Veterinary medicine had come a long way and keeps seeing major medical advances all the time. However, medicine alone cannot do it all. Integrative medical therapy does have its own place. How do you know which treatment is best? Let this guide help you in figuring out the best approach so when the time comes, you and your vet can make the decision together. You can always try an integrative approach out for a trial period and if it doesn’t work, than go back for a medicinal intervention. Do not allow a holistic practitioner to convince you to continue with an approach if it’s not working. These methods are supposed to reduce stress, discomfort and to improve the quality of life. Don’t administer any products, including herbs, supplements or homeopathic remedies without your vet’s approval. Try to find an integrative practitioner that is also a vet or who is closely supervised by a vet.
Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterile needles into certain sites on the body known as acupuncture points. These points when examined anatomically fall along nerve pathways.
Acupuncture stimulates nerve fibers near acupuncture points. Acupuncture activate reflexes within the nervous system to reduce pain, relax muscles and help to restore a state of homeostasis.
Benefits: Pain reduction, muscle relaxation, stress abatement, improved immune function, neurologic recovery.
Risks: Infection at needle site, puncture of major vessels or organs. (Acupuncture has a strong safety record when performed by practitioners with solid medical backgrounds. Do your homework when choosing an acupuncturist.)
Efficacy: Acupuncture has a well-researched foundation and scientific basis. Acupuncture is one of the most credible modalities among veterinarians. More vets all the time offer acupuncture as an alternative treatment.
Chiropractic adjustors increase joint range of motion to alleviate pain.
Benefits: Unclear. There is little to no evidence of chiropractic benefit for the feline veterinary population.
Risks: Forceful adjustments on cats’ smaller structure and delicate joints could cause paralysis or further injuries of joints.
Efficacy: Unclear. Evidence of chiropractic benefits is inconsistent in humans, for whom the treatment has the longest track record.
DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS (NUTRACEUTICALS)
“Nutraceutical” refers to food products packaged like a pharmaceutical. They are designed to enhance health or supplementation of food (as in a special diet formulated for your pet’s needs).
Nutraceuticals supplement the diet with nutrients derived from food. They contain greater amounts of certain components found beneficial for certain organs or tissues. They may given to restore health or prevent disease.
Benefits: If your pet is suffering from arthritis, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin or cetyl myristoleate (CMO) have been proven to help. Diarrhea sufferers or pets needing immune support can benefit from probiotics. The antioxidant s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is often recommended for liver disease sufferers.
Risks: Avoid products that contain garlic for cats as it can damage feline red blood cells, causing anemia. Steer clear of products containing “glandulars” or “whole tissue supplementation.” These contain animal glands or organs from supposed-healthy animals (usually coming from cows, sheep or pigs). Glandular therapy says that a pet’s injured gland or organ should benefit from eating a healthy gland or organ from another animal. Who’s to say that the slaughtered animal was truly healthy and free from disease. Studies have not proven conclusive evidence that glandular therapy works. They have suggested a potential to actually worsen a pet’s condition.
Efficacy: Most research on nutraceuticals have focused on osteoarthritis which has huge benefits, including improved mobility. Probiotics have been shown to benefit the digestive tract and immune system.
BOTANICAL MEDICINE (HERBS)
Botanical medicines are products that are derived from plants that are thought to or proven by research to benefit health and/or treat disease.
Herbs, like drugs, work biochemically. But the amount of active ingredients differ from medications. There may be a gamut of herbs needed to replicate the desired effect that a single agent in a drug can produce. An example of a botanical medicine in nature would be catnip, valerian root or lavender.
Benefits: The value of herbs have not been widely studied. Anecdotal evidence suggests that catnip, valerian root and lavender all provide relaxing benefits for cats.
Risks: Differences between human, dog and cat metabolisms for herbs mean products designed for humans or that are found safe for humans may induce unpredictable or potentially serious side effects and/or interactions for pets. In fact, cat livers lack the ability to detoxify plant-based substances, leaving cats at a greater risk of toxicity which can lead to serious illness or even death. Herbs can interact with certain medications and cause over or under-dosing. The industry is unregulated and has been plagued by safety issues.
Efficacy: Unknown. Proceed with caution if you undertake any herbal supplement.
Homeopathic philosophy claim that “like treats like:” that minute dilutions of substances, given in larger amounts, could cause the symptoms of a certain disease, therefore you can then turn around and treat the disease.
Benefits: Human studies have found that the benefits of homeopathy are indistinguishable from placebos. Therefore, perceived effects are likely due to the belief that the treatment is working.
Risks: Waiting for a homeopathic treatment to work can cause disease progression, so much sometimes that the disease can become untreatable through medication or other integrative therapies.
Efficacy: Research on homeopathy has failed to show any reproducible benefits to patients.
Flower essences resemble homeopathy in that they constitute dilute mixtures of soaked plants that are preserved in alcohol. These plants are supposed to evoke changes in emotions.
Benefits: As with homeopathy, the benefits of flower essences match the same level of benefits from placebos.
Risks: The biggest risk of relying on flower essences for feline emotional or behavioral problems is that you’re neglecting a physical or household reason for the issue. Most flowers essences benefits are unproven and can delay proper diagnosis and/or effective treatment. Cats are also very sensitive to alcohol, so avoid using essences directly into their mouths; only apply topically. Flower essences are often confused with essential oils. Essential oils are concentrated plant compounds that can be toxic or lethal to cats.
Efficacy: Research suggests that flower essences work by “placebo effect.” You hope they’re working so you see benefits, but they aren’t really there.
Massage uses techniques performed by the hands on the soft tissues of the body and promotes relaxation, pain reduction and improves function. Tension is reduced by relaxing muscles to benefit circulation, digestion and immune system by stimulating the nervous system network.
Benefits: Massage has proven to improve mobility, reduce pain and provide psychological comfort. You can also learn techniques that you can use yourself at home.
Risks: Aggressive massage can lead to injury. If your pet is not enjoying it or shows discomfort, stop immediately.
Efficacy: There is yet to be published research showing efficacy, but clinically we see the benefits in human research. Your vet may also suggest some simple movements to help your pet experience relief from muscle or joint issues. Don’t be afraid that the research hasn’t caught up to this treatment yet.