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Dog Tip: Holistic Health Tips

* Holistic medicine introduction
* Some common questions
* Insights from Healthy Animal Update
* Homeopathy
* Improved Diet and Nutrition
* A Selection of Natural Remedies and Health-Enhancing Supplements
* The Placebo Effect
* Acupuncture, T Touch, Healing Massage Therapies
* New Vaccination Guidelines
* Related Resources

Miracle cures? Hocus pocus? Holistic health approaches are neither, but have attracted increasing attention for good reason.

Holistic medicine involves healing treatments and systems that are intended to treat the whole individual. The holistic approach to achieving optimal health takes into account biological, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle factors.

Holistic medicine is used in the treatment of acute as well as chronic conditions. Rather than focusing on suppressing symptoms of disease, holistic veterinarians aim to heal underlying imbalances and to stimulate the body's own healing systems. They apply relatively safe techniques, such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, improved nutrition, acupuncture and massage therapies. When the actual causes of disease are treated, the symptoms disappear. Benefits can be mental, emotional and spiritual as well as physical.

A closely associated term, alternative medicine, is used in reference to using medical techniques or drugs that are not generally accepted by traditional medical practitioners. Such techniques include noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical procedures such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and medicinal herbalism.

Mindfully chosen noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical healing techniques in combination with positive lifestyle changes can heal many illnesses. However, holistic and alternative medicine does not rule out the use of conventional treatments in emergencies or in situations when alternative approaches don't provide adequate results.

There are so many intriguing and promising developments in areas related to holistic health for companion animals that this Dog Tipsheet attempts to cover just a few tips of the iceberg.

First, some common questions:

"Are holistic treatments an alternative to veterinary care?"

No. Holistic care should be considered a complement to regular veterinarian care.
In addition, before trying a remedy or treatment approach, do thorough research and speak with a holistic medicine practitioner. Any medical treatment or health/diet program should be tailored to your individual pet.

"Can I assume that my regular vet is schooled in holistic treatments?"

While holistic therapies are getting increased attention in veterinary medicine communities and schools, many conventional vets do not have much experience or training in herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and other types of holistic-oriented treatments. You can get recommendations for holistic specialists from regular veterinarians, who should acknowledge the benefits of holistic treatment and suggest a holistic consultation prior to treatment of a specific illness or disease. You can also get referrals from people whose pets have benefitted from holistic/alternative health approaches, and via the websites of appropriate organizations (some are listed at the end of this tipsheet). A knowledgeable holistic practitioner knows, for example, how to match herbal and other holistic therapies with the individual patient.

"Is it true that the results of holistic treatments aren't usually as dramatic or rapid as with that of conventional medicine?"

The reality of holistic treatment is that typically, the results are not as quick as results from conventional veterinary medicine and pharmaceuticals. Ttrue healing occurs from the "inside out", not the quick subsiding of symptoms as we normally expect from drug and traiditonal therapy. On the other hand, holistic veterinary medicine practices typically avoid or substantially limit negative and/or harmful side effects associated with many conventional drugs.

Many have reported remarkable outcomes from holistic methods, but results typically take time to become evident. And to be effective, holistic treatments usually need to be paired with improvements in other areas, such as switching to more wholesome, fresher foods and health-supporting vitamins and/or supplements.

"So to improve the impact that holistic approaches will have on my animal's health, should I look into the foods I feed, and the medications and vaccinations currently given to my dog?"

If you regularly vaccinate according to older protocols, don't provide a healthy environment (relatively free of toxins, such as pesticides and noxious offgassing from carpet fibers), don't provide adequate exercise, and don't feed wholesome, fresh, healthy real food, holistic treatments will only go so far. Holistic-oriented veterinarians (and some mainstream veterinarians) believe that over-vaccination and poor food have resulted in more disease-ridden dogs, compared with dogs of the past who lived 20 and 25 years. By "poor food", we don't mean just cheap or old food, but rather, food lacking in freshness and a full array of nutrients, and food containing additives and chemicals. On the web, you'll find enlightening articles on studies involving conventional foods (bagged and canned) as well as whole food, homemade, raw food and other diets.

There is no substitute for real food in treating an sick dog or keeping a dog healthy. In general, kibble and canned dogs foods are more of a convenience food, and some kibble and canned foods have such poor quality that specialist suspect them to be harmful to pet health.

