More than one way to heal a cat (and other pets)

Even before entering the Cat Care Clinic in Mahtomedi, it’s obvious that this isn’t an average veterinary office.
Outside the front door, a posted sign displays the symbol of yin and  yang, intertwined with a veterinary caduceus. Inside, the office cat, Sebastian, greets patients and their owners with a gentle meow. Soft music and a whiff of incense put both pet and human at ease.
At this particular moment, holistic veterinarian Susan Swanson is inside her bright, sunny office, placing strategic acupuncture needles in the small, furry body of a friendly, fluffy 9-year-old Schipperke by the name of Widget.
The small dog has had a difficult life. Her numerous problems include an unstable disc in her back and an abnormal vertebra. As a result, she has chronic neck and back pain.
The only thing that seems to help is regular acupuncture visits.
“We’re so grateful for Dr. Sue,” said owner John Hansen. He and wife Judy believe that Widget is still with them because of the vet’s holistic care. “She’s holding her own,” John added. “All because of Dr. Sue.”
When the procedure is over, the happy dog scoots in circles, unfazed by her treatment and clearly feeling better than she did only a half hour earlier.
Widget is just one in a growing number of animals under the care of holistic vets.
Although holistic care may seem like a new trend, it has enjoyed a long history... with humans, at least.
For example, traditional Chinese medicine is a medical approach that utilizes herbs, diet and nutrition, and takes into consideration everything from patients’ vocations to their exercise habits.
According to the University of Technology-Sydney, the earliest evidence of Chinese herbalism is well over 2,000 years old.
In 1973, the grave of a Han aristocrat was found at Mawangdui in Hunan Province. Included in the grave were silk scrolls that referred to 247 substances used to treat illnesses.
The body had been placed in the grave in 168 B.C.
Homeopathy has enjoyed a long history as well, dating back to the days of Hippocrates. Homeopathic remedies are made from plants, minerals, drugs, viruses, bacteria or animal substances. Practitioners say these remedies do not mask or suppress symptoms; instead, they treat the deepest root of the illness.
In the mid-1800s, German doctor Samuel Christian Hahnemann developed homeopathic veterinary care.
Acupuncture is a treatment that has been used in China for 3,500 years, according to the American Holistic Veterinary Medication Association. The treatment is based on the belief that Chi, the vital force that flows throughout the body, travels throughout the body along channels of energy flow called meridians. Acupuncture points along the meridians are treated whenever a disease condition exists that blocks the normal flow of energy along these meridians.
Other holistic modalities include behavior modification and chiropractics.
Dr. Mary Arnesen of the Rivertown Animal Hospital in Stillwater chose to become certified in chiropractics (in addition to her veterinary degree) after she suffered whiplash as a result of a horse riding accident. The pain she felt was relieved only when she visited a chiropractor. “I realized this has validity. It’s not just for grandmas,” she said. “‘If it can do this for me, it can help animals.’”
Arnesen is also certified in acupuncture; she says the latter is especially helpful for large-breed dogs with problems in their hind legs. While Western medicine often treats these symptoms as arthritis, Arnesen said that’s not always the problem. Acupuncture can give the animal relief by pinpointing the real cause of pain (such as hip problems).
There are many aspects of holistic veterinary care, and disciplines offered vary from vet to vet.  For example, the specialties of Dr. Fred Pomeroy of Pomeroy’s Small Animal Hospital include homeopathy and contact reflex analysis; the latter analyzes the body’s reflexes and looks for a deficiency that is causing or contributing to a health problem.
Swanson says her practice revolves around animals with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, bowel disease, respiratory problems and kidney disease.  
“It’s stuff that other vets can’t cure or deal with,” she said. “Sometimes we are the (animals’) last hope.”

Busy schedules
However, holistic care isn’t always a miracle cure. Sometimes it’s all about giving a pet a little more quality and quantity of life so its family can better prepare themselves for the inevitable.
But sometimes holistic vets see pets make a complete turnaround. Take, for example, the cats in Swanson’s feline leukemia clinic, which she maintains as part of her veterinary practice. Feline leukemia is a contagious virus that suppresses the auto-immune system and can be a precursor to cancer anywhere in a cat’s body.
Not all of her clinic cats have been saved, but several are now virus-free after Swanson’s holistic veterinary care. She said that list includes a cat which was so ill that it appeared to have little chance of recovery.
More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of holistic veterinary medicine, including the fact that holistic treatments are often less expensive than traditional Western treatment options. However, getting an appointment with a holistic vet might not be easy. Several Twin Cities holistic veterinarians aren’t accepting new patients; in fact, one veterinarian declined to be interviewed for this story because she has all the clients she can handle right now.
Pomeroy isn’t accepting new clients, either, but he has high hopes for the future of holistic veterinary care. “I’m waiting for it to go further every year,” he said. “Both alternative and Western medicine need to be joined together and used together, and that time is coming.
“It’s the wave of the future,” he added. “And it’s doing wonderful things.”

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association maintains a list of holistic veterinarians. For more information on holistic vets in the Twin Cities area, log on to and click on “Find a Holistic Vet.”

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