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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Top Five Holistic Pet Health Strategies

After all, holism is just another term for "the whole." The holistic approach evaluates and strives to maintain or improve the condition of the entire body instead of merely its individual parts.

Here are my top five recommendations to taking a holistic approach to your pet’s health.

1. Be Aware of Your Pet’s Habits

Closely observing your pet’s day-to-day habits is a vital component of proper care taking. Without having historical awareness of your pet’s patterns, your veterinarian cannot appropriately diagnose and treat medical abnormalities.

Be prepared to report your dog or cat’s trends for eating, drinking, producing bowel movements and urination, vomiting, having diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, or consuming medications and supplements. In preparing to provide a thorough medical history to your vet, you can start with my Daily Vet article, Top Cat Health Questions Asked During a Veterinary Consultation.

2. Regularly Schedule a Physical Examination

Healthy pets should have a physical examination by a veterinarian at least every 6-12 months. Juvenile, geriatric, or sick animals should be evaluated more frequently.

Even if your pet appears outwardly well, it’s important that your veterinarian’s eyes, ears, and hands thoroughly explore for underlying health problems.

Physical examination should include an assessment of the following body systems:

  • Aural (ears)
  • Ocular (eyes)
  • Oral (mouth, gums, teeth, throat)
  • Respiratory (nose, throat, trachea, and lungs)
  • Cardiovascular (heart, arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels)
  • Endocrine (liver, kidneys, other organs)
  • Gastrointestinal (esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, rectum)
  • Musculoskeletal (Body Condition Score, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints)
  • Nervous (pain perception and motor movement)
  • Integument (hair coat, nails, paw pads, and skin)
  • Urogenital (internal and external genitalia)

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Greater than 50 percent of pets in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). That’s a scarily high 89 million cats and dogs.

Unfortunately for these pets, their human caretakers are directly at fault for providing excess calories and insufficient exercise. Corpulent canines and cats simply obey their biological urge, which is to eat to survive and thrive.

If your pet is overweight or obese, all body parts suffer from physical and functional stress. The cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine (glands), and musculoskeletal systems are especially compromised by the burden of extra weight. Many diseases associated with obesity are irreversible, so it’s best to prevent your pet from becoming overweight.

Your veterinarian can pair your pet’s body weight with a Body Condition Score (BCS, a numerical description of body tissues) and help set reasonable goals for weight loss through dietary modification, calorie restriction, and daily exercise.

4. Focus on Periodontal Health

Besides obesity, the most common disease affecting pets is periodontal disease. Like obesity, it is completely preventable. Seek your veterinarian’s guidance on the best means of addressing your pet’s periodontal health, including dental cleaning under anesthesia and daily brushing.

Start preventive measures early in life to minimize the toxic effects inflammation and infection originating in the oral cavity can have on your pet’s heart, kidneys, liver, and other systems. Preventing periodontal disease can reduce the need for your cat or dog to have an anesthetic dental to resolve more advanced problems.

5. Reduce Reliance on Medications

When one body part or system is affected by trauma, infection, cancer, inflammation, or other ailments, the entire being suffers. Medication is often needed to resolve many health conditions affecting our pets, but there are side effects associated with nearly all drugs.

If all body systems are kept functioning optimally, then the need for medications to manage chronic ailments (arthritis pain, skin inflammation, digestive tract upset, etc.) will be lessened. Additionally, nutraceuticals (supplements) like chondroprotectants (joint supplements), omega fatty acids (fish, flax seed, or other oils), and anti-oxidants having minimal potential for side effects can improve tissue health so that less frequent or smaller doses of drugs are needed.


Ideally, both human and veterinary medicine should take a holistic approach to promote the best functioning of all body parts in order to enhance the collective whole.

national holistic day, pet health, patrick mahaney, holistic medicine

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Kesu / via Shutterstock

Comments  10

Leave Comment
  • Patchouli
    08/28/2012 11:38am

    Until I personally experienced the effects of lavender, I thought aroma-therapy was wishful thinking.

    Happily, it is not!

    Do you think aroma therapy help our critters, too? Do you have thoughts about a particular scent for critters? (I'm a big supporter of Feliway diffusers for cat households for general calmness.)

  • 09/06/2012 03:56pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, I believe that aromatherapy is valuable for animals.
    I used sprays including eucalyptus and lavender in my practice to calm her down the energy in an examination room before I do my acupuncture treatments.
    In general, I don't recommend applying any product directly to a pet in case the product, no matter how safe it claims to be, is inadvertently licked off and consumed.
    Dr PM

  • Just a Day?
    08/28/2012 12:18pm

    National Holistic Pet DAY? What does that mean? For my dogs, EVERY day is holistic.

