Holistic Pet Care: Caring for the Whole Pet -- Mind, Body and Spirit
We Americans do love our pets. In fact, nearly half of us boldly assert that if we had to choose between taking care of our own health or our pet’s health, we would take care of our pet first. That’s because we really do think of them as part of our family, and we know they look to us to give them the best care possible.
But is “the best care” putting a pet on powerful steroids to quiet that constant scratching? or using a flea preventive that the EPA classifies as a pesticide? While many conventional treatments may solve the immediate problem, they may also compromise your pet’s long-term health. If you have a pet with a chronic condition or one who simply isn't as healthy as you think she should be, holistic pet care could be her path to a long, healthy life. Here are three things your pet will be glad you know about holistic pet care.
1. Holistic pet care is a gentle, natural approach to pet care
Holistic pet care may be the safer, gentler, more natural approach to pet care that you, and your pet, are looking for. Holistic veterinarians do not deny the value of conventional veterinary methods. Indeed, holistic vets all receive their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degrees just like all other vets. However, they then go on to receive certification in a variety of alternative treatments, e.g. homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. As a result, they will recommend a conventional medical treatment if they feel it is in the best interest of their patient; however, they have a host of alternative treatments at their disposal that are more natural, gentle, non-invasive and, often, more effective.
So what exactly is “holistic pet care?” While conventional vets and holistic vets often work side by side in clinics, hospitals and rescue shelters, there are clear differences in how they view their patient and how they approach the treatment of disease, as you will see next.
2. Holistic pet care treats the whole animal, not just the “sick part”
I like the alternative spelling for this type of pet care -- "wholistic" -- because it highlights the importance of treating the "whole" animal. Holistic vets consider the immediate symptom as a sign of a deeper problem. This means knowing not only the pet’s medical history but also his living environment, personality and emotional state (yes, pets can be depressed!). Aspects of his daily life are also important: what does he eat? how much exercise does he get? does he spend a lot of time alone? Is there chaos or stress in the family? A new baby perhaps? All of these factors affect a pet’s health and well-being. “A condition in one part of the body always relates to activity in other parts as well as in the mind and spirit,” says holistic vet and author CJ Puotinen. “Holistic practitioners look beyond obvious symptoms in an effort to understand and involve the whole being.”
3. Holistic pet care believes in the power of the body to heal itself
Holistic vets will tell you that animals in the wild seldom suffer from cancer or other chronic, degenerative diseases. Even household pets of a few decades ago had far fewer serious and debilitating illnesses than we see today. What has happened? And, more importantly, what can we do to help our pets live healthier, longer lives?
Holistic veterinarians believe the answers lie in the power of the body to heal itself, i.e. our pet’s immune system. This is her built-in, natural defense against disease. When that line of defense is compromised, things start to go wrong. Relatively minor complaints like persistent itching and ear infections as well as more serious diseases like cancer are all indicators that the immune system has been compromised. Many holistic vets will even go so far as to say that healthy pets simply don’t get hot spots or even fleas!
The immune system can be weakened in a variety of ways. Contributing factors can include those mentioned above, e.g. stress in the home; but holistic vets will lay the lion’s share of the blame on another, more disturbing environmental factor.
Over the past 50 or 60 years, we have seen a troubling increase in the exposure of all of us, pets and people alike, to a host of harmful chemicals. Every day, we expose our pets to flea and tick pesticides, lawn care chemicals, foods full of additives and preservatives, creams and sprays made from toxic ingredients, and even seemingly innocuous household items like air fresheners and flame retardant fabrics. Then, as one holistic vet writes, “we wonder why they die at age six from cancer or kidney failure or liver disease.”
It is possible to minimize our pet’s exposure to toxins; but while the world is full of germs and man-made toxins, the body is naturally equipped with defenses to fight them. That’s why the holistic vet is committed to bolstering up the immune system. Any treatment, she says, should address not just the immediate symptom or illness but should include helping the body heal itself and stay healthy.
To bolster the immune system, holistic practitioners depend on natural, gentle, non-invasive treatments such as chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and nutritional therapy, among others. While these are beyond the average pet owner's areas of expertise, there are things we can do at home to give our pets a more "wholistic" and healthier lifestyle.
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