Holistic Therapy

455290111 webHolistic Therapy

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

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

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.

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 k-laserusa.com has some great info, as does our hospital website (kensingtonvet.com). 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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