Questions for Dr. Shawn - Holistic Care
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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I’m interested in using a holistic veterinarian to care for my cat and dog. However, how can I tell a “good” doctor from a “quack?” I’m very open to natural therapies that are considered mainstream, but I don’t want someone making weird recommendations."
”That’s a good question. While most doctors who practice integrative medicine are very mainstream and not at all what I would consider quackish, you do need to be careful. There are many people out there, a number of them who are not doctors and have no formal training, that offer a variety of services. I’m reminded of one such person that one of my clients contacted about her cats. She sent this “expert” blood I had drawn from the cats for diagnosis of their problem. This “expert” uses some sort of “energy machine” to supposedly diagnose a variety of problems in pets that veterinarians “overlook.” Well, it turned out that her machine diagnosed a parasite in one of the cats; the problem is that the parasite identified by the machine doesn’t even occur in cats! Of course, the client didn’t know this and spent a lot of money on these tests plus the exclusive supplements sold by the “expert” that would supposedly cure the cats of the parasites.
At any rate, I would stick with only veterinarians and ancillary health care personnel that might be referred by your veterinarian. Choosing a veterinarian who is a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association is also a good bet as a starting point in your search for a doctor. Perhaps your current conventional doctor can recommend a colleague who practices integrative medicine. Many of my clients come from referrals from area veterinarians who appreciate the extra therapies we can offer their clients. Since your doctor’s reputation is on the line, I doubt you’ll be referred to a quack. Once you find a few doctors who fit the bill, visit them, discuss medical philosophies, and then choose whomever you are most comfortable with and whom you would like to care for your pet.”
"August 30 is not only my birthday, but it’s also National Holistic Pet Day. This day will celebrate the growing interest in natural/holistic medicine, and celebrate those animals who are treated with holistic pet care.
Here are some tips to help you develop a holistic approach to caring for your pets:
- Feed a natural diet. Read the label on your pet’s food. Avoid by-products and chemicals like BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin whenever possible.
- Decrease your use of vaccines. Current conventional research has shown that most pets do
not need annual “shots.” Insist on vaccine antibody titers to determine if and when your pet may need a booster.
- Prevent diseases when possible, and treat them early when discovered. Don’t wait for your
pet to become ill. Regular (every 6-12 months) physical examinations and blood and urine testing will allow you to do this.
- Say NO to drugs whenever possible. Supplements are usually safer and much less expensive and often work as well as if not even better than conventional medications for most diseases.
- Focus on healing your pet, rather than simply treating disease. A healthy pet is less likely to become ill.
- It’s also a great time to focus on your own health. The healthier you are, the more you can enjoy your naturally healthy pet. Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup and
partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (these horrible chemical also appear in some pet foods and treats.)
"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"What are your goals as a holistic veterinarian when treating your patients?"
"Each doctor has specific goals for his or her practice. When I simply practiced conventional medicine, my goal was to treat disease and bring comfort to my patients. Now, as an integrative, holistic doctor, my goals have changed.
Here are 5 goals that I have for my patients.
- Prevent disease-By focusing on preventing problems, my patients stay healthier, so fewer require treatment.
- Say NO to drugs-Whenever possible, I prefer to use herbs, nutritional supplements, homeopathics, diet, acupuncture, chiropractic, and other therapies as these are usually
safer than conventional medications yet work as well if not better.
- Heal the pet rather than treat disease-Treating disease is fine, but by healing the pet we
don’t have to focus on illness as much. Healthy pets get sick less.
- Hope for the hopeless-While conventional medicine can be helpful in some instances, there
are times when conventional medicine doesn’t work. In these “hopeless” cases, holistic therapies can be life-saving.
- Save money on pet care-The integrative approach is usually less expensive than a
conventional approach. Taking this integrative approach may not only extend the life of the
pet but also save the owner money on pet care.
Using this approach with these goals, I’ve seen many wonderful successes in my practice. I encourage you to consider a holistic approach to preventing and treating problems in your pets as well."
"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I’m interested in using homeopathy for my own health as well as for my pets. I mentioned this to my own doctor and, no surprise, he thought I was a nut. He said that there is no proof homeopathy works and all the studies he has seen show that homeopathics are no better than placebos. What’s your take on this?"
Well I won't argue that some studies show proof, and some show no proof. While I’m honest enough to admit this, I would obviously tend to side with the studies that show proof, whereas those opposed to a holistic approach to health care would lean towards the studies showing no proof. Interestingly, I used to believe homeopathy (and other “natural” therapies) was useless until I started using natural medicine and seeing results.
The best “proof” for me is simply this: do my patients get better with whatever treatment I prescribe? If this answer is “no,” I find another therapy. If the answer is “yes,” I continue using that therapy regardless of any documented “proof.” I’ve learned that my clients don’t care about proof, they just want their beloved pets to get better.
Since I started using a holistic approach, I can safely say that 100 % of my patients leave my office healthier, and most of them use much less (if any) medication then when I first saw them.
Finally, keep in mind that while conventional doctors always talk about a placebo effect negatively, I love studies showing how well a placebo does. Why? Because this shows me that my patients can heal themselves (without drugs!) Even if a homeopathic is no better than a placebo, in my opinion it's still better to use a “worthless” homeopathic supplement rather than a “worthless” more expensive, more toxic drug. So I say that even if all I do is help my patients heal themselves (which is really all medicine does anyway,) GREAT!!”
"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"We want to start using the holistic approach to care for our cat Amy that you talk about in your column. However, she is currently taking medication (prednisone) for bowel disease. Are holistic therapies compatible with her medication?"
"Absolutely! While my goal is always to teach pet owners to say NO to drugs for their pets when possible, the holistic or integrative approach appreciates that sometimes medications are necessary and even life-saving. However, whenever it’s possible to reduce the dose or eliminate the medication and replace the drugs with supplements, this approach is preferred. Here are some tips to keep in mind when integrating natural therapies with conventional medications. Most important, make sure you work with your veterinarian and never stop medications without doctor supervision!
First, use only high quality brand name supplements. There’s a lot of junk out there, and some supplements contain toxins that may hurt your pet. Follow your doctor’s guidance here. While some supplements recommended by your doctor may cost more than similar products found at the local health food store, you can feel confident that he has experience using the specific products he recommends!
Second, be patient. Natural therapies may require slightly longer than drugs (in some cases) to produce the desired result. Some endocrine gland imbalances, infections, and organ disorders may require as much as 90 days or more to deliver optimum results. For pets with allergies and chronic skin disorders up to 12 months of fine-tuning the prescribed protocol may be needed. However, the results possible with natural therapy are well worth the extra time if needed.
Third, it’s quite common to start therapy with a large number of supplements. Don't panic, as the number of supplements usually declines over time. Unless indicated otherwise, it is best to administer supplements with meals.
Some pet owners make the mistake of stopping therapy as soon as symptoms have abated. This is a risky practice as your pet may get worse (or even die if he has a serious disorder) if you stop supplements prematurely. With most patients there is a maintenance regimen to follow for life if certain organs are injured beyond repair or the pet suffers from a chronic disease.
Several supplements are often prescribed as they are complementary (each is needed to allow others to work optimally) and synergistic (each one strengthens the effect of the others). Therefore, owners should not "pick and choose" parts of the protocol. Many of our supplements are special vitamins or whole foods that are naturally complete and not synthetic.
Many pets can be weaned off of conventional medications (or at least use a lower dose) when using nutritional supplementation. Work with your doctor to learn how to most safely and effectively do this to keep your pet healthy and free of disease!”
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