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Holistic Approaches to Enhance Your Pet's Wellbeing

Recently, pet parents have become more interested in natural and holistic treatments. Fortunately, some pet insurance companies have started to cover holistic care on their plans or as an add-on. An insurance plan can help you cover veterinary expenses for dogs, cats, and exotic pets.

Pet insurance: How holistic care works

Pet insurance for alternative therapy falls into two categories: prevention and treatment, although some of the treatment procedures are also helpful for preventative care. Dr. Leah Whipple, owner of Berwyn Veterinary Center for Integrative Medicine, practices both traditional and integrative medicine and says, "The preventative aspect is often more important than the treatment. Holistic care is a great way to keep your pets healthy." She stressed, however, the great benefits of holistic treatments, especially when traditional medicine isn't working. It is not uncommon for a veterinarian to practice traditional and holistic medicine together. The outcome may be better when both are used.

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Below, you will find the most common types of holistic pet treatment.



A traditional Chinese medicine practice, acupuncture, has been around for centuries. This time-tested practice has empowered humans and pets, bestowing many benefits to the patients. This procedure can be used in horses, dogs, cats, cattle, birds, rabbits, rodents, some reptiles, ferrets, non-human primates, and even some wildlife. Multiple, very thin, sterile needles are inserted into the body at specific points. Acupuncture is generally well-tolerated by pets. Treatment time depends on the condition being treated, and the treatments are cumulative. As more treatments are performed, the animal becomes more relaxed and even seems to enjoy it.

The primary difference between veterinary and human acupuncture is in their anatomy. A veterinarian should always perform acupuncture for an animal because of this difference in anatomy. Acupuncture may lead to a greater sense of well-being, decreased pain from arthritis and chronic pain, improved movement, relief from GI problems, improvement in asthma, and help with neurological disorders.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine involves using herbs to treat various ailments. It is effective with inflammation, allergies, and behavioral problems. Basil, catnip, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, turmeric, and thyme are a few of the most common herbs used for dogs and cats. These may come in tablets, oils, creams, capsules, liquid extracts, or lotions. Herbal medicine is primarily practiced on dogs, cats, horses, and ruminants. Another popular herbal mixture is Yunnan Baiyao, used in dogs and cats, primarily to aid wound healing, as a pain reliever, and most commonly to stop bleeding.

However, there are toxic herbs such as allspice, bay leaf, cloves, curry, hops, marjoram, mustard seed and paprika. Garlic is toxic to pets as well as onions, scallions, and chives. Cayenne is another hard no. There are also many herbs that are sometimes safe and sometimes not. Thyme is a good example. Regular thyme is okay, but Spanish thyme contains a toxic oil. Just be sure to check with your veterinarian if you are not using a veterinary herbalist to ensure the herbs used are safe.

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care

Painful mobility issues have become an increasing problem with our pets as they live longer. As for people, chiropractic treatments involve gentle adjustments and manipulation of your pet's spinal cord with the veterinarian's hands. It is most often performed on horses, cats, and dogs, although theoretically, it could be performed on any vertebrate species. The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association reports that this treatment helps animals with musculoskeletal and neurological problems.



Stress and anxiety, which are also increasing in pets, may be helped with essential oils. Some of the most common oils for dogs are lavender, chamomile, myrrh, ginger, rosemary, bergamot, and frankincense. In cats, it's safest to stay away from essential oils. Too many of them are toxic. Be sure to never put any essential oil or oil product directly on your dog’s coat. Many oils are toxic. Just because a particular oil is safe for you does not mean it is safe for your pet. Aromatherapy is also used for horses with lavender, sweet marjoram, basal, and others. Always consult with an aromatherapist specializing in animals.

Consult with your veterinarian about pheromones like Feliway and Adaptil. These products can be great for stress and anxiety.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy

Massage therapy may help relieve muscle pain, which improves your pet's circulation and flexibility. Massage improves circulation by applying pressure, which moves blood through congested areas. It helps with movement by increasing the temperature of the muscle causing muscle fibers to loosen. There are certified pet massage therapists. Check with the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork to find one.



Hydrotherapy is what it sounds like — water therapy. Pets who need low-impact therapy may do well with hydrotherapy. Your pet walks into a pool of heated water and spends 15–30 minutes swimming or walking on a treadmill. It can be helpful for a pet with arthritis or obesity or a pet that needs safe heart activity or is older. Hydrotherapy helps build muscle, improve mobility, increase circulation, and decrease stress. Pets that are helped by hydrotherapy include dogs, pigs, and miniature horses.

Magnetic field therapy

Magnetic field therapy

Magnet therapy treats illnesses or injuries using magnetic fields. It can also treat chronic pain or connective tissue disorders. It works by stimulating collagen production, which improves the healing of skin, muscles, and tendons. It also helps prevent scarring. The magnetic fields act on muscle pressure, creating a feeling of relaxation. There are believed to be no side effects. However, this therapy is not very popular with veterinarians because there is no reliable evidence that it works, although many people swear by it.



