An Integrated Approach to Pet Care
When an aging Rottweiler called Liberty first walked into my clinic, her tragic past was years behind her. Surgery had helped repair her broken bones so she could live a normal life, and the people who adopted her after she was rescued made her life wonderful. But as she got on in years, arthritis set into her old injuries and she needed additional support that mainstream veterinary medicine could not provide. So her people, Maria and Catherine, brought the valiant old gal to me, hoping I might be able to offer her something more.
Years earlier, when she was three, Liberty had been thrown out of a moving van onto one of the busiest highways in North America. Although she broke a leg in the fall, the young Rottweiler managed to get off the road and run for hours before animal rescue workers finally tracked her down. When they found her, she was exhausted and confused.
According to the people who eventually adopted her, this extraordinarily gentle soul had been a junkyard dog who had been beaten, starved, and shot with a bullet in a futile attempt to make her vicious. Her collar had torn her neck and she had cigarette burns in her mouth. This disturbing story made the front page of a major Toronto newspaper and was picked up by the media across both Canada and the United States. Liberty became a celebrity for Rottweiler rescue and other animal welfare organizations in North America and helped raise a lot of money for dogs in need. Donations also paid for the multiple surgeries she needed to wire together her fractured leg, remove the bullet still lodged in her body, and do emergency repair for the other physical damage she had suffered. When Maria Armstrong and Catherine Fogarty adopted her and took her home to join their other dogs and cats, they were committed to giving her the best life they could.
By the time she was nine, the dog's old knee injury had become arthritic, and her leg and back were also compromised. "It was something she developed over the years, and we had to take care of her," Maria says. Her people knew that steroids would ease her pain, but didn't want to risk that they might also make her need to urinate frequently. "She was a very proud dog. It really bothered her if she had an accident in the house, so we knew that steroids would be stressful for her in that way. Sometimes those things are necessary, but for Liberty we needed an alternative." That's when they brought her to me.
When she came in for her first appointment, Liberty held up her left hind leg and had difficulty walking. X-rays showed that she had broken a cruciate ligament in her knee. I had orthopedic surgeons discuss the options with Maria and Catherine, who decided against further surgery because the knee was already arthritic. Liberty was also severely obese, weighing in at 128 pounds, and had a thyroid condition. However, she was psychologically sound, according to Maria and Catherine, who said she was a sweetheart of a dog in spite of her background. My staff and I made it our goal to do everything within our capability to rehabilitate Liberty so that she could live out the rest of her days with the best possible quality of life.
To achieve this, we worked out a plan based on weight control, thyroid control, and joint therapy. We started her on glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, and MSM (a natural anti-inflammatory) as well as antioxidants and a combination of herbal preparations. We also took over monitoring and fine-tuning her thyroid medications. Maria, Catherine, and I discussed how to improve Liberty's diet both for her overall wellness and to address her obesity. For the next three years, these measures enabled her to live reasonably well with her compromised knee.
After the old gal turned twelve, she started slowing down and was in obvious pain. Her arthritis was getting worse. So we added chiropractic treatments to the mix. Her mobility was sufficiently restored enough to carry her through comfortably until she passed on with dignity at age thirteen.
Liberty's story is a great example of how a deserving animal's life was given back to her by the reconstructive efforts of mainstream medicine, the supportive therapies of the holistic way, and the unfailing dedication of the people who loved her.
As your pet's human companion, you want to do the best you can for him or her, as do the clients who come to my clinic. This book will offer you better ways to do that. And whether or not you already use a holistic approach, it will give you new tools to ensure that your pet stays as happy and well as possible.
One of this book's most important tools involves learning a new perspective on health and healing—one that respects the best that natural health care and mainstream medicine have to offer, yet goes beyond the limitations of both. This new way of thinking will take you beyond fixing immediate problems and will give you a fresh and comprehensive take on prevention.
The holistic way of thinking also involves seeing your role and your veterinarian's role in a different way. Because you are the person closest to your dog or cat, you are in the best position to influence her well-being. You have the primary responsibility for making decisions that affect her quality of life. In my view, a veterinarian is a coach who provides expert opinions, perspectives, and advice about how to support your pet's wellness. At times, he may point you toward further resources and even toward other types of health care professionals to help you do that. Therefore, the information you find in these pages will also help you support your pet's wellness by updating your understanding of the relationship between you and your veterinarian in the holistic approach to pet care.
