As more research becomes available, pet owners are realizing how the choices that they make for their dogs are effecting their pet's overall health and well-being. The quality of dog food, treats and toys need to be a priority for dog parents, and the animal's veterinary care should also be a top concern. What is holistic veterinary medicine for dogs? Should you be considering it for your pet?
These are the questions that I sought out to answer this week. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Dr. Anna Maria Gardner, a holistic veterinarian, this week. I took the opportunity to ask her about the practice and why it may be more beneficial to some dogs than traditional veterinary medicine.
Holistic veterinarian medicine is the practice of using alternative medicine in the healing of animals. It emphasizes minimal invasiveness and empathy for the animal. Alternative therapies offered by a holistic veterinarian may include:
- herbal remedies
- chiropractic care
- nutritional therapy
Interview: What Is Holistic Veterinary Medicine for Dogs?
Dr. Gardner told me that she was always interested in holistic care, except in vet school. Sadly, she says that students were actively advised against it at that time. Still, when she became a practicing veterinarian, she had clients who came to her because she was open minded and willing to try any treatment that would best meet the needs of the animal.
One day her dog, Isis, became very sick and was basically dying. Her condition did not improve with the pharmaceuticals that Dr. Gardner had been taught to give her. A friend suggested trying homeopathy. Since she had nothing to lose, she gave it a shot. She consulted with another vet, Dr. Richard Pitcairn, and began feeding Isis a natural diet, as well as supplements.
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She also began using homeopathy, and Isis actually began to get better! Holistic medicine made so much sense to Dr. Gardner that she decided it was what she wanted to specialize in. She's been practicing it ever since with animals of all species that she cares for. Dr. Gardner is now certified in both homeopathy and acupuncture.
You can find out all about Dr. Gardner and her holistic veterinary practice on her website Pet Synergy.
Holistic medicine, for both humans and animals, has been gaining in popularity in recent years. Dr. Gardner attributes that growth to people becoming disillusioned with allopathic medicine (mainstream medical practices) for themselves and their animals. This pushes them to look for other solutions.
She also believes the Internet has helped a lot. It's easier than ever before to get information and access to other modalities, and discussion groups that advocate holistic care are also raising awareness.
People are a lot more educated about alternatives now, and holistic veterinary medicine is becoming more accepted and mainstream.
There are a lot of reasons that dog owners (and all pet parents) should consider holisitc treatments for their animal companion. Dr. Gardner listed just a few of those reasons for me:
- lack of side-effects
- immune support
- focus on preventive medicine
- control of chronic conditions like arthritis with pharmaceuticals
- provides comfort for terminal conditions like cancer or renal failure
- cost effectiveness
- holistic care is better for the environment
- prevents long term antibiotic resistance
I know it's hard to believe. A few years ago I didn't believe in the benefits of holistic veterinary medicine for dogs either. Similar to Dr. Gardner, it took one of my own dog's becoming ill for me to turn to alternative medicine.
When I asked Dr. Gardner what she thinks is holding pet parents back from exploring holistic treatments for their animals, this was her response:
Skepticism – they don't think it works. Their allopathic vet might not like or support it, or be averse to it – for example, against feeding raw food diets. They might also be concerned about cost, though in the long term I would say holistic care is in fact cost effective. – Dr. Anna Maria Gardner
I couldn't agree more. Family and friends have criticized our choice of using holistic veterinary medicine for dogs in the past. They doubt the effectiveness of the treatments and always ask us if it's more expensive than traditional veterinary costs.
We also get asked a lot if holistic treatments are humane. Of course they are – if anything they are more humane than traditional veterinary treatments. The reason family members have asked us this is because pharmaceuticals tend to work very quickly, reliving pain or discomfort usually within a matter of hours.
Holistic treatments may not work quite as fast, but they too will often create improvement in a medical condition very quickly. Plus, your dog doesn't have to suffer the painful or uncomfortable side effects linked to so many of those drugs. Likewise, all those chemicals are not entering your dog's body and doing damage that may not be noticeable for many years.
Vaccinations are a “hot button” issue in the veterinary field. Some traditional vets push for dog owners to vaccinate their canine with every known vaccine available. Others stick to the essential vaccines and recommend others only when needed. Some holistic vets don't agree with vaccinating a dog at all.
Dr. Gardner believes that judicious vaccinating is best and should be assessed on a case by case basis. Your vet can help you decide which vaccines are needed in a particular situation, how to space them out and whether single or limited vaccines should be done.
She warns that dog owners should educate themselves on not vaccinating your dog when he is too young, as this could cause serious health complications.
If you've vaccinated your dog in the past and you're interested in a more holistic approach now, Dr. Gardner says that she would recommend antibody titers to determine risk and then make an informed decision. Don't know what antibody titers are? Don't worry, you're not alone!
Basically they are blood tests that measure the level of antibodies your pet has made. The lab report will come back with a bunch of numbers that will indicate the amount of antibodies that your dog's body has made against the diseases tested (usually canine distemper, rabies and parvo).
The idea behind these tests is that your vet will be able to tell which diseases your pet already has antibodies too. If he already has a healthy amount of antibodies, he won't need to be vaccinated again for the same disease.
Keep in mind that rabies is generally required by law unless a waiver is given for health issues, which is at the discretion of your veterinarian and the regulating body. Dr. Gardner recommends that people follow the law on this particular vaccine. Then make informed decisions on the others, and do titers where possible.
Canine nutrition is another very popular topic in the veterinary field. Of course, all dogs are different and some need specific diets that cater to their unique needs. In general, Dr. Gardner recommends raw (ideally grain free) diets. She also encourages dog owners to purchase organic when possible.
Health issues including age, breed and type of dog all need to be considered. Dr. Gardner would definitely recommend working with a holistic vet if any health issue are present. A veterinarian will be able to look at your pet's entire health history and help you decide on the best diet for his individual needs.
Remember that prevention, increased longevity and quality of life are all important factors when considering holistic care. An ounce of prevention does indeed go a long way, so don't start holistic care when your animal gets sick. Look at what you can be doing proactively ahead of time! Dr. Gardner says that she sees many animals living a longer healthier life when people start holistic care early, but it's never too late either!
I need to take this time to thank Dr. Gardner for all her help. I certainly learned a lot while chatting with her. I hope this article helped to educate you about the practice of holistic veterinary care and its benefits too. Don't forget to check out her site Pet Synergy for more information on holistic veterinary medicine for dogs and some really extensive articles on canine health.