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Dangers of Holistic Medication in Cats

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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The past several years has seen the growing popularity of the "holistic" health movement. That trend is growing in the world of veterinary care as well. Many pet owners seek to complement or even replace traditional medical therapy with holistic treatments.

Holistic medicine, including alternatives such as herbal/organic supplements, aromatherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and massage, are believed to support the body's ability to heal itself. In some cases, the implementation of these practices may improve your pet's condition. However, the same caution must be taken when using these alternatives as you would with conventional medicine. When used inappropriately, serious illness can result.

It is easy to be deceived by the words "natural" and "organic." We believe that if a product is natural then it must be safe to use. Remember that some extremely dangerous substances are natural. Cyanide and arsenic are natural compounds but they are certainly lethal. Care must be taken to understand the nature of any medicine and its potential side effects.

Natural Diets and Vitamin Supplementation

Some pet owners formulate and cook their pet's diet at home – for a number of reasons. Pets with special dietary needs are often prescribed modified diets that may be unpalatable; home cooked meals may be necessary. Commercial cat foods often contain flavorings, colors, preservatives, protein or carbohydrate sources that are poorly tolerated in some cats.

In addition, many people have ethical and moral objections to the ingredients used in commercial foods. They want to eliminate the use of animals as food sources, so they feed themselves and their pets vegetarian diets.

A vegetarian diet for dogs, which are omnivores, is possible. On the other hand, cats cannot thrive on a vegetarian diet. If you are considering preparing your pet's food at home, ask your veterinarian for recipes that give proper balance of nutrients and instructions for preparing and storing it safely.

There is also the general feeling that a home cooked meal is just better. Ingredients, preparation and freshness can be controlled when the diet is made at home. But it takes careful research to balance a home cooked meal with the necessary amounts of nutrients. There are many components to producing a well-balanced diet for your pet with regard to primary nutrients, vitamins and minerals. A common feeling is that if vitamins and minerals are helpful in small amounts, then large amounts must be better. Caution must be used here since overdoses of vitamins can cause serious illness.

An overdose of vitamin A can cause bone disease; large doses of vitamin C can cause stomach upsets; imbalances of vitamin D, phosphorus and calcium can lead to bone demineralization. If you include raw meats in the diet, bacterial contamination becomes a concern. The same goes for raw eggs. Raw eggs also contain a protein that interferes with the absorption of B vitamins.

Herbal Supplements and Cures

Medicines from plants have been used for thousands of years to prevent or cure a wide variety of ailments. Most drugs used in conventional medicine were originally derived from plant sources. While most plants used have beneficial properties, it is important to remember that the strength of the plant's active ingredients will vary with the variety of herb and the horticultural practices used to grow them.

Herbs can be sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers. They may have been fertilized with improperly prepared compost, which can harbor harmful bacteria. They may produce more than one active compound causing unwanted side effects. They may worsen some medical conditions. There are no standards for quality control in production and dosages. Many have vomiting and diarrhea as a side effect. Onion, garlic, pennyroyal, and ginseng are a few of the commonly used herbal preparations that can cause toxicities if used inappropriately.

Even if your pet is taking an herbal supplement without complication, make sure your veterinarian knows what you are giving. Some herbs interfere with other health concerns and other medications.

Acupuncture, Acupressure, Chiropractic and Massage

Used as additions to pain relief and management of chronic conditions, acupuncture, acupressure and chiropractic can be extremely beneficial in making your pet more comfortable. Massage can be very helpful in helping rehabilitate injury and increasing range of motion. The biggest concern for this growing area of veterinary medicine is making sure you have qualified professionals who have completed recognized courses of study in the treatment of animal diseases. None of these procedures should be performed by novices.

Before beginning any health care program, talk to your pet's veterinarian. Many clinics are incorporating these strategies into your pet's total health care picture. It is unwise to go to your local health store and buy a variety of herbs and supplements to add to your pet's regimen without this consultation. Any illness or sudden change in your pet's behavior should have a medical check up before initiating any treatments, herbal or otherwise.

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