Alternative diets and holistic treatments

Choices for dog owners and veterinarians


No artificial preservatives!
The natural way to ease joint pain, get rid of fleas and ticks, cure allergies, prevent diseases, …

These claims and dozens more face dog owners looking for everything from nourishing food to remedies for parasite infestations and cures for disease. Oftentimes the declarations are accompanied by criticism of traditional veterinary medicine, prepared diets, and pharmaceutical treatments, leaving dog owners in a quandary about canned and dry foods, vaccinations, drugs, and other pet care products.

It is as difficult to weave among the claims for dog diets and health as it is to find the right combination of traditional and alternative products for human families. Raw diets, home-cooked diets, herbs, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, magnets, massage, acupressure, chiropractic – all these and more are touted as necessary to maximum canine health, leaving dog owners with a dizzying array of choices.

There’s no doubt that modern veterinary medicine has achieved milestones in pet health both through direct research and through adaptation of human medicine to animal companions. From antibiotics, steroids, non-steroidal pain relievers, and other drugs to diagnostic procedures and understanding of disease processes, human and animal medicine have worked hand in hand. It’s not surprising, therefore, that an upsurge in attention to holistic practices in human medicine would pique the interest of dog owners.

Many veterinarians and dog breeders blend modern medicine and alternatives to devise a pet care system that meets their needs. They use alternative methods and products for prevention and treatment, but seek the benefits of modern medicine when faced with serious illnesses and when alternatives do not do the job.]


The debate rages about dog diet, and the lines are clearly drawn between those who feed a commercial food and those who feed a home-made ration. Unfortunately, many who embrace the use of home made foods feel compelled to denigrate commercial diets as loaded with poisons, roadkill, and inedible ingredients, but these accusations are based on fear and defensiveness, not fact. While it is true that meat and byproducts not suitable for human consumption may be rendered into dog food ingredients, these products are carefully prepared to enter the canine food chain. For example, dogs need calcium, calcium is often provided by bone meal, and the source of bone meal may be a plant that processes dead animals from a variety of sources. However, major dog food companies are careful to use ingredients that are not repulsive to their customers.

Commercial dog food is convenient, but it is not all of equal quality. Cheaper brands may be loaded with too many calories and too few usable vitamins, minerals, proteins, or carbohydrates, and premium brands may be too high or low in protein, calories, and other nutrients for particular dogs. Specialized premium foods complicate the choices even more: different protein and carbohydrate sources, different preservatives, different formulas for working dogs, and different formulas for puppies and old dogs can easily frustrate conscientious pet owners.

The best strategy for choosing a commercial dog food is to find out what friends buy for their pets, see if the pets look good, and then try the food for your own dog. As long as the adult dog has plenty of energy and appears healthy, the food is adequate. If the dog is nervous, has a dull coat or skin problems, or lacks normal energy, and no other physical cause can be found, consider changing foods.

In general, foods with a balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids help improve joint and skin health; foods with moderate protein content are best for non-working dogs; and foods with meat as the source of protein are best. Foods based on corn or containing soybeans may not be suitable for some dogs.

Puppy foods can push puppies to grow too fast, and rapid growth can lead to tissue and bone abnormalities. Even hip dysplasia can be affected by too-rapid growth. However, several dog food companies are now marketing brands and formulas targeted towards large-breed puppies.

Those who feed home made-diets often cite the work of Dr. Richard Pitcairn, developer of the Pitcairn diets for dogs and cats, and Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian who has created a raw meat diet for pets. Both diets are often used in conjunction with herbal remedies and preventive measures and with homeopathic concoctions. These alternatives have a fierce following and are nutritious and suitable when properly prepared and used.

[More on Diet]


Much recent research has indicated that vaccines have a longer period of effectiveness than previously assumed and that injudicious use of vaccinations can lead to serious health problems, including autoimmune diseases and cancers.

