By Julia Szabo
Volunteering their time wherever help is needed, trained therapy animals and their human partners are helping to make the world a healthier place.
If your outgoing pet thrives on attention, you can maximize your bonding time together -- and make a profound contribution to your community -- by becoming therapy partners. Across the country, these volunteer teams dedicate themselves to lifting spirits at hospitals, nursing homes, and anywhere else they're needed.
More veterinarians than ever are practicing holistic medicine today. Holistic vets look at a pet's overall health, and use traditional and alternative therapies. They rely on lab tests and prescription drugs, but also on acupuncture, massage, and herbal remedies to keep pets healthy. They encourage changes in pets' diets and lifestyles to help ward off illnesses like obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
“As a doctor, I want any tool that's going to work. Having more tools in my tool kit has made a huge difference,” says Barbara Royal, DVM, president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
Here are some of the alternative treatments available for your dog or cat:
A certified acupuncturist inserts thin needles in specific points of the body to relieve pain and pressure throughout your pet's body. Pets with back pain, arthritis, muscle spasms, a limp, or other problems may benefit from this treatment.
“Although acupuncture has been around for 5,000 years, only in the last 10 to 20 years has the scientific community been able to see why this works,” says Claude D. Grosjean, a small animal veterinarian who practices holistic medicine in Southampton, NY. “There's very good research, a lot of it done in China.”
Chiropractors move the bones in the spine and other parts of the body to relieve pain. Pets with neck or back problems can benefit from these treatments, just like people do. But for pets, you won’t hear cracking. There's not as much aggressive force used. “It's a gentle procedure, and it can make a great difference on the alignment of the spine,” Royal says.
Massage can improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and help with anxiety issues. “Pets like it,” says Grosjean, who practices Tui-Na, a traditional Chinese form of massage.
“It's a powerful therapy tool,” Royal says, “but you need someone trained in animal massage -- that's what makes the difference.”