If you take herbal supplements, have ever treated yourself to a professional massage, or have visited a chiropractor to have that creak in your back fixed – you have an understanding of the benefits of alternative medicine. And as more people realize the benefits for themselves, they take the logical next step of searching for alternative health therapies for their dogs.
What is complementary medicine?
The term complementary medicine is often used interchangeably with holistic medicine. Complementary medicine provides “non-conventional” treatments for a variety of ailments, for both humans and their canine companions. More and more veterinarians and pet owners are embracing some of these new techniques and treatments.
Holistic medicine is a combination of conventional veterinary medicine with one or more complementary therapies. Holistic practitioners consider your dog’s entire well-being, not just individual symptoms or conditions, to find the treatment or treatments that will work best. A holistic approach to your dog’s problem will usually prove to be beneficial. Ongoing research into a variety of veterinary therapies, both conventional and complementary, has made a marked improvement in the quality of care our dogs receive.
When you are searching for someone to perform these treatments, make sure he or she has been educated in that particular medical discipline. Get a referral from your regular veterinarian if you have to find someone else to treat your dog and make sure that your regular veterinarian receives complete and timely reports on your dog’s progress. This ensures the best possible care for your dog.
Some of the more common complementary medical therapies now available are listed below.
The Chinese have practiced acupuncture for more than 3,000 years. They insert needles into specific points on the body that they believe are located along pathways corresponding to different organs of the body. Acupuncture helps relieve muscle spasms, increase blood circulation, and stimulates nerves. In addition, it helps the body release natural pain control hormones and other helpful chemicals. Acupuncture points are sometimes stimulated with electricity, heat, massage, or lasers, instead of needles.
Acupuncture has proven to help relieve skin, respiratory, digestive, or musculoskeletal problems in dogs – even some reproductive problems.
Chiropractors believe that misaligned vertebrae diminish the flow of impulses from the spinal cord to the body’s muscles, organs and tissues, and are the cause of some illnesses and disorders. Veterinary chiropractors try to restore the flow of impulses by manipulating and adjusting specific body joints and the joints between the bones of the skull, also known as cranial sutures.
Chiropractic treatments usually help spinal problems, like a slipped disc or pinched nerve. Some believe it can help in some cases of epilepsy, skin disorders, and behavioral problems.
Physical and Massage Therapies
Physical therapy is often used to help rehabilitate an injured dog or one recovering from surgery. There are simple techniques such as stretching, applying heat or cold to the affected area, as well as tailored series of mild exercises. More extensive treatments include hydrotherapy or stimulation with low-level lasers, electricity, magnets, or ultrasound. Your veterinarian may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.
Massage therapy, where a therapist uses his or her hands and body to massage your dog’s soft tissues, is often used after an injury. Muscle degeneration, cramps, circulation problems, or soft tissue injuries are all problems which massage therapy may help.
Homeopathic treatment is the introduction of substances that produce clinical signs similar to those of the disease being treated into the body. The idea is to provide the substances in amounts small enough to be harmless, yet big enough to encourage the body to develop a curative response to the disease. Most substances come from plants, but some are extracted from animals and minerals. The substance is diluted and made more potent and then made into a pellet or liquid form. Care must be taken not to use too much of the substance, which in large enough amounts may be toxic. That’s why it’s vital to choose a veterinarian who has been educated in homeopathic veterinary medicine.
Properly administered, homeopathic treatment can help a wide variety of ailments, including allergies, poisonings, wounds, viral infections, and some diseases.
Botanical (Herbal) Medicine and Nutraceuticals
Plants are a source of natural remedies for a wide range of ailments. Many modern drugs are derived from plants, but the drugs go through chemical processing, which some think diminishes the plant’s original healing power. Sometimes a variety of herbs that work together are prescribed to treat your dog’s problem(s). In some cases, one herb is used to offset possible side effects of another. Make sure your veterinarian is educated in herbal veterinary medicine, since some plants are toxic. Still others may be toxic only to certain species of animals.
Herbal remedies may be effective for digestive problems, kidney or bladder disease, parasites, skin problems, or bone and tissue injuries.
Nutraceuticals are nutritional supplements derived from animals or plants. They can be used to help dogs with a wide variety of illnesses and diseases, including, but not limited to, joint problems, respiratory or digestive problems, or to promote the further well-being of healthy dogs.
There is a rapidly growing interest in holistic and complementary approaches to veterinary medicine. As research progresses, scientists are learning not only what works, but how it works, and continuing to improve the lives of our doggie companions.