Mary Ann Baughan was devastated when she heard her 10-year-old Australian Sheppard “Sophie” had breast cancer.
Baughan was told Sophie would need an emergency double mastectomy surgery and be spayed. It was unlikely she would survive the procedure.
“There was no guarantee that she would survive, and I couldn’t put her through that,” Baughan said.
That’s when a friend told Baughan about an alternative philosophy to traditional veterinarian medicine that incorporates a holisitic approach. Baughan found a holistic veterinarian and credits the change with prolonging Sophie’s life for another two years.
“We put her on a regimen of essential oils, herbs and different natural supplements,” Baughan said. “It didn’t cure the cancer but it helped keep it from spreading and gave her a good life. If I had the surgery done, I wouldn’t have had those two years with her.”
A growing number of local pet owners are taking a holistic approach to veterinarian care. Although they have to make an hour drive to places such as Chenoa, people including Baughan laud the long-term results.
Among the most popular is Dr. Susan Albright, who operates a veterinarian clinic in Chenoa. Her clinic does both traditional medicine and alternative therapies.
Albright explained that holistic veterinary medicine involves the examination and diagnosis of an animal, considering all aspects of the animal’s life and employing all of the practitioner’s senses, as well as the combination of conventional, alternative and complementary modalities of treatment.
“I can make the dog stop itching no problem with a steroids, but then we have to deal with the side effects and we’re still not addressing the root of the problem,” she explained.
Holistic veterinarian treatments take their queues from the same Eastern medicines practiced today on people. They include a comprehensive physical examination to learn about the pet’s behaviors, distant medical and dietary history, and its environment including diet, emotional stresses and other factors.
The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction. For example, Albright might assign an entire regimen of therapies such as acupuncture, behavior modification, homeopathy, nutritional therapy, chiropractic care and titering among others.
Albright said the idea is to promote wellness within animals to prevent future problems as opposed to waiting for problems to happen and treating them with a pill or shot.
“There is a time to use a shot, but if you continue to give the body what it really needs, then you’d be surprised how often a Western remedy isn’t needed,” she said.
One holistic example is called titering. For decades, pet animals would need their annual vaccination “shots” to protect against dangerous and deadly diseases such as rabies and parvovirus.
Titering takes a different spin on this. Instead of an annual shot, a blood sample is drawn and analyzed to determine whether or not the animal has enough antibodies to ensure immunity against a particular disease. It’s meant as a vaccine surrogate — meaning pets get their shot once every three years — to protect the animal against the strain vaccines have on the liver and kidneys over time.
Puppies and kittens, for example, are given their initial shots and a booster when they turn one. But thereafter, the animal is titered and only given a vaccination when the antibody counts are too low or if required a particular vaccine by law.
“Pharmaceutical companies give a lot of funding to groups like AVMA (American Veterinarian Medical Association) that set the guidelines on proper pet health so that those groups ignore studies that contradict what pharmaceutical companies recommend,” she said. “There’s ample evidence and research that shows dogs only need a booster every three years and there’s already been developed a 7-year booster shot that has been blocked from going on the market.”
Traditional vet care response
Veterinarian Kevin Zollars, who operates Tri-County Veterinarian Service in Earlville, said there have been times he’s seen chiropractic serves help small animals.
“Holistic medicine is certainly a trendy thing, and I have seen it work sometimes in cases of chiropractic medicine,” Zollars said. “But it’s not an alternative to treatments for infectious diseases. A mix of western medicine and eastern medicine for say a broken bone can be helpful.”
Zollars warned that it would be a “mistake” for pet owners to completely rely on holistic medicine locally. He said given north central Illinois is largely rural pet owners will want to keep their animals properly vaccinated.
“Titering ends up being more expensive than the vaccine in the long run, and in very few cases will you ever see an animal have a bad reaction to a vaccine,” Zollars said. “The risk of titering as opposed to just getting the shot isn’t worth it. For me and my animals, I want that immunization built up.”
Aromas and energy
Utica resident Kate Brown owns and operates Healing Essentials for Pets and People. Her business and practice involves helping people and their animals find their “inner healer.”
Her home has an unmistakable blend of aromas wafting through the air. The scent becomes even more prevalent inside a back room where there is a table set up for her dogs. This is where they and other pets are introduced to essential oil massages where the combination of aromas and Brown’s ability to channel “chakra” or metaphysical energy, as believed by some Eastern and Hindu cultures.
“We see a lot of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) in animals that come here, so this energy therapy calms them down,” she said. “I also look for warm areas where there might be inflammation from a prior wound and assist the animal’s body into self-healing.”
Brown and her husband Bruce own two quarter horses that he uses in team penning competitions. Bruce admitted that at first he didn’t understand anything about what essential oil therapy could do for animals but now he’s a believer.
“Once she started using them, their performance improved,” he said. “I didn’t realize what it’s all about but I saw an improvement in about five minutes. They just love it.”