Each day I receive calls from pet guardians curious about natural pet products and alternative therapies. Many of these calls come from individuals, who in their efforts to take better care of themselves, are looking to extend this care to their companion animals. While others, having grown frustrated with less than desired results with conventional veterinary medicine, are seeking new, complementary avenues.
Holistic pet care and the increased availability of natural remedies for pets, along with the more openly acceptance of alternative therapies are very exciting, yet can be misunderstood. Holistic or “wholistic” means to take into account the whole animal: mind, body and spirit. The focus of holistic care and natural remedies is to nurture and support the body’s own healing process, helping to prevent the development of disease. They are not meant to take the place of what is often described as conventional veterinary care. Yet when allowed to complement conventional veterinary care, tremendous benefits may result.
A Few of the Healing Modalities
At times misconstrued for the term holistic, Homeopathy is a method of therapy that is based on the principle “like cures like.” In the 1790s, German physician, Samuel Hahnemann, found that substances that caused certain symptoms in a healthy person could also cure those same symptoms in a sick person. Hahnemann developed a method of “potentizing” the substances into homeopathic remedies by diluting a dose of a substance such as an herb or mineral in a water-alcohol base until only the essence of the original substance remains, then vigorously shaking or succussing the mixtures. While skeptics argue how such a dilution could do any good, homeopathic practitioners believe the specially prepared remedies reduce possible side effects of the substance and enhance the healing energy derived from the original substance.
A classic homeopathic veterinarian will review all the symptoms and prescribe a single remedy found to be the best catalyst for the animal’s total defense response. In recent years, combination remedies have received growing interest — especially with pets, because of their ability to work on different healing levels. Also receiving increased attention are nosodes, specially prepared remedies from infectious diseases such as Parvovirus, Distemper, Leptospirosis, or Feline Enteritis as complements to or possible replacements for conventional vaccines. However, studies to date, reveal the lack of protection and are not recommended or acknowledged as preventatives to diseases.
The pharmaceutical industry owes its origins to healing herbs and we owe our knowledge of herbs to the animals. Animals were the original herbalists and most of what we know about herbs we learned from observing them. While herbs can be used to treat symptoms, their real gift lies in the ability to work naturally with the body and provide the extra support needed from time to time. Veterinarians now use both herbs as practical and effective alternatives on their own or in conjunction with pharmaceutical medicines. New herbal extracts and dried herb formulas developed just for companion animals now make administering easier and safer.
Chinese herbs, acupuncture and acupressure are major components of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM, a system of healthcare that originated in China thousands of years ago, and are used to help restore the body’s balance by redirecting energy flows, strengthening and tonifying, and dispersing pain. The foundation of TCM is to stimulate corresponding points along the body’s meridians, or energy channels, to release blockages or draw energy or “chi” to deficient areas and balance the complementary states yin (characterized by darkness and quiet) and yang (characterized by light and activity).
Chinese herbs are prescribed by complex rules of diagnosis intended to help the body correct energy imbalances, and now new formulas made especially for pets makes this modality more accessible for select illnesses. In acupuncture, the flow of chi is controlled by the insertion of hair-thin needles along the meridians at specific points. Acupuncture must be performed by a trained practitioner, and is used to help with correcting energy imbalances to facilitate healing or as a treatment, such as pain therapy. Acupressure is based on the same principals as acupuncture, but instead of needles, finger and hand pressure is applied at acupressure points — the same meridian-aligned points used in acupuncture. Acupressure can be administered by someone trained in the technique or it can be taught to the caregiver and practiced at home.
Ayurvedic medicine is a system of diagnosis and treatment practiced in India for more than 5,000 years and holds that all diseases arise from stresses in the awareness, or consciousness of the individual, which lead to unhealthy lifestyles and a cycle of ill health. Ayurvedic practitioners use yoga, breathing exercises, meditative techniques, herbs, and diets to help detoxify the system and bring it back to balance. While not widely known as many of the other healthcare systems in the care of companion animals, several companies are now making products specifically for pets.
Body work is an umbrella term for many techniques that promote relaxation and treat musculoskeletal ailments. Plus they give you one-on-one time with your pet, allowing you to become more familiar and sensitive to subtle changes and potential problems. A few used with pets include: Massage stimulates circulation and muscles to reduce tension, aid healing, control pain and promote over-all well-being. Therapeutic Touch, despite its name, does not involve actual physical contact. A practitioner’s hands move in slow, rhythmic motions two to six inches above the patient to detect and move energy blockages. The Feldenkrais method is performed by a trained practitioner and is used to teach new patterns in order to improve posture, movement and breathing. Tellington Touch, developed by Linda Tellington Jones for horses and small animals, incorporates the above body work techniques, plus others, and is used by many veterinary technicians, trainers, and behaviorists.
Other modalities include aromatherapy, flower essences, chiropractic, and magnetic therapy.
These are just a few of the many modalities and their applications now being used with companion animals. Discuss these therapies and your philosophy of health care with your veterinarian, so that he or she can help you nurture and care for your companion. And remember, good nutrition is the foremost foundation to build upon, without it the above modalities will be futile.
© Terri Grow
The focus of holistic care and natural remedies is to nurture and support the body’s own healing process, helping to prevent the development of disease.