Features April 1998 Issue

Five Steps To a Fit Dog

Make small improvements in these areas to promote lifelong wellness

Everyone knows that there are many different ways that each of us can become healthier. We know that we can change our diets, systems of medicine, exercise plans, and environment in order to improve our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We’re aware that what works for our sister or co-worker may not work for us. At times, we may have to work a little in order to find our own solutions to health problems.

So why do we so often place the health and well-being of our canine friends solely into the hands of our veterinarians, blindly following their prescriptions for diet, exercise, vaccinations, and medication? I’ve met people who do not vaccinate their children at all, but vaccinate their animals for eight diseases annually. I know people who won’t eat anything but the freshest, most organic food they can afford, but feed canned or dry food to their dogs. Many of us, even alternative health care practitioners, take our animals to a good veterinarian and follow implicitly their directions, even if they contradict our personal philosophies. We treat whatever symptoms the animal exhibits with whatever the veterinarian recommends – something we wouldn’t dream of doing for our own medical conditions.

The time has come to wake up. There are just as many options for improving your dog’s health as there are for your own, with a vital difference: your dog is totally dependent on you to choose what is best for him.

It doesn’t have to be difficult. I guarantee that if you look at the big picture – the holistic approach, as it were – and make small but significant changes in a number of aspects of how you care for your dog, he or she will live a longer, more vibrant life.

By looking in five basic areas, you can discover what your dog needs to be glowingly healthy (but keep in mind, each dog in your household may need a different approach). They are:

• Diet

• Vaccination

• Environment

• Best treatment modality

• Most effective practitioner

Any time you take a new approach, start by evaluating your dog’s health, past and current. You may want to start a journal that describes his or her current health condition, so you can re-evaluate in the future.

1. Diet
The best diet for dogs is raw meat, including raw bones, grated raw and cooked vegetables, and maybe some grains, seeds, nuts, and supplements. We all know that it’s best to use fresh, organic vegetables and meat from free-ranging holistically treated animals. Get the best that you can afford. Ask for scraps, meat just at its expiration date, and leftovers from meals out (a real doggy bag).

There are a number of approaches and differences of opinion regarding animal nutrition. Choose an approach based on what makes the most sense to you, and give it a try. One caution: Do not stray too far from the basic guidelines. There are some healthy dogs that are fed an exclusively vegetarian diet, but most of the healthy ones self-selected the diet rather that having their owners impose one. Most dogs need at least 25 percent meat; some need up to 60 percent or even more.

Wait, you say, what about canned or dry animal foods? I think most people would agree that they couldn’t possibly feel their best if they ate only instant breakfasts and military K rations. Why not? Those foods meet the Minimum Daily Requirements! All animals do better if fed a variety of fresh foods, so, in my opinion, even if it is less convenient to buy raw meat than to bring home 50-lb. sacks of dried food, if you are truly interested in bringing your dog to optimum health, you’ll make the switch.

I realize that it’s not the easiest task. But after seeing countless dogs in my veterinary practice with health and behavior problems that I feel were linked to poor diet, I’ve grown more and more adamant on this point.

2. Vaccinations
Apply the same thinking you have about vaccinations for people to your animal friends. How many of you receive a polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and hepatitis vaccination every year of your life till you die? Your dog is probably getting vaccinated for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, and Parvo virus all in the one “annual booster”, and may also be getting Bordetella (kennel cough), Coronavirus, and Lyme vaccines yearly, as well as the legally required Rabies vaccine every one to three years.

Researchers in conventional veterinary medicine agree that we vaccinate too often, in too many combinations, and that this level of vaccination, while often preventing epidemics, is harmful to the health of susceptible animals. Holistically, we find vaccinations one of the most harmful things for our animals. Many strong, healthy animals, of course, are not bothered by poor nutrition or vaccination. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that these animals are the exception, not the rule, in the domestic dog population today.

Dr. Jean Dodds, famed for her work in autoimmune problems of specific breeds, asserts that hypothyroidism, bleeding disorders, multiple autoimmune problems (including allergies), some cancers, and many other problems are due to over-vaccination in susceptible breeds. Drs. Macy, Schultz, Carmichael, Tizzard, Frick and others have stated that we do not know how frequently to vaccinate and that many animals seem adversely affected by vaccines. Many of these veterinarians vaccinate their own dogs for Distemper and Parvo only, and only as pups.

Holistic veterinarians are finding that vaccines are causing great harm to our animals (and ourselves). To cure an animal we must use homeopathic remedies known to reverse vaccine-related problems that include chronically draining eyes, anal gland difficulties, dull hair coat, chronic otitis, diabetes, and more. These conditions are often arrested following use of appropriate homeopathic remedies, but equally often recur if more vaccinations are given during treatment.

The inserts that come with all vaccines say to use them only on healthy animals. so, once an animal has glowing health, why vaccinate? Healthy animals have broad, non-specific immunity that will allow them to respond appropriately to most infections. If they do get an infectious disease, your holistic practitioner may have more success treating the acute problem than the chronic sequellae to vaccines.

Again, read all you can on this topic and make your own decision rather than letting your veterinarian, holistic or conventional, decide for you.

