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PUBLISHED: 18:34 16 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:08 28 November 2012
Benefits and drawbacks of alternative medicine
Our expert vet is Vicky Payne. She is a keen beater and a qualified vet specialising in gundogs, as well as the NOBS veterinary advisor. Here she writes about the benefits and drawbacks of alternative medicine
Natural, herbal, holistic – walk around any petshop and you will see these buzz words on products from food to toys, training books to medicines. Gundog owners are often in touch with nature and like the idea of complementary treatments – but will they keep your dog healthy, and what do all those words mean?
The following treatments can only be performed by a vet who must also have been trained in the therapies they offer.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment that has lots of scientific research supporting its use. Very fine needles are inserted to work locally, relaxing tense muscles, improving blood flow, altering nerve impulses through the spine and releasing chemicals in the brain. Most often used for pain management, acupuncture can be part of the treatment for a range of diseases.
Herbal medicines have a long history and many modern drugs are based on herbs. Aspirin contains salicylic acid, first isolated from willow bark and meadowsweet. Herbs can be used to treat symptoms but most herbal vets aim for a deeper diagnosis and treatment. The choice of herb is based on traditional uses and modern research. Most herbs are gentle but can have dramatic effects, especially in cases where no conventional treatments are available.
Homeopathy is based on the idea that a small amount of a toxic substance can treat the symptom that a large amount would cause; for example Nux Vomica causes vomiting but homeopathic doses are used to prevent nausea. No detectable active chemicals are found in homeopathic medicines and there is little scientific research to support their use – however, there is lots of anecdotal evidence.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils, most of which have a strong smell. They can be useful for relaxation, and have a role in respiratory problems but can be toxic if licked, so should be used cautiously.
Holistic medicine looks at the animal and its lifestyle to get a diagnosis and uses a combination of therapies, diet and exercise to improve health. It is possible to buy herbal and homeopathic medicines
to use at home and they can be useful for minor conditions. For more complex problems visiting a holistic vet will give a proper diagnosis and access to higher quality products; your vet may be able to advise, or try www.natural-animal-health.co.uk for a list of holistic vets across the UK.
Recovery therapies and diet
Other treatments may be offered by a wider range of professionals including veterinary nurses and human physiotherapists who have had additional training.
Hydrotherapy takes place on a treadmill or in a pool. Warm water supports the dog and improves blood flow making it excellent for improving fitness and helping recovery from injury. Your vet should be involved in treatment plans.
Physiotherapy is useful for rehabilitating injured animals, especially working dogs that must get back to full fitness. Usually owners are given exercise to do at home but the therapist may use osteopathic and chiropractic manipulations too.
Diet is obviously important to good health. Many complementary practitioners advise a “natural” diet. This usually means a raw meat and bones diet, but some prepared dog foods are acceptable too. Most processed foods described as “natural” contain meat, some vegetables and small amounts of cereal; they avoid wheat, and don’t contain artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Your usual vet should always be your first port of call, but complementary treatments definitely have a role to play.