    I'd like to add comments to these three of Dr. Mahaney's five strategies:

    (1) Be Aware of Your Pet’s Habits -- I'd emphasize the pet's personality and behaviors. The holistic vet needs to know all of your pet's peculiarities, especially the negative ones. It enables him to prepare a "constitutional" dose that literally can give the pet a lifetime attitude adjustment. For the past 15 years, all of our pets have had these constitutionals, and they have turned temperaments around from bad to wonderful.

    (2) Regularly Schedule a Physical Examination: He writes, "Even if your pet appears outwardly well, it’s important that your veterinarian’s eyes, ears, and hands thoroughly explore for underlying health problems." -- By "pulsing" (a diagnositic technique that requires years to master), our holistic vets can detect incipient problems with, for example, the liver, long before the issue is severe enough to show up in blood panels. An holistic vet can diagnose disorders that allopathic vets will miss until it is too late to save the pet's life.

    (5) Reduce Reliance on Medications -- This is our primary goal, both when a pet gets sick and even before that, to prevent the pet from getting sick. Holistic vets don't just treat to avoid reliance on medications, but they also treat the cause and not just the symptoms.

  • 09/06/2012 03:59pm

    Very good point that every day should be holistic pet day.
    I think that we should also consider the same approach as pertains to human health.
    Having been trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), I commonly assess the health of various organ systems from the prospective different from what's just doing blood work provides. This involves tongue, pulse, and meridian evaluation and diagnosis.
    Also being a western trained veterinarian, I always use my diagnostic tests such as blubber, x-rays, ultrasound, and others to create a complete clinical picture. This truly and that serves the needs of my patients and is what my clients are seeking from my perspective on their pet's health.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr PM

  • Holistic Pet Day
    08/28/2012 05:41pm

    I have used Holistic Pet care for over 15 years and it has done wonders. I also have used a Traditional Vet and partnered with my holistic vet. My results are wonderful. I had a cat with small kidneys, kidney and bladder stones and a minor heart condition live to 17.5 years due to this type of care. I am currently working with my 19 year old cat and just received wonderful test results than he has in the past. We made some minor adjustments. I have an 8 year old Golden Retriever who looks about 5 compared to other goldens of his age. SO, I truly feel it works!

  • 09/06/2012 04:01pm

    I'm so glad to hear that you have a positive relationship with both your traditional and holistic veterinarians.
    Using this combination approach is going to best serve your pets health for both the short and long-term.
    Good luck and keeping all your canine and feline companions healthy in the future.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

  • knowing pet's habits
    08/29/2012 04:31am

    In June, my elderly and terminally ill cat passed on. I adopted another cat from the shelter, a beautiful big boy of indeterminate age. He had chronic low-grade diarrhea. He had been wormed at the shelter,and I took him my own vet, who found nothing abnormal on exam. We played with his diet without improvement. Two stool samples were negative. The vet suggested a repeat worming, as there are frequent false negatives on a fecal float. He had three consecutive daily doses of fenbendazole, and the diarrhea resolved. His activity level changed, he is far more playful, and sometimes he wakes me up in the morning with his tear-assing around the house. I don't mind this. I had thought he was an unusually mellow and placid cat, but I was wrong and had no baseline. He is still quite mellow, only more interactive. I only say this to illustrate the importance of knowing what is normal for a particular animal. I learned something important here.

  • 09/06/2012 04:03pm

    Thank you for sharing your cat's story.
    During veterinary school, one of the most important things for students to learn is what is normal.
    From having a strong and clear perspective of what is normal, we can then determine when a disease state is just beginning so that we can recommend appropriate diagnostics and treatment.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr PM

  • Pet Grooming
    08/30/2012 11:45am

    Don't forget to groom. Protect your dog from the sun by keeping him well groomed. This will help him to be more comfortable and insulated from the heat. Dogs with thick hair should have it trimmed regularly during the summer.

  • 09/06/2012 04:05pm

    Great point!
    I absolutely agree about proper grooming for both dogs and cats.
    It's essential that undercoat is removed and they topcoat is kept free from mats, environmental debris, excessive dander, and whatever else ends up on the hair coat.
    I hope to see you back again on my Daily Vet page.
    Thank for your comments.
    Dr PM

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