Complementary medicine, a term often used interchangeably with holistic medicine, provides”nonconventional” treatments for a variety of ailments, and is not just for humans anymore. Pets can now enjoy better health, too, as many veterinarians and pet owners increasingly embrace new techniques and treatments. According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2003 National Pet Owner Survey, 21 percent of pet owners have used some form of complementary medicine on their pets. Compare this to the 1996 survey, in which only six percent of pet owners said they’ve used alternative therapies on their pets.
Holistic medicine combines conventional veterinary medicine with one or more complementary therapies. Holistic practitioners consider your pet’s entire well-being, not just individual symptoms or conditions, and mix and match treatments to best serve Spot’s or Fluffy’s needs. A holistic approach to your pet’s problem will likely prove beneficial in nearly all cases. Research into a variety of veterinary medical therapies is ongoing, and the quality of care our pets receive is continually improving. Below, we describe some of the more common complementary medical therapies available.
How to do you know to whom your should entrust your pet’s care? “When choosing someone to perform any of these treatments on your pet, be sure he or she has been educated in that particular medical discipline,” says Dr. Carvel Tiekert, an AAHA veterinarian and executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. “If your own veterinarian doesn’t offer the therapy you’re interested in, ask him or her to refer you to someone who does.”
And while your pet is being treated by another medical professional, keep your regular veterinarian updated on your pet’s progress and any problems that may arise. “Continued communication with everyone involved in your pet’s care is the best way to ensure that your pet gets the help it needs,” says Dr. Tiekert. Treatments should always be performed under the supervision of, or by referral from, the veterinarian who is currently caring for your pet.
Chiropractors believe that some illnesses result from misaligned vertebrae that diminish the flow of impulses from the spinal cord to the body’s muscles, organs and tissues. By manipulating and adjusting specific joints and cranial sutures in animals, veterinary chiropractors try to restore the flow of impulses. Chiropractic treatments may help if your pet has a spinal disability, such as a slipped disc or pinched nerve; or even in some cases of epilepsy, skin disorders, and behavioral problems.
Physical and Massage Therapies
Physical therapy is used to rehabilitate an injured animal. It may include simple techniques such as stretching or other exercises, or applying heat or cold to the affected area. Or it may consist of more extensive treatments, including hydrotherapy or stimulation with low-level lasers, electricity, magnets, or ultrasound. A veterinarian may recommend just one or a combination of these treatments.
Massage therapy-in which a therapist uses his or her hands and body to massage your pet’s soft tissues-may also help rehabilitation after an injury. If your pet is experiencing muscle degeneration, cramps, circulation problems, or soft tissue injuries, for example, massage therapy may help.
Acupuncture has been practiced by the Chinese for more than 3,000 years. Needles are inserted into specific points on the body that are thought to be located along pathways that correspond to different bodily organs. Acupuncture can relieve muscle spasms, increase blood circulation, stimulate nerves, and help release natural pain control hormones and other helpful chemicals produced naturally by the body. Sometimes, electricity, heat, massage, or lasers are also used to stimulate acupuncture points. Research shows that this complementary medical procedure can work well in many instances. You may want to consider acupuncture for your pet if it has musculoskeletal, skin, respiratory, or digestive problems. It can also help with some reproductive problems.
Homeopathic treatment relies on the administration of substances that can produce clinical signs similar to those of the disease being treated. The idea is to provide the substances in small enough amounts to be harmless, yet enough to encourage the body to develop a curative response to the disease. The substances most often come from plants, but may also be extracted from animals and minerals. The substance is diluted and made more potent, after which it’s usually put into pellet or liquid form. Administered properly, homeopathic treatment can help a wide variety of ailments, including allergies, wounds, poisonings, viral infections and many diseases. Some danger lies in the potential to use too much of the substance, which in large enough amounts may be toxic. For this reason, it’s important to choose a veterinarian who has been educated in homeopathic veterinary medicine.
Botanical (Herbal) Medicine and Nutraceuticals
Plants provide a wide variety of remedies for a range of ailments. Many modern drugs, such as aspirin, are derived from plants, but these drugs go through chemical processing that is thought by some to diminish the plant’s original healing power. Your veterinarian may prescribe a variety of herbs that work together to treat your pet’s problem(s). Sometimes one herb is prescribed to offset possible side effects of another. Since some herbs can be toxic, and this toxicity varies among animal species, it’s important that your veterinarian is educated in herbal veterinary medicine. Herbal remedies may be appropriate if your pet has digestive problems, kidney or bladder disease, parasites, skin problems, or injuries to bone or tissue.
Nutraceuticals are nutritional supplements derived from plants or animals.They can be used to help pets with a wide variety of illness and diseases, such as joint, respiratory or digestive problems, for instance, or to promote the well-being of healthy pets.