Alternative Treatments Great for Animals, Too

Sam, my lovable Golden Retriever, has been my constant walking companion for 12 years, but his arthritic hip often flares up these days. When that happens, I give him flaxseed oil to reduce his inflammation and then make an appointment with his chiropractor, who knows how to soothe his pain with massage and acupuncture.

Am I barking up the wrong tree? Apparently not. Consumers are increasingly interested in natural modalities for treating their pets’ ailments. And, as with human treatments, natural treatment options may be more effective than drugs or surgery, have fewer side effects and are often less expensive than mainstream medicine options (few have pet health insurance, so this is important). Evidence of this trend was seen at this year’s annual conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), at which several seminars on CAVM (Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine) treatments were offered. I recently chatted about this with Sam’s doctor, Jeff Feinman, VMD, a veterinarian and certified veterinary homeopath in private practice in Weston, Connecticut.

GOOD FOR MAN & MAN’S BEST FRIEND

Dr. Feinman told me there are several reasons for the growing interest in this topic — most notably, much of what’s good for us is good for our pets as well. He said that conventional veterinary medicine sometimes cannot achieve the same results as CAVM. This may be especially true for chronic diseases that are increasingly common among pets, for some of the same reasons as in humans — like poor diet and suppression of symptoms without treating root causes — along with others that are animal-specific, such as over-breeding.

CAVM, which encompasses acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, nutrition, herbal medicine and other modalities, can be used in conjunction with conventional therapy to achieve optimal pet health, taking the best of what each has to offer. CAVM is especially helpful for prevention. “Most disorders can be prevented by reducing the risk factors associated with the disease process using good nutrition, homeopathic stimulation of healing, proper supplementation, dental care, grooming and exercise,” Dr. Feinman said.

Following are some of the more popular CAVM treatments and some resources for more information and expert referrals in your community…

HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE

Dr. Feinman uses homeopathy to treat a variety of chronic pet illnesses including allergies, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, ear infections, inflammatory bowel disease and thyroid disease. Since homeopathy triggers the body’s natural healing process, “you cure the disease, not just treat or ease the symptoms,” Dr. Feinman explained. He illustrated the effectiveness of homeopathy with a heartwarming case: “A client brought in a young puppy that became paralyzed after he received his puppy vaccinations. I gave him a homeopathic remedy and two days later the paralysis was gone.” The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy is the only organization in the US that provides certification in homeopathy to licensed veterinarians (www.theavh.org).

CHIROPRACTIC MEDICINE

Dr. Feinman uses his expertise in chiropractic medicine “mainly for muscular and skeletal issues, arthritis, disk disease and problems associated with injuries that cause limping,” he said, while the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) notes that it can also be used to heal or help chronic internal medicine disorders in all kinds of animals, as well as for allergies. The AVCA trains both licensed veterinarians and chiropractors in animal chiropractic medicine (www.avcadoctors.com).

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture is among the most widely utilized and effective CAVM modalities in the veterinary world, especially given the widespread musculoskeletal problems such as hip dysplasia, arthritis and disk disease that can result in chronic pain. Acupuncture can also be helpful in treating your pet’s gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems and urinary disorders, as well as for immune system stimulation. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) is currently the only international organization that trains and certifies veterinarians who have completed an intensive course and passed a rigorous examination in acupuncture (www.ivas.org).

NUTRITIONAL THERAPY

Generally speaking, pets who are fed the right kinds of specially formulated pet foods don’t require nutritional supplementation — but if your dog or cat has a chronic condition, such as eczema or arthritis, vitamins and minerals can be helpful. Examples of dietary supplements that Dr. Feinman prescribes include (but are not limited to) multivitamins, glucosamine, cranberry, Echinacea, omega-3 fatty acids, milk thistle, vitamin C, cat’s claw and cod liver oil. “I advise using fresh food instead of processed food, and use nutritional therapy in the form of proper diet and supplements, but I try to avoid using anything that might have a strong drug effect,” said Dr. Feinman.

A word of caution regarding dietary and nutritional supplements for pets: A new National Research Council report, requested by the Center for Veterinary Medicine of the US Food and Drug Administration, concluded that there was inadequate data to clearly define a safe upper limit for lutein, evening primrose oil or garlic, three supplements often used for pets. The committee added that current regulations addressing animal dietary supplements are in a state of disarray. Discuss with your veterinarian which brands of supplements and what doses your pet should be given. Be sure to keep the doctor informed of alternative therapies you’re using, since they can potentially interfere with prescribed treatment or medications. It’s best to use supplements recommended by a trusted holistic vet or nutritionist.

QUESTIONS TO ASK A HOLISTIC VETERINARIAN

If you’re considering using a holistic veterinarian, Dr. Feinman suggests a few screening questions.

  • What certification do you have? “Some holistic vets practice many modalities,” said Dr. Feinman. Beware the “jack of all trades, master of none.” He explains that people should look for vets with certification in the modality they are interested in pursuing, for example, homeopathy.
  • What training have you received? From where? Find out how much experience and training the veterinarian has in the technique and its principles, and what successes have been achieved in similar cases in the past.
  • What is your objective when treating your patients? Look for a doctor who emphasizes overall health rather than just treating the current complaint.

“The best veterinarians have a broad view of health and disease, in which they try to achieve balance on all levels rather than just trying to ‘fix’ a problem,” said Dr. Feinman. Those who practice holistic veterinary medicine generally bring such a perspective to treating our four-footed friends.