Tag Archives: holistic

Holistic Veterinary Medicine

In recent years, pet owners and veterinarians have taken a greater interest in a holistic approach to health care. By definition, a holistic health exam should include discussion of all aspects of the pet’s lifestyle: Their medical history, diet, activity level, and their social interactions with humans and other pets are all taken into zoey2consideration. A holistic approach to medical care may incorporate both traditional diagnostics and therapeutics, such as prescription diets, medications, and dental care, as well as complementary and alternative modalities, such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, massage therapy and more.

The scope of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine is vast, and not all modalities are believed to be equal in their efficacy. In some cases, research has been conducted to fully understand how or why a given therapy works. In other cases, the effect a therapy is supposed to have is largely unsupported conjecture (and in some cases it may just be a sales gimmick!). This article is meant to help you understand which therapies we believe are helpful.

Acupuncture and Acutherapy

  • Traditional Chinese medicine, as it has applied to human health for centuries, is used as a basis for veterinary acupuncture.
  • Specific points on the body are examined and stimulated by use of acupuncture needles. Additional means of stimulation can include pressure, moxibustion (application of a heated substance), injections of saline or B-vitamins at specific points, low-level laser therapy, and more.
  • Acupuncture and related therapies are accepted as an effective mode of therapy in human medicine, and they are widely believed to be effective in animals as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture and acutherapy as an accepted and “fully integrated” approach to therapy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in traditional Chinese medicine and the use of acupuncture outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform acupuncture, low-level laser therapy, or related practices.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald and Dr. Michelle Pesce are formally trained in veterinary acupuncture. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy. You may search for an acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner local to you at www.tcvm.com.

Veterinary Chiropractic

  • The scope of veterinary chiropractic includes the evaluation, manipulation, and adjustment of specific joints. It does NOT include prescribed medication or supplements, surgery, or injections, and it cannot be considered a replacement for standard veterinary care.
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary chiropractic can be beneficial, but formal research is limited.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary chiropractic outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform chiropractic medicine.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is currently pursuing training in veterinary chiropractic. You may search for a certified veterinary chiropractic practitioner at animalchiropractic.org.

Veterinary Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy

  • laser1Veterinary physical therapy is the use of noninvasive techniques, such as low-level lasers (see photo to right), electrical sources, magnetic fields, and ultrasound; rehabilitative exercises; hydrotherapy; and applications of heat and cold for the rehabilitation of injures.
  • Veterinary massage therapy includes only the use of a person’s hands and body to massage soft tissues.
  • Physical therapy and massage therapy techniques may be performed by a veterinary technician under the supervision or referral of a licensed veterinarian who is providing concurrent medical care.
  • Many veterinarians, particularly those who perform orthopedic surgeries, will make recommendations for physical rehabilitation and can instruct a pet owner in basic protocols and techniques.
  • Physical rehabilitation techniques are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.
  • Local to Bolton Vet, formal physical therapy programs include Wizard of Paws in Colchester CT and Pieper Memorial’s physical therapy department in Middletown, CT. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy.

Veterinary Homeopathy

  • Veterinary homeopathy incorporates an interesting strategy: Tiny amounts of substances that are capable of causing clinical signs in healthy animals are administered to sick/injured animals with those same clinical signs. The therapy is believed to work because the doses administered are extremely dilute.
  • The human and veterinary medical communities’ understanding of how homeopathy may work is not complete. It is among the less scientifically-supported modalities (that is to say, it may not be effective at all).
  • Many pet owners are not aware that HOMEOPATHIC medicine is not the same as HERBAL medicine (see below for more on herbal medicine…)
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary homeopathy can be beneficial, but formal research is very limited.
  • Buyer (or Googler) beware, homeopathic products are not FDA-regulated, so there is no guarantee a homeopathic product actually contains what is on the label (!!).
  • Since some of these substances may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary homeopathy be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary homeopathy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary homeopathy outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is formally trained in veterinary homeopathy. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Homeopath local to you at theavh.org.

