Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets
By Shawn Messonnier
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2009 Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M.
All rights reserved.
How It All Started: A Holistic Journey on the Road to Healing
Ask anyone who practices integrative medicine how it all started, and you'll get a variety of interesting answers.
Selecting a type of health care is very much a personal choice. For those of us who have chosen an integrative approach, defined as combining the best of conventional medicine with the best of natural therapies, the road began with a search for "something more" that conventional medicine was not able to offer.
Part of the journey for me involved a search to offer better care for my patients, and one fork in this road convinced me to share my healing discoveries with others through the books I've written. These books allow me to share with other doctors and pet owners around the world everything I have learned about natural pet care. As a result of these books, those of us who believe in the importance of integrative medicine are now changing the way we care for our pets.
Why did I begin my search for something more, and why did I feel the need to share this with readers around the globe? My search for holistic healing actually came about by accident. Like all conventional doctors, at one time I was very much anti-alternative medicine. I had heard of acupuncture and herbal therapies but really didn't know that much about them. We never had this information presented to us during our training in veterinary school, and it was never discussed in our professional journals or at continuing education meetings. Obviously, if there was any truth or validity to these alternative therapies, certainly they would have been taught to me and my classmates and presented regularly in the veterinary literature!
At the time I discovered alternative therapies and holistic healing, I wasn't even looking at the field of integrative medicine. Instead, I had become frustrated with the response, or rather lack of response, of all of my allergy cases to the treatments I was using at the time. The conventional approach to treating pets with allergies, the most common problem seen by many veterinarians, is the use of medications like corticosteroids (steroids) and antihistamines to control itching and inflammation, and antibiotics or antifungal drugs for pets with secondary infections. Some of the pets that don't do well with these drugs may improve with allergy testing and allergy shots (hyposensitization therapy). That's pretty much all conventional medicine can offer pets with allergies.
Antihistamines, as a class of drugs, don't work nearly as well in most pets as they do in people. Steroids, while very effective in reducing inflammation and itching in allergic pets, have many short-term and long-term side effects. While allergic pets treated with a steroid medication will stop itching almost immediately once the medication is given, they also usually start itching again once the steroid is stopped. Therefore, the owner and pet return shortly for more drugs, and the vicious cycle continues for the rest of the pet's life. Because steroids and antibiotics are used frequently in the treatment of allergic pets, their lives are ultimately shortened.
Many of my clients grew frustrated and impatient with this approach. They were coming in for regular visits, but their pets really weren't getting any better. The relief that the pets experienced with these conventional therapies was short-lived, necessitating frequent visits. The frequent visits added to the cost of pet care, and for some owners, the side effects their pets experienced with these conventional medications were unacceptable.
I shared the owners' frustrations with this approach. While I was temporarily making my patients feel better, I wasn't really helping them. In examining this approach, I felt that something was missing. There had to be something for my patients that would help them get better and stay better. I scoured the conventional literature and talked with a number of colleagues, including specialists in veterinary dermatology. Everyone told me that I was doing all that could be done for my patients. Still, I knew that there had to be something all of us were missing.
Then one day I found what I thought might be an introduction to the answer for which I was searching. I saw an ad in one of our veterinary journals for an enzyme product that purported to help pets with many problems, including allergies. At the same time, I read an article in another journal that talked about using fish oil to help allergic pets. I knew that fish oil could help pets with allergies, but I had never really seen any effect from using them. After reading this article, I discovered why fish oil had not worked well for my patients: the dose I was using, the one recommended in the conventional literature, was too low. By substantially increasing the dosage there was a chance for a better response.
Since nothing I had been taught seemed to help my allergic pets, I was open to trying anything to help them. Somehow at this time I discovered through my own trial and error that very frequent (even daily) bathing would help my allergic patients. This was contradictory to everything I had ever been taught. While these ideas were barely scratching the surface of integrative medicine, they did provide a starting point for me to begin trying to help my allergic patients.