Physiotherapy relieves a patient's pain after surgery or a significant injury through massage, heat therapy, and exercise. It relieves pain in joints or muscles. Your vet or physiotherapist can teach you to do some of this at home.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment

A laser is a unit that emits focused, penetrating light beams. The light is absorbed by cells, stimulating growth, proliferation, migration, and repair. This process helps repair tissue, resulting in less inflammation, less pain, and improved wound healing. It is beneficial for pets with liver disease that cannot take many medications, cats with pain for which there are very few pain medications, exotic pets for which the administration of drugs is most often impossible, and older pets with decreased organ function. It should be avoided in pets with cancer and/or metastasis as laser therapy could stimulate tumor growth and/or metastasis.

Holistic pet health at home

You can take other holistic actions for your pet without needing a professional, although you may need an initial consult. The following at-home suggestions can play a significant role in your preventative care plan for your pet.

The importance of a balanced diet

Part of following a holistic lifestyle includes feeding your pet a well-balanced diet. Dr. Whipple says, "Nutrition is the foundation for good health and a long life." Holistic nutrition is not about avoiding certain ingredients or selecting the food with the highest amount of protein. It's about focusing on the whole health of your pet. You should feed a diet that supports your pet's digestion, hair coat, energy levels, and emotional well-being.

It is important to provide a complete and balanced diet that is appropriate for your pet's life stage. Include high-quality, natural food with lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables for your dog. Your cat needs a diet high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and moderate fat. Exotic pets have their own dietary needs. Look for a food that is approved by WSAVA. Avoid grain-free diets due to a potential link to heart disease. Avoid raw diets due to the risk of parasites and infection.

If you wish to provide a home-cooked diet
Consult a nutritionist or use balance.it for recipes including advice on adding supplements.

A holistic veterinarian or pet nutritionist can give you suggestions as to what to feed your pet. If you're changing your pet's diet, always do it slowly. Going straight from your pet's present food to a new one can create digestive upsets.

Incorporate natural supplements

Supplementing your pet's diet with natural vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can support their overall health. Common holistic supplements include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids to improve your pet's skin and coat. They are also great for bone/joint health and arthritis, and overall reducing inflammation.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint supplements.
  • Probiotics to help improve digestion.
  • Antioxidants to improve immune function and inflammation.
  • pheromones, composure chews, zylkene for calming.

Before adding supplements, consult your holistic veterinarian for appropriate dosages and product recommendations. Dr. Whipple stresses, "If you prepare a homemade diet, you must know the proper vitamins and minerals to add." Your veterinarian can help you with that.

Exercise and mental stimulation

Exercise and play are essential factors in traditional and holistic pet care. Holistic dog care may include a daily walk or exercise to reduce your pet's stress, maintain a healthy weight, and even help with mental health. For a cat, that may look like adding another cat tree with dangling toys or having a period of interactive play with toys such as a wand with feathers attached or a ball to chase. Another good option is an interactive feeding toy to help stimulate natural hunting instincts.

Schedule regular exams with your holistic vet

Regular visits to your veterinarian include vaccinations, dental cleanings, parasite prevention, and a good, thorough exam that can catch conditions in the early stages when they are most treatable.

Create a safe and stress-free environment

You can enhance your pet's quality of life by providing a safe home, including clean sleeping and eating areas and quiet areas, mainly when fireworks or other loud noises occur.

Holistic pet health and pet insurance

If you want to learn which pet insurance companies offer coverage for holistic dog, cat, and exotic pet care, below is a list of a few companies you can call for more information. The following is not an all-inclusive list, but it will give you a starting point. Most pet insurance companies do not cover pre-existing conditions.

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  • Healthy Paws. Acupuncture, chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physical therapy, laser therapy, massage.
  • Nationwide. Acupuncture, chiropractic, general holistic care as long as it is prescribed by your vet or performed by your vet for an approved condition.
  • Embrace. Acupuncture, chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, laser therapy.
  • Lemonade. Covers holistic care if it is hands-on, such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc., but does not cover holistic medications.
  • Pets Best. Acupuncture, chiropractic, hydrotherapy, cold laser, physical therapy.
  • Pet Plan. Acupuncture, physical therapy, hydrotherapy and others.

While the benefits of holistic care for pets are attractive, it's important to remember that every animal is unique. It's essential to stay informed. Holistic medicine is a growing field, so stay up to date with your reading, check back with us for updates, and consult your veterinarian. Pet insurance is not for everyone, just as holistic pet medications and care are not for every pet. You have to do a lot of research to decide, but that's part of what being a good parent is all about.


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