Photo by Alexander Ermolaev

Keeping pets in peak shape

By Haley Gray

Boulder isn’t exactly known for tepidness when it comes to holistic health care. Many residents prefer to eat healthily and deploy natural remedies as the first line of defense against sniffles and upset tummies.

When it comes to pets, though, many are surprisingly, well, dogmatic. But holistic health care is an option for animals, too. “The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction,” says the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. If you think your pet might benefit from a holistic health-care approach as part of an overall comprehensive care plan, read on.

Find Your Fit

It can be overwhelming to know where to start when it comes to holistic pet health care. But luckily, the first and most important piece of advice pet guardians should heed is that they shouldn’t—and can’t—be the expert.

Holistic Modalities

A veterinarian versed in both holistic and conventional treatments could incorporate alternative treatments, such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, when treating an animal. He or she might use any of the following modalities to treat a pet:

  • acupuncture

    Photo by Diego Moreno Delgado
  • chiropractic
  • herbal therapy
  • homeopathy
  • homotoxicology
  • massage therapy
  • nutraceuticals
  • osteopathy
  • stem-cell therapy

—Source: American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

Longtime Boulder holistic veterinarian Peter Rodgers, DVM, says educating pet owners about holistic pet care is often his most important role. While he (like all veterinarians) is trained in conventional medical practices, Rodgers integrates natural healing methods into his house-call practice. Every step of the way, he explains the process to his clients. That’s important, he says.

When you’re shopping around for a holistic vet, make sure they take that part of their work seriously. Ask any questions you may have about their practice, and don’t hesitate to push for further explanations. Your vet should be willing and able to talk through all your concerns and provide thoughtful, informative answers to every question. It’s like a job interview, Rodgers notes, and you’re determining who is the best fit for you and your pet. Ultimately, you both should feel comfortable with the vet.

Holistic Basics

For cats, dogs and humans alike, diet is often the first line of defense in holistic care. Many of the most common, everyday ailments can be traced back to diet. Just like their guardians, pets need balanced meals to feel good.

“I’m a big advocate of carefully feeding additional unprocessed foods—incorporating some meat and vegetables—as opposed to solely processed foods,” says Kelly Keeney, DVM and CVA (Certified Vet­erinary Acupuncturist).

Photo by Javier Brosch

Typical kibbles are loaded with processed grains like corn, rice and wheat, which can exacerbate inflammation and lead to digestive issues. When pets have mildly upset tummies (no more than a simple bout of diarrhea), the problem can often be resolved by adding whole foods and/or probiotics to your pet’s meals. If the problem persists, call a vet, as prolonged diarrhea can lead to dangerous dehydration. Plus, it could be a sign of a bigger issue.

Itchy skin can also indicate a diet change is needed. Itchiness is often a sign of allergies (yes, four-legged friends get allergies, too), so if bathing your pet doesn’t fix the issue call a vet to see if a diet switch is in order.

Holistic medicine is often good for treating chronic diseases. Cushing’s disease, for example, is a hormonal disease that is sometimes better mitigated by diet and herbal therapies rather than costly pharmaceuticals. Consulting a holistic vet for chronic diseases might benefit your pet.

When it comes to adding whole foods to your animal’s diet, there are a few to avoid. Chocolate or anything with caffeine is a commonly known one, but did you know not to feed your dog grapes? Grapes, raisins and onions are extremely toxic to dogs, and xylitol sweetener can kill a dog.

Macadamia nuts can also be dangerously toxic. All nuts are difficult to digest—just like when people get a tummy ache from eating too many nuts, so can pets. In the long run, large amounts of any fatty foods could lead to pancreatitis in pets with a sensitivity to fat. It’s difficult to know if your pet is sensitive, so play it safe and don’t slip your furry friend fat-laden foods. For dogs, pancreatitis isn’t just a major health concern—it’s extremely painful and could lead to death.

The Emotional Component

To Keeney, maintaining an openhearted connection with your pet is a crucial part of caring for them. Emotional health, she believes, is crucial to the full picture of your pet’s health. Because you know your pet, you know when he or she is happy. You can probably also tell when a pet isn’t content—anxiety can generally be seen on their face and in the way they hold their body or tail. Pacing or unusual behaviors can also indicate stress.
Fostering an emotional bond with your pet will help them (and you) live a fulfilling life with minimal anxiety. Plus, it allows you to notice health problems sooner if and when they turn up.

Dorothy is a beloved cat whose Longmont family dotes on her. Emotional connections, along with excellent care and a wholesome diet, have helped Dorothy live a long and healthy life. (Photo by Lisa Truesdale)

“To foster that bond, you just have to have an open heart,” Keeney says. Start by simply carving out daily one-on-one time with your pet. Keeney says regular structure and routine benefits pets, as does working in daily quality time through walks and downtime at home. “They’re creatures of habit and routine, typically,” Keeney says. “Keeping their routine consistent is a great way to support them—just like with kids.”

If your pet is displaying anxiety, there are options (just as there are for humans) beyond medication. Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist), tries to use natural therapeutics before antidepressants like Prozac. She sometimes incorporates L-theanine (an amino acid), magnesium or herbal supplements to treat anxiety. “I don’t always use natural therapies for anxiety first, however,” Krause says. “Some dogs are so severe that we go straight to pharmaceuticals.”

When to Visit the Vet

Photo by Byelikova Oksana

In a health emergency, it’s prudent to go straight to the veterinary hospital. Rodgers suggests heading to the pet clinic when you see signs of obvious trauma, like after a car accident or a dogfight, and for respiratory difficulties—these can be life-threatening and need immediate attention. After you get your pet out of the danger zone, it might be appropriate to bring in a holistic vet to aid in recovery and achieving optimum health once again.

Rather than only addressing symptoms after they present themselves, holistic pet care puts the whole animal in focus by prioritizing optimum health and preventive care, rather than just treating ailments after they arise.

Says Rodgers, “We’re looking at the whole patient.”


Integrating Holistic & Conventional Pet Care

Photo by MS Grafixx

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association offers these thoughts for guardians who want to consider both holistic and conventional health care for their pet:

  • There are times when holistic medicine works better and times when conventional medicine works better.
  • Conventional medicine has many useful diagnostic techniques.
  • Holistic methods work well for chronic diseases.
  • Holistic methods are ideal for whole-body support.
  • Surgery can be life-saving.
  • In an emergency situation, conventional medicine works quickly and saves lives.

There can be negative interactions between holistic and conventional treatments, especially when clients use holistic methods without consulting a veterinarian.