I continued to learn about many of the various modalities of alternative medicine that I thought might help my patients, including nutrition and diet, supplements, herbs, acupuncture, and homeopathy. I began using these therapies on my allergic patients and started seeing much better and longer-lasting results than I had when I only used conventional medicine. The response I saw in my allergic patients encouraged me to learn more about integrative medicine and to holistically treat pets with other chronic disorders as well, including bowel disease, bladder disease, musculoskeletal problems, other skin conditions, immune problems, and even cancer.
As I was learning about this fascinating new world of integrative medicine, I had to admit something that was a bit uncomfortable. Even though I felt that I was a good doctor when I began my search, I was forced to admit that there simply had to be more than what I was already doing for my patients. While I had been trained to be a good diagnoser and treater of disease, I had to face the fact that I was not a good healer. My patients were feeling better, but the feeling was short-lived as their diseases returned and became chronic medical conditions. The end result was that my patients were not really healing, getting better and staying healthy, and many were dying at a younger age than I expected.
It would have been easy to continue what I had been doing since graduating from veterinary school. Although many of my patients never really healed from their disorders, they did feel better (if only for the time they were taking their medications.) I was making a good living and was doing the best I could with the therapies available to me.
I knew, however, that continuing down this path would not be the right thing to do. Simply taking money from a client and applying a Band-Aid solution to a more serious problem was not the road I wanted to continue to travel, and there was no turning back for me. I wanted healing for my patients, and I couldn't achieve that with the therapies I had been using. It was only when I admitted that I needed to become a healer of pets rather than a treater of disease that I could admit my own shortcomings and search for something better. This was not easy, because at the time I thought I was the best doctor that I could be and was doing all I could for my patients. I had to admit that I was wrong, which is never easy. I also had to accept that there were many pets I could have helped, had I known about integrative medicine at the time I treated them. While I had to accept the shortcomings in my education and training, it was not and still is not easy to know that I probably could have saved many of my patients if only someone had introduced me to this wonderful, natural world of healing. It wasn't really my fault since I had no clue about this alternative world of healing that I had begun to discover. This life-changing experience helped me realize that I shouldn't be too hard on my colleagues who have not yet been introduced to the wonders of integrative medicine. Nevertheless, I don't have such a soft heart for those who've been exposed to alternative therapies, yet continue to deny that these therapies have the ability to help their patients. Ignorance is one thing, but refusing to change your ways despite evidence that these therapies help your patients is at best neglectful and may one day even be considered malpractice.
Thankfully, my eyes were opened. Once I found this great new world of natural therapies, I started seeing positive results in most of my patients, many of whom I had not been able to help with conventional medicine alone. As a result, my practice motto became "Hope for the hopeless." I was now an ardent champion of every animal's chance at good health, and no longer did I have to tell a pet owner that I couldn't be of help, because now I had twice as many treatment options available.
Not wanting to be selfish with this newfound knowledge that gave hope and healing to many patients, I wanted to find a vehicle to share my excitement. That's when I started writing my books, newspaper column, and articles for various pet and veterinary journals. My own award-winning radio show soon followed, which meant I was able to share my message of healing with many more pet owners around the world who shared my desire to discover the secrets of health and longevity.
My five goals of healing for the patients you will read about in this book are as follows:
Prevent disease, as most owners prefer healthy rather than sick pets.
Say no to drugs whenever possible, relying instead on natural therapies that tend to have few if any side effects when used properly, and often cost less than ongoing treatment with conventional therapies.
Heal the pet rather than treat the disease, getting to the root of the problem and trying to find a long-term solution to keep the pet healthy.
Reduce money spent on pet care, as no one wants to waste money on care a pet doesn't need.
Finally and most important, offer hope for the hopeless, because our beloved pets rely on us and we should be committed to their health.
These are goals that I could not possibly have developed when I practiced only conventional medicine. They also are the goals of the owners of the pets you will read about, ones I hope you will adopt as well as you begin your road to achieving health for your pets!
