When people hear the term “holistic” they typically think about alternative medicine. It brings to mind acupuncture and herbal remedies alone. This is a common misconception, as holistic dog health actually combines several traditional and alternative therapies to treat ailing dogs into a single approach with the focus on what's most important.
Holistic dog health is often confused with homeopathic dog health. Homeopathic remedies are all about stimulating the body's natural healing response with the use of plants, minerals, animal substances and other natural treatments.
Veterinarians that practice holistic dog health look at the canine's overall health – not just a few symptoms – and use both traditional and alternative treatments.
If you choose to treat your pet holistically, he may be prescribed an herbal remedy or a prescription drug. He may receive massage therapy or need to have lab work done. In short, holistic dog health looks for the best and healthiest way to treat a dog without choosing to be on the traditional or alternative side of the fence.
* Note that this article is highly referenced, so I recommend checking sources for evidence of the claims and statements made.
Holistic Dog Care 101: The Evidence-based Guide
Are holistic, alternative, organic, natural, and healthy approaches all the same? No, they are not, and this terminology can sometimes get confusing to p
et owners, leaving them wondering which type of “approach” is best for the dog.
For example, organically produced corn, wheat and other grain products can be natural and organic, but studies show they may actually be unhealthy for dogs, and some of these carbohydrate sources are poorly digested by dogs.
In the same vein, raw food for dogs alone may be natural, but not necessarily organic, holistic, or healthy to a canine. That is, these definitions do not apply to something that has not been processed or affected by the artificial pet food manufacturing process. So you have to pick and choose wisely, based on evidence.
Natural dog foods, dog treats and treatments
When it comes to dog food, the FDA has yet to put a clear definition on “natural” foods, supplements and treatments for dogs, but they do allow the label to say “natural” if it “does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” For more, read FDA's “natural” labeling requirements.
After many controversies from the pet food industry in recent years, more pet food companies are focusing on manufacturing natural dog foods and natural dog treats using less additives and more high quality ingredients.
Organic dog foods and treats
Organic pet foods and dog supplies are highly government-regulated, so they’re easy to find. Products bearing the USDA Organic seal were made from ingredients that are 95% organic (measured by weight). “Organic” has nothing to do with veterinary treatments of dogs, and only applies in cases of foods and treats.
Again, “Organic” label on pet foods by itself does not equate to being the best food for the dog, but it is a great indication of a very high quality product. As an example, here's a list of some of the best organic dog treats and top USDA certified dog foods – all of these have been highly praised by vets.
Alternative dog healthcare
Alternative dog healthcare approaches veer away from the regular drug-based methods. Alternative veterinary medicine includes acupuncture, homeopathic therapy, and other unconventional ways of treating dogs. Just like organic approach has nothing to do with treatments, alternative dog healthcare has nothing to do with pet foods or treats.
Alternative medicine for dogs has been a controversial topic for a long time. Scientists completely disagree with this methodology, and advise against using acupuncture, homeopathic therapy and other methods of alternative medicine on dogs.
It's true: plenty of studies show alternative medicine to be ineffective, but there is some evidence that certain “alternative” approaches – and acupuncture in particular – can work. It's up to you where you choose to stand on this argument.
Holistic dog foods and holistic veterinary medicine
Finally, the holistic approach to dog’s health takes every aspect of the dog into account – food and nutrition, lifestyle, activity level, supplements, medicine, and treatments. All these must work together to support the dog’s well-being.
Holistic veterinary medicine is currently a trending topic, and pet food companies are quick to utilize opportunities. So when it comes to holistic dog foods, FDA is still unsure what to do with this label (although they are working on how to approach the matter). In the meantime, pet food manufacturers are pilling onto the bandwagon and label everything and anything they can as “holistic.”
Like I said before, it's important to keep in mind that even though holistic may refer to something better than a regular commercial product, this doesn't necessarily mean that all items under that label are safe for dogs. Many of them, in fact, are unsafe. We need to wait for the regulatory body to take charge on this and establish some ground rules for companies.
With that being said, holistic dog foods and holistic veterinary medicine field is seeing a lot of positive results. Plenty of pet owners have anecdotal evidence where their dogs and cats have benefited greatly from holistic treatments or holistic dog food diets.
Here's a curious interview on the details of holistic veterinary medicine and what owners need to know. And in the below video a woman is sharing an interesting story about her pet and how she came to treat her dog through holistic approach rather than conventional methods:
Natural & Holistic
While these ideas come from different schools of thought, together they bring us the natural and holistic dog health approach. This approach encompasses various disciplines ranging from traditional to modern, eastern to western. The goal, however, is always the same: to keep the dog in the best health level with the right dog food, medicines, and elements that exist naturally.
