Can complementary therapies help your pet? Here's how to integrate them safely

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Universal Uclick

When pets are sick, it's often tempting to turn toward treatments that are considered "natural." Concerns about side effects of drugs, fear that a pet will die under anesthesia or worries about the cost of a procedure can all drive people toward treatments or remedies that seem safer or less expensive, even if there's not much science behind them.

We're here to remind you that modern veterinary medicine is safe and advanced. If your pet has cancer or another illness or needs surgery or treatment for an infection, conventional treatments are better. And just because something is natural doesn't mean it can't be harmful or that it's a cure-all.

That said, complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM for short) can help to support conventional treatments or improve a pet's quality of life. Such treatments include acupuncture, herbal medicine, low-level laser treatments, massage and nutraceuticals such as glucosamine-chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Acupuncture stimulates the release of beta endorphins. It can relieve pain and nausea and has helped dogs with cancer pain. It can also be useful for the aches of arthritis or recovery after surgery when used in conjunction with pain medications.

Milk thistle is recognized for its value in helping manage liver disease. It works so well that most veterinarians consider it an accepted part of treatment.

Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements appear to reduce joint pain, with the added advantage of rarely causing side effects. High levels of fatty acid supplements may have anti-inflammatory effects and help relieve allergies.

But before you decide to try a natural medicine on your pet, examine it with the same investigative zeal you would any other medication or treatment. Start with your veterinarian.

Ask your veterinarian how conventional and complementary approaches compare when it comes to treating your pet's condition. If your veterinarian isn't familiar with a therapy, consult a holistic veterinarian. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has listings on its website. Even if there's no one in your area, you and your veterinarian may be able to set up a phone consultation.

Be aware that CAVM can take time to work. Don't try a treatment for a week or two and expect to see any benefit. You may not see results for several weeks or months.

Consider the potential risks and benefits of any approach, taking into account safety and quality of life. Will a complementary therapy actually help your pet, or will it simply make you feel better because you're giving something "natural"? It's better to address the problem effectively, even if that means using conventional treatments. But if the standard treatment offers little benefit, you and your veterinarian may decide that a nontraditional option offers better quality of life. Every situation is different.

Some nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and herbs such as milk thistle have been evaluated in animals, but most herbs given to pets haven't been tested for safety or effectiveness. Be sure that any therapy you are considering can be safely used in animals, especially if you have a cat. Just because something has been used safely in dogs or humans doesn't mean it will be safe to use in cats.

It's also important to avoid negative drug interactions. Like drugs, herbs work by causing biochemical reactions, and they may interfere with other medications your dog or cat is taking. Always tell your veterinarian about any supplements or herbs you are giving your pet.

Avoid any practitioner who claims that CAVM is always better than traditional veterinary medicine. That's not true, but it can have benefits and can be an important part of your pet's veterinary care when used appropriately.


Cats at low risk

for avian flu

Q: Can cats really get bird flu? How does that happen? Is it from eating birds? -- via Facebook

A: The strange but true answer is yes, cats can become infected with avian influenza, although their risk of contracting the disease in the United States is currently considered very low, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Avian influenza infections in cats appear to be associated with outbreaks in domestic or wild birds by way of eating raw meat infected with the virus. No evidence shows that cats play a sustained role in transmitting the virus, the AVMA reports, noting, "There have been no known cases of human avian influenza [AI] resulting from exposure to sick cats, and there have been no outbreaks of AI among domestic cat populations."

If you find your cat with a dead bird or know that he has eaten a dead bird, don't worry too much. According to the international Food and Agriculture Organization, transmission of avian influenza to a cat from a dead bird is extremely rare. To be on the safe side, though, talk to your veterinarian and consider quarantining your cat for seven to 10 days if AI is known to be in your area.

To decrease your cat's potential exposure to AI, keep him indoors to prevent contact with wild birds that may be infected with the virus. If your cat is sick or becomes sick within two to five days of exposure to a dead bird, take him to the veterinarian right away. Signs of AI (and other respiratory diseases) include fever, listlessness, conjunctivitis or difficulty breathing.

Finally, even if avian influenza isn't a concern, always practice smart pet hygiene. Wash your hands after handling animals, disinfect surfaces regularly, clean and disinfect food and water dishes, and don't get up close and personal with pets who are coughing, sneezing or wheezing. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


What's your state's

pet health record?

-- The research team BARK (Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge) analyzed data from nearly 2.8 million pets seen at Banfield hospitals across the country. Here's some of what they found. In Oregon, one in 24 dogs is diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Minnesota has the highest rate of pet obesity: 41 percent of dogs and 47 percent of cats. (They must be packing on the pounds for those harsh winters.) Mississippi has the highest prevalence of heartworm disease in dogs. In Texas, the prevalence of parvovirus is two times higher than the national average. Check your state at

-- Props to the Air Canada pilot who saved the life of a 7-year-old French Bulldog named Simba by diverting a flight when a heating system malfunction would have sent temperatures plummeting in the cargo area. The Tel Aviv-to-Toronto flight landed in Frankfurt, Germany, so Simba could be placed on another flight. Approximately 200 travelers were delayed for 75 minutes to make the unscheduled landing and transfer, but Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the overall reaction was positive once people learned of the reason for the delay and that the dog was safe.

-- Planning a vacation? Consider Tierras Enamoradas in San Ramon, Costa Rica. Located in a cloud forest near Costa Rica's Arenal volcano, its walking paths give guests the opportunity to glimpse more than 300 species. As a bonus, people missing their own dogs can walk some of the dogs from the nearby pet hotel—known as the Dog House—which doubles as an animal rescue center. It houses more than 400 dogs and cats in need of homes, so you might bring back more than just memories or add a warm, fuzzy feeling to your vacation by contributing to their care. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, contact Elizabeth Kelly,



Caption 01: Low-level laser treatments are among the therapies that may help pets with gingivitis or other painful inflammation. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: The five states with the highest prevalence of overweight and obese cats are Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, Illinois and Colorado. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1
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