Green health for pets


Green health for pets may include many aspects of environmentally conscious living and alternative veterinary medicine. Pet owners may choose natural or integrative therapies to treat pet illnesses and/or buy organic pet food.

Natural or holistic veterinary medicine is an approach that aims to encompass the total health of the pet. It may consider many factors that contribute to disease, including the mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, this practice may combine eastern and western medicine. Western medicine focuses on the treatment of the disease, whereas eastern medicine tries to maintain a balance of different elements that can affect health. Holistic veterinary medicine may include traditional or folk practices, as well as knowledge that was developed before the advent of modern medicine, such as herbal treatments.

As natural therapies and products for humans have gained popularity, similar treatments or approaches have been sought out by pet owners. Since the 1990s, natural and organic foods and products for humans and pets have become widely available. According to holistic veterinary organizations, more pet owners have approached veterinarians about holistic treatments for their pets.

Pet owners may turn to holistic or alternative veterinary medicine if they feel that conventional medicine has been ineffective. Like humans, many different pets from cats to dogs suffer from long-term conditions that may not respond to western medicine. Long-term pain, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, or skin disorders may resist treatment by standard drugs.

Pet owners may be concerned about the rise in antibiotic-resistant microbes, side effects of vaccinations, and the safety of their pets' foods. Some pet owners are concerned that chemicals in the environment may have adverse effects on pet health. They may choose to buy or make their own natural or organic food or natural pet products to reduce their pets' exposure to these chemicals.

Holistic veterinary treatments may include a wide array of therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal treatment, supplements, aromatherapy, treatment with plant oils, and massage.

Some holistic veterinarians may suggest that pet owners feed their pets natural, well-balanced diets to improve their health. Commercially available pet foods may contain chemicals, allergens, preservatives, high amounts of salt or sugar, low-grade meats, and lead. Pet owners may want to consult a veterinarian before changing their pets' diets.

General guidelines for pet nutrition involve considering the type of animal, age, size, and health. A balanced diet may include protein and carbohydrates in the form of meat, dairy, grains, or vegetables.


General: Holistic veterinary medicine aims to improve health by considering the many factors that contribute to disease including the mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, this practice may combine eastern and western medicine. Holistic veterinary medicine may include traditional or folk practices and knowledge that was developed before the advent of modern medicine, such as herbal treatments.

Some veterinary organizations or publications about holistic veterinary medicine suggest that a pet owner talk to their veterinarian before beginning any treatment. Guides to natural, holistic, or herbal pet therapies may serve as a useful complement to consultation with a veterinarian. Holistic healers may be self-taught, trained by other healers, or have attended educational programs in integrative therapies. They may provide useful information on holistic medicine.

Nutrition: According to proponents, regular exercise, a healthy diet, a comfortable place to sleep, discipline, grooming, and love and companionship may be considered part of the foundation to a holistic approach to pet health. Some holistic veterinarians may suggest that pet owners feed their pets natural, well-balanced diets. Commercially available pet foods may contain chemicals, allergens, preservatives, high amounts of salt or sugar, low grade meats, and lead. Pet owners may want to consult veterinarians before changing their pets' diets.

General guidelines for pet nutrition involve considering the type of animal, their age, size, and health. A balanced diet may include protein and carbohydrates. Cats, for example, are carnivores and may get the majority of their nutrition from meat. Dogs, on the other hand, are scavengers and omnivores, or animals that eat both plants and animals, and their nutritional requirements are different. Uncooked meat, fish, eggs, fresh bones, grains, and vegetables may be part of a natural, well-balanced diet for some pets.

Veterinary organizations: Some veterinary organizations specialize in holistic medicine and may be able to provide information on veterinarians who practice holistic medicine. They may offer continuing education for veterinarians who are interested in learning more about natural or holistic therapies. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not recognize any education programs in integrative therapies, such as those offered by the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH), the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA), the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy (IAVH), the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association (VBMA), and the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).

Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice developed more than 5,000 years ago. Thin needles are inserted into different points on the body. This is thought to encourage the flow of energy, or chi, and promote self-healing. Acupuncture points are beneath the surface of the skin along energy channels, or meridians, of the body. By placing needles at these points, it is thought that the energy channels will be unblocked and energy will flow freely.

Acupuncture for humans and animals may be similar in practice. Acupuncturists may examine a pet's behavior and physical condition to determine how to proceed. Based on the theory of Asian medicine, balancing yin and yang may promote good health.

