Veterinarians are increasingly offering a beyond-pills-and-shots approach to animal health.

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Woman giving body massage to a dog
Credit: Rasulovs / Getty Images

It's important to you that your pets lead healthier, happier lives. Whether you want veterinary advice, behavioral insight, or the best-in-market pet essentials that make every day more joyful, for both you and your cat or dog, The Well-Balanced Pet offers practical tips you can use.

Holistic veterinary medicine is an up-and-coming field that gives pet owners both conventional and alternative options for keeping their animals healthy and happy. While there aren't many clinical studies confirming the effectiveness of alternative treatments on pets (after all, they can't come out and tell you how they're feeling), for many vets the proof is in the tail-wagging. When combined with traditional medicine, such methods may provide dogs and cats with comfort and relief, especially those suffering from serious illnesses like liver disease and cancer. Here's a guide to the holistic therapies currently available to our furry friends.

Holistic Nutrition

"Diet is the first thing you should look at to improve a pet's overall health," says Dr. Marty Goldstein, an integrative veterinarian in South Salem, New York. Look for recognizable and limited ingredients in pet foods. In a high-quality food, one of the first ingredients listed should be a meat source but not a meat by-product, which is often made from animal parts that aren't digestible (think beaks and claws).

"Cats do best with a grain-free wet-food diet, which satisfies their protein and hydration needs," says Dr. Carolyn Quagliata, a vet and certified veterinary acupuncturist in New York City. After all, notes Dr. Goldstein, "there are no bakeries in the wild." Dogs, meanwhile, can be fed a high-quality dry food but do best with a wet low-grain variety. Visit catnutrition.org or dogfoodadvisor.com to compare foods and find the right one for your pet. Supplements may also give your pet a better quality of life: For example, for dogs, fish oil promotes a healthy coat and skin, milk thistle is beneficial to the liver, and glucosamine lubricates arthritic joints, according to Dr. Quagliata. Consult your vet for proper dosages and reputable brands. And be sure to introduce supplements gradually—over at least a week—to prevent possible side effects, such as vomiting or diarrhea.

Acupuncture

"One of the many reasons for acupuncture is pain relief," says Dr. Quagliata. So if your four-legged pal is injured or chronically ill, this ancient technique may be a good option—even if your pet is the type that can't sit still. "Once the needles are in, acupuncture has a calming effect on the body," she says. "I usually leave the needles in for 20 minutes, and patients either fall asleep or veg out."

Other Treatments

Physical therapy can help with pain management for diseases like arthritis. Trained technicians perform electrostimulation on the animal's muscles, just as they would for a human. "I also prescribe water therapy for my clients," says Dr. Quagliata. "We use water treadmills in heated pools, which helps increase blood flow without putting pressure on the joints." And when one of Martha's pooches hurt its back in an accident, Martha turned to massage to help it recuperate.

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