Medications like antibiotics, NSAIDs, and steroids are sometimes necessary to treat canine and feline illnesses, but it’s important they’re not used indiscriminately.
As a holistic veterinarian, my goal is to help dogs and cats using as many natural therapies as possible. My use of conventional medications is kept to a minimum. In most cases, I can realistically help and often cure my patients using no drugs or surgery. Sometimes, though, conventional therapies and medications are necessary. This article will look at how to use mainstream medications in the most holistic way possible.
Many people are surprised to hear that holistic doctors sometimes use conventional medications. To me, “holistic” not only means looking at the “whole” animal (rather than simply the diseased organ or tissue) — it also means looking at every available option for treatment, including allopathic medications. While I say “no” to mainstream drugs whenever possible, I do realize that sometimes I need these conventional medications to help my patients.
Here’s a look at the three most common categories of veterinary medication and how they can be used in the safest, most holistic way.
In my opinion, steroids (corticosteroids) are the most commonly abused, misused, over-prescribed, and misunderstood medications in veterinary medicine. When needed, steroids can be life-saving for the patient. In many cases, using them correctly provides relief for animals suffering from inflammatory conditions. But they are often used incorrectly, especially in patients with allergies and other skin conditions.
Many doctors use steroids per “textbook” guidelines. This means they use the “standard textbook” dosage. Steroids are typically given daily for seven to ten days. A lower dose is used for another seven to ten days, then given every other day for seven to ten days before the treatment is stopped. That’s a lot of steroids for most allergic dogs and cats!
I have found that when I need to use steroids for an allergic patient, they are best and most safely given “as needed.” This means that when the animal’s body tells me it needs a dose of steroid, then I administer it (I also teach my clients what signs to look for so they know when their dogs or cats are telling them they need a dose of steroid). I also use steroids sparingly, typically at about half the “correct textbook” dose.
On a first visit, for example, in addition to my natural therapies, I will give the animal an injection of a short-acting steroid (see sidebar), then prescribe an oral dosage for three to five days. The client then stops the treatment, only giving more steroids when the animal’s body says it needs more. If the client realizes he/she is using “too much steroid,” then I need to see the patient again and fine-tune my treatment.
This is the holistic way of doing things – there is no cookie-cutter method since all treatments are tailored to each animal’s needs. There is also no reason to give steroids at decreasing dosages over three to four weeks, as many doctors do for patients taking anti-inflammatory doses for skin disease.
This is another class of mainstream drugs that is overused and abused, both in human and veterinary medicine. It’s such a serious problem that infectious disease specialists are very concerned about the new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria arising due to the improper use of these drugs. As antibiotic usage increases, so too do these serious and often life-threatening bacteria.
Notice I did not say that antibiotics should never be used, as they can save lives when administered correctly. Too often, though, doctors and veterinarians prescribe these medications when they’re not needed. They do so because people expect to have pills after a visit with the doctor, and because the only pills (non-holistic) doctors can offer for the conditions in question are antibiotics and steroids.
Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time your doctor wants to prescribe an antibiotic for two of the most common disorders clients seek veterinary care for.
Bladder diseases usually do not require antibiotic therapy. Cats rarely have bacterial infections (they usually develop idiopathic FLUTD, which is not caused by bacteria). Dogs tend to have bacterial bladder infections but often get better with natural therapies (I use Herbal AM and Olive Leaf Plus in addition to homeopathic support).
The only two times I use antibiotics are when a urine culture tells me the bladder problem is caused by bacteria, as well as which bacteria are the problem and which antibiotics are the best to use; or if the urine contains large quantities of blood (and even in these patients, I often wait for culture results before using antibiotics).
Skin infections can be bacterial (which may require antibiotics) or caused by yeast (these infections will get worse with antibiotics). For minor bacterial infections, I do not use antibiotics but again use Herbal AM and Olive Leaf Plus, along with frequent bathing. (Dermatologists are now finally recommending against antibiotic usage for minor skin infections!) For severe infections, I will start the dog or cat on the antibiotic most likely to help (plus many supplements).
For any condition in which antibiotics are needed, you must use the correct antibiotic at the correct dosage for the correct length of time (many doctors don’t treat infections long enough in order to reduce client costs; many infections can be expensive to treat if it’s done correctly.) Failing to follow these guidelines actually increases the cost to you, fails to cure your companion, and increases antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Many doctors incorrectly prescribe NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for animals with arthritis. NSAIDs are powerful pain relievers but also can cause kidney, GI, and liver problems if used chronically or at high doses. I also see these drugs being prescribed for animals that supposedly suffer from arthritis when the diagnosis has never been proven. When I see these dogs and cats, x-rays or blood tests often reveal a totally different disease for which NSAIDs don’t prove helpful.
For animals with proven arthritic pain, we have many alternative choices for arthritis, such as herbs, homeopathics, nutritional supplements, cold laser, acupuncture, and chiropractic. These therapies are as effective as NSAIDs for most animals with arthritis.
When NSAIDs are needed in my practice, they are used with natural therapies so we can lower the dose and frequency of the NSAID therapy. I tend to start with a dose of NSAID that is 50% to 75% lower than the textbook dose and use it infrequently (only on days when the animal shows increased pain). As a result, my patients don’t suffer from the side effects that occur when higher doses and longer treatment times are used in NSAID therapy.
Conventional medications are useful — they can improve a dog or cat’s comfort and possibly save their life. There’s nothing wrong with using them, as long as they are used correctly and safely.