It's a new age for pets
are in treatment plans
Dr. Cindy Atwood inspects one of Lois Hoyt's five Australian
It's no longer enough to spay or neuter, vaccinate and feed the family animal. A session with a holistic veterinarian - at $100 a pop - is prescribed. And if Fido is feeling under the weather, how about an hour of Tellington Touch - circular motions used to activate cellular function?
Holistic health care for pets is growing across Maine, a reflection of their owners' personal health care choices. There's even a newspaper - The Whole Dog Journal - that offers guidance for those who want for their pets the treatments they take themselves.
Homeopathy is ground zero for anyone who is interested in complimentary therapies for their pet. The premise of homeopathic medicine - that the body has a vital force that keeps you healthy when it's in balance - resonates with other disciplines like chiropractic and T-Touch.
"If you're not healthy, a virus will put you out of balance longer," said Dr. Judy Herman, a veterinarian who has been practicing for over 20 years. Herman is the only certified homeopathic vet in Maine. She opened her practice in Augusta in 1995.
"My premise is treating each companion as an individual and in its family unit," Herman said. She said that although seeing a homeopathic vet is not much more expensive - $100 / hour for a consultation compared to $20-$30 for a traditional 15-minute office visit - homeopathic treatment is more time-consuming and requires more energy.
"Homeopathy is hard because there's a lot of waiting involved," Herman said. "We're so used to having a quick fix as a society - take a pill and the problem goes away."
She said with some clients, there's a lot of education involved in the beginning. "When someone's never used homeopathic remedies before, I try to have them do it for themselves, or at least read about it," she said.
However, Herman says most of her clients are interested in homeopathic care for their pets because they've had success using it themselves.
Herman describes 50 percent of her clientele as "hard core" homeopathic. She says 25 percent will use homeopathic most of the time, but may "freak out" if the problem is acute and revert to traditional medicine. The other 25 percent request her services without homeopathy.
But Herman says even when treating her patients with traditional methods, she can't help but let her holistic point of view sneak in.
"Even in my conventional practice, I take into consideration the whole health of the animal," she said. "I stress diet, exercise and training. I discuss in detail the pros and cons of vaccines and try to tailor treatment to the companion and their lifestyle."
Homeopathic remedies come in tablet, liquid and powder form.
Homeopathic remedies are made from mineral, animal or plant material.
"What happens is the energy of the substance that you take is similar to the symptom package and will simulate your vital force to heal itself and the illness will go away."
Herman said this method is used widely through Europe and Asia and has been used with animals almost as long as with people. In the late 1800s, she said, farmers would often use home remedies on their stock. But practicing homeopathy on animals is often difficult because of their inability to communicate verbally.
"It makes it more of a challenge," Herman said. "When I treat friends, it's
amazing how much easier it is to know the nuances of sensation of what goes
on with them. All the books I use are geared towards humans."
Most of Herman's patients are family pets, though a handful of breeders use her services, too. All her clients share one trait: "The people I generally end up seeing, their companions are like their children. If they have kids, the pets are an integral part of their family. They are not second-class citizens," Herman said.
"They're more than just something around the house, these animals; they have a major purpose in the family unit."
For Herman, homeopathy is more than just a nice way to practice medicine. She swears by it. After injuring her hip by falling off a horse, Herman used homeopathic remedies for pain relief. "It was so much better," she said. "I didn't feel all druggy."
Herman's also had success treating her own animals. "I started using homeopathy on Patrick, my golden, when he was three." Patrick was born with severe hip dysplasia. "He should have been crippled," Herman said. "Last week we went on a four-mile hike." Patrick also was treated with homeopathic remedies for a pre-cancerous tumor on his chest. "It never came back," Herman said.
She used remedies to treat George, her lab, who had a severe bladder infection. "He had become toxic even though he was on antibiotics," Herman said. "His body was shutting down."
Herman acknowledges that some clients come to her as a last resort. "If this was perfect, everyone would be doing it," she said. "If allopathic [traditional medicine] was better, no one would be looking this way."
Mary Lambert is a believer. She uses a variety of complimentary health methods on her seven Australian shepherds. "There are always people who are skeptical about everything," Lambert said. "But there are a lot of people who really love their pets and want to do everything they can to make them happy and healthy."
Lambert feeds her show-quality Aussies a natural diet of raw food like hamburger, turkey necks, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt and vegetables.
She switched from commercial dog food a few years ago because one of her dogs was having seizures. "Once I took her off the dog food, she stopped having them," Lambert said. "I thought, wow, there's something to this. Dog food has all these chemicals that we don't know about."
Sally Rose wrapped to promote body awareness adjusts to the new sensation.
Lambert said feeding her dogs people food isn't necessarily more expensive, it just takes more time. "But for people who love their pets as if they're their own family, it's not any different than caring for their children."
In addition to using herbal and holistic remedies to help keep her animals happy, Lambert uses flower essences -dilute versions of natural substances -to help keep them balanced.
"In the wild, they have more access to different herbs and plant material then we realize. A lot of plants and flowers have chemicals that can help you with everything from stomach ailments to anxiety and stress."
Lambert uses a few drops of walnut essence to help Boone, one of her show dogs, relax when he's on the road. "When we travel in the R.V, it's stressful for him, going from one place to another, experiencing strange, new environments," she said. "He did very well with the walnut. In a couple of days he was more relaxed."
The way Lambert approaches her dogs' health is a direct reflection of the way she looks at her own well-being. Often, she says, she'll simultaneously purchase products for herself and for her animals at the natural foods store. "I used to do a lot of competitive body building. I tried to eat healthy and take vitamins and supplements to maintain optimal health for myself. The research I did was easy to translate over to my dog."