As dog owners, we already know that a dog’s health and well-being is an integrated system of many functions, each different from the other, yet interdependent. Whatever is given to the dog must support its whole being, not only one part.
When something causes the dog to itch, conventional solutions include anti-itch liniment, dog shampoo or cortisone for dogs. This may relieve your dog's itching but will not, however, treat the root cause of the itching. With the holistic and natural dog health approach, it will be necessary to look deeper for the underlying condition that causes itching.
The goal is always to find a natural way to treat the root of the problem and condition.
Dog food, treats, supplements, and other nutritional and medicinal sources must be in the form closest to what the dog would find in the wild. Although not totally the same as other dog health concepts, the natural and holistic approach supports raw dog feeding and organic dog food supplies. It also supports traditional medicines, alternative remedies, herbs, Chinese medicine, and many others.
Natural and holistic dog health approach is all about being open-minded to new ways to treating dogs. However, we must still keep a healthy level of skepticism, look for science's health and constantly search for evidence. As veterinarians and pet owners, we cannot assume that one single approach is always best, and that applies to both evidence-based veterinary and holistic medicine.
RECOMMENDED: Best Food for Dogs 101 – Dog Food Buying Guide
Details on Holistic and Natural Dog Health Approaches
There is no hard and fast rule for determining which holistic diet is best for a dog. A pet parent must consider the whole being of the dog – his needs, activity, medical history, energy levels, environment and living conditions, diet and supplementation, medical conditions, and his breed and genetics.
No two dogs are alike, therefore, no two dogs have the same needs.
There is a basic premise in feeding dogs, however. Even though domestication of dogs have led them to adapt and become omnivores, studies show that canines actually thrive on carnivorous diet that's high in protein. Moreover, the old myth that protein can cause renal disease in dogs has also been dispelled many time already.
Therefore, dogs do need a high-protein content in their food, preferably with little to no grains, and definitely with no artificial ingredients. High-protein dog foods are commercially available. They come in dried, frozen, or fresh and raw preparations and contrary to what some owners may believe, they are optimized for perfect dog nutrition. An alternative way is making your own homemade dog foods.
For owners wanting to get into homemade dog food and particularly a diet similar to what dogs eat in the wild, there's plenty of advice out there. The most common canine diet for that is called BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or bones and raw food for dogs). The main ingredient is raw meat (poultry, pork, beef, venison, fish), with ground vegetable and meat mixture and dog supplements.
Raw dog feeding is the most natural way to feed a carnivore, of course. It is important to emphasize that raw dog feeding is not easy. It requires commitment on the part of the pet parent to sustain the dog’s raw diet. Not only that, but BARF diet has also come under fire by many scientists, and indeed, there is evidence showing how certain ways of BARF feeding aren't good for dogs.
When these are difficult to obtain, or when your pet refuses this diet, high-quality and high-protein dry dog food preparations are an option. These are the next best thing to fresh, raw meats. With these canine diets, nutritional management will be relatively easier. Commercial dog foods are also more convenient. However, some of the better ones may be a little costly.
It's important to note that there's a recent trend where many owners and some holistic veterinarians have been bashing commercial canine diets as the root of all evil, with no evidence to back this up. Going back to my point on being open-minded, I'd like to remind owners that while certain commercial diets are in fact bad for dogs, there's plenty of good ones.
Studies have also shown how commercial canine diets are perfectly balanced to hit all the marks of modern dog's nutritional needs. Unfortunately, we have yet to come up with a methodology to appropriately evaluate commercial dog foods for their quality. At the moment, the best way is to use a science-based method to breakdown the ingredients, like what NextGen Dog are doing with their dog food reviews.
There are exemptions to the high-protein diet requirement. This includes dogs with already developed renal problems or very aggressive behavioral issues. Dogs with these conditions will not be able to tolerate such high protein content or will not respond well, as indicated in above studies. In such cases, there is a need for alternative or replacement canine diets with high-quality protein yet lower protein amount.
Here's a list of vet recommended dog foods that you will usually hear as suggestions from your veterinarian. This doesn't mean you have to stick with these, and depending on the course of the market, these choices may change. Once again, I'd like to remind owners to stay open-minded and skeptical, and constantly look to expand their knowledge on proper canine nutrition.
Appropriate dog nutrition is the most basic requirement to ensure your dog’s good health. Applying the holistic dog health approach means taking into consideration the nutritional needs of your Fido.
No single dog food brand is best for all dogs. For more, read the article on top dog food brands.
All aspects affecting the dog must be taken into consideration when deciding on his diet, because each dog has a unique set of needs. Just because a bag of pet food says it’s the perfect dog food for “this type of canine” does not mean that it’s the perfect food for your specific dog.