There you have it: my journey from the beginning to the present. It's taken a long time to go from believing exclusively in the value of only one system of medicine to embracing all healing modalities, but in the end, all of my patients benefit. Now you can share in this excitement as well as you discover the joys of healing you will find in these remarkable stories of pet owners who weren't willing to give up on their cherished companions.
Beginning the Journey:
My First Case of Holistic Healing
Learning everything I possibly could about holistic healing for pets wasn't easy at first, as there was very little written information on the topic ten years ago. There was a lot of material on holistic healing in the human medical literature, however. While there are certainly important differences between people and pets, healing is still healing, and what I learned from the human medical literature was adaptable to my two- and four-legged patients.
I was also lucky that I found other veterinarians who were more than happy to share with me their passion for this wonderful field of integrative medicine. Several of my holistic colleagues in our international organization, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, visited with me on the phone, answering questions and providing guidance. I met several colleagues at various veterinary meetings, picking their brains over lunch while they shared with me the healing modalities that worked best for specific problems. Manufacturers of various supplements, herbs, and homeopathics were likewise more than willing to share their knowledge and guidance as I set up my pharmacy for my integrative practice. The assistance of all of these experts was invaluable in helping me learn about this wonderful approach to patient care. I was happy to know that I would not be alone in my journey, but rather would have the support of many others who had blazed this trail before me, setting standards and taking risks that always come with trying something new despite a large amount of opposition from the conventional medical system. Studying anything new is certainly great and a lot of fun, but ultimately I wanted to apply this knowledge to help my patients. I was anxious and probably a bit impatient (an unfortunate character flaw) to get out of the books and into the examination room!
After studying diligently for several months, I knew the time would eventually come that I would actually have to see a real patient and try to put into action everything I thought I had learned. This was intimidating, and it reminded me of the anxious excitement I felt when I started my clinical rotations as a fourth-year veterinary student. Fortunately, I didn't have to look any further than my own staff to find my first holistic case.
About ten years ago, a nice young lady named Shelly was my receptionist who later moved up the medial-office ladder to become my first office manager. Not only did Shelly work for me for a while, and implement many of the current policies we still have in effect in our office, but her entire family had some involvement in my then growing practice. Her younger sister, Erin, was my first employee. Initially hired as a receptionist, she actually did anything and everything that was necessary in helping us become established in the local community in Plano, Texas. Her older sister, Tina, a registered nurse, filled in whenever Erin or Shelly needed the day off. Tina's training in the human medical field was an appreciated asset in dealing with clients and their pets. Shelly's mom, also an R.N., volunteered to step in on an emergency basis whenever we needed an extra hand. She once helped me force-feed a very ill blue and gold macaw, nursing it back to health and reuniting it with its grateful owner. Even the patriarch of the family, Shelly's dad, James, helped out fixing things around the hospital that seemed to break down. (I've always believed that veterinary school should have some sort of class on simple repairs, as every new practice owner invariably needs to spend a lot of money fixing things that break.)
Shelly had, at that time, a really sweet female boxer named Brittany (she called her "Brit"). I had been Brit's doctor since she was a puppy, spaying her and providing all of her general health care. She was a great dog and at the time the family's only pet. Everyone in Shelly's family took turns caring for Brit even though she was technically "Shelly's dog." By nature boxers are fun, happy, loving dogs, and I also developed a deep affection for Brit. It was hard not to forge a bond with a dog with large, sad, brown eyes that seemed to invite you to come over and pet her on the head. Of course, you always did so at your own risk as Brit, like most boxers, would be waiting to lick your face with her large, very wet, pink tongue.
Brit was a very healthy dog that had never been ill; she became my first case that I attempted to treat with integrative medicine. Cancer is quite common in boxers. As a matter of medical fact, they are the number-one breed to develop cancer, and anytime a sick boxer comes to my office, cancer is the first disease that comes to mind. Because of this, whenever I see boxer puppies I always make sure to spend some extra time with the owner to put in place a holistic pet program designed to reduce the chance of cancer. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Unexpected Miracles by Shawn Messonnier. Copyright © 2009 Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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