I lurk in a few holistic groups on facebook, and I see post after post from people looking for a remedy in order to avoid going to the vet. Many of these are from people who feed cheap, processed food and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice, but have decided that they don’t want to take Lucky to the vet for this pesky infection – surely there’s a natural remedy that someone on facebook can recommend, while they continue to feed cheap, processed food, and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice. No, facebook isn’t exactly the pinnacle of awareness and intelligence in our culture, but I think this trend is far more widespread than it should be, and it’s harmful for at least a few reasons.
First, the approach of holistic medicine is not merely to utilize a “natural” remedy in place of an allopathic one. Those who are looking for a natural ear solution to clean out gunk but are continuing to feed Nutro are missing the point, as are those looking for an herbal answer to anxiety, yet leaving the dog alone all day while they’re at work. It seems that people pop in to these groups to get a quick fix without ever realizing that there is a bigger picture or an underlying cause or a whole other concept of approaching health. Unfortunately, a lot of the responses they receive perpetuate this by answering as though there really is a natural quick fix. “Oh, your dog has IBS? Give some Slippery Elm for that.” Never mind looking at diet or antibiotic history or any number of other factors that could be contributing (or any of the other herbal options applicable to IBS!). No, between turmeric and coconut oil, most of your problems can be solved easily on the internet.
Second, veterinarians are far more knowledgeable about your dog’s health than you or I or a group of people on facebook (where the saying “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups” has never been more true). You think that you are looking at a hot spot when in fact your vet can look at it, see a staph infection or demodex, do a skin scraping, and voila. By not recognizing the actual condition, the underlying reason is overlooked (such as immune function in the case of staph), and by treating it inappropriately, you could be fostering the growth of something far more harmful. Or, yes, it is a hot spot, but your vet begins to ask many more questions and examines the dog and notices something off that you were not aware of. “Did you see this tartar way up here behind the front canine? Let me scrape that off before it gets worse and leads to gum disease, as well,” or “Hmmm, these SNAP test results do show anaplasma. Let’s address that.” In either case, you may not have noticed any evidence, but you can address it now so that it doesn’t become a health issue later.
Recently, a question was posted to a raw feeding group, asking if others take their dogs in for bloodwork. I know that groups of raw feeders like to think that they can throw their dogs nothing but random body parts based on what is available at the time and their dog will always remain impervious to any health condition, but I expected some to answer responsibly and say “oh, yes, I do in order to ensure that the values are right where I want them,” or “yes, so that I can show it when critics of raw feeding voice concern,” or “yes, I think it’s important to have a vet do a full examination on occasion.” But no. The general response on that group was that there is no need for bloodwork when you can see how healthy your dog is. Sadly, I think that’s indicative of a lot of raw groups.
On the contrary, it seems that we who feed raw and utilize herbs and other natural health approaches and refuse to overvaccinate should be even more responsible in taking the steps necessary to ensure the health of our dogs – even if merely to prove the naysayers wrong (I’m stubborn like that). Those who avoid vets and then insist that their dogs are healthier for it while in fact their dog is harboring a parasitic overload or a nutritional deficiency will only draw more suspicion and criticism – and rightly so.
This past Friday, I took my own dog up to see his vet. (I try to do annual bloodwork near his birthday, but sometimes things get in the way and he goes much longer. No big deal.) She gave him a veterinary examination – something I am nowhere near qualified to do. She looked in orifices and used instruments and machines and I was able to ask questions about things I am not learned in and she offered feedback based not only in her extensive schooling and experience, but on the countless other dogs she has seen. No vaccines were given, no flea & tick, no heartworm. Instead, she drew blood to send to Dr. Dodds for a full CBC, chem, and thyroid panel. All in all, she said that he looks fantastic and to keep doing what I’m doing. I paid a lot of money at the counter before we left; money that I would rather have in my pocket the week before Christmas. But that money was spent on the wellness of my dog, which is far less expensive than disease.
Support your holistic vet. If you are not comfortable with your current vet’s recommendations, or find that (s)he doesn’t agree with your choice of diet, or are tired of having to refuse unnecessary vaccines, find a vet who is more aligned with your approach. One excellent source is the AHVMA’s (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s) search function at their website (www.ahvma.org). Feeding raw or administering natural remedies is not license to avoid veterinarians. Find one that you can feel comfortable with! I travel an hour to see my vet; not only because I know that she supports me in my decisions, but because I only see her once a year, at most. I think I can swing the hour once a year for the continuing health of my dog.