Matilija Press
Book Titles



Natural Cat Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Health for Cats (Journey Editions) by Celeste Yarnall

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (St. Martin's Press) by Dr. Richard Pitcairn (co-author)


American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (referral site)


Published in 2003, Cat Fancy

Cat, Heal Thyself

The face of veterinary medicine is changing. Thousands of ailing felines each year are being treated through acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal remedies, raw food diets and homeopathy. A holistic approach to veterinary care is not a new concept, but the use of alternative healing methods is certainly on the rise.

Bear, a 10-month-old Tonkinese, had health problems when Valerie Miller brought him into her San Diego, California home. According to Miller, "He was diagnosed with giardia and was treated with traditional meds." He continued to have problems, however, and the veterinarian put Bear and his sister on a limited diet. After a year and lots of medication, Miller decided to try an alternative strategy.

She explains, "A friend recommended a holistic veterinarian who prescribed various herbal remedies, home acupressure treatments and several acupuncture treatments. His lower GI problems gradually got better and he ultimately went back on his regular food—which his sister greatly appreciated."

This sort of success story is being told in cities throughout the United States and Canada as more and more veterinarians are adding alternative therapies to their curative repertoire. In fact, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association is now over 900-members strong.

Dr. Anne Apple of New Baltimore, New York became a holistic veterinarian ten years after obtaining her veterinary degree. She says, "I was a bit frustrated with the limitations of conventional medicine. Some of my clients were seeking alternative medicine on their own and, out of curiosity, I began investigating this."

She took a course in homeopathy, but it wasn't easy. Apple explains, "I was trained to think according the western scientific method. But seeing the proof in the pudding in my patients made it a lot easier to accept alternative treatment methods."

Apple also went back to school to learn acupuncture and chiropractic. While she still conducts a conventional veterinary practice, she has a new way of evaluating her patients. She says, "We'll sit down and determine what's best for that patient, whether it's conventional medicine, holistic medicine or a combination of the two."

For example, she treats a lot of older, arthritic cats. She says, "In the past, just about all that I was able to offer them was anti-inflammatory medication. Now, when I see an arthritic patient, my first suggestion is to consider acupuncture." And why not, when her success rate is 70 to 80%.

Dr. Paul Rowan is a veterinarian in Virginia Beach, Virginia and the chairman of the board for the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA). He says that because many owners are still reluctant to embrace alternative methods for their pets, he's often, "the last resort guy." He explains, "Usually, when I see a cat that needs chiropractic care, it's a very, very unhappy cat. When cats have something that they can't clear up on their own, they get really miserable and often aggressive. Adjusting the spine is a way of relieving interference with nerve flow. It is that interference that is causing the inability of the patient to heal himself."

Rowan cautions owners to check credentials before allowing chiropractic treatment on a cat. He says, "Make sure the person who is doing this is certified by AVCA. Someone who took a weekend course, simply is not qualified."

William Pollak is a practicing veterinarian in Fairfield, Iowa. He has a regular surgical-medical practice and he uses a holistic approach when necessary. One of his key treatments is a change in diet—preferably to one featuring fresh raw foods. He says, "I've found, through my own experience as a vet for 27 years, that when I started to treat, the animal's system didn't respond in the way I thought it should. By changing the diet, lo and behold 85% of common disease is gone."

He considers conventional veterinary medicine a system of diagnosing and treating disease rather than curing it. He says, "You have only certain tools available to you and that's basically, vaccines, antibiotics and cortisone. I've given these to my patients for years and they wouldn't get better. Or they would get better for a while."

He says that as a holistic veterinarian, "Granted, you're not going to cure everyone, but you've got to go for the cure if you're going to cure anyone. Our approach is to enhance wellness, not to attempt to fight off disease."

Holly Cheever is a veterinarian in Guilderland, New York. While she has not been trained in any of the alternative healing modalities, she says, "I am highly supportive of them and have seen some really spectacular results."

One of the most spectacular involves her veterinary clinic mascot, Sam. Cheever says, "We rescued this cat two years ago after he was pitched out of a car with a rubber band around his neck. He was about six-months old and the rubber band had been there long enough that it dug into his throat and caused gangrene. An animal control officer brought him in to be euthanised. Fortunately, my associate, who has a pathetic weakness for gray kitties, said, ?Let's see if we can save him.'" The staff was able to save the kitten and he became the clinic mascot.

Not long after that, Sam was attacked by a Siberian husky. According to Cheever, "He grabbed our kitty by the neck and shook him like a rag doll. Sam survived, but he had severe neurological damage. His jaw hung down to his knees. We treated him. We had some top notch neurologists at Cornell check him over. We tried everything from steroids and antibiotics to vitamin therapy and he just sat there and drooled. He could not swallow or eat."

Finally, Cheever called a homeopathic doctor in another state and explained the situation. This veterinarian suggested a homeopathic treatment and, as Cheever says, "Lo and behold, in three days, I came into the clinic and Sam's mouth was closed and he was trying to groom himself."

Dr. Janice Huntingford practices veterinary medicine at Essex Animal Clinic, in Canada. She has been certified by AVCA, her partner is certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. According to Huntingford, "About 5% of our practice is alternative medicine. The rest is basically conventional medicine and surgery."

How does a veterinarian decide when to go more holistic? According to Huntingford, "When the conventional sort of runs out of gas. When we come to a point where whatever we're trying isn't working, then we'll use a more holistic approach. I really try to borrow from the best of both of the traditions because I think that gives the patients the best care."

A cat helped nudge Huntingford into holistic medicine. She says, "The cat had something called feline head and neck disease. This is an allergic condition where the cat licks all of the hair and part of the skin off of their neck. I had treated this kitty cat with injections of cortisone but it didn't work really well."

Around the same time, she attended a seminar on alternative therapies and the instructor talked about this ailment and how it was amenable to acupuncture. Huntongford immediately went in search of an animal acupuncturist and she reports, "It worked quite well on that particular case."

Huntingford, who also prescribe nutritional therapy for her patients, cautions pet owners against using any alternative healing methods without training. She says, "There are many herbs that cats can't tolerate. For example, aroma therapy can work well for cats, but you have to be extremely careful. You can't use volatile oils on cats. Cats are a lot more sensitive than dogs or people."

She particular warns against using penny royal oil or eucalyptus oil because, as she says, "These are very, very dangerous for cats." And she points out, "Anything that has the power to heal, has the power to hurt—especially when you're dealing with a kitty cat."

The holistic approach is not a quick fix. According to Huntingford, "In our society today, a lot of people are looking for immediate results. But alternative therapy is not a great way to treat things in crisis." Like most holistic vets, Huntingford recommends conventional veterinary treatment for serious trauma and natural remedies for chronic conditions. She says, "Certainly there are times when alternative therapy should not be the first choice. For a diabetic cat, for example, or a cat that's hyperthyroid, alternative therapy can be a complimentary therapy, but it should not be your initial therapy. Once you've treated the acute problem you can say, ?We've got this kitty over the crisis. Why did he get pancreatitis? Let's look at the diet. Let's look at the stressors on the cat. Let's look at the whole animal.'"

Veterinary care has become an interactive process with the pet owner helping to make decisions on behalf of his/her pet. Should you pursue conventional methods or take a more holistic approach? According to Apple, "Clients are a vital, integral part of the treatment process. They are the pets' caregivers. It is ultimately up to them to decide what is best for their pet and for them."

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