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The Poop on Holistic Pet Care

Americans, as most of us know, have been visiting chiropractors, naturopaths and massage therapists in droves in recent years. The alternative medicine phenomenon has landed on television news programs and the cover of national news magazines. But alternative healthcare isn’t just for people.

These days, millions of Americans are taking Fido, Whiskers and other pets to acupuncturists, homeopaths and other alternative practitioners. Holistic pet care has become a booming business.

Animals are going in for a wide variety of alternative treatments, ranging from Chinese medicine and detoxification therapies to aromatherapy and flower essence remedies.

Acupuncture, for example, may be used to treat paralyzed animals, or animals in severe pain from arthritis. Increasingly, it’s considered a worthy alternative to painkillers and surgery, which are much more difficult for the body to cope with. Homeopathy is being used in place of cortisone treatments for chronic skin disorders. Cortisone has many long-term side effects. Some practitioners use Bach Flower remedies to help modify aggressive behavior or other behavioral problems in pets.

Chinese and Western herbs are becoming increasingly popular among pet owners as well, who use them to help improve their pets’ immune systems and for a wide variety of other health reasons.

It makes sense that people are bringing their pets to see holistic practioners. A philosophy that is healthy for the human body is bound to be healthy for pets as well.

“Most alternative approaches to health care revolve around a central concept that is as old as the art of healing itself: that all living beings possess on a deep level the will and wisdom to be healthy and that the wisdom of the organism can and should be enlisted in effecting a cure,” says Dr. Tejinder Sodhi, who runs both the Animal Hospital of Lynnwood and the Animal Wellness Center in Bellevue.

Alternative medicine for pets has grown in part because of the impression that conventional treatment sometimes can do more harm than good. People develop intense emotional connections with their companion animals, and learning that an animal with cancer needs chemotherapy or other drastic measures can be devastating.

Example 1: Alternative Cancer Treatment for Pets

Carol Marangoni, a research scientist from New York who is not predisposed to supporting alternative treatments, changed her mind several years ago when her five-year-old golden retreiver, Brunzi, was diagnosed with cancer.

“In October of 1992 I was devastated when I received a biopsy report on a lump that had been removed from Brunzi's face,” she says. “The lab report said ‘Diagnosis: squamous cell carcinoma; Prognosis: guarded.’ I couldn't believe my eyes - I read that report over and over, each time with mounting anxiety. The thought that I might lose my ‘little boy’ at 5 years of age - in the prime of his life - was unbearable to me.

She immediately took him to a prestigious veterinarian oncologist, who recommended radiation treatments, as well as removing all seven lumps through surgical incision. Small metal disks were to be implanted at each incision, so that surgeons could precisely identify each site to radiate.

“The oncologist told me that Brunzi would need to be anesthetized and radiated approximately 3 times a week for 6-7 weeks, and that I could expect ulcers to develop internally and externally at all radiated sites. Furthermore, because the original tumor had been removed by cryosurgery, he wanted to excise additional tissue surrounding the site because, he assured me, there was absolutely no way that all of the cancerous cells had been removed and he guaranteed that the tumor would grow back within 6 months if left untouched. He told me I should bring Brunzi in for treatment as soon as possible, and he warned me against any delay. He outright dismissed my inquiries about any alternative treatment.”

She decided to take Brunzi to see a holistic vet, Dr. Marty Goldstein. Goldstein told her that cancer is a secondary condition stemming from a suppressed immune system, and that even if the cancer was treated with radiation, there was no guarantee that other cancerous bumps wouldn’t develop.

“Dr. Goldstein's approach was a multifaceted one, designed to enhance Brunzi's debilitated immune function. He put Brunzi on a variety of glandular, enzymatic, vitamin and mineral supplements, based on his metabolic nutritional analysis. He monitored Brunzi's progress through analytical blood testing, and put Brunzi on a 2-week course of immuno-augmentative therapy (IAT). In accordance with his advice, I also changed Brunzi's diet. Whenever possible, I cook fresh foods for him, using organically grown grains (mainly brown rice and millet), raw organic vegetables (carrots, garlic, watercress, cauliflower, broccoli, squash etc. that I put in the food processor to create a vegetable "mash"), free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free chickens (cooked and uncooked), and organic yogurt and eggs. When I occasionally use dog food, it is a super premium dry dog food, and I've continued with his food supplement program as the vet recommended.