3. Environment
What is the best environment for your dog? Again, each animal is different, just like each child is different. Some children can go to any school and do well, while others must try out several schools before finding the learning situation that is best for them. There is no single correct answer.

Some dogs, even when very healthy, are basically couch potatoes, enjoying only moderate walks or short spells of ball chasing. Asking these dogs to go on 10-mile hikes every weekend may cause physical problems, even if they acquiesce in order to please you. Active, athletic dogs will suffer if they are forced to live in an environment that permits them little exercise, or with a person who restricts their exercise. Sensitive dogs with autoimmune disorders or chemical sensitivities may not be able to thrive in a polluted urban environment. High-strung dogs may not be cut out for life in a home filled with rambunctious young children, or, conversely, an outgoing dog who desires stimulation and contact with people may wilt and decline if left home alone for long periods of time.

Even when we do not have the perfect environment for our animals, we can try to do our best by them by stopping and thinking about what is needed. If you are unable to provide the best environment, do not fret. Your dog will thrive on your love and knowing that you are trying your best.

4. Supporting health
Your dog is capable, to a certain extent, of healing himself, just as you are capable of assisting in your own healing process. To develop and take advantage of this natural phenomenon, simply seek out ways that you can improve his health, rather than merely treating each disorder or symptom of ill health. Again, there is no one right method of treatment. Some (although very few) animals simply do not enjoy acupuncture, some animals do not exhibit the characteristic idiosyncrasies we need to prescribe homeopathic remedies, and some thrive when they receive the energy support of Reike or therapeutic touch. Most will improve with any proficient treatment.

Many people consider their animals to be “healthy” as long as they aren’t sick. To me, a healthy dog is one that is positively glowing and vibrant. He appears to be happy and expressive, and exudes resilience.

On the other hand, there are many things that our dogs do that we consider normal but that are actually early warning signs of unhealth (see chart, above). These and other symptoms are clues as to the level of your dog’s health and indications of the success of whatever treatment you choose.

Healthy animals can, and do, get “sick” occasionally, with acute symptoms that resolve quickly with minimal treatments. Finding the combination of treatments that will support a person or animal to heal itself can be challenging. Today’s culture is full of recommendations that undermine our best efforts to truly heal – “Get rid of your cough quickly and get back to work.” “Take these pain pills and you can work all day.” “Give your dog these steroids and he will stop scratching today.”

Finally, consider the fact that sometimes, doing less is more. Not every abnormal symptom needs to be gotten rid of as if it were the sole reason for your dog’s ill health. When your dog has diarrhea, for instance, traditional veterinarians and holistic veterinarians alike could give your dog something to stop the diarrhea. Alternatively, you could wait a few days, observe the diarrhea, rest the dog, give him a very mild, soothing intestinal treatment like aloe vera or slippery elm, and fast your dog. Even holistically, we often jump too fast to treat problems. “Tincture of time” is often the best remedy.

Make a plan for your healthy dog. Attend courses. Choose holistic animal practitioners to work with. Visit them or speak with them to learn how to keep your dog healthy. If your dog does get sick, ask yourself whether a little TLC, fasting, or diet change would help.

You have a choice for your dog and yourself. One is to quickly get rid of symptoms, even at the cost to his overall health. The other is to begin the journey to health and explore the different options, tolerating symptoms while slowly building up your dog’s overall health. If one treatment doesn’t help, move on to the next choice or another practitioner.

5. Use the most
effective practitioners

You, not your veterinarian, are responsible for your animal’s health.

It may be attractive to simply turn over all your decisions to someone else, but it is not best for your dog. Pay attention to what works for your dog and what does not work. You may have a wonderful veterinary acupuncturist who thinks you should feed canned food. You certainly can use her for acupuncture, but follow your heart and feed raw meat! Observe your dog closely, and stand firm with the regimen that you can see working for him. If something is not working, even if it is a treatment you have a lot of faith in, you have to stay open to the possibility that it isn’t right for that individual animal at that specific time. Be flexible enough to admit it when you (or your practitioner) makes a mistake, and keep trying to find something that does work!

If it seems to you that a practitioner’s approach to your dog’s health problem is palliating (symptoms keep coming back and your dog is no healthier overall) or being suppressed (symptoms do not come back, but the dog is sicker than before in other ways), rather than curing the underlying cause, talk to him or her about your concerns. He may want to work with you to develop another approach to the problem, refer you to another professional, or you may decide to choose your next option. Read, talk to other people, and discuss your issues with your animal health care providers. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

The path to health for your animals can be fun and challenging. Your dog will love your experimentation with all the different forms of healing.


Also With This Article
Click here to view "Chambreau's Diet Quality Scale."
Click here to view "Indications of Poor Health Often Mistaken as Normal."
Click here to view "Western Versus Holistic Approaches."


-By Christina Chambreau, DVM

Dr. Christina Chambreau graduated from the college of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia in 1980. Since 1988 she has used homeopathy as her main method of treatment for animals. A resident of Baltimore, Md., Chambreau is a founder and Chair of the Board of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. For contact information, see Resources.

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