For those interested in feeding dogs raw dog food diet, I recommend browsing through the following:
Healing Dogs from the Inside
From the holistic dog health point of view, to treat a dog for a particular set of symptoms means to “heal him from the inside.” That's what most holistic vets will tell you. It also requires respect for the interconnection of all parts that make the dog whole. A healthy dog is not merely a sum of healthy parts or the absence of an unhealthy part; it is a healthy and working WHOLE.
You don't need a lot of critical thinking skills to understand that a dog medicine for canine arthritis should not be given if the dog’s other organs will eventually suffer from it. The dog with loose stools may not only have an issue with food and diet. He could be nervous, stressed, or experiencing an emotional condition. Many variables do come into play.
A holistic veterinary practitioner uses many different methods and tools to address dog's health issues and help dogs live “holistically healthy.” No single solution in holistic canine health is cut and dry. Instead, holistic vets combine different medicines and approaches. Some of these include the many types of natural healthy canine diets, herbal and eastern medicine, conventional or western medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic therapy and aromatherapy.
The important things to remember when administering medicines are common sense:
- Don’t give drugs to merely suppress symptoms. Giving cortisone to dogs, for instance, is commonly administered to relieve itching, but what presents as itching can actually be a deeper problem. By suppressing itching, another more serious symptom may appear, such as chronic diarrhea. If another drug or chemical-based medicine is again used to suppress this symptom, the real health issue remains unresolved.
- Drugs weaken the body’s natural immune system. Symptoms are often the body’s means of communicating that something ails it. If we suppress it, the body finds another way to communicate – another symptom! Meanwhile, we have already introduced drugs and toxins that weaken the dog body’s natural ability to ward off diseases. Worse, the real health issue has not been addressed.
What the holistic dog health approach states is to examine all of these symptoms. Alleviate discomforts by natural methods that do not suppress and do not harm the dog’s natural immune systems.
And here's where the evidence-based approach fails. No studies so far have accounted for this fact, yet if you connect the dots, it all makes sense. We do have plenty of evidence showing that drugs do suppress the immune system and while healing some parts of the body they may harm others.
Boosting Dog's Immune System
Boosting your dog's immune system is one of the core principles of holistic dog health. A canine that has a strong immune system is highly able to heal himself naturally. As humans we have already figured this out and used this approach ourselves, and now it's our job to optimize our pets' immune system so that dogs can cure themselves naturally.
From the holistic vet's point of view, prevention is better than cure. And this is where many science-minded and holistic minded vets and owners come together.
Optimizing a dog's body’s natural defenses is the key to long-term physical and mental health, longer lifespan and ultimately happiness. This is a long-term, even lifelong, way of raising healthy dogs. Pet owners who look for instant cures may not find this compatible with their expectations, nor does this fall under what many dog companies selling supplements and foods would preach.
Toxins, poor diet, pollution, and unhealthy lifestyle combined can overwhelm a canine's body and impair his body’s natural functions. A compromised immune system makes the body vulnerable to allergies. It can also lead to organ failure, degenerative diseases, cancer, and a host of other disorders.
Many diseases often lead to behavioral disorders and emotional imbalances, all contributing to a dog’s state of being unwell. Note that this “state of being unwell” is not due to one single reason; there's a multitude of factors that come into play, and what's what we need to look at first and foremost.
These hazards are all present in the modern environment. They impinge on the health of our now domesticated dog who did evolve and who did change, and we now need to respond to this evolutionary law. Pollutants and toxins are present in food, medicines, shampoos, vaccines, water, and air.
Like most pet owners living sedentary lives, a modern dog of these pet owners often has little physical activity to be proud of. It is quite common for these dogs to develop canine arthritis, hip dysplasia, chronic skin diseases and other health problems. It's also typical to see digestive issues, canine diabetes, heart diseases and heart failures, kidney and liver diseases and obesity in dogs.
None of this should be happening, but as we continue to change the laws for ourselves, this change affects domesticated dogs as well. Therefore, it's our responsibility to respond with appropriate actions to ensure that instead of worsening our pets' health, we continue to improve it. Optimizing our dogs' immune system is the best place to start.
Then, enhancing the immune system begins with a healthy canine diet.
Highly processed and low quality, cheap dog foods contain preservatives and high amounts of artificial ingredients. These may affect the dog's health adversely. Dog food and ingredients within it must be free from insecticides and chemical inputs. They must be natural and raw – supportive of the dog’s natural design, digestive system, and biological functions.
Ideally, a well-balanced canine diet will provide all the nutrients required for the dog. It will prevent obesity, and strengthen immunity to diseases. It is the foundation of good health in dogs.
