The 2017 Pet Guide: A Natural Approach

Holistic pet care, addressing overall wellness, gains a healthy following.

Pet Guide: Celeb Pets
Pet Guide: A Natural Approach
Pet Guide: Pet Products Gone Wild

As people rethink their own health—spurning genetically modified and processed foods and enbracing alternative medicine—they’re increasingly rethinking pet health, with many leaning toward natural, holistic approaches that address overall wellness instead of treating specific symptoms.

“A lot of people want to live healthier lifestyles and have minimal contact with chemicals,” says Monica Good, who manages Holistic Veterinary Care of Central Florida in Winter Springs. “People are starting to want to do that with their pets as well. Pets are now family members and not just animals we take care of. With holistic medicine, we’re able to improve their quality of life and extend their quantity of life as well.”

Roberto gonzalez

The Wright Pet Nutrition in Ocoee uses nutritional response testing to come up with the correct diet for its four-legged patients.

Dr. Christie Cichra, who heads the practice, uses nutrition, herbs, whole-food supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and laser therapy to treat her patients. “Acupuncture is our No. 1 protocol,” Good says. Cichra uses acupuncture to treat cardiovascular disorders, chronic respiratory conditions, dermatological issues, gastrointestinal disorders, immune disorders, reproductive problems, musculoskeletal issues and neurological conditions.

Cichra, who is trained in traditional veterinary medicine as well as Chinese practices, prescribes treatments such as vaccinations, flea control and heartworm medications. However, her focus is on holistic—or whole-body—pet health, which draws upon a combination of Western and Eastern medicine.

Pet owners are increasingly interested in addressing their pets’ overall well-being, according to Dr. Justin Shmalberg, a clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, who also serves as the school’s integrative medicine service chief.

“Each year we witness an increase in the number of clients asking about holistic therapies, such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, massage and related treatments,’’ Shmalberg says. “We prefer an integrative medicine approach, one which employs the conventional and the holistic, in recognition that this combination is often in the best interest of the pet. There is a true need for continued research in this area, to be sure, and we constantly provide pet owners with the best advice.”

Says Sherri Cappabianca, owner of Rocky’s Retreat Canine Health & Fitness Center in Orlando: “It’s being proactive in your dog’s health care. Do your research and investigate alternatives before you make a decision on anything.’’

Many clients seek holistic care as a last-ditch effort, Good says. “What a lot of people come to see us for is wanting to keep their animals comfortable. But then they see an improvement.”

Deanna Nelson of Winter Springs was told her cancer-ridden chocolate lab had no more than three months to live. Desperate, she took her dog to Dr. Cichra’s practice. “We immediately talked diet,” Nelson recalls. “She went on Chinese herbs, supplements, acupuncture and chiropractic.” The dog outlived its original prognosis by four years. Nelson now takes her two older Corgis for acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and laser treatments about every two weeks, and both take herbs to boost nutrition.

Nutrition is the foundation of holistic health care. Melissa Gosik, co-owner of Pookie’s Pet Nutrition & Bow Wow Bakery in Winter Park, says her eyes were opened as she talked with manufacturers of alternative pet foods—raw, dehydrated or frozen foods, as opposed to traditional kibble.

“The more we learned about the food and the more we saw the improvement in our own animals at that time, the more we thought, ‘There’s something to this,’ ” she says.

She and co-owner Marcia Sundberg now advocate natural options, including diatomaceous earth as an alternative to chemical flea control; sweet potato and pumpkin to relieve diarrhea and constipation; and a five-herb combination that addresses “inflammation, oxidative stress and free radical damage,” Gosik says.

Veterinarian Dr. Mike Wright of The Wright Pet Nutrition in Ocoee uses a form of applied kinesiology to test for energy imbalances in addition to non-invasive nutritional response testing to treat his patients. “Eighty percent of what we do is getting these animals on the correct diet. We then get them on the food their bodies test well for,” he explains.

The results can be dramatic, as was the case with a cat that “looked like death. The cat was in renal failure and had been diabetic for three years. He wasn’t eating.” The owner called Wright a few days after starting the new diet. “He said the cat dove into the food we recommended. The cat is still alive and is 17 years old,” Wright shares.

Clay and Sandra Baxter use homemade raw food with fermented vegetables as preventive maintenance so their 10- and 7-year-old hound mixes can keep up with the couple’s active lifestyle. When people see their younger dog, “they ask, ‘How old is your puppy?’ We say, ‘7 and a half,’ ” Clay Baxter says. He also credits massage for his dogs’ youthful vigor.

Pet owners need to remember good health is a commitment, not a quick fix, Nelson says. “It takes time and dedication and effort and patience.”

Cherylann Blay-Marquez of Puppy Love Therapy in Altamonte Springs adapts human massage techniques to treat dogs and cats, as well as “bunnies, turtles, birds, wolves, all kinds of things,” she says. The pet rehabilitation specialist also draws upon other treatments that include hydrotherapy, lymphatic drainage and craniosacral therapy, which she says can reduce or eliminate seizures.

One couple moved to Orlando from Washington to get spinal surgery for their paralyzed Yorkie. “I've worked on her for 17 weeks now, and yesterday she ran,” Blay-Marquez says.