When it comes to taking care of pets, responsible owners know the importance of vaccinations, annual veterinary appointments, grooming and exercise; however, several local animal care specialists argue that there is much more that can, and should, be done to ensure the health and well-being of animals.
Whether your dog is suffering from age-related pains, having trouble acclimating in social situations, or is athletic and in need of physical relief, canine massage can help alleviate issues. Kate Titus is a graduate of the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage in Littleton, Colo., and offers her mobile services throughout Tucson. “All good pet owners touch and pet their animals,” explains Titus, “but the difference between petting your own dog and performing canine massage is intentionality.”
Inspired by her dog Harley to start her business, A Loyal Companion, Titus believes the key to ensuring a good life for your pet is listening to their vocal and nonvocal cues. “Pay attention. Dogs communicate with us every moment of every day. Slow down and pay attention to what they are trying to tell you,” says Titus. Working with a dog in its home environment helps build trust and comfort. She brings a human massage table, but generally sits on the floor. In addition to working in a space where the dog will feel most relaxed, Titus also avoids wearing any scents. While a quiet environment with no distractions is a nice way to begin the canine/massage therapist relationship, Titus occasionally brings music. “One dog I massage loves Darius Rucker. He’ll stay in one position for 30 to 35 minutes,” says Titus, “but I tried to play Ella Fitzgerald and he wouldn’t stay still. It broke my heart, but he was the client and it was all about him.”
Massage is just one modality Lisa Newman of Azmira Holistic Animal Care recommends for pets. Although Newman is not a veterinarian, she uses her doctorates in naturopathic medicine and holistic nutrition to educate pet owners. She originally treated humans and began applying the same nutrition principles to animals when her clients asked for help with their pets. “Just given a better diet and supplementation, 80 percent of pet health issues will begin to reverse on their own,” says Newman. “All dogs need the same basic nutritional diet, augmented based on their needs. Puppies and athletic dogs need more protein, older dogs might need fewer calories, but it all starts the same.”
In an effort to provide pet owners with food that meets her nutritional standards, Newman started to market her own line of pet foods under the Azmira name. She recently published her ninth book and tours natural pet stores training and lecturing about holistic animal medicine. In addition to nutrition, Newman also speaks on homeopathy and the use of herbal supplements in pet health.
For Kay Aubrey-Chimene, owner and director of Grand Adventure Ranch in Sonoita, Ariz., understanding animal nutrition is central to her work with dogs and horses. With a degree in animal health sciences from the University of Arizona, graduate studies in nutrition, biochemistry and evolutionary behavior, plus additional studies in Reiki, kinesiology, equine and canine massage and other therapeutic approaches, Aubrey-Chimene advocates a three-tiered approach to pet health. “The first step is detox. From heartworm medicine to the preservatives in many foods, dogs are overwhelmed by the toxins in their bodies,” she explains. After cleansing the animal of toxins, nourishing food is offered, replicating what a dog would eat in the wild. “Feed what Mother Nature would feed. A raw food diet is best, but if you can’t make your own food, get fussy about reading food labels.”
Aubrey-Chimene says most brands of pet food do not contain an adequate amount of nutrients and often contain harmful ingredients. “A bag of food might have a percentage of protein listed on it, but shoe leather is protein,” she says. “You need to be concerned with the quality and digestibility of the protein. If a bag lists ‘chicken meal’ as an ingredient, only 51 percent of what went into the rendering pot has to be chicken.” As far as the other 49 percent of the ingredients, Aubrey-Chimene contends that they could be full of dangerous chemicals that cannot be eliminated during the rendering process.
Once an animal is receiving the best nutrition, Aubrey-Chimene advocates finding balance for the pet in terms of emotions, hormones, immunity and physiology. One way of achieving this balance for some animals is the use of acupuncture or acupressure. Aubrey-Chimene teaches classes on photopuncture, a method of applying light to certain points on the body to initiate change within.
Dr. Randy Aronson of Partners in Animal Wellness (P.A.W.S.) believes that acupuncture, laser and magnetic therapies, Chinese medicine and herbs, and diet can all be integrated into traditional veterinary medicine. “I don’t like to call them ‘alternative’ treatments. I call them ‘complementary’ because they work with traditional Western medicine,” says Aronson. After receiving his veterinary degree, Aronson had an internship in small animal surgery and emergency services, and also had extensive training in animal endoscopy. Health issues with his back led him to explore non-traditional treatment modalities with animals.
On his weekly radio program, “Radio Pet Vet,” Aronson advocates feeding dogs a diet of raw foods and supplementing with vitamins and antioxidants. He also works with his clients to minimize vaccines and ensure that they are keeping the animal healthy. “We all get our puppy vaccinations, but at P.A.W.S., we test the dog at the end of the series to make sure that they are actually vaccinated,” says Aronson.
For pet owners looking to give their animals a healthy life, nutrition and paying attention to your pet’s behavior are the first steps on what Aronson calls a “path of wellness.” He advocates that pet owners should explore as many options for their animal as they are comfortable with. “You always have options. If you don’t agree with what your vet is saying or doing, there are always other options.”
Dr. Kayla Boyer of Speedway Veterinary Hospital believes that one option pet owners should explore for issues of inflammation is stem cell therapy. Inflammation can manifest itself in dogs as arthritis, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel issues and a variety of other diseases. “There are a lot of misconceptions about stem cell therapy for animals, as well as humans. Most people have heard of embryonic stem cells, but the vast amount of therapies are done with adult cells,” says Boyer. “Stem cells are basically just cells inside the body that are like a blank CD. You can put a movie, different kinds of music, or data on the CD, and the disc doesn’t care. Stem cells become what the body needs them to be.”
After harvesting a small amount of body fat from the animal, Boyer begins a four-hour process to extract the stem cells, activate them, and then put them back into the body. “The body,” she says, “sends out chemical signals where there is inflammation, and that attracts the stem cells to that area.” Since receiving training from Medivet America Advanced Stem Cell Technologies in June 2013, Boyer has performed about 10 of these procedures. “I am excited to be on the cutting edge of medicine. Stem cell therapy is less invasive, and actually treats medical issues, instead of just managing them,” she says.
Stem cell therapy comes with a high price tag. At $2,400 it can seem like a luxury; however, Boyer points out that while the initial cost for the procedure is high, it will save pet owners money in the long run. “Many patients don’t realize that managing something like arthritis can cost an owner $600 to $1,000 a year in medication, lab work and exams. Plus, the stem cells may actually help other conditions that the pet may have at the same time.”
Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.