As a holistic veterinarian, I have developed 5 simple goals to keep my patients happy, healthy, and living a long life. These are preventing disease, saying NO to drugs, healing the pet rather than treating disease, offering “Hope for the Hopeless” and saving money on pet care. Follow these plans and watch your pets thrive and not simply survive!
This goal seems simple enough; let’s prevent disease so that your pet never becomes ill. I would actually prefer to see healthy pets rather than ill ones. It’s obviously not practical or possible for a pet to never become ill, but we can do a lot to minimize illness. While vaccines may be appropriate at times, a holistic approach appreciates the fact that most of the diseases we see in practice are chronic degenerative diseases rather than infectious diseases. Conventional medicine really does a poor job of preventing and treating these disorders, as it is better suited to treating acute problems like infectious disease.
A holistic approach utilizes several steps to prevent disease. First, feeding a natural diet, free of harmful chemicals and byproducts, minimizes cell damage. The more natural and organic the better. Remember that “you are what you eat, and so is your pet.” No matter what I do, unless you feed your pet an outstanding diet, my therapies will never be as effective as they should be, so diet is critical to long-term health. No matter what else you do, feed your pet a great healthy diet!
Minimizing vaccines and the unnecessary use of medications and toxins, is also important. Vaccine blood titer testing will let you know if and when your pet does need “shots.”
Finally, a well-prescribed supplement regimen can reduce inflammation and oxidation in your pet’s body, decreasing the chances of your pet developing chronic diseases (supplements are prescribed based upon many factors including your pet’s age, health status, and results of various lab tests.)
Say NO to Drugs
One of the most important aspects of a holistic health care plan for your pets is saying NO to drugs whenever possible, and finding alternatives to traditional medications. Drugs certainly have their place in the treatment of many diseases, and we shouldn’t totally abandon their use. In my opinion, they work best for acute problems (such as serious infections and the occasional flare-ups of chronic problems like allergies and arthritis.) More chronic problems (and often minor acute problems) respond best to alternative therapies like herbs, homeopathics, magnetic therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. Chronic use of conventional drugs is often more expensive than alternative treatments, and side effects are much more commonly encountered when using conventional medications than when alternative therapies are used. Additionally, many pets treated with chronic drug therapy develop side effects from these drugs, or even another disease from the drug therapy! This means that even more drugs are used to treat these secondary disorders, leading to further increases in side effects or second or third diseases. Finding natural, alternative therapies is a safer, healthier approach for treating the pet with chronic problems. When drugs need to be used in treating diseases in pets, especially chronic diseases, the LOWEST dose of the drug that provides relief should be used for the SHORTEST amount of time. This approach minimizes side effects, and also gives the pet the “correct” amount of drug it needs at that time.
Heal Rather Than Treat
In veterinary school, which focuses only on conventional medicine, doctors learn to properly diagnose and treat signs and symptoms, and hopefully diseases. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach (even holistic doctors need to diagnose the correct problem before they can treat it,) if our ONLY concern is treating the disease then we are failing our patients. The holistic approach focuses on the PATIENT and not the DISEASE. This is a radically different view of medicine. Healing the patient means, as much as is practical, restoring it to a normal, healthy condition.
A normal, healthy patient is, for the most part, disease free. Notice I have not talked about curing disease. We can restore health even in pets which harbor a fatal disease such as cancer. They can be “healthy” as long as possible, fighting off the cancer, keeping it in remission, and “living with their disease.” Talking about cancer as an example, Dr. Kevin Hahn, one of the contributors to my book, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs (New World Library, 2006,) admonishes us not to forget that “there is a pet attached to that tumor.” Rightly so, his focus (and that of doctors who take a holistic view of health and disease) is on treating “pets with cancer” rather than “treating cancer.” This different approach is the essence of developing a holistic approach to caring for yourself as well as your pets.
Have Hope for the Hopeless
Offering “Hope for the Hopeless” is actually my favorite of our 5 goals. Many cases of illness are considered hopeless by conventional standards. Maybe there are no therapies for the specific problem (an example is liver cancer,) or maybe the pet has not responded to the appropriate therapies. Before you give up, before you euthanize your pet, consider alternative therapies. I have seen way too many pets that were deemed “untreatable” that responded well to a holistic approach. While not every pet can be cured, many can heal enough to live a good quality life and coexist with their diseases. One of my favorite cases is Lexie, who was 2 years old at the time I saw her. She was correctly diagnosed with polyarthritis and treated by her conventional veterinarians, one of whom was a specialist in internal medicine. Unfortunately, the treatment made Lexie sick, and she also developed diabetes due to her therapies. Her doctors told the owners that no more could be done for her and that she should be euthanized. Fortunately, Lexie responded to a number of holistic therapies. She is doing great at this time. While she still has her polyarthritis, she has been in remission for several years and is taking minute amounts of medications that do not make her ill. Pets like Lexie are a prime reason why I remain committed to a holistic, integrative approach to pet care. It’s particularly rewarding to helps pets that conventional medicine cannot help. These cases are not considered “hopeless” when viewed from a holistic perspective.
I’m often asked if a holistic pet care program costs more than a traditional pet care program. In general, the answer is “no.” It’s usually less expensive to prevent problems rather than treat them. Additionally, using natural therapies usually, but not always, costs less than conventional drug therapy. There are several reasons for this. Supplements are usually less expensive than drugs, especially if generic medications are not available. Chronic drug therapy usually requires frequent laboratory monitoring of the pet to ensure side effects have not developed; this is usually not necessary with natural therapies. Drugs can cause secondary diseases, which require even more drugs to treat these diseases; this doesn’t happen when using natural therapies. For those times when a natural approach costs more, keep in mind that your pet will usually be healthier and live longer with this approach. It’s impossible to put a price on that! And finally, I always encourage pet owners to use pet health insurance, which can cut the cost of any preventive or therapeutic program. If you want to save money on pet care, usually combining pet insurance with a natural health care program is the way to go.