When it comes to holistic, natural, and alternative therapies for pets, how do you know if they’ll really help your pet? Here’s my advice.
Q: I’m interested in natural and alternative therapies for my pet. Which ones really work?
A: Complementary, or alternative, therapies often play a role in veterinary medicine these days. A lot of veterinarians combine traditional veterinary care with other modalities that include herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, low-level laser, acupuncture and massage. Some of these treatments and techniques are backed by science, while others haven’t yet undergone rigorous study.
Some complementary therapies are used for pain relief. As a backup to NSAIDs or other analgesics, a veterinarian might recommend cold laser therapy, acupuncture and nutritional supplements such as glucosamine-chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids. They may be beneficial for pets with joint problems or cats with pain from cystitis. There’s a lack of controlled, double-blind studies that positively demonstrate the effectiveness of nutraceuticals for these types of pain, but anecdotally, a number of veterinarians and pet parents have found them to be helpful for some animals.
Animals with liver disease may be prescribed an herbal remedy called milk thistle. Randomized controlled studies have shown that it has some positive effects in helping to support the liver.
Cranberry is often suggested for pets with bladder infections. It appears to work by keeping bacteria in the urine from being able to attach to the bladder wall.
Not every complementary therapy works for everything. For instance, acupuncture doesn’t appear to have an appreciable effect on animals with allergies. And therapies that are safe for dogs may not always be safe for cats. Work with a veterinarian who has a thorough grounding in integrative medicine.
Most important, remember that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Herbal remedies, for instance, can interact with other medications your pet takes, so it’s essential for you and your veterinarian to communicate about what your pet is taking.
There’s more – including safety tips for pets who find surfaces slippery – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.