By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
More than 40% of those in the United States use holistic remedies for themselves, and holistic remedies for pets are becoming increasingly popular as well.
Holistic care involves evaluating both the whole animal and the entire range of treatment options. The unique needs of an individual animal may be influenced by personality, breed characteristics, early socialization, and environment. Holistic medicine is designed to meet not only physical needs, but mental and emotional needs as well.
Holistic care doesn’t mean that only natural remedies are used. Rather, it often requires a combination of complementary and conventional therapies for maximum benefit.
Complementary therapy is not meant to replace recommended conventional therapies. It is not the same as alternative therapy, which is used as a replacement for conventional treatment.
Many complementary therapies are natural therapies in the sense that they are neither prescription medications nor chemically based. Antioxidants, herbs, and other homeopathic remedies are considered natural therapies. Natural therapies are may be used to:
- Treat medical conditions for which there are no effective conventional medications
- Minimize the side effects of conventional treatments
- Save money on long-term treatments
- Provide a safer alternative to certain conventional treatments (i.e., the use of glucosamine with chondroitin rather than non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids to treat arthritis)
Effectiveness of Complementary Therapies
For many complementary therapies, there have not been large-scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies conducted, although there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence attesting to their benefits. Those who are sceptical of natural remedies attribute their efficacy to either a placebo effect or to the fact that some pets will get better regardless of the treatment offered.
As for the placebo effect, while a person’s health may improve because a doctor tells him he will get better, an animal has no awareness that he is expected to get better. Being immune to the power of suggestion, animals aren’t subject to the placebo effect.
Some animals that are not severely ill will get better whether or not therapy is implemented. This may explain some responses to natural remedies, though probably not all of them. Only through further research can the effects of natural remedies be definitively proven, though many owners have noted significant benefits from veterinarian-recommended complementary therapies, particularly when used in conjunction with conventional therapies.
Common Complementary Therapies
There are a number of natural or complementary treatments that are often used with pets, including:
- Acupuncture – An electrical unit or small needles are used to stimulate specific points on the body – often to treat arthritis.
- Chiropractic care – Adjustments are made to the joints using joint stretching, thumb pressure, or an instrument called an activator – many animals display increased playfulness, activity, and appetite after chiropractic treatment.
- Homeopathic remedies – Various substances such as bacteria or plant extracts are given in liquid or pill form – herbal remedies are usually most effective when a combination of herbs is given.
- Nutritional support – Dietary changes and vitamin or mineral supplements are prescribed to improve health, prevent illness, or slow the progress of illness.
If you are seeking holistic pet care, there are certain questions you should ask when choosing a veterinarian:
- Are you licensed?
- Have you been extensively trained in the holistic speciality required?
- Have you been practicing holistic medicine for a long time?
- Can you provide references?
- Do you prescribe conventional treatments as well as natural remedies?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s best to seek a different holistic practitioner.
Consult a Veterinarian Before Using Natural Remedies
Many natural remedies can have side effects or interact with certain medications. Even relatively safe herbal remedies can be deadly if the wrong dose is given, and some herbal remedies are extremely dangerous. For example, white oak and white willow contain salicylates, which are toxic to cats. Always consult a veterinarian before giving natural remedies to your pets.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Messonnier, Shawn, DVM. (n.d.). “What is Holistic Pet Care?” HousePetMagazine.com.
- Pinney, Chris C., DVM. (2003). The Complete Home Veterinary Guide.