“Brunzi never received radiation, chemotherapy, or additional surgery. He is retested approximately every 6 months, and his supplement regimen is modified accordingly. He is also routinely tested for immune function (IAT retesting), but has not needed to repeat this course of treatment. It has now been four years since Brunzi's cancer diagnosis, and he has never been in better health. Although he turned nine in May, he's still running around the yard like a puppy, chasing his sister "Chaos" and wearing his golden retriever "happy face". And he now has a very important job: he is a therapy dog who visits his old folk friends at a local nursing home several times a month. They love him dearly, and he plans to continue his visits well into the 21st century. “

Example 2: Pet Acupuncture

Another family took their 10-year-old blueheeler/lab mix dog, Molly, to see Dr. Sodhi. Molly had had three hip surgeries, all of which failed to cure the pain in her rear legs. Sodhi recommended acupuncture. One week and three sessions later, Molly had improved greatly, and over time, she began acting like her old self again, running about and even going on hikes with the family. She no longer yelped when her family touched her rear legs.

Too Many Vaccinations?

Another problem with conventional medicine, holistic practitioners say, is overvaccinations, which they say can weaken an animal’s immune system. Dr. Donna Kelleher, a Seattle-based veterinarian who uses acupuncture and chiropractic, says that improving an animal’s immune system will negate the need for most vaccines. Vaccines, she says, have been shown to cause auto-immune diseases. “I feel they may be responsible for arthritis, skin, liver and kidney problems as well.” Also, conventional medicine can lead to harmful side effects for pets, as it can with humans.

Healthy Diet for Pets 

And most holistic practioners say that one of the most important things pet owners can do is to make sure their animals are eating a healthy diet.

“Dogs and cats need whole foods just like we do,” Kelleher says, adding that commercial pet foods can lead to many health conditions, including gastrointestinal difficulties, liver problems and cancer.

Commercial pet foods often contain byproducts and chemicals that most of us would not want our pets to eat. They may contain chicken heads and legs, tumors, diseased organs, and even dogs and cats taken from the rendering plant. Steer clear of BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and artificial colorings or flavorings.

Sodhi says that 70 percent of the pet ailments he sees, from dry or oily skin and excessive sheeding to recurring ear infections and kidney problems, are diet-related. Since they’ve been caused by diet, many can be treated by diet changes as well. Sodhi believes that a rising incidence of cancer in animals, including many young ones under the age of three, can also be tied to impure foods.


Holistic practitioners, in general, consider the age, condition and nutritional status of any pet they treat. They often use conventional techniques, such as bloodwork, x-rays and other tests to reach a diagnosis.

While conventional medicine concentrates on the removal of symptoms, holistic care focuses on improving the overall well-being of the animal. Holistic practitioners are willing to prescribe antibiotics and other drugs in emergencies, but shy away from them when possible because they can weaken the immune system. Animals treated holistically live longer and healthier lives.

Many pets suffer from skin problems, and their owners bring them in for conventional remedies. But people often don’t realize that skin problems are often the result of accumulations of toxins and vaccinations over the years, and a poor diet. Some holistic vets think that the rise of skin problems in recent years is due primarily to the increase in vaccinations, especially for rabies.

Dr. Anna Maria Scholey, a holistic vet and writer from Dallas, believes that vaccinosis, a condition characterized by itchy, dark, thickened skin, particularly on the stomach and under the legs, is tied to rabies vaccinations. While she doesn’t say we should give up rabies vaccinations, she adds that there are things pet owners can do to minimize the effects of the vaccine. A healthful diet, she says, is the most important step. Good filtered water or quality spring water can help, as well as purifying the air in the home.

Flea Troubles

Flea problems, too, can be prevented by a healthful diet. Fleas are one of the most prolific creatures around; 10 females can produce 267,000 offspring in a month. Dr. Susan Gayle Wynn, author of Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, a textbook for veterinarians, says that healthy, well cared for pets are more likely to be successful against fleas. Most important is a natural, complete diet. Healthy animals don’t taste or smell as good to fleas. Fresh garlic or garlic capsules can help. She recommends weekly bathings with natural shampoos such as Natural Animal as well. Between baths, herbal sprays can be used to prevent fleas.

Many pet owners use conventional sprays in their house to get rid of fleas from carpets and furniture. But Wynn recommends using natural flea sprays instead. The best natural flea treatment, she says, is RX for Fleas, which is also called Fleabusters. Of course, animals get many of their fleas from the yard. Wynn suggests that owners become familiar with the places their pets go outside, and use products such as Interrupt, Lawn Patrol and Guardian. These products use nematodes, beneficial organisms, to kill flea larvae, but are harmless to birds, mammals and beneficial insects, she says.


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