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Holistic Therapy

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Veterinarians use alternative therapies to treat animals with pain and other health issues

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Ohhh, the aches and pains need attention. A massage or acupuncture might do the trick. Or maybe a laser treatment.

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Humans have been turning to alternative therapies, avoiding drugs and surgery, for a long time. Veterinary practices have applied the same healing principles for our pets. Dr. Patricia Ungar of Kensington Veterinary Hospital helps us understand what can be done to relieve health problems with an integrative approach.

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Q: What does integrative medicine encompass?

A: The term “integrative” as it applies to medicine means the amalgamation of natural, traditional and holistic therapies with conventional therapies. This integration recognizes that there are many aspects of value in all of these modalities and that, in most situations, the best care and healing is achieved by selecting the most appropriate modality or combinations, rather than strictly relying on a single approach.

Q: What kinds of health problems can you treat?

A: Quite a wide range, including arthritic issues, kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, nausea and immune system imbalances. Unfortunately I do not find that most skin problems respond well enough to acupuncture alone; but they often respond well to nutrition, laser, glandulars and herbs. Intestinal problems usually do best with nutritional balancing, glandulars and sometimes herbs or other supplements.

Q: What circumstances would be appropriate for incorporating Chinese medicine?

A: I find that Chinese medicine is often more effective for many of the more chronic conditions. This tends to be true for most holistic modalities, especially those where the patient’s energy flow is noticeably altered. Chinese herbal medicine works in a manner very similar to acupuncture by addressing energy imbalances in the body. Using herbs can deepen and extend the effect of acupuncture and allow for faster and more complete healing. Most animals tolerate herbs very well, although cats can be tricky to medicate. The herbs do not always taste good to them.

Q: How does laser treatment work, and what animals would be a candidate?

A: Laser therapy is a very exciting modality. It is a technology originally from Russia. The website at has some great info, as does our hospital website ( Essentially, this is a specific wavelength of light that penetrates the tissue and reduces inflammation and pain at the cellular level. It also can be used to treat bacterial and fungal infections; nerve injuries; bone, joint and muscle problems; fractures; infections; and bladder problems. The laser also is very good for gingivitis and skin problems. We have had some amazing results with stubborn skin infections.

Q: How important is nutritional therapy in achieving successful results?

A: It is extremely important. Good nutrition provides the essential building blocks for healing. The immune system cannot function well without it.

Q: What is the best way to get a cat or dog to stay still for acupuncture?

A: Most dogs are good for acupuncture, unless they are dogs that don’t like to have anything else done either. We do all we can to help them feel at home and comfortable with soft blankets, cushions, a favorite bed from home, etc. Typically after the first time or two, they have figured out that it is relaxing and feels good. We turn the lights down. Cats can present a different challenge. Most are actually good for the treatments, but for some we must place the needles very gently and quickly. We often allow them to curl back up in their carrier or owner’s lap.

Q: How long does the treatment take?

A: The treatment can vary from as little as six to eight minutes for animals whose energy is depleted to as long as 45 minutes for younger, energetic patients, especially if we are treating them for pain. Depending on what animal we are treating, we may include electro acupuncture, running a slight electrical current through the needles. This is like the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit used in physical therapy. Sometimes we will inject vitamin B-12 into the acupoints. We will also sometimes use moxabustion, which is the burning of an herb called mugwort artemesis just over the acupoints. It is a warming and energizing treatment.

Q: Do you use massage therapy?

A: I will often use a bit of tui na [a Chinese manipulative therapy] to help loosen and relax patients. And I show clients how to perform it as well. Most animals love it.

Q: What type of integrative therapy do you use for cancer treatment?

A: That depends on what our goals are: cure versus palliation, which is relieving symptoms to improve comfort. Depending on how advanced the case is and the type of cancer, I generally do not use laser or acupuncture. In some cases, it can actually release some of the body’s inhibitory functions and allows the cancer to progress more rapidly. I do use herbs, nutrition, antioxidants and homeopathics. I recommend Dr. Charles Loops, who is a highly competent homeopathic veterinarian who specializes in cancer treatment. He is in North Carolina. There are many supplements touted to treat cancer, so it can become a bit of a challenge to pick the ones most likely to help and not overload the patient.