About 30 acupuncture points are commonly used in cats and dogs. Acupuncture can be done with the animal standing up or lying down. Some animals may sleep through a session. Some studies suggest that acupuncture may relieve pain in pets, according to the Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health.

In the Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) state that many human and animal studies have evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture in pain management.

Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is the use of flower essences and plant essential oils to treat illnesses. It has been suggested as a potential therapy for physical, mental, and emotional problems. Although it is unknown how aromatherapy may work, it has been proporsed that it may rebalance and rejuvenate an animal's energy.

Aromatherapy can be administered in different ways. A few drops of essential oils may be added to bath water or a compress, taken internally, inhaled, or massaged into the skin. Plant oils may include eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint. Some plant oils have been purported to have anti-microbial or immune-boosting properties.

Essential oils should be used cautiously, as they may be harmful if not used properly. A qualified veterinarian should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Homeopathy: Veterinary homeopathy is a holistic therapy that aims to treat diseases by strengthening the body's natural defense. However, evidence of effectiveness is lacking.

Homeopathy is based on the principle of "like cures like." For example, a substance that causes vomiting when used full strength may be thought to prevent vomiting when used in a very low concentration. It has been suggested that symptoms of illness represent defenses of the body and that substances that cause similar symptoms may assist the body's healing process.

This remedy may be an herb, mineral, or natural compound and may be given in a low dose. The compounds can come, for example, from poppies or oyster shells. Because it uses the body's own ability to heal, homeopathy may be limited in helping patients suffering from severe conditions or diseases. Some well-established veterinary organizations exist to support homeopathic treatments.

Chiropractic: Veterinary chiropractic is the manipulation and alignment of the spine to promote health. It has been purported to help alleviate musculoskeletal problems. These problems may include hip and neck pain, stiffness, lameness (difficulty moving due to disability), or paralysis. According to expert opinion, some animals that have long backs (such as dachshunds) or animals that are very active (such as greyhounds) may benefit from this treatment. Pet owners can find licensed veterinary chiropractic practitioners by contacting the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA).

Other pets: The most common domestic pets in the United States are dogs and cats, but birds, fish, horses, reptiles, and small animals may also be pets. Owners of these animals may also seek out integrative therapies or natural products for their pets. However, less information is available about the availability and effectiveness of these therapies in these pets. Fewer veterinarians devote their practices to birds, fish, reptiles, and small animals than to dogs and cats; therefore, it may be more difficult to find vets specifically trained in these fields.

Equine (hoofed animal) vets may be more familiar with holistic treatments. Massage is commonly used to maintain the normal function of muscles in horses.

There is some evidence that integrative treatments may be effective with poultry. This information may provide a useful beginning for treating avian pets holistically.


General: Pet owners may turn to holistic or integrative veterinary medicine when they feel conventional medicine or drugs have failed to help their pets. Like humans, many different pets have chronic conditions that may not respond to western medicine, such as chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, or skin disorders.

Conventional medication: Some pet owners may be concerned that the side effects of certain conventional medications are worse than the illness they are treating. Some conventional medications may not be formulated for pets or tested in the animal that is receiving the treatment.

Antibiotics: The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria has left some people searching for alternatives to antibiotics when treating illnesses or wounds. Resistant bacteria can be transferred from animals to humans by direct contact, through the food supply, or through the environment. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes the seriousness of this issue.

Antibiotics may also cause vomiting, intestinal disorders, or change the makeup of good bacteria in the gut in pets. Natural remedies may take the place of antibiotics to treat illness or infection. Holistic veterinarians vary in their approaches to the treatment of illness, but these treatments may include herbs such as echinacea to boost immunity, supplements such as vitamins C and E and antioxidants, and flower essences to reduce stress. Pet owners should talk to their pets' veterinarians before giving their pets herbs, supplements, or other natural products.

Chemicals: Some pet owners are concerned that chemicals in the environment may have adverse effects on their pets' health. They may choose to buy or make their own natural or organic food or natural pet products to reduce their pet's exposure to these chemicals.

Some household cleaners may pose health risks to pets if ingested, inhaled, or if they make contact with the skin. Bleach, for example, may cause upset stomach, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, burns, or respiratory tract infection in some pets. Some detergents may cause similar reactions. Cats may be sensitive to phenols, which may be found in household cleaners. Insecticides, pesticides, and rodenticides may also be harmful to pets. Some flea and tick products may only be used on a particular animal, such as a dog, and should not be used on other pets.