Veterinary Herbal/Botanical Medicine

  • spring9Veterinary botanical medicine is the use of plants and plant derivatives as therapeutic agents.
  • There are many examples of the use of herbal/botanical products in veterinary medicine:
    • Citronella oil (an extract of lemongrass) is widely recognized as a mild insect repellent.
    • Cranberry extract is frequently used to prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in humans and animals, and its mechanism of action has been studied and is well-understood.
    • Supplements containing Milk Thistle are generally considered a standard of care in the treatment of some types of liver disease.
  • Buyer (or Googler) beware, there are many herbal products and “natural” supplements that are quite costly, yet not necessarily effective. Supplements are not FDA-regulated, so there is no guarantee a herbal product actually contains what is on the label (!!). Your veterinarian can recommend trusted brand-name supplements.
  • Since some of these botanicals may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary botanical medicine be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary botanical medicine. Safe dosing of herbal medications is just as important as safe dosing of prescription medications.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary botanical/herbal medicine outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Herbalist at www.vbma.org.

Nutraceutical Medicine

  • Nutraceutical medicine is the use of micronutrients, macronutrients, and other nutritional supplements as therapeutic agents.
  • Research in this field is ongoing. There are many examples of the use of specialized nutrition or neutriceutical products in veterinary medicine. Some are believed to be more effective than others:
    • There is a great abundance of carefully formulated prescription dog and cat diets to treat or help control a wide variety of diseases, including allergies, obesity, joint pain, kidney failure, and liver disease.
    • Glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized as a dietary supplements for joint support and prevention of arthritis
    • St. John’s Wort is believed to have analgesic (pain-relieving) and anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties; yet at an excessive dose, this plant extract can be toxic, potentially causing skin ulceration and dermatitis.
    • Some skin conditions are responsive to zinc supplementation, however, excessive dietary zinc can also be quite toxic.
  • Nutrition and veterinary neutraceutical medicine are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.

References & Further Reading:

AVMA Guidelines for Complementary & Alternative Veterinary Medicine (PDF)

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

Holistic & Complementary Veterinary Medicine – View / Print as PDF


Arthritis Management

Arthritis management is best approached comprehensively, by managing pain, preventing further degeneration of joints, maintaining muscle mass, and assuring a pet’s body weight is not making matters worse. Here are the key elements to consider…

bday1. Weight loss. As arthritis develops and joints began to hurt, a dog may become became less able to exercise or tolerate long walks. Less exercise would lead to weight gain if a dog’s diet were not modified accordingly. Carrying additional weight is additional strain on joints, and an arthritic dog needs to keep moving in order to maintain muscle mass. But how can they if they’re in pain? This brings us to the need for joint support & pain control.

2. Joint support. Supplements such as glucosamine and fish oil (and some you probably haven’t heard of, called PSGAG and Type II Collagen) are often given to help sustain the formation of molecules in joint fluid that cushion the joints, and promote an overall anti-inflammatory state in the animal. It is ideal to start giving these supplements before clinical signs of arthritis develop, in order to protect the joints from becoming damaged in the first place. There are also a few options for prescription diets that incorporate joint support supplements (and can potentially help with weight loss as well).

3. Pain control. Depending on how severe a dog’s arthritis pain is, a joint supplement alone may be adequate, or it may be necessary to rads1provide pain medication. Hesitant to start a drug? Anti-inflammatory medications designed specifically for use in dogs are safer and more effective than human medications like aspirin. When they are given with food, stomach upset is less likely to occur. It is ideal to do bloodwork prior to starting medication long-term to be sure the liver and kidneys are healthy enough to metabolize the medication. If a dog does not tolerate a given medication well, many other options are available.

4. Alternative therapies. Some dogs may also benefit from alternative or complementary therapies such as acupuncture or cold laser therapy. As arthritis progresses, there may be other ways to accommodate a dog’s changing abilities and needs. Placing a ramp on the stairs or putting carpet runners down on slick floors for improved traction may not strike you as a “treatment” for arthritis, but if it helps your pet get around more easily, it should be a part of your approach.


Arthritis Management – View / Print as PDF

What Should I Feed My Pet?

How do I decide what to feed my dog or cat?pugs_psnd2

Assuming your pet is generally in good health, without any specific dietary sensitivities or food allergies… There is still no simple answer! There are countless options to choose from in a maintenance diet for dogs and cats, and a healthy pet will do reasonably well on almost any of them. That being said, some diets simply meet the basic requirements for nutritional content, while others provide higher-quality protein sources, more “natural” ingredients, supplements to support healthy joints or a shiny coat, fewer preservatives, and so on. It is worth mentioning that any brand – inexpensive or premium – can potentially have a recall.


So what is the difference between a bag of kibble that costs $15 at the supermarket and a premium brand for $40 at the pet store? Do these differences matter, or are pet owners just being tricked into spending more?

Let’s start with protein quality and digestibility. Any dry or canned food labeled as a complete diet meets the basic standards for protein content, but the sources of protein can vary. Both meat and grains are sources of protein, but in general, higher-quality meat is a superior protein source due to the fact it provides a better amino acid balance.

Read the label of your pet’s food – you may see the words “poultry,” “poultry byproduct,” or “chicken meal.” These terms may sound vague (and have you fearing what “byproduct” might contain), but they have specific meanings:

Meat – The flesh of any species of slaughtered mammal, typically pork, beef, or sheep.

Poultry – The flesh, skin, and bone of domestic poultry; typically chicken, turkey, or duck.

Byproduct – Parts of animals not typically used as human food, such as organ meat (liver, kidney, etc), fat tissue, bone, and viscera.

Meal – Any ingredient that has been ground down to a small particle size (for example, “chicken meal” would mean the flesh, skin, and bone of chicken).

Though the organ meat (liver, kidneys, etc) contained in a “by-product” is not typically part of an American diet, these are excellent nutrient sources and provide high-quality protein. Bone meal is a good source of calcium, but the protein it contains is not readily digested by cats and dogs.

“Whole chicken”  as a first ingredient may give us the impression of a less-processed superior quality diet, but whole chicken used in pet foods is high in fat and may contain 65-70% water! This high volume may earn it the first place in the ingredient list, but leaves it as a small contributor to protein content and is more important as a fat source.

Plants such as corn, soybean, and flaxseed may also be used as protein sources. Their digestibility is equivalent to some animal protein sources, but they are deficient in some of the amino acids required in canine and feline diets, so for this reason we would hope not to see plant-based products as a primary ingredient. If soy accounts for 50% or more of a diet’s protein, loose stool and flatulence may result.

All this information may leave you with more questions than answers about your pet’s food. We invite you to discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian at your next appointment – as we began saying, every pet is an individual with their own needs and preferences – there is no simple answer!


What about limited ingredient diets? Grain free? Raw diets?

For pets with special needs (food sensitivities or allergies, for example) a specialized diet may be the key to solving their problems. However, there is a specific way to determine the best diet for a food-allergic dog… just switching brands is not likely to be the answer. Feeding a raw diet is a point of controversy and is not without risks, but if done correctly, it may provide a solution as well. These topics are beyond the scope of this blog post (we’ll write another, we promise), but we hope you’ll talk to your vet about changing your pet’s diet if you are concerned food allergies or sensitivities may be affecting your pet’s health. There is no single solution that works for every animal. 


How much should I feed my pet?

No quick answer here either! Most brands of pet food will provide guidelines for how much to feed based upon weight. This amount is frequently an overestimate (after all, they’d like you to buy more of their product!), so you may use this as a starting point, but pay attention to your pet’s weight and adjust accordingly. Feed a measured amount – not “a handful” but a measured cup – so that you will be better able to increase or decrease the amount fed as needed.


How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Of course your veterinarian can provide guidance on this topic, but in general, your pet should have a “waist” when viewed from above or from the side. Place your hands flat over the sides of her chest… with very gentle pressure, you should be able to easily feel where her ribs are. If finding her ribs requires poking in with your fingertips, or if you can’t feel them at all, she is overweight. Maintaining an appropriate weight contributes to better overall health and even an extended lifespan!


Can I feed a home-prepared diet?

Many recipes are available for home-cooking for your pets. However, it is essential to be certain what we choose to feed on our own is nutritionally complete, particularly if the recipe being used is not approved by a veterinarian. Many veterinary teaching hospitals and referral centers offer a nutrition consult service, and can tell you exactly what vitamins and supplements may be necessary to balance any home-cooked diet. Here are links to a few:

Angell Memorial (provides recipes), CornellOhio StateDavis

We hope this article has given you a solid starting point in finding the best possible diet for your pet’s lifelong health. And if you have any lingering questions, look to your vet for the answers!

What Should I Feed My Pet – View/Print as PDF