Finally, this book will endorse the value of various additional services that can help your dog or cat. In holistic veterinary care, paramedical services delivered by qualified professional acupuncturists, herbalists, chiropractors, homeopaths, and bioenergetic assessment technicians, to name a few, become a fundamental part of the total approach to maintaining wellness.
The holistic way of thinking that is so important to your pet's wellness begins with the way we look at health.
Holistic Health Care: More Than a Set of Treatments
Mainstream medicine has significantly influenced how people in the West think about health and healing. But since the 1970s, natural health care methods have steadily gained acceptance as effective, safe, and life-affirming ways to support the wellness of both humans and pets. These natural approaches are often referred to as holistic. In fact, the word holistic
has picked up so much cultural momentum that it's used to sell products and services ranging from pet foods, shampoos, and beds to Sophie's weekly swim at the neighborhood dog spa. This encouraging sign shows that people want to do the best they can for their pets and the environment. But do all the claims that these products and services are holistic bear out?
For example, even the best foodstuffs can't be holistic (let alone natural) if most of the life has been cooked, dried, sanitized, and packaged out of them. Neither can a so-called herbal pet shampoo or grooming aid be completely wholesome and safe if it also contains industrial chemicals known to be harmful for a pet.
When it comes to health care, many people believe that a practice is holistic if it uses homeopathy, acupuncture, nutraceuticals, chiropractic, massage, or other natural therapies. But my clinical experience has taught me that no therapeutic remedy, supplement, or system is holistic in itself. The holistic way cannot be defined by its remedies alone.
In fact, any
therapy can serve either the goals of the holistic way or those of mainstream medicine. And those goals are very different. What Is the New Holistic Way?
Based on more than four decades of veterinary practice, I want to take holistic health care into new territory. This is why I call my approach the new
holistic way. I don't claim that all the ideas in this book are new. You will find many of them familiar if you already use modalities that are not part of mainstream medicine. Others have worked hard to promote these approaches, and I acknowledge that I am building on their excellent work. However, in my view many of these methods and concepts remain locked in and shaped by the historical contexts out of which they arose, as does mainstream medicine itself. Although they undoubtedly served well their original times, places, and cultures, today they are thrown together in a new context. As many different approaches to health care intermingle in this context, including traditional, indigenous, energy based, and recent developments in Western science, I see a synergy emerging.
To unleash this synergy, I offer a way of thinking that links the many different approaches to health care with our growing knowledge of how stress affects well-being. This is why I emphasized earlier that the new holistic way is not defined by its remedies alone. Instead, it guides us in choosing and applying whatever therapies or combination of therapies will work to address the health challenges that dogs and cats experience in contemporary life.
This new way of thinking is based on the premise that every expression of health—from wellness to unwellness to illness—emerges from the interaction of two factors. The first factor is the living terrain
, which is the body itself, and the second is stress
. I am convinced that better pet care will result when pet lovers and veterinarians understand that stress is the underlying cause of every form of health problem a dog or a cat can have.
In modern life, stress challenges the living terrain in infinite ways. Stress and the living terrain take part in a dynamic, never-ending dance from which all health outcomes flow. This book will help you choreograph this dance and lead your pet toward a more vibrant state of wellness.
By focusing on the relationship between stress and the living terrain, the new holistic way strives to achieve the following goals:
1. Support the health of the living terrain.
2. Free up blocked energy.
3. Consider the whole individual.
4. Look for the hidden stress factor that's causing the problem.
5. Adjust the environment to better meet the needs of the patient (the pet).
6. Use the solution that suits the individual best at the time.
7. Favor therapies that work with
life's flow over those that work against it.
You will encounter these goals again and again throughout the pages of this book. In this chapter, we will focus on the first three goals.
The Living Terrain: The Foundation of Wellness
Regardless of what may be the problem, when a client brings a pet into my clinic my aim is to help that animal thrive the way she is meant to. Nothing delights me more than seeing a dog or cat become radiant with enthusiasm for life, with shining eyes, glistening fur, a great appetite, and legs that move effortlessly with synchronicity and grace. My satisfaction as a veterinarian comes from helping my patients go from whatever condition they started with toward the highest degree of wellness they can attain.