Some veterinary colleges are recommending three-year intervals between vaccination boosters after an original series of puppy shots and one-year booster. However, those who prefer to avoid vaccinations altogether are using nosodes, a homeopathic mixture that has not been proven scientifically to prevent the common infectious diseases that are included in vaccines.

Dr. Susan Wynn, a holistic veterinarian, wrote on the Alternative Veterinary Medicine website ( “Because it is my belief that we cannot provide our pets with perfectly healthy environments and bodies (or even determine whether that is possible), it should be clear that we need to increase the odds in favor of our pets.

“Nosodes may be one way to protect them; unfortunately, there is no convincing evidence that nosodes do prevent disease. A few studies published in homeopathic journals suggest that nosodes may decrease the severity of active disease and possibly prevent the spread of epidemics, but these studies are not well controlled. The results of one recent well controlled study suggest that parvovirus nosodes are completely ineffective in preventing parvoviral disease under experimental challenge conditions. Until well-designed studies are completed and thousands of pet owners make a concerted effort to help with potential retrospective studies, nosodes remain an unknown quantity, and I do not recommend using them as a sole strategy for disease prevention.”

Wynn does recommend an initial vaccination series for puppies with boosters for a year or two. She also makes it clear that pets should be vaccinated against rabies to comply with the law in most jurisdictions.

Pet owners should discuss vaccinations with their veterinarian, especially for older dogs that have a chronic illness. Some veterinarians will draw blood for titre tests to determine whether the dog has antibodies to protect against particular diseases, but other doctors consider the tests unreliable.

{More on Vaccinations]

Flea and tick control

The use of chemicals to control fleas and ticks concerns many pet owners, so they seek alternative methods to repel these pests. Garlic, various herbs, and brewer’s yeast are among the most common substances used, but many researchers say they just don’t work.

However, some pharmaceutical companies have heard the concern about chemicals and have developed flea and tick controls that use pyrethrins, a natural insecticide in the daisy family, and growth inhibitors and other chemicals that are specific to fleas and ticks instead of the general pesticides used in the past.

However, unless infestation is already severe, prevention is the best cure. Dogs should be groomed daily during tick season and ticks removed and dropped into a vial of alcohol. Fleas should be captured with a fine-toothed comb and dropped into soapy water. Bedding should be kept clean, and houses sprayed with a pyrethrin or growth-inhibitor product once or twice each year.

[More on flea and tick control]

Allergies and arthritis

Many dogs suffer from allergies or arthritis, diseases that are favorite targets of alternative remedies and methods. Anti-oxidant Vitamins C and E, preparations such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamines, and Omega fatty acid supplements such as Missing Link are becoming more popular as non-drug remedies for degenerative joint diseases. The vitamins and Omega fatty acid supplements are also considered helpful in allergy cases that affect canine skin and coat.

Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamines are natural substances found in the body’s connective tissue; extracted from shark or bovine cartilage or from sea molluscs, they are used to stop cartilage deterioration, boost cartilage regeneration, and augment joint fluid production.

Wynn of recommends that arthritic dogs be fed a high-quality, preservative-free commercial or homemade diet, and if improvement in nutrition does not seem to alleviate joint pain, to begin treatment with glycosaminoglycan supplements. Veterinarians offer these supplements under brand names such as Cosequin, Adequan, and Glycoflex, but they are also available over-the-counter as glucosamine or chondroitin formulas in health food stores.

As with many dog health complaints, the recommendations for treating allergies begins with a change in diet to a preservative-free ration made with top-quality ingredients. Some dogs do better on diets based on chicken, turkey, beef or lamb; a dog already eating a high-quality food based on one protein source can be switched to another high-quality food based on a different meat. Corn is problematic for some dogs; switching to a food that does not contain corn may be enough.

But if diet doesn’t do the trick, holistic veterinarians may recommend daily doses of antioxidant vitamins, herbs to control itching, and dietary supplement with Omega fatty acids. Acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, herbal treatment for itching, and herbal baths may also be recommended.

This is part 1 of a three part series. Part II deals with homeopathic medicine; Part III will cover treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and magnets.
Norma Bennett Woolf

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