From titer testing and better cancer treatment to pet insurance and the introduction of hemp oil, pet healthcare has improved by leaps and bounds over the last quarter-century.

When I started my practice 25 years ago, holistic healing was in its infancy. Since then, I’ve seen many changes in the ways people care for their pets and how a more natural approach is contributing to some of these changes. In this article, I’ll look at five of the most important changes I’ve seen.

1. Reduced Vaccine Protocols

When I graduated from veterinary school in 1987, it seemed we employed every available vaccine for all pets that entered our doors. Combatting infectious diseases was (and still is) a very important part of preventive care. Parvoviral infections were still killing many unvaccinated puppies even though the vaccine itself was over ten years old.

While holistic doctors are not against vaccines per se, we are against giving vaccines to pets who do not need them and will not benefit from them. Research over a decade ago confirmed that we don’t need to give pets frequent vaccines. Giving unnecessary vaccines increases the cost to the pet parent, does nothing to prevent disease, and may harm the pet by damaging the immune system.

In place of vaccines, a simple and inexpensive blood titer test for the most important infectious diseases allows the pet’s body to tell us when it needs booster immunizations. More doctors are offering these inexpensive tests, and a growing number of boarding and grooming facilities accept them in place of traditional vaccines. Adequate titers do not need boosting with another vaccine, whereas healthy pets with low or non-existent titers may benefit from a booster.

New research from my colleague Dr. Jean Dodds confirms a practice most holistic doctors have employed for many years: adequate protection against infectious diseases can be achieved with half-doses of vaccines. This is especially helpful for cats and smaller dogs that are more likely to experience vaccine reactions (did it ever make sense that the amount of vaccine needed for a three-pound dog was the exact same dose given to a 150-pound dog?!).

2. Better Cancer Testing and Treatment

All doctors have been seeing increased rates of cancer over the last 25 years. And now we’re seeing cancer in younger patients, even those under one year of age! Why is this happening? We live in an increasingly toxic world, and poor breeding coupled with too many vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and bad diets containing by-products and chemicals, damage the DNA. We can only damage a dog or cat’s DNA for so long before it mutates and causes cancer. Reducing cancer risk by feeding better diets, minimizing the use of chemicals/vaccines/drugs, and maximizing the use of health supplements all go a long way to reducing the risk of cancer and other immune and infectious diseases.

When I first started practicing, I was often asked by my clients if there were any simple tests for early cancer diagnosis. Those tests didn’t exist then, but now, holistic doctors commonly test pets for cancer (looking at specific inflammatory markers) during their annual visits. The testing of dogs in my own practice shows that over 90% are abnormal! These results require more testing to determine the cause of the abnormalities, along with natural treatments to bring the pet back to health. The good news is that when cancer is discovered at this early stage it is often curable rather than simply treatable! Additionally, regular abdominal ultrasounds, while more expensive than blood testing, can screen breeds prone to certain abdominal cancers (such as larger breeds that are more likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the spleen and liver). This early intervention lets us diagnose cancer early and save lives.

While cancer has become more prevalent, the good news is that we can do so much more for pets with cancer than was possible 25 years ago! While chemotherapy and radiation can be helpful in safely extending the lives of pets with selected cancers, natural therapies given to detoxify dogs and cats and support their immune systems can extend their lives. In my practice, cancer patients live 12 to 24 months (and more) longer than expected based upon a conventional prognosis, and cures are not uncommon when treated aggressively with an integrative approach! The natural approach works for all pets, especially those that wouldn’t respond to conventional treatment or that have owners who can’t afford the thousands of dollars needed to cover the costs of conventional treatments.

3. Vitamin D Supplementation

I’ve been shocked by how many dogs are vitamin D deficient, based on blood testing (about 95% here in North Texas). As in people, low vitamin D levels are linked to many serious diseases; some of these in our canine patients include heart disease, infectious illnesses like dog flu and kennel cough, and of course cancer and other immune dysfunctions. Today, testing and treatment are easy and inexpensive, and supplementation is critical as dogs and cats do not get vitamin D from sunlight.

4. Pet Insurance

As technology to help pets increases, so does the cost of care. Fortunately, more pet parents are utilizing inexpensive pet insurance to decrease their costs up to 90%, making treatment affordable for most. In my practice, clients who have pet insurance are quick to allow us to help their pets and don’t have to worry about finding money to cover the cost of care.

5. Medical-Grade Hemp Oil

A source of CBD, medical-grade hemp oil is now available for pets. We’ve known for many years that cells have cannabinoid receptors that respond positively when exposed to CBD, yet until recently we haven’t had a legal, high-quality supplement to take advantage of these natural receptors. Many pets with seizures, aging, arthritis, pain, and cancer can now be treated with this new natural therapy and many are very responsive to it.

The last 25 years have seen some wonderful improvements in pet care. What do the next 25 years hold? I believe that we’ll soon be able to use a dog or cat’s DNA to determine the best diet and supplements for him, and when medications are needed, we’ll be able to test him to find out which ones are most likely to be effective. Stay tuned and see how integrative healthcare for dogs and cats evolves.