as the double blind, placebo controlled study (see below,) in many cases the only "proof" we have for a therapy may be from these experiences shared by those who use them. Often, anecdotal information will lead to more controlled studies. Prior to the use of the double blind, placebo controlled study, doctors commonly learned about new therapies through anecdotal studies.


Double Blind, Placebo Controlled Study
In what is considered the "gold standard" for scientific "proof," these studies are double blind (neither the researcher administering the therapy nor the patient knows if the treatment is the actual treatment or a placebo) and a placebo is used to compare results the therapy tested. A placebo is administered "blindly" to some participants to see if these participants also show improvement. As some improvement can always occur with a placebo, the results between the actual therapy tested and the placebo are compared to see if there is a statistical difference.


Placebo Effect
Many skeptics question whether or not a pet improves as a result of the placebo effect when treated with a complementary therapy. Of course, this question should also be asked about conventional therapies as well.

There are actually 2 placebo effects that may occur when a pet is treated with any type of therapy. The first one is the well known "placebo effect" so commonly discussed when treating people. In this effect, if a doctor prescribes a medication for someone with a sore shoulder and tells his patient that he will improve in 48 hours, and then the patient improves, was it from the treatment or the power of suggestion?

Because our minds can often convince us that we feel better, and can in fact help the body heal, it's good to know if the response to therapy is from the therapy or the mind healing the body. Of course, there is no way for a pet to tell itself to feel better. If I give a pet a medication to make it stop itching, there is no way for me to tell the pet to stop itching. Either the treatment works or it doesn't. This well known placebo effect, which commonly occurs in people, cannot occur in pets.

Having said this, people who respond to the power of suggestion (placebo effect) simply prove that the body can heal itself without harmful medications. Holistic medical doctors can use the body's healing ability to assist in wellness without resorting to powerful and expensive medications, and this is a great thing!

The second type of placebo effect occurs in any person or pet. Simply put, some patients will improve no matter what treatment is chosen unless their condition is severe. Therefore, whenever possible, a placebo controlled trial is helpful when testing a new therapy to compare how many patients get better with the therapy and how many would have improved without therapy anyway. This allows doctors to determine if the therapy really worked or if the patient would have improved without therapy. Once again it’s worth pointing out that if the patient can get better on his own, why not assist him with a holistic approach rather than using medication that would not work.


Some Common Holistic Therapies
As we conclude this introductory article, I think it’s a good idea for me to briefly mention some of the more commonly prescribed holistic therapies. Exactly which therapy a doctor utilizes depends upon a number of factors, including the condition being treated, expense, ease of administering the therapy, his training, and his success with a particular therapy. In most cases, a holistic doctor will combine therapies (sometimes including a conventional medical therapy) to get the best result.

Acupuncture is the most well known holistic therapy. Using small needles or an electrical unit, acupuncture points are stimulate in an attempt to heal the pet. The therapy is usually painless and works well for many pets. Acupuncture is used for a number of conditions, but most often clients request this treatment from me when the pet has arthritis.

Homeopathy is a therapy that uses diluted concentrations of various substances (plants, toxins, bacteria, etc.) to stimulate the pet’s own healing energy. Homeopathics are supplied as liquids or tiny pills that make it easy to administer to just about any pet.

Herbal medicine is also commonly prescribed. Herbs contain pharmacologically active substances, which is why so many medical companies are investigating them to see if the active substances can be purified and turned into a prescription medication. I use a lot of herbal therapy and see many successful treatments. Herbs are supplied as a powder, capsule, or liquid, and can be used to treat many medical conditions.

As you can see, there are many benefits to considering a holistic approach when preventing and treating disease. As more people use this approach for themselves, it makes sense to consider a similar approach for our pets. Consult a good reference book to learn more about how these therapies can help your pet. For a list of holistic veterinarians in your area, visit




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