Lambert said she thinks spending so much time caring for pets is significant to breeders. "Casual pet owners love their dogs and enjoy them but don't care about them in the way we do. It's more than just a hobby to us," she said. "It could catch on, maybe, as it catches on with people in general, but I don't think the average pet owner is going to go to the trouble if they don't do it themselves ... In most of Maine, they don't do it themselves."
The Aussies. Pickle, left. Stout, right.
Lambert also takes her Aussies to Dr. Cindy Atwood of Standish - one of three pet chiropractors in Maine - for periodic adjustments.
"In the breed ring, it's very important that they gait properly. If their spine is not aligned and they have a pinched spine, it infringes on their movement," Lambert said. "It's just like with people. Regular physicians will give you muscle relaxants and say, 'go home and rest.' If you have a vertebra out place it gets fixed much faster [with chiropractic work]."
Atwood, a traditional veterinarian for 15 years, has been a practicing pet chiropractor for a little over a year. "I used to think, 'I'm just out of vet school, I can cure the world,' " she said. "The way I got into this is the way many people in complimentary medicines do, you realize you can't help everybody ... I was getting burned out and looking for another answer. I feel there's a place for all of it, both Eastern and Western, and it's a shame we don't combine it more."
Atwood was in Buxton a couple of weeks ago to adjust Sally Rose, an Australian
shepherd with arthritis. The dog stood still without letting out so much as
a whimper as Atwood carefully palpated her hindquarters. After the adjustment
was made, Sally Rose sauntered off slowly, walking with ease, stretching every
According to Atwood, Sally Rose's improvement has been dramatic since starting treatment a year ago. "Last winter, she couldn't lie down," she said.
Lois Hoyt, Sally Rose's owner, has four other Aussies. Stout, who has epilepsy, gets chiropractic treatment after he's had a seizure. He also sees Dr. Herman for homeopathic treatment. Hoyt keeps careful record of the frequency of Stout's seizures. She said they've decreased almost by half since he started homeopathic care.
In the beginning, Hoyt said she was skeptical of the process for administering the remedy, which included tapping it to induce vibration.
"I was very leery at first. You have to hit the [remedy] bottle 10 times before putting five drops into a dish of water. I thought, that's not going to do a thing," she said. "But it's hard to argue when you see the benefits ... I really don't understand it, nor do I care, because it's working."
Since starting him on remedies, she's altered Stout's diet to include raw foods instead of dog food. "It's definitely changed the way I look at my animals," she said.
"Animals are incredible reflections of their owners," Atwood said.
She does a lot of her work with Karen Thurlow-Kimball, a T-Touch practitioner in Yarmouth.
TTouch is a way of working on animals that stimulates the use of neural pathways. Thurlow-Kimball said the motion - which looks a little like massage - works on the cellular level to release fear and tension while promoting optimal behavior and health.
"TTouch helps the animals hold the adjustments longer. It also makes them less painful," Thurlow-Kimball said.
She said the technique can also help bring awareness back to an area like the hind-end, a part dogs often forget they have.
Before Sally Rose was adjusted, Thurlow-Kimball wrapped Ace bandage-like
material around her front legs, drawing it back along the spine to her hindquarters.
Suddenly aware of her back legs, Sally Rose stood for a few moments before
attempting to gingerly take a step, stretching her legs out in an exaggerated
effort to move forward.
"Through non-habitual touch, I can change the effect of receptors that go to the brain and give feedback," Thurlow-Kimball said. "I can teach them to move their body in a different way ... This body work is a type of counseling. I can't sit down and say to them, "so why are you so tense?"
In addition to practicing, Thurlow-Kimball gives workshops to pet owners so they can perform the technique to maintain their animal. She said TTouch can help everything from carsickness and incontinence to shyness and leash pulling.
"The idea is to teach people to touch the animal in a more holistic way, so it's healthier for both the pet and the owner," Thurlow-Kimball said. "We have dogs because we enjoy them, but how much can we enjoy them if we can't take them out for a run on the beach or a walk in the park? It helps people enjoy living with their dogs."
Both Thurlow-Kimball and Atwood said they treat a variety of breeders as well as casual pet owners. An hour session of TTouch costs about $45. Atwood charges a similar fee. Both Atwood and Thurlow-Kimball make house calls.
Animal chiropractic and some of the other complimentary treatments, although growing in popularity, are still in their infancy.
Dr. John Benson, a Bangor vet, is one who combines both traditional and complimentary practices. He said he's a vet, first, but he started offering chiropractic services about a year ago.
"I had some back problems and had work done on my own back. It crossed my mind that this would be a good idea for animals," Benson said.
To become a certified chiropractor, a vet must take a course offered in five 50-hour sessions. Benson says he doesn't actively promote chiropractic methods. "I'm a little hesitant to present it to someone who has not sought it out. I believe in it whole-heartedly, but I'll slowly introduce it as an option. I don't adjust an animal without an owner's permission."
Benson calls himself an "open-minded skeptic" when it comes to other complimentary procedures. His clinic will soon offer acupuncture and he said he's interested in Western herbal medicine, but they're taking things slowly.
"The conflict between the veterinarian and the chiropractor in me as we delve
into the more alternative methods is coming up with the most appropriate treatment
that fits what the clients are comfortable with."
When it comes to flower essences, Benson's more of a realist. "It's pretty off-the-wall," he said. "It's one you'd have to demonstrate to me is doing something good."
Nor does Benson endorse homeopathic remedies. "We're still exploring new things on the traditional front. That's one of the things that's attractive about veterinary medicine. You have the freedom to explore a range of modalities."
Benson said complimentary health practices for pets aren't a matter of over-indulgence, just opportunities for better care.
"I think it's a great idea. The more options we have for the critters, the more we can do for them. We should do our best to care for our four-legged friends."