Insights from Healthy Animal Update

Christina Chambreau, DVM, founded the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and recently published The Healthy Animal's Journal: What You Can Do to have Your Dog or Cat Live a Long and Healthy Life. If you're interested in holistic, complementary and alternative medicine, visit Dr. Chambreau's website at http://www.christinachambreau.com, where you can learn about her upcoming seminars and sign up for her free and always enlightening monthly newsletter, Healthy Animal Update.

Following are some insights adapted from previous editions of Healthy Animal Update:

* Repeated ear infections and gastrointestinal distress can be due to food allergies. For example, some people find that eliminating corn and corn byproducts from their dogs' diets reduces or eliminates chronic ear infections and other recurrent/ongoing health problems.

* Almost every way of treating animals works for you, too. Keeping yourself healthy helps your animals stay well. The basic health principles for animals apply to people as well:
1. Eat the best food (local, pastured, organic)
2. Vaccinate the least (do you really need the flu shot?)
3. Keep a journal so you can track symptoms and which treatments make the biggest difference, and try different modalities until you are as healthy as possible
4. Provide the best environment (reduce and eliminate toxins, use gentle natural cleaners)
5. Get sufficient exercise (and that means daily)

* Thump the thymus: In early life, the thymus is an active organ supplying the immune system. It seems to become less active over time, though some studies indicate this is due to toxins (http://www.fluoridealert.org/pesticides/effects.endocrine.thymus.htm) or vaccines. Stimulating the thymus gland helps animals and people respond to stress and illness. When petting your animals, feel gently down the front of the throat until you reach a bony area (in humans, this is just below the notch in the clavicle). Tap gently. In a person or big dog, you can use a fist gently; for cats, use one finger.

* New or visiting animals in the home can be a major stressor. Plan ahead, make time, keep them separate, use flower essences and essential oils, do not vaccinate right away and use an animal communicator if there are problems. Use essential oils in the house (lavender is good for soothing).

* Before taking a long trip, spend several months in advance to find which combination of remedies will be the best and to get your animal used to the routine of traveling. When traveling, take along several jugs of the water you drink at home. If staying a long time, use the water to slowly transition to the new water.

* Enriched diets help senior dogs. Research supports the theory that feeding older animals fresh food diets with supplements such as vitamins E and C improves energy and behaviors. So add vitamins as well as fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids and flavonoids and mitochrondrial cofactors L-carnitine, DL alpha lipoic acid. A related observation: many dogs who have been raised holistically seem to exhibit fewer of the problems common to aging animals.

* Soothing color: Some suggest using warm brown shades for your pets' beds since brown can trigger the release of serotonin, a calming brain hormone.


Homeopathic remedies derive from plants, mineral and animal sources, and have been used to treat chronic conditions such as allergies as well as behavioral issues such as fearfulness, destructiveness and aggression. This unique healing art, pioneered in the 19th century by Samuel Hahnemann in Germany, is based on two intriguing ideas: "Like cures like" and "Less is more" in other words, the more dilute a substance, the greater its healing power can be.

Homeopathy is not a quick fix, nor does it treat symptoms. Rather, it is intended to address deeper core issues underlying symptoms. Homeopathic substances are formulated to leave only their energy behind instead of being chemically present in the body. When successful, that energetic footprint is powerful enough to show the body how to heal itself.

Some examples of homeopathic medicines:

* Pulsatilla is used to help dogs cope with extreme fear and anxiety when being left alone. While it doesn't cure the problem, it appears to reduce the symptoms of frantic barking and destructiveness.

* Arnica montana is used for soft-tissue injuries such as sprains, bruises and stiffness.

* Homeopathic thuja has been used to rid the body of toxins and counter the effects of vaccinosis (over-vaccination).

* Hypericum perforatum is used for nerve pain or damage from toothache to back injury.

* Milk thistle has been used to support the liver of animals who have been over-stressed from vaccines. Milk thistle can be used to counter the toxic effects of Phenobarbital, which can damage the liver.

Improved Diet and Nutrition

These are key to holistic health. It is well-documented, for example, that many allergies stem from diet issues, and symptoms often subside or disappear once the animal's diet is improved. The same goes for diet-linked conditions as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), constipation, loose stools, vomiting, and some chronic ear infections.

Holistic veterinarians can analyze the animal's current diet and make recommendations for a health-supporting diet keyed to his or her individual needs and biology.

