As much as I hate to admit it sometimes, my dogs are getting old. At 9 and 11 years old, they’re both certified seniors and have developed a few senior-dog ailments, like arthritis in their joints, teeth in need of extraction, and overall diminished energy. They’re not sick, but they’re not as spry as they used to be.
When I asked my vet how to help my best buds regain some energy and loosen up their joints, her answer surprised me: “Have you considered holistic medicine?” She went on to suggest a few treatments that have significantly improved my dogs’ lives.
What Is Holistic Medicine?
Holistic medicine has become increasingly popular in the United States, and many traditional veterinary practices (including my own) have started offering alternative treatments alongside regular preventive veterinary care. But what exactly is holistic veterinary medicine?
According to the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association, holistic medicine “means taking in the whole picture of the patient—the environment, the disease pattern, the relationship of pet with owner—and developing a treatment protocol using a wide range of therapies for healing the patient.” That “wide range of therapies” extends beyond veterinary medicine to complementary treatments that address your pet’s emotional and spiritual well-being.
Holistic veterinary medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole animal—body, mind, and emotions.
The phrase “holistic medicine” is kind of broad, and you might see other terms like alternative medicine, eastern medicine, or integrative care used instead. We’ll talk a bit more about the terminology of holistic treatments, but overall, holistic veterinary medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole animal—body, mind, and emotions—and uses minimally invasive procedures to elevate health and wellness.
The core belief of holistic medical ideology is that by treating all parts of the dog, you can provide more humane, effective, and complete care. As the AHVMA says, “Holistic thinking is centered on love, empathy, and respect.” Sounds pretty good, right? After all, that’s how most of us approach every aspect of our relationship with dogs.
Common Holistic Treatments for Dogs
A few of the most popular holistic treatments available for dogs include:
- Acupuncture, or the practice of applying small-gauge needles to various points on the body to stimulate nerves, improve appetite, increase circulation, relieve muscle spasms, and reduce nausea. Recommended to reduce pain and stress, and as treatment for chronic pain like arthritis
- Laser therapy, similar to acupuncture but using focused low-level laser on specific parts of the body to treat ailments ranging form ear infections to recovery from surgery
- Nutritional therapy, i.e. a diet tailored to your dog’s particular needs, possibly including herbal supplements
- Herbal treatment in the form of supplements to treat internal issues or tinctures with aroma-therapeutic effects. (Note: always discuss appropriate herbs and dosages with your veterinarian before administering, as some herbs can interfere with other medications or be dangerous in the wrong dosages)
- Massage therapy
See this post for a more extensive breakdown of some of the most popular holistic treatments.
The Risk of Going Wholly Holistic
If you conduct a simple web search for any of the treatments listed above, you’ll find enthusiastic endorsements form pet guardians and holistic practitioners touting their effects, such as this article from Bark Magazine about holistic treatments for epilepsy. What you won’t find is much scientific study of how or why these treatments work.
Responsible holistic practitioners agree that holistic therapies are most effective when used alongside conventional veterinary medicine.
Holistic veterinary practices have varying degrees of proven success, and while something like acupuncture might seem like a miracle treatment for one family, it may do nothing for another. That’s why the distinction between “alternative therapies” and “complementary therapies” is a vital one: holistic medicine is not a replacement for all other types of care, but an approach to caring for your pets that includes a wide variety of treatments. Responsible holistic practitioners agree that holistic therapies are most effective when used alongside conventional veterinary medicine.
For instance, if your dog develops cancer, you should likely move forward with the recommended medical treatment, whether it’s radiation, chemotherapy, or something else. But adding in complementary treatment such as acupuncture or hydrotherapy may help to alleviate side effects of medical treatment and symptoms of the disease, and can contribute to your dog’s overall comfort and happiness.
How to Make Holistic Treatment Work for Your Dog
Another phrase often used for the combination of “alternative” or non-traditional treatments alongside veterinary medicine is integrative, and many vets (holistic and conventional alike) agree that integrative care is the best option for most dogs.
As the AVHMA states on their website, “Holistic veterinarians often seek to blend standard therapies…with holistic methods,” and stay current on the latest advancements in both conventional medicine and holistic medicine in order to provide the most well-rounded are.
Remember the root meaning of holistic: treating the entire animal, inside and out, emotional and physical. You don’t have to wait for an injury or illness to show up before giving alternative therapies a try. You can integrate holistic practices into your dog’s life today to help to prevent illness and improve their overall health and well-being.
Treat the entire animal, inside and out, emotional and physical.
When considering holistic treatments for your dog, it’s important to seek out reputable practitioners. Thanks to the increased popularity of complementary therapies, your veterinarian can likely refer you to a certified practitioner even if they don’t offer the service in their office. In addition, the AVHMA maintains an online directory of holistic practitioners nationwide.
Holistic Care Is a Lifestyle, Not a Trend
Holistic veterinary medicine emphasizes the importance of treating the whole dog, not just as “a dog,” but as your very unique, particular, special companion. In that light, holistic care simply makes sense.
As for Ralph and Radar, since I started including touch therapy and regular swims into their lives, they do seem to be more comfortable. Of course, I’m still taking them for their regular six-month senior dog check-ups and treating them with medication as advised by their excellent, trustworthy veterinarian.
In truth, I don’t always know for sure what’s having the most impact on my dogs. I think I’d need a dog-human translator to help me decode everything my best friends feel! But by using a combination of conventional veterinary medicine and holistic treatments to suit their particular needs, I feel confident that my dogs are receiving the most complete care possible, and they’re happier and healthier as a result.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Top image via flickr/animalrescueblog
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