In observance of National Holistic Pet Day (8/30/12), are you planning on taking a more holistic approach to your pet's health? You may already be doing so, but there are some basic and important holistic wellness strategies that can improve your pet’s quality of life.
Taking a holistic approach does not mean that conventional medicine, diagnostic testing, and surgery are eschewed for an exclusively "alternative" approach that uses tinctures of exotic plant extracts or chanting sessions imbued with the lingering scent of patchouli (not that there's anything wrong with that).
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.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney