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Trends in alternative pet health

People have long employed alternatives to traditional medicine to treat a range of health issues, including headaches, arthritis, digestive problems, and even as a support to emotional health. Complementary and alternative approaches span a broad range of treatments—including homeopathy, naturopathy, massage, herbal medicine, and acupuncture.

In veterinary medicine, the recent emphasis has been on complementary rather than purely alternative approaches. Holistic veterinarians emphasize the wellness of the animal as a whole rather than focusing only on a specific pathology, and most commonly blend traditional and alternative approaches, giving them a broader range of options when treating sick or injured animals.

Let’s look more specifically at some alternative medicine techniques that are being used in contemporary veterinary medicine.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been a feature of human medicine for thousands of years. By stimulating specific points on the body using fine needles, acupuncture has shown results in reducing chronic pain, stimulating healing, and reducing recovery times after surgery. Similar results have been seen in pets, particularly dogs, in response to acupuncture therapy. In 1988, the American Veterinary Medical Association approved acupuncture as an alternative therapy for pets, and its popularity has ben growing steadily. The most common uses are for the treatment of joint and muscle pain, improvement of post-surgical healing, and even the reduction of symptoms related to diabetes and cancer. Acupuncture is not inexpensive, and multiple sessions are often needed to achieve results. However, the treatment has no side effects and does not interfere with traditional drug therapies.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine—sometimes called “phytotherapy”—relies on the natural healing properties of herbs and other plants to confer health benefits. Since some herbs can be hazardous when taken in combination with certain medications, phytotherapy is typically used as a supportive or complementary therapy under the strict supervision of a doctor or vet. In pets, herbal medicine has been shown to relieve pain, boost the immune system, promote digestive health, and even improve organ function. While its exact effectiveness is hard to gauge, herbal medicine continues to grow in popularity as a veterinary treatment.

Hydrotherapy

Physical therapy in a controlled aquatic environment has shown demonstrable results in the treatment of traumatic and athletic injuries in humans. Similar results have been seen in animals, especially when high-impact exercise is contraindicated. Warm water is used to soothe aching or injured muscles, as well as to reduce stress, promote circulation, and to provide gentle resistance during exercise. Typical hydrotherapy sessions last between 15 and 30 minutes and have been shown to help increase mobility, build muscle, and provide cardiovascular benefits to obese animals.

Magnetic Feild Therapy

An emerging area of alternative veterinary treatment is magnetic field therapy (or pulsed electromagnetic field, PEMF). In veterinary medicine, the technique is typically used to promote more effective wound healing and to reduce post-surgical recovery times. The technique uses the generation of magnetic energy around the affected area—with the aim of stimulating cell growth and healing. Few vets currently practice magnetic field therapy alone, and when it is used, it is most often in conjunction with traditional medical approaches.

Aromatherapy

The use of smell as a tool for healing has long been the subject of medical inquiry and study. In veterinary medicine, the technique or aromatic oils is sometimes used to treat stress, manage behavioral issues, and even to boost immune response.

Editor’s Note: Essential oils for home use continue to grow in popularity, but for pets, there may be hidden risks. Here are a few things you should know about pets and essential oils.

As with many alternative or complementary therapies, results are hard to gauge, though side effects are few and treatments can be used safely in conjunction with more traditional approaches. Also, alternative treatments may be covered by some pet insurers, so be sure to check your cat or dog’s health insurance plan.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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