Here are some of San Diego’s holistic vets:

Acacia Animal Health Center


Animal Healing Center


Bodhi Animal Hospital


California Holistic Animal Institute


Healing Hope


Kensington Veterinary Hospital


Pacific Animal Hospital


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According to TV commercials, your best buddy will live to a ripe old age if you simply buy the pet food advertised.

You want to feel like you are doing everything possible to keep your buddy happy and in good health, but what may work for one dog may not work for another. A Labrador retriever that accompanies you on your daily three-mile run needs more calories than a Shih Tzu that sits on your sofa for hours. If your buddy is a couch potato, you may have to seek a high-fiber, low-calorie food to keep her weight down. Growing puppies require more protein than senior dogs.

As you seek out the ideal nutritional solution for your pet, consider the following.

The best ratio for a healthy diet is 50 percent meat and 50 percent vegetables. Be aware of companies using grains as cheap filler. Any grains should be in whole form, such as rolled oats, barley, quinoa, millet and brown rice. Also watch out for chemicals. Avoid pet foods that use chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, which are carcinogenic. Look instead for natural preservatives like vitamins C and E. And just as you do with packaged foods you buy for yourself, check expiration dates.

Here is an example of an ingredient list for a top-ranked dog food (Arcana Adult Small Breed dog food, rated five stars by chicken meal, steel-cut oats, deboned chicken, whole potato, peas, chicken fat, whole egg, deboned flounder, sun-cured alfalfa, chicken liver, herring oil, pea fiber, whole apples, whole pears, sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, spinach, cranberries, blueberries, kelp, chicory root, juniper berries, angelica root, marigold flowers, sweet fennel, peppermint leaf, lavender, vitamins, minerals and proteinates.

Freeze-dried food can be stored in a low-moisture environment for a year or more and is especially great for traveling with your pet.

You might want to consider making your own dog food. This can be tricky, as the balance of vitamins and minerals is essential. Invest in a pet-food cookbook such as The Healthy Homemade Pet Food Cookbook by Barbara Taylor-Laino and Kenneth Fischer, D.V.M. (Fair Winds Press, 2013);

PDC 90907176

What to do with a feral cat

THERE ARE AN ESTIMATED 1 million feral cats living in San Diego County. Our local suburban sprawl and lovely year-round climate are perfect for sustaining these homeless kitties. It’s quite possible that one day, while opening your back door to check on what’s blooming in your garden, you might come across one of these uninvited guests. The furry feline may look adorable, lonesome and hungry, but should you feed her? And, if you do, will she move into your yard and bring all her relatives?

Here’s what Julie Levy, the director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program in Florida and an expert in feral cats, has to say on the matter.

Q: What is a feral cat?
A: Feral cats are domestic animals that are not socialized to people. They usually behave like urban wildlife, avoiding close contact with people but often seeking the benefits of food and shelter that come with loose associations with human society.

Q: What is a colony?
A: Feral cat “colonies” often form around a food source and can range from just a couple of cats to more than 100, although large colonies are the exception.

Q: How did this happen?
A: Cats have been living outdoors alongside human societies for 10,000 years. Thanks to the high-reproductive success of cats, the free-roaming community cat population is self-sustaining.

Q: Does a tame cat that’s been abandoned become wild and join a colony?
A: Cats that are lost or abandoned from homes often struggle to survive. Having not grown up in the wild, they never developed the skills to find a safe place to live and adequate nourishment. The stress and fear associated with abruptly losing a home and a family is enormous, just as it would be for a child that was suddenly lost and alone. It’s likely that most kittens that are abandoned do not survive to adulthood. Those that do usually gravitate toward a source of food and shelter, often intentionally or unintentionally provided by people. Many cats live on residential properties, either alone or with one or two other cats. Others live in colonies that can grow larger if their reproduction is unchecked. We estimate that adult females average a litter of four kittens each year. Other research shows that three out of four kittens won’t make it to breeding age and that if cats have a second litter in a season, the survival rate for them is much lower.

