It’s a situation many pet parents have faced: Your beloved fur kid just isn’t itself and you’re at the end of your rope. You’ve maxed out on vet visits and overloaded on pet painkillers. Still, your pup is struggling with arthritis, diabetes or some other painful condition that conventional methods aren’t helping.
You can cross your fingers and turn to another traditional vet. Or you can join the growing number of pet owners looking to aromatherapy, chiropractic and even energy work to sooth their struggling animals.
It’s called holistic medicine, and while the discipline – which combines Eastern and metaphysical theories to treat mostly chronic conditions – has long been common among human patients, animal specialists say its use is exploding among pet owners. They point to younger pet parents and more animal owners who live a holistic lifestyle and increasingly want their dogs, cats and even lizards to do the same.
These pet parents aren’t replacing stethoscopes and scalpels with pendulums and sage. Rather, experts say they are increasingly blending traditional vet care with things like reiki, color therapy and acupuncture to treat their animals inside and out.
Healing mind, body and spirit
Sometimes referred to as alternative medicine, holistic medical care is best described as treatment focused on healing mind, body and spirit. Where conventional Western medicine focuses on tests and X-rays, holistic treatment is often intuitive, with heavy focus on emotional blockages, energetic imbalances and other less tangible concepts.
The field encompasses a diverse number of specializations, including hypnotherapy, sound therapy, herbal treatments and reiki, a technique in which a practitioner uses touch to channel energy and restore balance in patients.
It may sound a little hokey to newcomers, but lots of Americans have bought into the faith-based healing modalities: An estimated 59 million Americans spent some $30.2 billion on alternative treatments in 2012, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Four-legged patients are increasingly included in those expenditures, said Tricia Stimac, president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and an active veterinarian.
While treatments can be used on exotics – think lizards and snakes – Stimac said the most common pets are cats, dogs and surprisingly, horses.
“Acupuncture and chiropractic have been amazing modules of therapy for that species,” she said, explaining horses in particular often suffer chronic pain from wearing saddles.
Years ago, she said holistic medicine was more of a fringe thing, practiced by a select few vets who had personal experience with it. Nowadays, however, it’s patients demanding botanicals and more for things like chronic ear infections, she said.
“You realize as you’ve been in practice for a long period of time, that there are other options,” she said. “And the younger generation, they are hearing of these modalities and they are being requested.”
Stimac said many pet parents belong to the Whole Foods set – practicing clean eating and other holistic lifestyle choices that they extend to their pets. But, others are simply ready for something new.
“We see clients that start because they’ve been to 15 other regular vets and they haven’t had any help with their animal’s problems,” she said. “We help them and they see the success.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that alternative medicine is a replacement for traditional medicine entirely, she said. Rather, Stimac said alternative medicine should complement traditional methods in certain cases. Alternative medicine should not be used to replace emergency care if a pet is hit by a car or having acute heart troubles, for instance.
“But the beauty is that we can not only utilize the surgeon to fix that bone or that cardiologist to add on pharmaceutical medications, but we can also use our alternative therapies to support that,” she said. “You can use a homeopathic to help heal the bone post surgery. You can use supplements in conjunction with heart medicines.”
Soothing music, crystals used for joint pain, anxiety
It all sounded like hocus pocus to pet lover and mobile dog groomer Mary Oquendo. Then, a decade ago, her miniature pinscher, Marcus, fell sick.
“He had Cushing’s (Syndrome), he was diabetic, every month his medications were increasing,” she said. “His prognosis was not good.”
When she saw some crystals in a local alternative store, Oquendo impulsively grabbed a few she thought were pretty. Weeks later, when she felt her mood lift, Oquendo said she started researching the crystals’ properties and how they could also help her pooch.
It ultimately lead to a longer, healthier life for Marcus and a new specialty for Oquendo. who now offers crystal and reiki pet therapy, in addition to running her mobile business Pawsitively Pretty, and teaching at events like the Atlanta Pet Fair and Conference, in March.
“By the time he passed away, he was off Cushing’s medication and we had reduced his diabetes medicine by about 25 percent,” said Oquendo, who is based in Danbury, Connecticut.
These days, she is sharing what worked for her Marcus with cats and dogs suffering everything from joint pain to chronic anxiety. Sessions typically involve soothing music, placing the pet in a circle of crystals and using a pendulum placed over the animal’s body to guide her to where healing is most needed.
While her pet patients don’t have the words to say thanks, Oquendo said they show their appreciation in their own way.
“You can see it in their faces,” she said.