When choosing the route of a holistic dog health approach, many methods are used to boost canine's immune system. This includes the controversial methods as well, such as acupuncture, which involves balancing of life energy, as well as the use of herbal medicine and homeopathic remedies to cure disorders with only natural ingredients.
It may also include such methodologies as adjusting the position of the spinal column and bone joints by canine chiropractic therapy to address central nervous system and pain issues in dogs. These and other alternative methods veer away from allopathic medicine, which is how holistic vets often refer to conventional and western medicine.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Know Which is the Healthiest Dog Food?
Natural and Commercial Dog Supplements
A complete natural diet will most likely provide your dog with all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients he needs. When a diet is not so balanced or varied, though, there is a need for occasionally including specific dog supplements. Standard holistic dog health approach dictates that these nutrients be sourced from natural foods rather than artificial, but this again comes to your personal take on the matter.
Here are some of the natural sources of nutrients to supplement your dog’s diet:
- Alfalfa leaf or stem – amino acids, beta-carotene, biotin, calcium, copper, enzymes, fiber, folic acid, iron, magnesium, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, protein, and vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.
- Apple cider vinegar – biotin, calcium, copper, iron, folic acid, magnesium, niacin, pantothenic acid, pectin, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, and vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C.
- Codfish, tuna, or navy beans – iodine.
- Flax seed oil, Hemp oil, Krill oil, or Fish oil – essential fatty acids.
- Kelp – biotin, bromine, calcium, choline, copper, inositol, iodine, potassium, selenium, vitamins A, B, C and E, and zinc.
- Yogurt – probiotics and good bacteria for the dog's digestive health.
Dog supplements must be used in moderation. A complete and varied diet is almost always enough to provide all the nutrients needed by active dogs. If using supplements in powder or liquid form, make sure you thoroughly inspect labels and avoid those dog supplements that contain binders, sugar, yeast and other fillers.
Today, the most effective for dogs are fish oil supplements, and scientifically proven.
For those who are more open to using commercially made supplements for dogs, there's plenty of evidence on the positive response in dogs and their effectiveness, particularly with supplements such as fish oil. It's no surprise, since even though certain supplementation such as vitamins may be useless, we did find in human trials how many other supplements greatly benefit our bodies.
You can find a list of vet recommended dog supplements right here. There's more supplements for dogs available, but note that not all of them may be as good or even needed for canines. If you're curious, here's a huge list of all (or 56) most popular supplements for dogs.
Dog's Natural Environment and Lifestyle
Beyond dog food and pet medication, the dog’s way of life must also be considered. This aspect could be a serious dilemma for most pet owners who want to raise dogs holistically. You shouldn't let it deter you from going with the holistic dog health approach, however, and here's why.
There are several ways for dog parents to provide pet foods and canine medicines that mimic the dog’s natural instinct to hunt for prey and medicate themselves in the wild. The problem is that not every pet parent can easily provide the natural environment for dogs.
Dogs living in cities will not have the full expanse of fields where they could chase their prey and run free. At best, they have a few blocks to walk. More often than not, pet dogs are confined during the best part of the day and for the bigger duration of their lives. With limited space and hectic schedules in urban settings, this aspect usually poses the greatest dilemma confronting pet owners.
There's nothing new with regards to what we must supply our dogs with. So to improve a dog’s quality of life, owners must strive to provide them with plenty of daily exercise, natural sunshine, fresh air, and activities to stimulate their minds and improve their cognitive abilities.
By all means, a dog must not be left locked in a place with nothing to do. A dog must have access to the outdoors. He needs an open area with natural lighting and at least a real tree and untreated plants. He must have outdoor activities, like long walks or hunting on weekends. Dogs need opportunities to chase critters and gnaw on plants and twigs.
Even though they have evolved over the course of 10,000 years to be completely different to their wolf counterparts, canines are still animals with needs and instincts. They may feel comfortable and tolerate your two bedroom apartment's environment, but they do feel the need to go outside and be part of the nature. So arranging something as often as you can may improve their health significantly.
Methods of Holistic Dog Health Approach
When it comes to “going holistic,” a variety of natural methods are employed with a focus to raise strong, happy and healthy dogs in the most nature-like manner. One of the goals is to improve their immune system. A long-term goal is to protect them from diseases, enhance longevity and improve their overall quality of life and well-being.
Here are some of the methods employed with a holistic dog health approach.
Natural dog food diet
Wholesome dog foods made of natural ingredients are available commercially, like it's been mentioned above. It is important to inspect labels for every ingredient used in that specific dog food brand. You'll also want to verify suppliers and certifications, and even ask about sources of ingredients used if you care enough.