Q: Where are these colonies in San Diego?
A: It’s likely that colonies exist everywhere people do, including residential areas, industrial parks, strip malls, institutions and other places where food and shelter are available.

Q: What should we do when we encounter a colony?
A: Locating any other caregivers or people concerned about the colony to develop a well-supporting response to the colony is ideal. The best approach when encountering a colony is to initiate the process of trap/neuter/release. (Editor’s note: To find a trap/neuter/release clinic near you, call the Feral Cat Coalition, 619-758-9194.)

Q: When you have a feral cat come to your house, what should you do?
A: Give her a meal, borrow a trap and take her to a TNR clinic. She’ll reward you with her company and look to you for protection, even if she never lets you touch her.

Q: Can we invite a feral cat to be part of our family?
A: Some feral cats are actually lost pets and will readily accept joining a family. Feral kittens often can be tamed enough to come inside. Some older ferals become tamer as they age and spend their elder years inside. Most truly feral cats are too frightened to enjoy life inside or in close proximity to people and dogs and are better off left outside.

Pet Patrol: By Sandie Lampe

Compatible Signs

Find the perfect pooch by considering personality traits — yours and his!

THAT GIFT-GIVING TIME of year is rapidly approaching. If you’re thinking about getting someone in your family a present that has four legs and barks, be sure to choose the breed that’s the right match.

It’s all fine and well to opt for a cute or fashionable dog, as long as that dog’s personality and energy level are in harmony with his or her human companions. Answer the following in terms of yourself or as the person upon whom you are bestowing a pup.

What personality traits do you have? Are you affable, in a good mood most of the time and happy to meet new people? A toy dog (such as a toy poodle, cocker spaniel or terrier) or bird dog (such as a golden or Labrador retriever) might be a perfect fit. If you’re on the upper end of the IQ scale and would like a dog with matching intelligence, look into a herding or working breed (such as a German shepherd or border collie). Extroverts may do well with an English sheepdog.

To help you choose a pet that’s on the same wavelength as you (or your giftee), here is a list by energy level of some common breeds and their generalized traits. But remember, there are no guarantees when it comes to a dog’s personality.

A note of caution: When you’re making your decision, don’t kid yourself into thinking that owning a frisky dog will make you an energetic person. That’s an unlikely scenario.


Airedale terrier: intensely curious, easily distracted, outgoing, playful, self-confident, stubborn

Australian shepherd: cautious, demanding of time and attention, loyal, eager to please, protective, quick to learn, reserved

Boxer: animated, courageous, dominant, loyal, playful, reliable, sensitive, headstrong

Dalmation: demanding, dependable, headstrong, high-spirited, independent, intelligent, loyal, territorial

Golden retriever: Cheerful, attention-loving, eager to please, easily distracted, gentle, slow to mature, social, submissive

Irish setter: affectionate, easily distracted, happy-go-lucky, high-spirited, impulsive, sociable, willful

Jack Russell terrier: affectionate, alert, excitable, headstrong, independent, intelligent, playful, mischievous

Labrador retriever: enthusiastic, friendly, good-natured, independent, slow to mature


Basset hound: friendly, gentle, good-natured, laid-back, sensitive, slow to obey, stubborn

Bulldog: easygoing, dependable, possessive, single-minded, good-natured, tenacious,

Chow chow: aloof, independent, intelligent, introverted, mannerly, strong-willed

Mastiff: dignified, docile, good-natured, sensitive, headstrong, timid

Shih tzu: attention-loving, devoted, friendly, mildly stubborn, playful, good-natured

Saint Bernard: accepting of everyone, gentle, intelligent, loyal, relaxed, slow to mature, social

Pekingese: independent, loyal, polite with strangers, possessive, sensitive, stubborn

By Sandie Lampe



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Toque Talk


As someone who pays attention to cooking with healthy ingredients, I’ve used amaranth flour. Bernard Guillas, executive chef of The Marine Room in La Jolla, trumps me with the homonymous amaranth flower. He used one to garnish the best crab cake I’ve ever eaten.

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