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Privileged pets get holistic edge

January 28th, 2004, 09:31 AM
Privileged pets get holistic edge

By Celery Kovinsky / Special Features Writer

Many people have chosen to complement or replace conventional medicine with natural, prevention-centred approaches to well-being. It will come as great news to them that the benefits from this approach can now be extended to our animal friends and companions.

Full Circle Veterinary Alternatives in Dartmouth offers integrated, holistic care for animals. The clinic's veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Bishop, has a veterinary degree from the Ontario Veterinary College and is a member of the Canadian Veterinary Association. What makes Dr. Bishop different from most veterinarians, however, is her training and interest in alternative medicine for pets.

Dr. Bishop is able to offer her patients, mostly cats and dogs, a wide range of services and treatment options, which required her to study practices like acupuncture, homeopathy, massage and Chinese herbal medicine.

This combination of skills and knowledge allows Dr. Bishop and her team to move appropriately between conventional treatment and diagnosis and complementary and alternative treatments. In some cases, natural medicine or alternative therapies are sufficient to care for an animal, while in others, they complement the conventional approach.

Acupuncture and massage, for example, are very helpful for treating pain and discomfort from injury or found in older animals suffering from conditions like arthritis. Acupuncture has been used successfully in China for over 3,000 years; science has recently shown that stimulating acupuncture points causes specific physiological changes in the body.

One might wonder how it is possible to insert the needles, even though they are usually painless, into an animal like a dog, who can be restless at the best of times. But Dr. Bishop assures the feeling caused by the needles is so pleasurable to the animal that they calm down quickly.

"Some of them, if they're really wiggly, I just follow them around the room until we get them (the needles) in. Then, if you're patient, they usually get a really nice endorphin release and they will start to relax almost despite themselves.

"They almost always experience a deep relaxation sensation. If they're a little squirmy the first time, they're usually a lot more relaxed the second time."

Full Circle is also able to treat animals using the ancient practice of Chinese herbal medicine. This approach is used both in the treatment and prevention of disease and can be a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals, which often come with undesired side-effects.

For example, an older dog with poor kidney function will often be cold and have a sore back. The dog, she says, will benefit from a variety of herbs to strengthen the kidneys and keep him or her warm.

More generally, if there is any indication of a little weakness in some body system, Dr. Bishop will combine the herbs into a tonic, such as one for the digestive system, spleen or stomach. There are also immune-boosting tonics meant to increase verve, youth and stave off sickness or disease. Once assessing an individual animal, Dr. Bishop will prescribe something particular for him or her.

One way that Full Circle differs from most conventional veterinary clinics is in its approach to vaccinations. Aside from rabies, which is mandated by law, Full Circle does not promote routine yearly vaccination. Although some vaccinations are important for animal health, recent studies have suggested that the duration of immunity given by vaccinations is longer than one year.

Humans only get the tetanus vaccine every 15 years and some of the preliminary work being done shows that immunity for most important diseases in dogs, like distemper, can last as long as five years from the initial vaccination.

Dr. Bishop evaluates the risk factors a dog actually faces, such as their health and geographical area, and then determines which vaccines to administer and how often. She suggests taking yearly Titer tests, which measures the level of anti-bodies in a dog's blood. Over-vaccination, she explains can be very dangerous and lead to chronic disease.

"When the immune system is over stimulated, you can get some very unpleasant chronic diseases. When the immune system gets too hyped up, it can attack itself and destroy red blood cells or platelets. Those are very serious diseases that may be linked to over-vaccination."

Homeopathic treatment is also offered at the clinic. Homeothapy is a natural treatment, based on the idea that all animals have built-in-mechanisms to repair their own organs and tissues. When Dr. Bishop sees an ill patient, she will often try to induce healing by "switching on" these self-repairing mechanisms and by prescribing remedies to stimulate this ability in the animal. It has long been recognized how crucial nutrition and proper exercise are to human health and well-being. So it's not surprising that these are important factors for other animals as well. Full Circle offers counseling on how to properly feed and exercise your animal companion.

Dr. Bishop thinks it is very important that dogs are fed some real, non-processesed food, whether it be meat, vegetables and/or fruit. "Dogs are quite omnivorous," she says, "and they can eat many things and do quite well." Aside from onions and grapes or raisins, almost all fruit and vegetables will enhance your dog's health.

Before choosing or changing a dog's diet, it is important to consult a veterinarian to ensure that their nutritional requirements will be met.

It is essential, both for physical and behavioural reasons, to make sure that your dog gets enough exercise. Many so-called behavioural problems are the result of boredom, loneliness and under-stimulation.

"It is not enough to put them in the pen or backyard and walk away. You actually have to interact with them. If you haven't got a place where you can safely let them run or walk off-leash, then you have to go out and play with them. There is no excuse for not exercising your dog."

It is important to take your animal companion to see the vet at least once a year for a health check. Diagnostic tools and approaches change as the animals age and routine visits will allow a doctor to better serve the patients.

The Halifax Herald Limited