"The physician treats, but nature heals."
THE HOLISTIC APPROACH
By definition, the word "holistic" means: "relating to or concerned with wholes or complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts -- medicine which attempts to treat both the mind and the body." As such, true holistic therapies must include more than just a set of symptoms to be addressed. They must consider the WHOLE being, whether human or animal, including the emotional, mental, and physical (both internal and external) environments in which they exist. Some examples of holistic approaches include Herbalism, Homeopathy, Acupuncture, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), and Ayurveda (an ancient approach from India).
The modern medical model largely views the body as a collection of pieces and parts to be assessed in isolation rather than as a working unit. Symptoms are viewed as disease, and treatment is aimed at suppressing rather than eliminating those symptoms. In the Holistic view, symptoms are regarded as the body's expression of imbalance and an attempt to return to homeostasis (a state of equilibrium). Mere suppression of these symptoms is likened to telling your body, "Shut-up--I'm not interested in what you have to say." Suppression of acute symptoms is believed to result in new, more serious problems in other areas. Treatment consists of supporting and assisting the body to heal itself by seeking out and eliminating the underlying cause(s) of the problem, whether physical, behavioral, environmental, etc., or some combination thereof.
This is not to say that you should shun allopathic medicine; indeed it is very useful, even life-saving. There are many situations where allopathic drugs and other treatments are necessary, and some where they are the only reasonable option. In such cases, alternative therapies can serve to support the body and lessen side effects.
SOME RULES TO REMEMBER:
1. ALL HEALING COMES FROM WITHIN.
2. The best therapies are those which ASSIST the body in the healing process rather than merely SUPPRESSING symptoms.
It is important to note that holistic therapies are just as capable of suppression as their allopathic counterparts. It is not enough to just substitute herbs for pharmaceuticals, or to use homeopathics to "palliate" symptoms. Although such approaches are necessary in some (i.e. incurable) situations, when used inappropriately, they can actually drive the disease deeper. While herbal or homeopathic therapy would be a step in the right direction, that in itself would not constitute a holistic approach. If you plan to self-prescribe for you or your pet, it is extremely important that you study the modalities you plan to use, and not just try something because you read it in a magazine or in the first book you picked up. There is currently a glut of information/hype on herbs and other alternative therapies. Much of it is contradictory; some is even false. Do your research. Better still, consult with a qualified practitioner.
A FEW WORDS ON DIET
Without exception, the cornerstone of the holistic approach is a healthy DIET. This cannot be over-emphasized. If your pet has allergies, a skin condition, or any chronic disease, you must first look to diet. No other therapies, whether holistic or conventional, will truly be of benefit if you do not provide your companion with the necessary nourishment for the body to do its work.
A good diet is just as essential to the health of our companion animals as it is to our own. While a raw foods diet is preferable (visit Charles Loops, DVM for some excellent raw food recipes), many people find the preparation time difficult to incorporate into their busy schedules. If this is your dilemma, there are some healthy prepared foods available either at your local health foods store or by mail order that use human grade, hormone/pesticide-free, and often organic ingredients. Most grocery store brands contain harmful by-products, excess sugar, additives and preservatives that contribute to chronic disease, allergies, etc. While easy on the pocketbook, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. I have read numerous articles on the horrors of commercial pet food ingredients and processing. Even many prescription diets contain by-products and dangerous preservatives such as Ethoxyquin (linked to cancers and nervous system disorders among other problems). For the price of a bag of one of these diets, you could purchase a good holistic food such as Wysong, Innova, Pet Guard, California Natural, or Flint River Ranch, and reap the benefits in lower vet bills and a healthier, happier pet. Not to mention a healthier conscience.
One last issue I'd like to address is that of feeding your pet a vegetarian diet. While some dogs can adapt to such a diet, cats are NOT designed to be vegetarians, and it is dangerous to force such an unnatural diet on your feline companion. I implore you NOT to impose your personal beliefs on your pet, no matter how strong your political and/or ethical convictions about meat consumption. Your companions depend on you to make healthy choices for them based on their individual needs. Do what is good for THEM, regardless of what personal compromise you must make to do so.
In the end, please be aware that despite your best efforts, there are no guarantees that your companion will live a disease-free life. Just as with humans, you can do everything "right" for your animal companion, and still be faced with a chronic health problem. Some of these diseases seem almost inherent in the breed. Such tendencies are the result of years of inbreeding, and cannot be undone by either conventional or alternative therapies. Still, your best defense is a good offense. As Dr. Bernard Jensen said: "A strong constitution is a wonderful gift, but can go to ruin with an abusive lifestyle. Likewise, a weak constitution can be made strong through right attitude, attentive living, and good diet." In other words, there is nothing to lose in making intelligent choices.
CHOOSING A PRACTITIONER
There are many practitioners now (for people and for pets) of many modalities. Some are healers; some are not. Some are proficient in their modalities; some took a weekend seminar. Be careful. Ask questions. Look for a good fit. Over the years I have found that there are some holistic veterinarians who either outright lie about that commitment or do just enough to call themselves holistic but are really commited to the allopathic point of view. In turn, I have also encountered allopathic veterinarians who were open and dedicated enough to the healing process that they were willing to try holistic modalities and work in conjunction with a holistic practitioner where indicated, or where allopathic medicine offered no help. As allopathy is still the predominant veterinary model, such practitioners are true jewels.
There are many veterinarians out there trying to jump on the holistic bandwagon who have no training or understanding of the modalities they claim to practice beyond reading a book or two or attending a seminar. Some claim knowledge of 5-7 modalities which would each require years of study in which to attain proficiency. Please note that even veterinarians listed in the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) directory are not necessarily competent in the holistic modalities they claim to practice. It is not my intention to shed doubt on the holistic community, nor is it my purpose to have you grill every practitioner you interview, only to alert and inform you as an aid in the selection process. I hear horror stories every day from people who sought help from a poorly chosen source. Don't let that happen to you. As with most situations, referrals by people you trust are preferred.
A FINAL WORD
There's a whole lot of holistic partyline chatter out there that is not always practical or even desirable. Each pet's needs must be considered individually. That's what holistic means. Also, beware of the holistic practitioner who, though qualified, is so vehement about his/her view or mode of treatment that the individual case (your pet's well-being) is as lost as if you had gone to the regular vet. Furthermore, be careful of what you "believe" in. I have seen companion animals die unnecessarily because their caretakers were so committed to a belief system they could not see the imminent danger in it for their friend.
Truth and healing can come from strange places. Don't prejudice yourself. Be aware. Be open. Listen to your gut. It is often more honest than your mind. True healing takes time. It takes time and an understanding and appreciation of the disease process as well as of the ability of the body to heal itself. We are a very impatient people. If you don't grasp anything else from this discourse, PLEASE grasp that ALL HEALING IS DONE BY THE BODY. Any form of medicine can potentially suppress or assist that process.