Dog food's composition must contain high amounts of protein. Today, many dog owners feed their canines a high carbohydrate diet and tons of grains. And even though dogs can survive on a highly grain based diet, if they do not have any allergies or other reasons to consume so much grains, it's best to avoid them according to studies indicated above.
Many holistic veterinarians may also argue that even though grains themselves may be natural, they are not a natural part of a dog’s diet. This wouldn't be my first or only argument against an all-grain based diet, but it's a good reason to start with. This leads us to the next method.
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Raw dog feeding
As we have already established, in certain cases, dogs thrive and need raw meat diets, but this isn't always the case. Raw dog food diet feeding method is based on the principle that dogs are 100% carnivores, and they need foods that mimic those that a carnivore finds in the wild.
Changing your dog’s diet or switching to raw feeding may not be crucial to your dog’s health, but it's one of the options you have to explore.
Considering that only nutrients from digested food are absorbed by the body, it is important that dogs are fed only the types of food their body can optimally benefit from. There's no point feeding a dog something that cannot be absorbed by his body. Not all vets will support this idea, and once again, there are good arguments on both sides.
The dogs’ digestive system is designed to process raw food without any issues. Their canine teeth are designed to tear and chew raw meat and bones, because this is how they initially evolved from wolves. The digestive system of dogs, including the digestive enzymes they produce, is designed for digesting high protein foods.
If you decide to completely switch to a holistic approach, then it is important to find a holistic veterinarian who does support this approach but who's also open minded enough to consider all the drawbacks that come with certain homeopathic, alternative medicine and particularly raw feeding approaches, and then find the best way to use the goods from both worlds.
READ THIS: Pros and Cons of the BARF Diet for Dogs
Here's a surprising fact that not many owners know: dogs generally want to be massaged. Not petted – massaged. Whether for hygienic or remedial purposes, massage is an effective therapy to help pets overcome fear and anxiety issues. It can also reduce swelling and enhance blood circulation. Correctly administered, a doggy massage relieves pain and revitalizes your Fido's body.
On top of that, giving your dog a massage is a great way to familiarize with a pet’s build and immediately notice any changes, lumps, changes in weight, and overall condition. Needless to say, massage builds and strengthens the bond between a dog and his pet owner.
Aromatherapy for dogs
Scent is undoubtedly one of the most important facets in a dog’s life. A dog's sense of smell is about 100,000 times more acute than that of humans. In response to scent, they can manifest their reaction either of alarm or discomfort.
Aromatherapy essences are widely used to help dogs relax and improve their mood. You can also use them to encourage sleep or treat disorders. Holistic dog health approaches use aromatherapy to calm dogs, relieve pain, repel insects, and treat burns, nausea and allergies.
Essential oils from chamomile, helichrysum, lavender, niaouli, and peppermint may be quite effective for use on dogs for various ailments. There's no evidence to that, but many pet owners report anecdotal evidence on how aromatherapy helps their pets.
Not all essential oils are beneficial to dogs, however. Some may even be harmful, including camphor, wintergreen, and wormwood. Essential oils must always be used in the diluted form when applied to dogs. Since dogs are very sensitive to smell, it is important to consult a vet before trying this type of treatment.
Chiropractic treatment for dogs
Dogs suffering from back or neck pains may benefit from a chiropractic treatment, just like humans do in some cases. Chiropractors move or realign bones in the spine and other parts of the body to alleviate suffering. More studies have shown how certain health conditions in dogs are actually associated with their vertebrae which can then be helped with chiropractic treatments.
Be very careful when choosing chiropractors. This is a controversial approach because not all chiropractors are good, and because there's a very fine line between fixing something and breaking it when it comes to chiropractic treatments.
A dog chiropractor must be specialized in treating dogs specifically, because canines need gentler pressure as compared to humans undergoing chiropractic treatment. It may be surprising to some that it's not that difficult to break something in a dog's body while “massaging” him.
Chiropractic treatments are based on the principle that disorders could stem from misalignment of the dog's spine and dislocation of joints and tissues. It may or may not be a root cause of plenty of other health conditions in canines, but further research is still needed.
Correcting these through manipulations, various issues involving the musculoskeletal and central nervous systems in dogs are treated. Refer to professional and certified chiropractic vets and practitioners, or the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association if you’re considering this therapy for your dog.
Herbal treatments for dogs
As with acupuncture, herbal treatments evolved from traditional Chinese medicine. In the wild, animals instinctively use herbs and plants to cure certain ailments or injuries. Herbalists preparing formulations for dogs say that they’re simply making it easier for domesticated animals to avail of this natural cure.
