Holistic pet care: Choosing the right diet for your four-legged friend

Holistic pet care: Choosing the right diet for your four-legged friend

Supporting strategies are a significant part of treatment plans in integrative veterinary practice, to encourage healing to take place. The aim is to provide an environment where it can take place and this environment is multifaceted. A healing environment is one that reduces stress for patients and owners alike, where minimal restraint is used and where a low-chemical approach, where possible, is considered for each patient.

Diet change

The first question I ask pet owners when conducting a holistic consultation is, “What does your pet eat?” The second thing is “Describe your pet’s stool (poo).” Some owners even bring images on their iPhone.

Inappropriate diet can contribute to chronic disease through a number of pathways. An unbalanced diet may lead to nutrient deficiencies. One example of this is low vitamin D, which we are now increasingly finding in pets fed apparently “balanced” diets. Low vitamin D is associated with allergies, inflammatory and immune disorders and cancer.

Some pet food diets are more “pro-inflammatory”, which means that these diets may contain more carbohydrates, leading to a cascade of imbalances. These include insulin resistance, tendency to gain weight and specifically fat, increasing plasma levels of inflammatory chemicals and chronic inflammation.

Some pet diets may lead to a build-up of toxins or carcinogens. High heat processing of dried pets food will affect nutrient availability and also digestibility. These high temperatures may also lead to the creation of acrylamides and heterocyclic amines, compounds with carcinogenic potential.

Some foods may be challenging for individual dogs and cats to digest and assimilate, due to processing, digestibility of some ingredients such as fibre or fat, or specific food sensitivity.

So to support healing, especially in chronic disease, diet change may be the first step.

Support the gut

Some pets will require gut support before diet change can take place: fennel or cardamon for digestive support; peppermint for the small intestine; or psyllium husk for the colon. Traditional Chinese herbs can also be used as gut support.

Some pet food diets are more “pro-inflammatory”, which means that these diets may contain more carbohydrates, leading to a cascade of imbalances.

Microbiome support is required not only for a healthy gut, but for immune regulation. The keys to this are supporting a wide variety of beneficial bacteria, reducing gut inflammation and leaky gut syndrome, and reducing stress, which affects many organs including the microbiome. Probiotic supplements, prebiotics, appropriate fibre in the diet and adaptogens to minimise the effect of stress will help create an internal environment to support healing.

Once gut support is on board, dogs or cats can be moved (slowly) to a clean diet, easily digested. If after several weeks underlying symptoms (be they gut signs, allergies or behavioural symptoms) persist, then we can attempt elimination diets to test for specific food reactivity.

Addressing symptoms

Specific symptoms such as pain, inflammation, secretions of mucus or infections may inhibit healing and contribute to stress. These need to be addressed, using conventional medications where required. One example of this is the dog presenting with a painful hotspot from scratching — untreated, hotspots can spread quickly.

Topical compresses of witch hazel or green or black tea can reduce oozing and inflammation. Camomile tea compresses may help with acute superficial bacterial infections. In addition, herbs given orally such as nettle leaf, liquorice or camomile may help settle inflammation or itching. Once the acute symptoms are improving, then attention can be paid to underlying support to compete healing, and hopefully prevent recurrences.

Getting to the root

Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of any chronic illness is paramount if healing is to take place, and recurrence be prevented. Some underlying causes may not be changeable — genetics, environment, previous illness, age or trauma. However, predisposing causes that can be managed include stress, immune imbalance and poor diet.

Alternatives are plant-based treatments traditionally used to detoxify and assist with elimination of waste products. They are the mild laxatives, gentle diuretics and cholagogues (herbs that improve bile secretion). Over time they will reduce impediments to healing. Using chronic skin allergies as an example, burdock, yellow dock and/or dandelion root can be added to herbal formulae to help eliminate toxins and reduce inflammation. Specific organ support can also be used, such as milk thistle for liver support.

Immune balance needs to be restored through the use of medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, supporting the microbiome and addressing dysbiosis, and herbs such as astragalus for immune support.

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick is a holistic veterinarian at All Natural Vet Care, Russell Lea, Sydney, Australia.

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