Animal Acupuncture and Organic Cat Food – A Look at Holistic Veterinary Care

“We’ve been going here for at least ten years,” says Eve Lynn, age 55.  Pax, her five and a half year old border collie hides behind her legs. He has wide blue eyes, and is clearly more worried about meeting strangers than being in a vet’s office.  Lynn says she used to go to a traditional veterinary office before switching over to Petcare Holistic Veterinary Clinic. “We go to holistic doctors, so you know.”

 As more people turn to organic diets and alternative treatments for their own health, these trends reflect their choice of care and diet for their pets. The term ‘holistic medicine’ can include functional medicine, acupuncture, and chiropractic practice. It places an emphasis on the animal’s overall health, which can lead to long debates on proper food choices. While the exact number of people trying holistic vet care is hard to determine, sources agree that clientele in the field is increasing. There are increases in the numbers of veterinarians becoming certified by the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) in addition to their veterinary degrees, and large schools like Cornell, Ohio and Michigan State now have chapters associated with the AHVMA.

Some veterinarians have personal reasons for becoming holistic.

 “I practiced traditional medicine for thirty years,” John Smith, a 1972 graduate of Michigan State and holistic veterinarian at Petcare Holistic Veterinary Clinic, says. “Then I got real sick myself. Five doctors later, I said to myself, if I don’t figure this out, I’m going to die. Turns out I’m gluten sensitive.”

“If you don’t eat right, the body doesn’t function right.” Smith specializes in functional medicine, which examines molecular physiology. This means a lot of chemical testing and a lot of emphasis on food. “Functional medicine is the place where genetics and nutrition cross. Everybody is different in some subtle ways. Sometimes those subtleties are very important.”

 “Fifty percent of cats and dogs get crappy food,” Patrick Mahaney says. “And that leads to obesity and more medication.” Mahaney is a holistic veterinarian from California, a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and an animal acupuncturist certified through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Mahaney makes house calls and sets up office inside his patient’s homes to examine not only the animal but also the patient’s lifestyle.

Mahaney puts a “real focus on feeding human grade products”. He is against buying processed pet food, but encourages owners to cook their pets homemade food or buy food online although these options are pricier. “Real foods are the way to go.”

Ann Marie Sekerak, a veterinarian at Easthaven Animal Hospital who graduated from the University of Illinois, is not convinced that this is better. “It is very hard to formulate diets at home that are balanced. I would definitely worry about that. You have to take into account what the owner is able and willing to do. I have friends who do [cook meals for pets] – it’s extremely time intensive, extremely expensive.” She stresses that client compliance is an issue. She explains that even if the doctor recommends a specific diet for their pet, the owner may not follow through, leading to nutritional unbalances. “Dog treating is attached to a human hand.”

Sekerak is also skeptical of brands which claim to use natural ingredients. “What standards are they held to?” She explains that there is no organization holding all pet foods to the same set of regulations.  Sekerak adds that she is not encouraging owners to only assess the financials when looking at their food options. “There is a difference between cheapest food on the shelf and higher quality.”

“All we carry here are quality-first foods,” Susan Schoendorff, age 36 says. Schoendorff has worked at the Pets Emporium for four years and has known the family who runs the pet store for ten. She holds a bag of Natural Planet Organics, and points out the certification from Organic Till. “Dog regulations and human regulations are different. But we have good quality ingredients to begin with.”

“We don’t push food on people.  But there is definitely a demand for better food,” Mike Curristan, age 50 and general manager of an Ann Arbor Petco, says.  Curristan says that price can be an issue when selecting for high-end food. “Whatever dog food fits your budget- that’s the best.”

Although buying pet foods which fit holistic health standards can be pricey, the actual bill for treatments is typically either similar to traditional medicine or less expensive.

“I would say they are pretty comparable [in terms of price],” Lynn says.

 “My typical price range is 50 dollars to 800 dollars,” Smith says. He adds that he’s seen animals with 50,000 dollar medical bills as a result of chronic issues. “There’s just no comparison how much less expensive [holistic medicine] is.”

And the results might be worth it.

 “I do recommend acupuncture- I’ve seen amazing responses.” Sekerak explains that she had known a certified veterinary acupuncturist who worked at the same facility. Serkerak talks through all treatment options with her clients, and emphasizes client choice. “So long as it doesn’t it hurt the pet, I don’t see the harm in trying. I’m not against holistic care, I’m just not trained it. If the client is interested, I will direct them to someone who is.”

Mahaney reports that his own dog, a Welsh terrier named Cardiff, greatly benefits from acupuncture treatments. He explains that the procedure reduces inflammation in tissue, promotes blood flow, removes potentially infection-causing toxins and relaxes the animal’s energy, creating a state of rest which promotes healing. “I have done it on myself.” Mahaney says. “It is a pleasant experience, it doesn’t cause pain.”

“It ought to be that holistic medicine is the right hand, and allopatric medicine is the left hand.” Smith says.  He says that while traditional medicine is great at treating infections and trauma, if he was in pain for three months, he would use holistic medicine. “But if I get hit by a car, take me to St. Joe’s.”



About katiebethhalloran

Hello! I am a student at the University of Michigan, interested in creative writing and environmental writing. I'm new to blogging, but so far it seems like a great way to find other writers with similar (or vastly different) styles and interests.

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