Herbs have been proven to help us calm down, which is why it makes sense to use them to calm dogs with anxiety problems. Holistic vets recognize the potential of herbs to soothe and cure various animal disorders as well. They recommend herbs like alfalfa, aloe vera, chamomile, corn silk, garlic, valerian or kava.
A combination of several herbs specifically formulated for dogs can also be used. Herbal medicines may cure or at least alleviate symptoms of a host of health issues including canine allergies, canine arthritis, bladder problems, constipation, coughs, diarrhea, sores and ulcers.
Here are some of the herbs found beneficial in treating animals:
- Alfalfa – contains coumarin, an anticoagulant; contains phytoestrogens, helps prevent osteoporosis and heart diseases. It is also used as anti-allergenic.
- Brewer’s yeast – contains vitamin B and biotin, promotes healthy skin.
- Black walnut hull – used as deworming agent, laxative. It lowers blood sugar and also used to treat open wounds, insect and snake bites.
- Chamomile – it is effective as antispasmodic and pain relieving agent. It is also useful in calming the nerves, in normalizing stomach upsets, and as tonic for weakened muscle tissues.
- Dandelion – contains lecithin, inulin, antioxidants and many other compounds. It is beneficial for the healthy functioning of the digestive system, the gallbladder, kidney and liver.
- Fennel – its seeds are used as antispasmodic remedy.
- Milk thistle – contains silymarin which is an antioxidant found to be beneficial when used to for patients with liver diseases.
- Parsley – its leaves, roots and seeds are used antibacterial agent and diuretic.
- Peppermint – relieves itching, and can be used for skin irritation caused by allergy or bacterial infection.
It is important to remember that herbs may also contain toxins, and not all herbs are beneficial for dogs. You must consult herbal specialists or holistic vets before administering any of these, especially one who has adequate experience with treating dogs using herbal medicine. Not everything that is natural can be healthy once you overestimate a recommended dose.
Acupuncture for dogs
Acupuncture treatment has been around for more than 5,000 years. Needless to say, it started with humans and have recently been transferred as being part of alternative medicine and treatments for dogs.
Acupuncture for dogs must be performed by a certified acupuncturist who inserts sterilized fine needles in precise points of the dog's body in order to relieve pressure and pain all over the animal’s body. It is believed that “life energy,” (as odd as that sounds) which flows from the body organs, can be disrupted by disease or injury.
This energy stream, also known as chi (another odd term), can be rejuvenated by the needles’ intervention at specific points along the energy path. Veterinary acupuncture can relieve neck and back pains, muscle spasms, limp, and even canine arthritis. It can also enhance the natural function of the vast organ systems in dogs and cats.
Most importantly, acupuncture can help strengthen your dog's immune system. It is important to seek competent practitioners of veterinary acupuncture. Certifying institutions, such as the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, are best and most important resources that you may refer to for additional information.
Although I wouldn't necessarily claim that it's the “energy” that heals dogs, the fact remains that acupuncture does help in certain cases, and this has been scientifically documented. Sometimes, it can be placebo; other times, it's not.
Homeopathic treatments for dogs
This method of healing dogs makes use of the principle that “like cures like”. Elements that cause certain diseases can be introduced to the body in highly diluted quantities to develop the body’s own defense to fight the disease. Healing starts from inside out.
This is a way to aid the body in restoring its own energy flow and inherent immunity to diseases. Remedies come from natural materials and are both preventative and curative.
When proven to be effective, homeopathic medicines for dogs perform two things:
- Cures without side effects.
- Strengthens the body’s defenses against the disease.
Homeopathy has been used successfully to treat chronic health issues like skin disorders, gastrointestinal problems, allergies and asthma, arthritis, pain and weakness. It can also be used to treat acute diseases and emergencies.
There is some evidence that these treatments do work and that they are more than placebo, but the scientific data is still lacking. I wouldn't knock homeopathy completely, and I would like for more research into this field before the “skeptic community” completely tear it apart for the lack of credible studies.
Other methods used in the holistic dog health approach
Other methods may include:
- Physical therapy
- Nose work training (a sport that unleashes the dog in your pet)
- Reiki therapy and other energy therapies
- Color therapy
- Sports therapy
- Zero energy balancing
While some of these methods need further study, they are all worth exploring. Today, more and more professionals and veterinarians practice holistic dog health medicine using traditional and alternative treatments for pets. These practitioners not only rely on prescription drugs, but also on the various treatment methods above to keep pets healthy.
Holistic Dog Health vs Conventional Veterinary Medicine
These approaches differ in almost all aspects and underlying principles pursued. Obviously, the conventional veterinary medicine, the traditional approach, is the most common right today, but more pet owners are starting to think outside the box. Pet parents are more concerned than ever with finding the best care possible for their canine companions.
