Treating Your Pets Well with Alternative Therapies
by Nancy E. McCarthy
What pet parent wouldn’t want to find the best care for a sick furry family member? Conventional veterinary medicine, also called Western medicine, offers a wide range of diagnostic tools, pharmaceuticals, supplements, treatments, and surgical options to address diseases or injuries and maintain good health. Holistic veterinarians consider mainstream modalities along with alternative therapies to form a complementary plan that nurtures all aspects of an animal’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website describes the holistic practitioner as “interested not only in a medical history, but also genetics, nutrition, environment, family relationships, stress levels, and other factors.” Holistic approaches may include traditional Chinese (Eastern) medicine such as acupuncture, massage, herbal remedies, and more. Here’s a look at some of them.
Solving Pru’s Puzzle
Colleen Seeley of Rochester was worried about her dog Pru. After numerous diagnostic tests, her veterinarian couldn’t determine the root cause for an enlarged spleen, elevated red blood cell count, fur loss, and inflamed skin. The antibiotics prescribed to treat Pru’s symptoms were ineffective, so Seeley brought her four-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier to Dr. Alisa Koenig at The Veterinary Alternative in Caledonia. Koenig diagnosed Pru with polycythemia, a condition characterized by an increase of red blood cells (RBC).
“Dr. K explained that the spleen and the red blood cell elevations were helping to cause her body to heat and her skin to become irritated, which caused the hair loss,” says Seeley. Koenig applied acupuncture and cold laser therapy. To promote healthy skin, she prescribed Cool the Blood (a Chinese herbal supplement) and Sulphur (a homeopathic remedy). One of the guiding principles of homeopathy is that substances that produce symptoms similar to the symptoms of a disease can be curative. These natural substances are diluted so they don’t produce toxic side effects.
After three months, Seeley reports that Pru’s skin is healed, her coat has grown back, and her RBC levels are down toward a normal range. Koenig shares credit for Pru’s recovery with Seeley – a dedicated pet owner and keen observer of detail. “We look for details in order to prescribe specific homeopathic remedies – and there are hundreds – so choosing the right one for the patient is always better the more details we have about particular and general symptoms,” Koenig says. “The same is true for choosing Chinese or Western herbals.”
Koenig acknowledges there is a place for Western medicine in animal care, particularly for emergencies and surgery, but “for both acute and chronic care, I find that acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal medicines respect and augment the healing abilities of the body and work to restore our animals’ health much more effectively.”
Silas’s Happy Ending
In 2006, Dr. Kristin Browne established Thera-Vet Acres (TVA), a rehabilitation and fitness veterinary practice in Webster, to serve canine, feline, and equine patients. TVA now has Hilton and Honeoye Falls locations, too. Owners seeking alternative care are referred by their veterinarians. Browne and her team utilize therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture, laser, and hydrotherapy, plus veterinary spinal manipulative therapy, nutritional support, massage, and more. Many of these non-invasive treatments can circumvent the need for surgeries and pharmaceuticals, or can be used in conjunction with conventional veterinary modalities.
Dr. Browne considers the patient’s entire profile: a detailed history, gait analysis, and thorough examination, and then looks at diet, medications, and supplements to determine what clinical therapy is necessary and what can be accomplished at home. “This, to me, makes us very integrative in our approach,” she says.
Last year, Stacey Szczepaniak of North Chili brought Silas, her five-year-old Labrador/coonhound mix, to Thera-Vet for medical boarding, an evaluation, and therapy. Szczepaniak was about to leave for a trip when Silas tore the cruciate ligament in his right knee and couldn’t stand up. He had torn his left knee previously, and was overweight by about 25 pounds. The surgeons Szczepaniak consulted with wouldn’t operate on Silas.
“I was in the Netherlands when I received the email that Dr. Browne felt confident that she could help him,” she says. “I cried while reading it.” When Szczepaniak returned 10 days later, Silas walked over – unassisted – to greet her.
Silas’ care plan was extensive, and included Multiwave Locked System (MLS) Class IV laser therapy, electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill, Hako-Med whirlpool, bodywork (massage), therapeutic stretching, exercises, weight loss and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). ESWT, one of Thera-Vet’s cutting-edge modalities, harnesses high-energy sound waves that restore mobility, stimulate bone growth, and regenerate soft tissue.
“Thera-Vet saved my dog,” says Szczepaniak. She reports that Silas is now a happy, slimmed down, energetic pup. He continues maintenance therapy at TVA, including laser treatments and underwater treadmill to avoid setbacks.
“I feel like people are really ready for a more natural approach to things, but they just don’t know where to start,” says Dr. Kelly Neale, who opened Bolton Veterinary Service as a conventional practice in Stanley five years ago. When her pets developed health issues, she began to think out of the box, drawing from her own experiences with chiropractic treatments, supplements, and nutrition. Now she offers several alternative therapies to her patients, too.
It started in 2018 when Brinley, her 11-year-old mixed breed dog, developed liver disease and reacted negatively to pharmaceuticals. Neale switched her to Canine Hepatic Support, a whole food supplement, and changed her diet to Dogs Thrive, a human-grade, meat-based specialty dog food made by Thrivefeed, an equine nutrition company. Within a month, Brinley was normalized and healthy again.
Neale’s 17-year-old Quarter Horse, Kevin, was lame due to navicular syndrome. Neale combines conventional treatments (mechanical therapeutic shoes, injectable joint support) with alternative therapies (cold laser treatments, chiropractic, and a nutritious, anti-inflammatory Thrivefeed diet). Before Neale became open to holistic options, she would have tried nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to treat pain, at the risk of Kevin’s history of developing ulcers with NSAIDS use.
Neale was so impressed with the positive impact of Thrivefeed’s equine and canine formulas on her pets that she, along with her partners, formed an LLC as a local distributor. Switching some of her patients to this food has produced many success stories, such as eliminating prescription diets, steroids, and antibiotics for dogs with chronic itchy skin.
So far, pet owners seem receptive to Neale’s integrative approach. “I explain to my clients that my goal is to get to the root of the problem and fix that, versus reaching for the drug cabinet to cover up the symptom,” she says.
For Neale, holistic healing is evolving quite naturally.
The Slippery Slope of CBD
Some people use cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound, to treat animal ailments. But this burgeoning industry is unregulated, so many conventional vets are reluctant to advise owners about CBD use. Anecdotally, CBD (in oil and other forms) can help pets with pain, anxiety, seizures and other conditions. However, there are no uniform quality standards, and companies’ claims are not verifiable. In some cases, CBD doesn’t help at all, or may cause harm if the product isn’t specifically formulated for animals, not dosed correctly, is contaminated, or interacts with other drugs.
“I know a lot of people using CBD from lots of sources, which makes me nervous for the quality of the products,” says Dr. Neale. She recommends CBD products from Standard Process, a company she uses for whole food supplements for herself, her pets, and patients. Dr. Browne’s advice is to know the product and trust the company that produces it.
A clinical trial at Cornell University studied the effects of CBD pet products from ElleVet Sciences on canine osteoarthritis, with positive outcomes on increased comfort and activity levels and no side effects. That’s promising science-based news, but the bottom line is: consult with your veterinarian.
There are several holistic veterinary practices in the Finger Lakes Region, and many conventional vets integrate alternative modalities, such as cold laser therapy, for their pet patients. Find more information on the New York Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medical Association website at nycavma.org, or visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at ahvma.org.