There are many choices available for health-promoting, disease-preventing diets. Unfortunately, good nutrition is rarely found in most of the bagged and canned food available. But there are healthful, commercially available foods; it just takes more research and legwork (or finger-work for internet users) to track them down. Many recommend the best choices to include fresh, organically grown foods found in health- and whole food-oriented stores, food coops, and pesticide-free gardens. Some folks swear by raw food diets for their animals. Good information on the internet and in contemporary animal health books (see the Dog Tip about "Helpful Books for Pet People") make it easier to make informed choices. And a meeting with a holistic veterinarian is a most worthwhile investment.

Vitamins, supplements, whole foods, organic foods, and an overall improved diet have been shown to help prevent disease in companion animals as well as humans. The antioxidants, for example, in many vegetables help clean up the cells and organs of the body.

Speaking of food allergies....

Repeated ear infections can be due to food allergies: For example, some people find that eliminating corn and corn byproducts from their dogs' diets reduces or eliminates chronic ear infections and other recurrent/ongoing health problems.

Gluten allergies: Veterinary researchers have identified wheat gluten as a dietary ingredient asociated with seizures in dogs. Some humans are allergic to gluten as well. If your dog has seizures, check to see if any food you use contains gluten, and if so, consider switching to another food...or to home-prepared foods.

A Selection of Natural Remedies and Health-Enhancing Supplements

* A basic principle to keep in mind: Better nutrition greatly improves resistance to disease and parasites.

* There are dozens of excellent supplements that can be added to a companion animal's diet. These include a half-teaspoon daily each of flaxseed oil packed with EFAs (essential fatty acids), which can help clear up skin conditions, relieve arthritic and inflammatory pain, as well as improve overall health ... kelp, powdered seaweed, sea and ocean algae and other sea vegetables, a rich source of minerals often used to detoxify, heal and achieve balanced nourishment ... and wheat germ to stimulate tissue regeneration.

* Vitamin B complex provides a number of health benefits. In addition, holistic health practitioners report that B vitamins calm a stressed nervous system as well as help repel fleas. A suggested dose is 50 mg of B complex once a day for smaller dogs (and cats), and twice daily for larger dogs.

* Vitamin B-12 is very good for the circulatory and nervous systems. While on the subject of vitamins, some experts advise not to supplement canine diets with vitamins A and D due to the potential for overdosing.

* A half-teaspoon of nutritional yeast daily is one way to provide the B complex vitamins a dog needs. Along with a clove of garlic and a teaspoon each of safflower oil and powdered kelp seaweed, nutritional yeast can improve general health, according to nationally syndicated pet advice columnist and veterinarian Michael Fox. Be aware that some dogs cannot tolerate yeast at all. And never use baker's yeast, which can be poisonous to pets.

* Organic apple cider vinegar (ACV) aids in digestion, boosts immunity, helps alleviate skin problems, and helps the body repel fleas and ear mites. You can administer ACV several ways. Dilute ACV with an equal amount of rubbing alcohol to wash out and dry ears (however, don't do this if the ears are ulcerated, as it might burn). ACV can be given internally to strengthen an animal's natural immune system and aid digestion. Add a splash of organic ACV daily in the drinking water or on your pet's food. It's best to buy the organic unfiltered variety, since filtering removes some of the beneficial components of ACV. In addition, you can spray it on dry skin to alleviate itching. It might take your dog a little while to get used to the taste or smell, but most will come to accept and even like it in short time.

* Itchy skin, allergies, prone to ear infections? One approach that works for some dogs is to stop filling the water dish with tap water and instead use only filtered water.

* Essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 and omega-6, help recondition dry skin and relieve irritation.

* To help dogs with anal gland problems, nationally syndicated columnist Michael Fox, DVM, suggests a half-teaspoon of dietary-grade bone meal supplement or one crushed 500-milligram tablet calcium supplement tablets daily for a 30-pound dog.

* Repel fleas and ticks naturally with Green Hope Farms Flee Free or Anaflora.com's Be Gone. And here's a safe, easy homemade flea repellent: cut 6 lemons in half, boil them and strain the solution into a spray bottle. Spritz your pet's fur, taking care not to spray near the eyes. For other natural insect repellents, see the Dog Tips about insect bites, pest control and essential oils.

* Lippia sidoides essential oil: use as an oral rinse to reduce plaque bacteria, tartar and gingivitis.