Once they realize how different holistic dog health is and how many measurable benefits this practice presents them with, they realize it deserves a closer look. I consider myself an open-minded and scientifically minded person, but I do like the idea of holistic dog health for many different reasons. I also always encourage the skeptics community to consider some of these differences.
Dog food sources
Regular or conventional cheap commercially made dog foods are generally grain-based and high in carbohydrate content and low in protein. They are also heavily processed for convenient handling and long shelf life. Some of the very cheap commercial dried pet foods of low quality were found to contain toxins and carcinogens.
Molds called aflatoxins found in grains, heterocyclic amines found in cooked meat and fish, and acrylamides found in vegetables cooked in high temperatures have all been found in certain brands of commercial dog food. Cooking and processing have also stripped these foods of nutrients. The nutrients indicated on dog food labels are mostly synthetic additions or fortification.
Holistic dog health approach to canine nutrition will mainly include dog foods or homemade dog food diets that are closely related or resemble the famous bone and raw food diet (BARF) or raw meaty bones diet (RMB). These canine diets includes raw meat, meaty bones, organs, vegetables, and addition of dog supplements.
Like I said before, it's important to keep in mind that BARF and RMB are quite controversial in the evidence-based veterinary medicine field, and for a good reason in some cases. There's been studies (indicated and talked about above) showing the drawbacks of feeding dogs raw meat and bones. However, there are also the benefits. The key is finding balance and getting the best of both worlds.
BARF or RMB canine diets are based on the idea that canines are carnivores that have teeth, jaws, guts, and a digestive system designed to process raw meat. These high-protein dog diets aim to simulate the type and state of foods that would have been available to dogs had they been living in the wild to hunt and eat their prey.
Immunity to canine diseases
Some allopathic veterinarians will say that to improve the dog’s immunity to diseases, he has to be vaccinated for numerous diseases. Hence, the first few visits to the vet would be for vaccinations. It's true that specific vaccines for dogs prevent the onset of certain diseases; however, they also have side effects and they introduce toxins that accumulate over time in dog's body.
Some vaccine shots for dogs contain carcinogenic substances that are suspected to cause chronic diseases, like canine arthritis and canine cancer. There's some evidence to the adverse effects of vaccines. A holistic vet will say that a healthy immune system prevents the onset of diseases. Puppies are protected by maternal antibodies, but further research into this is needed.
By following holistic dog health methods, some vaccines can be completely avoided, thereby removing some of the risk for future health issues in dogs. When attacked by viruses and bacteria, the dog's body produces its own antibodies to protect itself. A holistic vet may recommend selective vaccination for diseases that are of serious concern in the area, and some vaccines have indeed been proven to be very effective with no side effects.
Once again, it all comes to balance and finding pros and cons on both sides of the argument. Do not lock yourself into one line of thought and explore as many areas as you possibly can to ensure that you provide your dog with the most optimal healthcare.
Medication for dogs
Conventional veterinary medicine relies on drugs to treat symptoms and diseases in dogs. Some modern medicines contain chemicals, toxins and synthetic substances that can wreak havoc to the body’s natural systems. It may suppress one symptom, but cause another.
Holistic medicine uses naturally sourced elements to build up the immune system and balance vital life forces. It strengthens the animal’s body from the inside and assists it to heal itself. Acupuncture is used to revitalize the body and restore energy flow.
Herbs and homeopathic remedies are used to relieve pain and symptoms, and heal damaged organs. Chiropractic therapy aligns the spine and addresses central nervous system issues. These are applied with many other methods to recover physical and behavioral wellness in dogs.
Not all homeopathic, alternative and holistic veterinary medicine will work for dogs. Some may be completely ineffective and only promoted by sham holistic vets and quaks. In those cases, conventional approach is the only one we can provide our pets with, which in some cases is indeed better than nothing. Other times, it's best to stick with the natural approach.
In serious cases where your canine is ill and you're not sure which approach to take, I would advise a responsible pet owner to consult with several veterinarians, those who follow the evidence-based conventional veterinary medicine and holistic veterinarians. After that, try to draw your own conclusions and use common sense.
What Do Veterinarians Think of Holistic Dog Health?
More and more animal health professionals from the evidence-based veterinary medicine (EBVM) practice are becoming supportive of the holistic dog health approach for the reasons I outlined above. However, these veterinary health providers comprise only a small minority. Majority remains to be practitioners of allopathic or conventional medicine.
If you believe that your pet will be better off with you going the holistic dog health approach route, find a vet who thinks along the same lines. It’s pointless to continually struggle with what you believe is best for your dog and what your dog’s vet thinks.
