Using Holistic Care at Different Life Stages

Written by Dr. Michael Dym VMD, 4/20/2021

The application of an individualized, holistic approach to both disease prevention and treatment will vary depending on the life stage of the individual animal companion, as well as the unique life style of that particular animal. For example, the first several weeks to months of life will require slightly different nutritional approaches, compared to other age ranges, especially as the immune systems of animals at these ages are maturing at this critical period that first year. Husbandry interventions taken or not taken at this age range may have lasting effect on immune and overall health and for years to come, including impacting actual animal companion longevity.

Many holistic veterinarians strongly feel that errors made in nutrient and diet quality , imbalanced supplementation, or overkill with too many vaccinations and/or pesticide use so common that first year can have deleterious effects on long term health and wellness.

Most holistic veterinarians are not anti-vaxxers, but certainly appreciate the importance of well-timed, appropriate inoculations, given from a more minimalist perspective to protect puppies and kittens against relevant viral infectious diseases during this critical time.

However, administering multiple combinations of vaccines given in a fixed formula, “one shot fits all” approach to every sized breed and age of puppy and kitten is fraught with risk and potential short and long term harm. For example, the lifestyle of a Yorkshire Terrier, who lives on a high floor of a New York City high rise, and uses a wee wee pad for bowel movements and urination, will have different risks than a hunting dog up in the mountains, or those sporting dogs who spend much time outside.

Each animal should always be looked at as an individual, based on realistic risk factors for that particular breed and lifestyle. Much has been published on a Great Dane receiving the same dose of vaccine as a Toy Poodle, but thanks to the work of pioneers like Jean Dodds, DVM, and John Robb, DVM, the idiocy of the same sized dose being used in such opposing sized dog breeds is totally ridiculous and quite risky for the smaller or toy breeds.

We can extrapolate to many other aspects of more conventional preventative measures, in that while most dogs in the 50 states should likely be on some sort of external and internal parasite control program, holistic veterinarians will stress milder, less toxic alternatives, including various essential oils and natural products. They will also look to other options such as food grade diatomaceous earth and other internal measures over the standard prescription common choices.

It is important for holistically minded guardians to understand, however, that they do need to do their homework on alternative or natural products they are using. Unlike the conventional options, the latter have been studied in various drug trials for efficacy, supposed safety studies, etc. Much of this information may not be available for some of the holistic alternative flea/tick preventatives, as well as internal preventatives for internal parasites, including black walnut, quassia bark, worm wood, to name a few natural wormers.

The most important aspect of this critical puppy or kittenhood stage is to make sure that diets of consideration be as close to a species appropriate fresh meat or minimally processed and balanced diet is used. Puppies and kittens will have higher protein, calcium and other macro and micronutrients to literally feed the developing organ and immune systems of this age range. I always recommend supplementing young puppies and kittens with rotating probiotic formulations, along with plant based enzyme supplementation. It helps facilitate the development of an optimal gut immune system, which is often the gateway to the health of the rest of the body.

These measures help avoid the development of the so called “Leaky gut”, which has been linked to chronic immune mediated diseases later in life in many distant organ systems. I also find it helpful to include supplementation of Kefir, goat’s milk and/or Bovine colostrum as additional immune and nutritional factors to consider including in this critical dietary program during these formative years of the immune system.

As we move into the adult and mid life stages of life, we want to be more conscious of overfeeding our animal companions, as the incidence of obesity and obesity related diseases has escalated in recent decades, including diabetes, chronic heart disease, excessive wear and tear on the spine and extremity joints, as well as poor urinary tract health. While puppies and kittens do fine with twice to three times daily feeding, adult dogs and cats do best with once to most commonly twice daily feeding. Some holistic minded animal guardians will also fast dogs and cats one day a week, which not only mimics the natural dietary habits and/or lack of daily kill in the wild, but is therapeutic in terms of allowing the digestive tract to have a day of rest to allow the gut immune system to do some house cleaning during this time. After all, the gut is the main way toxins access our animals’ bodies, other than what we put on them, in them or inject into them. I will usually continue to stress a minimally processed fresh diet over the processed formulations, along with continued probiotics/enzyme and other gut supplement formulations. In order to avoid the eventual development of food allergy or hypersensitivity, it is critical that guardians rotate the protein formulations they feed their animal companions. Sticking with the same protein source for long periods of time (often recommended by conventional veterinary colleagues) leads to eventual dietary imbalance and systemic disease in the rest of the body, including chronic itchy or allergic animals.

As our animal companions reach their senior years, we equally want to pay attention to the quality and variety of fresh varied protein diets are continue to feed. Unlike what many conventional veterinarians recommend, it is often NOT necessary to restrict protein, phosphorus or other nutrients unless pets have severe organ pathology (i.e advanced kidney or liver disease with severely elevated enzymes). There is actually data that shows that if we restrict protein too early in animals with aging kidneys and liver, that we may accelerate kidney disease. After all, the body needs protein to keep organs functioning well and to remain well muscled, and avoid the atrophy associated with so many aging and geriatric diseases.

Weight management remains critical as the joints of the spine and limbs not function as well, whereas holistic veterinarians will utilize various joint supplements, ranging from various glucosamine/MSM formulations, Omega 3 formulations,, as well as the inclusion of antioxidant nutrients as supplementation, which helps lessen the free radical damage associated with aging and degenerative disease in the aging body. We have to especially be aware of the need to be very mindful of the dangers of over vaccinating this population of animals, and being mindful of even the flea/tick pesticides used in this stage of life, as their often slowly failing livers and/or kidneys are already being stretched to their maximal function. This is the age range where liver supplementation with combination products of milk thistle and SAMe are critical, such as Denamarin as only one such example. I always stress to the guardians of geriatric stage patients that those blood kidney or liver values often don’t shoot up out of the normal lab range, until their function is severely compromised or advanced; thus the importance of being more preventative here.

Another important aspect of holistic health in the senior population is maintaining oral health through both preventative at home hygiene, as well as timely dental prophylactic procedures, which can sometimes be performed anesthesia free, while in other cases, anesthesia and full mouth x-rays are needed. Optimal dental health is increasingly being recognized as so important in not only preventing oral pain, but also in lessening the likely future development of heart, liver or kidney disease, all which have been linked with poor oral health.