Pet Health Care Goes Holistic

Veterinarian Pema Mallu, left, and technician Robin Gough perform acupuncture on a bull mastiff at Veterinary Holistic Care.
Veterinarian Pema Mallu, left, and technician Robin Gough perform acupuncture on a bull mastiff at Veterinary Holistic Care. (By Naomi Brookner -- The Gazette)
By Erin Donaghue
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009

Like many older dogs, Buster the beagle suffers from a few health problems. At 15, the dog has chronic sinusitis that causes breathing trouble and can turn into pneumonia, and torn ligaments lead to pain that can affect his mobility, said owner Chris Shoulet.

After being told by several veterinarians that the dog should be euthanized, the Bethesda resident turned to holistic medicine to cure Buster's ills. According to Shoulet, holistic treatments, including acupuncture, have worked wonders for her furry friend.

"He usually goes right to sleep as soon as the needles go in," Shoulet said.

She takes Buster to Veterinary Holistic Care in Bethesda for the acupuncture treatments. A specialist places tiny needles in the dog's skin at specific points linked to the central nervous system. They remain in place for about a half-hour, Shoulet said.

The alternative treatment helps Buster relax, manage his pain and breathe more easily, Shoulet said. "He goes from not being able to walk at all to being able to run around like a madman in the back yard," she said.

Across the county and the nation, more pet owners are seeking holistic treatments for their animals, and acupuncture is one of the most popular remedies, said Carvel G. Tiekert, executive director of the Bel Air, Md.-based American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

"A huge number of people look for these treatments for themselves, and they say, 'Well, if I'm getting this done for myself, then why shouldn't I do this for my animal?' " he said.

At the core of holistic veterinary care is shying away from the "Band-aid" philosophy of traditional medicine, Tiekert said.

"Traditional doctors are more trained to suppress symptoms and make them disappear," said Monique Maniet, originally from Brussels, who founded the Bethesda-based holistic care practice in 1995. "We look at the underlying cause and stimulate the body to heal itself."

Maniet said demand for holistic services has grown since she opened her practice. She has added two veterinarians to her staff and has provided services and products to about 5,000 cats and dogs, a number that grows by one to three clients a day.

Maniet advocates for feeding dogs and cats a raw or homemade diet or natural pet food. She said grain-based foods often are not the best for cats, which are carnivores. She warns against over-vaccination and excessive medication to avoid overstimulating the immune system.

For sick animals, she said, treatments such as acupuncture, massage and energy healing -- in which energy "blockages" are cleared -- often provide relaxation or pain relief. Maniet also uses homeopathic, or natural, remedies to promote healing.

Maniet described the methods as "gentle" medicine. Traditional remedies should be used if all else fails, she said, although she said she finds that often they are unnecessary. "You cannot imagine how many of these animals right themselves just by changing their diet," Maniet said.

Often, her clients are seeking alternative ways to care for pets with chronic problems, she said.

In combination with traditional veterinary care, holistic treatments such as acupuncture are growing in popularity and can often be helpful for pain management, said William Amoroso, a veterinarian at the Falls Road Veterinary Hospital in Potomac.

Acupuncture can be useful because it lacks side effects and can relieve pain, particularly for animals who can't tolerate medications, he said. He refers several clients a month to Maniet.

"I'm in favor of anything that works," Amoroso said. "I can't say traditional medicine doesn't have its place, but you sure can use [alternative treatments] to help."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company