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Pills have their place sometimes, but they’re not the answer to a long and healthy life. A holistic approach helps ensure your furry friend will stay with you for years to come.
by Marcia Martin, DVM Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006,

Here in North America, many people associate health with vaccines and medication. Studies show that more than half of all those with medical insurance are on long term medication. Unfortunately, this trend has extended into the world of veterinary medicine.


There are two very distinct models for health. One is the allopathic or conventional medical approach. It views symptoms as disease and measures health through changes in laboratory testing. The holistic model looks beyond symptoms and lab tests. It assesses the overall quality of life and the extent to which the animal is functioning in his or her environment. It may sound more complicated, but in reality it’s the best and most natural way to ap- proach your companion’s well-being. Here are the top ten steps to a hale and hearty life.


1. Wholesome diet

Feed a species appropriate raw food diet. Most dogs and cats thrive on a diet composed primarily of raw meat be- cause it closely approximates what they would eat in the wild. Nowadays, raw feeding is as easy as a trip to your local holistic pet food store. Many companies make com- plete raw diets; all you need to do is thaw and serve.


If you don’t want to go the raw route, look for a high quality premium packaged pet food made from natural whole ingredients and free of artificial preservatives. Avoid like the plague low-end commercial foods made with by-products and additives – cheap, poor quality diets are one of the main reasons why so many dogs and cats suffer from ill health.


2. Pure water

Be sure your companion has access to plenty of clean, fresh water. Filtered or reverse osmosis water is best. Cats especially don’t drink much water, so they need extra encouragement. Change the water daily, and/or considerinvesting in a pet drinking fountain; animals are often more attracted to moving, aerated water.


3. Minimal vaccines

Take a stand against annual revaccination. You have the right to decline it. Numerous studies show that annual shots are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. For those who worry their animals may not be fully protected against infectious disease, many veterinarians now offer titer testing for parvo and distemper. Titers are one way tomeasure an animal’s ability to withstand infection.


4. Self education

Educate yourself about alternative treatments. Conventional drug-based therapy rapidly suppresses symptoms but rarely cures chronic disease. It often fails to return the animal to an acceptable level of functioning or improve his overall quality of life. In my opinion, drug therapy should be the last resort. Albert Schweitzer once said, “The good doctor simply awakens the physician within”. Classical homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and chiropractic are safe and effective modalities that act by stimulating the body’s own self-healing ability.


5. Vet visits

Regular visits to the holistic veterinarian of your choice are important. Even if you have chosen not to vaccinate, regular wellness visits are still important. Detecting health problems early allows for appropriate treatment before damage to vital organs becomes permanent.


Regular diagnostic blood testing should start at the age of three years for large breed dogs, five years for smaller breeds and six to seven years for cats. A veterinarian trained in homeopathy or TCM can find and treat underlying problems even before there are changes in blood work — the ultimate in preventive medicine! Holistic veterinarians offer a wide range of therapeutic modalities to help your animal stay active into his golden years. For instance, acupuncture and/or chiropractic can be very effective for animals with joint or spinal pain, improving joint function and decreasing dependency on pain medications.


6. Exercise

It’s as important for our four legged friends as it is for us and offers many vital benefits:


  • It helps with weight control.

  • It keeps the animal’s muscular, circulatory and other body systems in good working order.

  • Walking a dog provides him with sight and sound stimulation that

  • helps his mind stay active and relieves boredom.

  • Exercise has been shown to help lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

  • Time spent with your dog provides him with social interaction.


For those who don’t have time to exercise their dogs, many veterinary clinics are incorporating rehabilitation into their treatment schedules. Often, dogs can be dropped off for swimming or time on a treadmill. Daycare is also an option; dogs stay active while enjoying the same social interactions they would in the wild.


Exercise for cats is just as important but considerably more challenging. In the wild, cats spend a great deal of time chasing down and catching prey. Meaningful exercise for your cat should involve: chase, catch and bite. Motorized mice and wands with attached feathers give cats ample opportunity to “engage their wild side”.


7. Stress reduction

A dog or cat’s life may not seem stressful to us, but animals can still suffer considerable anxiety. Destructive behavior and house soiling are two signs that may indicate stress. Dealing with a stressed animal can be difficult. Allopathic medicine generally relies on sedatives like Xanax or psychiatric drugs such as Prozac. While these have helped some animals, they merely modify the response to stressors; they do not teach the animal appropriate coping mechanisms that allow him to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy and normal way.


Homeopathy, along with emotional release techniques such as craniosacral therapy, is very effective in treating stressed out animals.


8. Training

It may seem like work to you, but it’s great fun for your dog and works on multiple levels to keep him mentally stimulated and emotionally stable. Working breeds especially need an outlet for their intelligence and energy.


By training your dog, you establish yourself as pack leader. This naturally creates a strong bond between you. Your dog can relax and feel safe in his environment because he has faith in you! As leader of the pack, you establish dominance over type A dogs, thwarting their attempts to rule the household – or, alternatively, provide security and confidence for dogs that are less brave. A well trained animal can be taken anywhere, allowing you both to expand your horizons and enjoy an exciting and stimulating life.


I tend to focus on dogs when it comes to training but cats shouldn’t be forgotten. Many cats can be trained to fetch, use a toilet, and stay off counters.


9. Lifestyle

This isn’t often considered a wellness tip, but choosing the correct animal for your lifestyle helps avoid many problems. All animals have needs and expect you to fulfill them. If you have a busy work schedule and spend hours away from home, dogs with dependant natures or high energy will suffer by becoming bored, lonely and stressed. A high strung breed, meanwhile, will rapidly decompensate in a hectic home environment with noisy children. All these factors can affect an animal’s health and overall well being.


10. Cutting toxins

Last but far from least, minimize his exposure to toxins. In this day and age, it’s impossible to completely eliminate toxin exposure, but you can lessen it. Don’t use pesticides on your yard and garden, and don’t walk your dog in areas that have been sprayed. Investigate more natural alternatives to chemical flea products and household cleaners. Consider an air filter if you live in a region where air qual- ity is poor. It’ll do you good as well!


Having a happy, healthy animal is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Ten Tips for Good Health

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