Holistic Pet Care

Dr. Tom Schwartz examines a patient. photo by Jason Mueller

M       any pet owners will do anything to ensure the health and well-being of their four-legged companions, with some even turning to alternative medicine—and getting good results.

    The holistic approach to pet care encompasses a wide range of treatments, from massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care to herbal therapies. “It’s all about treating the body as a whole, and getting to the underlying cause of the problem,” says Reiki practitioner Maryann Weiss of A Gentle Hand. “If a pet is limping, it may be a physical impairment, but it could have been caused by something mental or emotional.”

    With Reiki, Weiss uses touch to promote stress reduction in animals and humans. “I either place my hands on or above them to guide the energy flow,” she explains. “With people, it’s easy to place your hands on them. Some animals don’t comprehend touch as much as humans do, but they understand energy and are very sensitive to it.”

    During a Reiki session, the animal relaxes and opens itself up, Weiss explains. “I get impressions as I move my hands around the pet’s body,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a block in the energy, or it’s flowing faster than usual. Wherever that is, it’s the area where the animal needs help.” She remembers seeing a dog with chewing problems. “The owners were concerned that it was a form of separation anxiety or an emotional issue,” she says. “As I was working on the dog, I was drawn to the stomach area, that’s where it wanted me to place my hands. The area didn’t feel right, like there was a blockage.” At Weiss’ suggestion, the owners took their pet to the veterinarian, who later found an ulcer in the dog’s stomach.  “The situation eventually resolved itself, and the dog stopped chewing.”

    Such examples illustrate how holistic healing can complement Western medicine. At local clinics, more and more veterinarians are trying to incorporate elements of the holistic approach with conventional treatment. 

    The key is to do what’s best for your pet, says Dr. Tom Schwartz of Banfield, The Pet Hospital in Brentwood. “If certain medications work for your dog, then stick to them,” he says. There are alternative supplements like fish oil that Schwartz recommends for certain pets to treat a wide variety of conditions from kidney disease to arthritis. He says it’s important not to be exclusively devoted to one form of therapy over another. “Keep an open mind, do your research, and talk with your vet,” he advises. “The only problem I find with herbal or alternative supplements is that they are not subject to the same rigorous testing as some of the more conventional forms of medication. If you are thinking about using them, make sure your vet knows what you’re doing.”  

    Dental care is another area where veterinary and holistic medicine work together. “Taking care of your pet’s teeth is not just for cosmetic reasons, it also affects the other parts of the body,” Schwartz explains, noting that poor dental care can lead to problems in the liver, kidney, heart and lungs later in life. Prescribing exercise can also be considered a form of holistic healing. “Sure, it’s a way to keep your pets in shape, but it can also treat other problems,” Schwartz says. “Maybe you have a dog who’s chewing or is being aggressive. Sometimes they’re just bored, and all it takes is a little bit of exercise to curb the problem.”

    Kennelwood Pet Resorts has long recognized the importance of a holistic approach to pet care. Its boarding facilities include TVs with animal shows playing and plenty of exercise throughout the day. “Pets across the board are getting chubbier,” says president Alan Jones. “Helping them lose weight is not only good for their health, but also improves their behavior.” In fact, Kennelwood recently began treadmill training for dogs. “Once we train them to run on the treadmill, we find that they actually look forward to the exercise,” he says. “A dog who has energy needs something to do. Giving him the right amount of exercise helps him feel better.”

    Exercise at Kennelwood also comes in the form of playtime. “We design our activities around what the pet enjoys. If you have a 2-year-old Lab who likes to play with tennis balls, or a 14-year-old who just likes to snuggle and be petted, they will get that one-on-one time with human playmates,” Jones explains. “The human-animal bond is so strong that some dogs prefer to be around people instead of being with other dogs.”

    While Kennelwood may be best known for its boarding and grooming services, Jones says enriching pets’ lives is the overall goal. “We know how pets are stressed every time they leave home, so we make sure we touch them, talk to them, and call them by name, it makes a complete difference,” he says. When dogs are boarded, they stay in suites and lodges, and are treated to ‘yappy’ hours. “Pets are a very important part of our lives. We want the same care for them as we want for any member of the family.”