Seven years ago, I adopted a rescue white bull terrier - or, to be more precise, a Pandora's box of "special" conditions. As a former groomer, I'd seen it many times over. White dogs, especially the rosy-hued ones, were walking allergy cases. "Sensitive," their owners would tell me, and I'd respond that I knew it firsthand.
Claire is good at throwing curveballs: chronic colitis, gastrointestinal fireworks, impulsive licking, inflamed skin, a runny nose that caused concern for a head tumor and - $1,500 later - turned out to be, thankfully, the result of a deviated septum.
Prescription pet food formula made her colitis worse; I could not bring myself to have my dog on steroids when there was another way. I wanted to give holistic care a shot. I tried things for Claire that I hadn't even done for myself, and I'm not alone.
Alternative medicine is an established tradition for two-leggers, but now a few local veterinarians are making such options possible for four-legged friends by combining conventional Western medicine with Eastern therapies such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, chiropractic care and energy work.
Dr. Carrie Donahue uses integrated healing principles in her mobile veterinarian practice, Kindred Spirits. She incorporates acupuncture, herbs, essential oils, massage and reiki along with conventional veterinary medicine.
Donahue believes that people in Madison are becoming more receptive to alternative medicine for pets. Some are desperate - with animals undergoing cancer treatment, perhaps - and aren't seeing results with conventional medicine. Others are receptive to alternative medicine from their own experiences.
She's extending the idea of holistic care to in-home hospice and euthanasia services. She finds animals are most comfortable in their own home, which aids in the healing process. For euthanasia, home care can be a particularly merciful gift.
"Having people around at the time of [the animal's] passing is a really special thing," Donahue says, adding that animals who enter their last stages of life with the use of holistic treatments pass more peacefully, and often experience a natural death.
Donahue recently teamed with Dr. Julie Kaufman of Animal Holistic Care Practices in Marshall to offer hospice services out of that location.
Kaufman is only the second in the world to receive American Veterinary Chiropractic Association certification. She also offers acupuncture and her own technique called "joint yoga." This triggers key pressure points on the body to aid in the release of physical and emotional tension in a way similar to acupuncture, but without the needles, using only light touch. Kaufman's book on joint yoga partially inspired Donahue to enter the holistic veterinary field herself.
Allergies, anxiety and arthritis are the top reasons people come to Donahue for help, and these are areas that Western medicine is less equipped to handle. "You can make a big difference without doing the heavy pharmaceuticals, and pets respond so well," Donahue says.
Dr. Chris Bessent, a veterinarian in Oconomowoc, has been in practice for 25 years. She uses Chinese medicine, also the basis for her business Herbsmith Inc. "Herbs and acupuncture can be life-savers," she says. They're a "gentle persuasion" to the body for healing, and can ultimately be more cost-effective than drugs. She notes that the fixes aren't quick, but the results can be lasting.
"The upside to alternative medicine is that it's nontoxic, animals enjoy it, it's simple and very cost effective," Bessent says. "The downside is that it's not overnight." She, too, has offered acupuncture and chiropractic services. The team approach between conventional veterinarians and those with holistic training has been a "fabulous" evolution, says Bessent, and gives pet owners more options.
Pain management is the primary reason Bessent's clients seek out her herbal formulas, based on traditional combinations of herbs that have been used for thousands of years on humans.
In Chinese medicine, several factors are assessed to try to achieve balance in the whole system: yin (cooling) and yang (heating) energies, and the principle of bodies being composed of five elements (water, fire, earth, air and metal). Imbalances in these components can manifest as physical ailments, which can be addressed through the use of herbs and nutrition. For example, a pet that has allergies may exhibit excess "heat" (redness, itchiness, inflammation), which could be calmed with a "cooling" protein like fish.
Whereas Western medicine may make a targeted approach, such as identifying a bacterium as the cause of a problem, Eastern medicine would take more of a macro approach in looking at a failed immune system that allowed the bacteria to prosper.
"We're looking at the forest as well as the trees," Bessent says, but it's up to owners to utilize all the options now available.
Dr. Carrie Donahue, 608-620-4729
Dr. Julie Kaufman Animal Holistic Care Specialists, 1121 State Rd. 19, Marshall 53559608-655-1800
Dr. Chris Bessent Herbsmith Inc. herbsmithinc.com 800-624-6429