Fleas and ticks: Flea and tick allergies are common in household pets such as cats and dogs. Flea and tick collars contain chemicals that some pet owners think may cause harmful side effects. Collars may cause rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, or thirst. Some holistic veterinarians may advocate a natural, well-balanced diet as the best way to naturally discourage pests from attacking pets. Herbal remedies may include peppermint or tea tree oil. Garlic may also be used as a pest deterrent. However, some holistic veterinarians believe that commercial pharmaceutical products, such as Advantage©, may be worthwhile if other natural treatments are ineffective.

Vaccinations: Some pet owners are concerned that there may be unknown harmful side effects from vaccinations. Some advocacy groups claim vaccinations may cause autism in children. Some veterinarians think that vaccinations may be linked to behavioral issues. Vaccine requirements depend on where the pet lives. Some feline vaccines that may be required are for leukemia, herpes, and rabies. Dogs may be required to have vaccinations for distemper, parvovirus, and rabies.

Homeopathic vets may believe that annual vaccinations break down an animal's immune system. Nosodes are homeopathic preventative alternatives to vaccinations that may have few harmful side effects. Nosodes are potentized or made harmless disease products that stimulate the body's immunity to certain diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and feline leukemia.

Pet food: The recent recall of pet food tainted with melamine has caused some pet owners to consider natural, organic, or homemade pet food. In March 2007, some pet owners reported that their cats and/or dogs were becoming sick or dying. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that wheat gluten and rice protein, which is used in some pet food and farm animal and fish feed that came from companies in China, were tainted with melamine. Melamine is an industrial chemical used in flame retardants, polymers, and fertilizers and is not approved for use in human or animal food. Melamine was found in the stomachs of cats that died and in the food they ate. However, it is unclear if melamine or other chemicals similar to it caused the deaths.

The FDA cannot confirm the number of deaths or illnesses from tainted food. Melamine was also found in hogs, chickens, and fish fed contaminated animal feed.

More than 150 brands of pet food were voluntarily recalled by several pet food companies. Usually, pet food companies give the recipes for their pet food to manufacturers, some of which are located in China. The manufacturer then mixes the ingredients together to make the product. Many different products from different companies may be manufactured by the same company. Not all food recalled may have been contaminated. Some companies voluntarily recalled their products as a precaution. Products not containing wheat gluten or rice protein may still have been manufactured at a facility that used these ingredients.


General: A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions. Natural, herbal, and holistic therapies may have positive, negative, or neutral effects on the health of pets. According to secondary sources, most alternative treatments for pets have not been tested scientifically. Some treatments may show promise. For example, acupuncture may effectively relieve some types of pain. Integrative treatments should be discussed with a pet owner's veterinarian before beginning treatment.

Effectiveness: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 'quality of studies and reports' about alternative veterinary medicine varies. The AVMA suggests that veterinarians evaluate all sources of information on integrative therapies before using them. The AVMA warns that animal nutritional supplements and botanicals may not be evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are marketed to the public. They may contain unknown substances and should be used with caution.

General side effects: Pets may experience side effects from natural or herbal remedies and supplements. A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions. Diarrhea or vomiting may occur, which may be due to a pet's sensitivity to the treatment. The owner may choose to discontinue the treatment or reduce the dose.

For example, some pets (particularly cats) may foam at the mouth after taking treatments. This may happen when cats find a substance distasteful. It may be helpful for the owner to mask the taste by hiding the treatment in a food the cat likes. The alcohol in some treatments may also cause a cat to foam at the mouth. The owner may choose to dilute the treatment in another liquid. If the foaming persists, this may indicate a more serious problem, such as an ulcer. A qualified veterinarian should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Nutrition: Pet owners may choose to feed their pets organic or homemade pet foods. Although this may seem like a better option than pet foods made by large or foreign companies, pet nutrition can be complicated and difficult to balance. According to the AVMA, some human foods can be deadly to pets. Chocolate contains a substance that is harmless to humans but is neurotoxic, or poisonous to the nervous system, of dogs. Onions and to a lesser extent garlic may cause anemia, a reduction in red blood cells that can cause weakness, in pets. Raisins and grapes appear to be harmful to some pets, although the reason is unknown. Soy may cause gas in pets. Citrus may be too acidic for pets. Fats from meat and poultry skin may cause a serious condition called pancreatitis or stomach upset in dogs. Cooked bones may splinter and cut an animal.

The AVMA does not recommend that pet owners make home-cooked meals for their pets. If pet owners choose to do so, they may want to discuss their pets' nutritional requirements with veterinarians and research different diets.

Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been used in pain management with positive results. It should be administered by a trained professional with knowledge of the pressure points of the particular animal. There are some conditions in which acupuncture may not be effective, such as, when the body cannot respond to the treatment due to a disease condition. Side effects for acupuncture may include infection, numbness, heat, aching, tingling, or pain at the needle site.

A 1985 study tested the use of acupuncture for resuscitation of different animals. In healthy dogs, acupuncture showed 100 percent effectiveness, but in animals with different diseases, the effectiveness decreased but was still significant, with 77 percent of animals being resuscitated by acupuncture.

According to one study, acupuncture may be used as a positive treatment in birds if the proper acupuncture points are manipulated. The authors suggested that birds may be even more responsive than mammals to acupuncture.

A study published in 2006 found that acupuncture effectively cleared mucus from the airway passages of birds. Airway inflammation is a symptom of respiratory disease.

Homeopathy: Homeopathy is a specific method of holistic treatment. Although holistic home remedies are available, pet owners may wish to consult certified veterinary homeopaths before beginning treatment to lessen side effects. The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH) states that other holistic treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture may interfere with homeopathic treatments. If homeopathic treatments are continued for a long period of time, the effects may be toxic.

A study published in 2006 evaluated the effectiveness of snake remedies to treat eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC), small skin and mouth lesions, in cats. It found that homeopathic treatment led to significant improvements, including full recovery.

A study published in 2007 found that two dogs with a severe type of irregular heartbeat (called atrial paroxysmal tachycardia) recovered one week after receiving a homeopathic remedy made from digitalis, a plant commonly known as foxglove.

A prospective study in 2007 followed the outcomes of homeopathic treatments in 547 dogs, 155 cats, 50 horses, five rabbits, four guinea-pigs, two birds, two goats, one cow, and one tortoise. About 80% of cases showed improvement, about 12% had no change, and six percent deteriorated. Treatments were especially effective for arthritis and epilepsy in dogs and dermatitis, gingivitis, and hyperthyroidism in cats.

Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy refers to many different therapies that use diluted essential oils. If the inhaled plant oils are too concentrated, they may cause irritation and other skin reactions. Some plant oils may be harmful during pregnancy. Overdosing may cause severe reactions. Some plant oils are harmful to the eyes.

A 2006 study tested the effectiveness of aromatherapy treatment for excitement brought on by travel in dogs. Thirty-two dogs were given lavender aromatherapy during car trips. During aromatherapy treatment, the dogs spent more time resting and sitting. It was concluded that aromatherapy may be a practical alternative to expensive traditional treatments with negative side effects.

Pigs are occasionally kept as pets. A 1998 study on the treatment of travel stress in pigs showed that lavender decreased the incidence and severity of travel sickness but not overall levels of stress.

Chiropractic: According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), chiropractic treatments may cause adverse effects if not performed correctly. Clear standards indicating when chiropractic therapy should be performed are lacking.

A study in 2008 evaluated the effectiveness of both chiropractic and massage treatments in increasing horses' tolerance for pain. The pain threshold increased the most in horses given chiropractic treatments and less for horses given massage.

Physical therapy, one study stated, is commonly used with small animals suffering from fractures. Physical therapy may include tissue massage and may help the pet regain movement, flexibility, and balance. Massage is part of a complete recovery plan after surgery. Pet owners may even be given instructions by their veterinarians to continue physical therapy at home.


General: Spending on pets has increased steadily over the last 15 years, with pet owners spending $43.4 billion in 2008, according to the National Pet Owners Survey, mostly on pet food and veterinary care. That number is expected to increase. Although integrative therapies were less accepted in the past, they are now more mainstream. The effectiveness of some integrative therapies has been studied in humans, but rarely in other animals.

Medicine: As demand from pet owners continues to grow, research into holistic, alternative, and natural therapies may also increase. At the moment, few studies are available examining the efficacy of these treatments, but the field is growing. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) encourages groups, vets, and individuals who support alternative therapies to test the treatments scientifically. Several journals now exist that focus on alternative and integrative therapies. Some of these journals, including the journal Homeopathy, have published studies in veterinary medicine. Some journals focusing on veterinary medicine, including the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, have published studies evaluating alternative therapies. ?

Nutrition: Pet owners will likely continue to be concerned about the safety of their pet food, and some may turn to natural, organic, or homemade alternatives. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), an association for the organic industry, forecasts that organic product will continue to grow at a steady rate over the next 25 years. Proper oversight and regard for nutritional requirements will continue to be important considerations. A survey of pet product retailers published by the World Wide Pet Industry Association© (WWPIA) states that a majority of retailers think the pet food industry should be regulated like the human food industry.


This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

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