The new holistic way begins and ends with supporting the condition of our pets' bodies—the
In holistic thinking, wellness springs from the living terrain. Densely packed and highly complex, the living terrain consists of tissues that are made up of billions of living cells. The cells organize together to form organs, hormones, the nervous system—every part of the body—and from these, all the body's functions arise. Zooming in even closer for a moment, we can see that every cell is made up of molecules. Molecules are tiny bundles of energy—and energy is a superstar in the holistic view of life. We'll come back to the great importance of energy in a moment.
The living terrain is dynamic and alive.
That's why I call it the living
terrain. It has an integrity—an intelligence, we might say—of its own. It reaches for life just as a flower or tree reaches toward the sun. It constantly affects the environment of which it is a part, and the environment affects it in turn. All of us as individuals—whether canine, feline, or human—express ourselves through, and are one with, our own living terrain.
In a marvelously orchestrated and brilliant way, all aspects of a dog or cat's living terrain—its molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and systems—communicate and cooperate with each other to allow him to express himself according to his nature as a living being. We refer to this communication and cooperation between all aspects of the living terrain as synergy.
To support the health of the living terrain, the new holistic way focuses on all of these dimensions: the molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and systems; the synergistic communication among them; and the energy that manifests and powers them. An Animal's Body Is His Home
A helpful way of thinking about the body is to imagine that it's a little like a house. Of course, a living being can never be reduced to something that is not alive. But the comparison can help make some points.
If we think of a house as something that provides us with shelter and support for our daily lives, we think of more than the building. We also think of the systems and appliances that are included in the building, such as the furnace, oven, fridge, hot water tank, plumbing, washer and dryer, lighting, phones, computers, sound system, TV, and countless more. All of these things working properly and in harmony is what we think of as home
—the life-supporting shelter that is much greater than the sum of its parts. This is an example of holistic thinking.
In the new holistic perspective, a truly healthy dog or cat will have all systems fully functioning in the home that is her body—her own living terrain. She will blossom with the fullness of life instead of experiencing pain, disability, or unhappiness. Her body will be in harmony with her surrounding environment, and that environment will be in agreement with what she needs. She will be in a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis
Homeostasis means a state of balance or equilibrium. When harmony exists between the inner terrain and the outer environment, the body enjoys an ideal state of wellness. In other words, in holistic health care terms, homeostasis is
To once again liken the body to a house, a house is in balance when all systems run properly and work together to make everything happen as they're meant to happen. For example, the energy system powers the fridge, which keeps the food fresh, which nourishes the people who live in the house, who keep the energy system in good repair. This works like a continuous feedback loop. It's common in holistic thinking to envision a circle that replenishes itself—for better, when all is in harmony, or for worse, when something's amiss.
The new holistic way is based on the premise that all beings have the ability to heal themselves. This means that the body, or living terrain, of Fido, Fluffy, you, or me always wants to be in homeostasis. When invaders such as viruses, bacteria, or pollutants challenge homeostasis, the living terrain responds to protect itself. This self-protective aspect of the living terrain is what we call the immune system.
As the immune system tries to deal with a threat, it, along with the rest of the living terrain, will end up either stronger or weaker than it was before the threat came along. This outcome, in turn, will depend upon the degree of wellness it had available in the first place from which to respond to the stress. In other words, an immune system can only be as healthy as the body it protects and is a part of. (For more on how the immune system works, see page 52.)
This is why nourishing and supporting our pets' living terrains appropriately in everyday life is the single most important thing we can do for their wellness. (See Chapters 3 and 4 for general guidelines on how to do this.) Festus and Samson's health needs don't end the moment they leave my clinic. The new holistic way's number one priority is to keep the living terrain, including the immune system, as well as possible all the time. If Festus and Samson are bursting with wellness when they walk out the door to go home, they won't sustain that condition unless their people look after them in ways that allow their immune systems to remain strong. I consider it part of my job as a veterinarian to coach my clients about how to do that. You will find the kind of guidance I give in subsequent chapters of this book.
Excerpted from The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats by Paul McCutcheon, DVM, and Susan Weinstein. Copyright © 2009 by Paul Mccutcheon. Excerpted by permission of Celestial Arts, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.