* Some folks report that magnets can help accelerate healing of wounds and broken bones.

* If you know a dog with cancer, close attention should be paid to the diet. There is enlightening dietary guidance available on the web and in books such as those by Ann N. Martin. Typically, a recommended cancer-fighting diet is composed of raw foods, preferably from a health food store (to avoid chemical additives), and high in protein, good fats such as flaxseed oil and veggies. Many experts suggest cutting out carbohydrates since they are metabolized like sugar, a substance thought to feed cancer. In addition, feed the canine cancer patient spring water without chemical or other additives.

* Many common, popular and effective brand-name household cleaners can be toxic to pets and small children. Instead, substitute more natural cleaning solutions, such as vinegar and baking soda (which is easily diluted in water).

The Placebo Effect

Dogs experience the Placebo Effect too: In the past, it was assumed that canines lacked the cognitive capacity to understand intent or to have expectations. However, as noted in the Spring 2005 issue of BARK magazine, two recent studies indicate a placebo effect in dogs. The placebo effect can improve outcomes in medical care. When a person strokes a dog, substantial decreases in the dog's heart rate have been noted. Human contact also consistently elicits major positive changes in canine blood pressure and aortic and coronary blood flow. A placebo effect in animals on immunomodulation, cardiovascular disease, drug withdrawal, tumor growth and more is well documented. The bottom line: an animal's mental and emotional state has a profound influence upon its physical health.

Acupuncture, T Touch, Healing Massage Therapies

Acupuncture, T Touch (Tellington Touch) and massage therapies are balance-restoring treatments that, like tinctures and herbs, forms a part of the holistic health equation. For details, see the individual articles on these subjects noted at the end of this tipsheet.

New Vaccination Guidelines

Holistic health practitioners typically recommend giving pets as few vaccinations as possible after puppy shots because vaccines can reduce an animal's natural immunity and ability for his body to fight disease. It's worth noting that veterinary schools are now addressing the negative effects of bombardment of the immune system via yearly or unnecessary vaccines and acknowledging this concept as a nod to holistic medicine. Moreover, the American Animal Hospital Association has developed and published new vaccine guidelines.

Many practitioners also advise to avoid vaccine brands that contain thimerosol. Also, avoid combining vaccines; for example, avoid administering rabies and other vaccines at the same time. Otherwise, there is a risk of vaccine overload. While it's important to trust your veterinarian, it also is prudent to become familiar with new vaccination schedule protocols.

For a detailed discussion, see http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_vaccination.php

To download the official Report of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force: 2003 Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature, go to http://www.aahanet.org/assnlink/sharedvac.cfm

Links for other articles can be found at the end of this tipsheet.

Related Resources

Organizations with helpful websites:

Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine AltVetMed

National Center for Homeopathy
Animal wellness and homeopathy courses

Holistic Medicine

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturists

International Veterinary Acupuncture Service including Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists locator

American Botanical Council
Independent nonprofit organization advocating responsible use of herbal medicines; publishes HerbalGram quarterly.

Veterinary Botanical Medical Association

American Animal Hospital Association

Local farmers who produce more humanely and sustainably raised meat and poultry

Healthy Animals, Healthy People Site


Some Good Holistic Health Publications



See the Pet Health and Medicine section of the recommended book list at


Vitamins for Your Animals A Detailed Guide

Feeding and Nutrition Tipsheet

Touch Therapies

Hot Spot Natural Remedy

Flower Essences and Essential Oils

Acupuncture for Companion Animals


Report of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Task Force: 2003 Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature



Lawn Chemicals and Nontoxic Alternatives


Eat, Drink and Wag Your Tail: Improving the Lives of Our Dogs through Nutrition. Featuring Dr. Richard Pitcairn and canine food expert Micki Voisard, Pamela Berger's new DVD explores the relationship between diet and health, the link between certain types of feeding practices and cancer, and nutritional therapy. www.idpics.com

Health Supplements, Vitamins, Flower Essences and other Natural Products Sources


Premium and Natural Dog Food Sources


Notes: The information in this tipsheet is not intended to be a substitute for veterinary care. Listings of .com sources do not constitute endorsement of companies or products. The webpages contain information that may be useful in addition to other information from association and nonprofit sources.


For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at  www.paw-rescue.org

Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

FOR NONPROFIT USE ONLY. These articles may NOT be reproduced or circulated without author permission.

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport