Since my personal health journey took me away from conventional medicines and toward more natural alternatives I have been struggling during my dogs’ vet appointments. As a holistic nutritionist, my main focus is to get to the root of a problem to resolve a symptom. Conventional veterinary medicine targets symptoms with drugs. How do we have a genuine conversation about my dogs’ health if we aren’t on the same page as far as their treatment goes? Initially, I would sit through the vet’s rundown on my dogs’ health understanding that the options they listed wouldn’t really help but nodding away to show I was paying attention. I would then take my pups home to think critically about what I was told.
Our loyal readers will remember Astro, my very dry Pyrenees cross from my last blog post. Nothing the vet tried made this dog stop itching and eventually we were just told that it was something we would have to put up with. Five years later her ears are clear and her skin isn’t itchy, all thanks to the holistic approach of looking at the cause rather than the symptom. This isn’t to say that allopathic or conventional medicine does not have its place. My other dog Bella had some pretty severe bladder stones that required an operation to have removed. It was tough on her old body but by pairing herbs, high-quality foods, and lots of lovin’ with this conventional approach she healed up nicely. This knowledge of plants and herbs that we have access to is essential for preventative health. Conventional medicine is there to fix us up when our preventative approach isn’t enough to override genetics and environment
With large breed dogs like mine, my biggest concern is the wear and tear on their joints. I turned to the internet in hopes of finding a vet who could speak my language of preventative measures to forestall the eventual loss of mobility. Luckily there are a few integrative vets in my area to choose from. I already have a basic idea of what I want the veterinarian to look at. My girls are old, they have lumps and bumps like most older dogs. The vet actually found one that I hadn’t been aware of on Astro’s chest but wasn’t concerned about anything he saw. I was impressed that he was able to tell just from examining her that she had previously torn her ACL and asked when she had gone through surgery for it. She hadn’t. No other vet had ever diagnosed that as anything other than a sporadic limp. A Summer of camping at the river and running along the river rocks had rehabilitated her completely.
I also asked him about herbal extracts to support their joint health and naturally decrease their discomfort. His clinic mixes their own herbal tinctures and he could speak to why he had chosen each of the herbs for the mobility formula. This vet is trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine but also spoke to me about the drugs that are often recommended for dogs their age. NSAIDs, or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and Metacam, a pain-killing drug are often used in combination for arthritis and joint dysplasia. I was thankful that he did not push these drugs on me but offered them up as a common option. Having read studies that are showing that NSAIDs may actually inhibit the repair of joints and cartilage, I was hesitant to use them long-term for my dogs. Herbs can work to modulate inflammatory response, rather than suppressing it entirely, while working on decreasing pain. They don’t often have side-effects let alone nasty ones like increased risk of heart disease or the counter-productive slowing of joint healing. But herbs can be scary to those who aren’t familiar with their actions. This is where an integrative or holistic vet can help, by explaining all of the options available and helping you make the best decision for your pet’s long-term health.
Not only is it important to have a vet who can talk to you about the best options for your situation, it’s extremely important for you to educate yourself about your pets. I’ve read about conventional approaches to loss of mobility that I mentioned in the last paragraph. At their ages, it’s a little late to be focusing on the preventative approach so I did a little research on what natural options could help to promote rebuilding of the cartilage and reduce pain throughout the body. The holistic approach means more than just treatment. What other lifestyle changes can we make to reduce the stress on their joints and improve the quality of their lives?
Other than switching from long hikes to leisurely camping trips I have also looked into canine hydrotherapy for Bella (Astro would never agree to get in the water). I’m curious about acupuncture and massage for helping to release tension and pain. I am constantly reading up about the holistic, or at least more natural approaches to pet guardianship. Sure, this might seem like a lot to some pet owners but these big old girls make my day every morning when I wake up and are there to pick me up at the end of a long day. They make every aspect of my life more rich and genuine. For all that they do for me, I see it as my duty to them to do all that I can to give them their best life.