But I'd like to stress one more time that it's important to receive input from different vets standing on opposing sides of the argument. You don't have to take the advice, but just listen and draw your own conclusions.
It must be considered, though, that the conventional way of raising pets is a very large industry. It will not be an easy stride against the tide. Here are the main arguments of vets and practitioners who support the holistic dog health approach:
- Most common diseases seen in dogs and other pets today can be traced down to the weakening of their immune system. These diseases include allergies, skin disorders, diarrhea, organ failure, canine arthritis, dental problems, seizures, and even cancer. Many behavioral and emotional disorders are often offshoots of these disorders and imbalances. The sadder part is that, every drug given to treat these disorders is an attack to the immune system.
- Drugs only suppress the symptoms of an underlying illness. When the drug successfully suppresses the first symptom, a deeper level symptom appears next. Another drug will be used to suppress the new symptom, and the same thing happens again. With this onslaught of drugs and toxins, the real condition goes unchecked and the body’s natural defense is impaired.
- Selective vaccination, raw diet and proper nutrient management, competent alternative treatment, and non-reliance to allopathic medicine are the secrets to healthy and happy pets.
- When pet owners see quick results from a drug treatment, this is often seen as effectiveness of the drug. Inversely, when a homeopathic treatment is applied and the dog reacts with skin rashes or diarrhea, it is often wrongly construed as worsening of the dog’s condition. Often, though, this is the body’s reaction as it detoxifies or gets rid of what has been ailing it.
Sometimes, alternative methods provide instant results, but often the results take time. Pet owners must understand that these alternative approaches assist the body to heal naturally, which is beneficial in the long run.
It must be noted that the holistic dog health approach is a way of life and not merely a response to a disease. Thus, it does not stop after a symptom disappears. It is an on-going process, and its effects are long-term.
- Another holistic vet says that elimination of the symptoms does not necessarily mean curing the disease. Allopathic medicine, though, often gives more weight on eliminating the symptoms.
- Allopathic doctors give cortisones, antibiotics and drugs because in their book, they have no other cure for the many maladies that can afflict animals. If they can’t cure arthritis, then they could at least relieve the pain or reduce inflammation. When these medicines later damage the kidneys or affect the digestive tract, then there are other drugs to treat these parts of the body. Holistic vet doctors now recognize the failure of this kind of treating patients. They now rely less on drug-based medicines and allopathic protocols.
- Holistic dog health care relies on three things: strengthened immune system, preventive health, and integration of all the systems in the body.
- Holistic dog health starts with raw food. With variation in meat, supplementation may only be very minimal. The raw diet will contain protein, amino acids, calcium, chromium, fatty acids, folic acid, iodine, iron, magnesium, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur, vanadium, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E and K, and zinc. Raw vegetables also contain some of these nutrients and enrich the diet further with antioxidants, phytochemicals, carbohydrates, and fiber.
- Initial reactions to the raw diet may include diarrhea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. These reactions are natural because the transition period is also the period for detoxing. Pets that grew on processed dried foods have accumulated artificial ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives over time, and their system will need time to adjust.
- The holistic health approach for pets and dogs work best for pet parents who believe in the holistic health approach for their own selves. Dogs are extensions of their human companions. They interact every day, live in the same home, and comprise the bigger dynamics called home or family. A truly holistic health approach needs to sync all these systems and make them all work together.
Turning “holistic” all of a sudden can be very overwhelming, both for you and your dog. As mentioned many times in this article, start with one thing and introduce your dog to holistic approach very slowly. You may start with a raw diet, or selective vaccination, or homeopathy, or all-natural feeding. But always move forward, integrating a new method one at a time and keep track of the changes.
Every method acquired must always be based on making the dog healthy inside out. Focus on treating a particular system without neglecting the other systems of the whole dog.
Going holistic is not a one-shot type of thing. It may start slow but should always be in a sustained manner. You may choose to avoid reverting to the conventional methods, but you must definitely avoid the extremes of either side. When faced with conflicting ideas that confuse you along the way, do the simplest and foolproof solution – go back to the basics and consult with several vets.
In my opinion, all pet owners should never subscribe to just one idea, be it holistic or conventional method. It's difficult to keep track of everything what's going on, but if you care enough about your pet's health, then a responsible thing to do is always consider pros and cons of every approach, and critically look at all possible angles of the argument.
There are people standing to make money both in commercial and holistic dog health care. Therefore, as pet owners and veterinarians, we're not completely safe from the marketing ploys and lies that dog companies make up to sell their products regardless of which side of the debate you're on. Staying skeptical and open-minded is the only way we can find balance between these two worlds.
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