March 29, 2005 in Features

Fido’s fish oil

By The Spokesman-Review

At a glance

Alternative treatments

» More than one-third of American adults use some form of complementary or alternative medical therapy, according to a recent government survey.

» With alternative treatments growing in popularity, IN Life is running a series of stories on some of these therapies. This is the ninth story in the series. Look for future stories on the Health page on the last Tuesday of each month.

» If you use or practice a medical treatment that’s considered outside traditional Western medicine, we’d like to hear from you with ideas for upcoming stories. Contact staff writer Heather Lalley at (509) 459-5089 or by e-mail at

Samoa is a handful; a handsome, 125-pound malamute who’s like “having three dogs in one,” says his owner, Dave DeFelice.

The 6-year-old dog has also been troubled by allergies since his puppy days. Red patches would erupt on his skin. His eyes would water.

DeFelice tried antihistamine tablets, even gave the dog shots to help ease his symptoms.

But Samoa’s allergies kept flaring up.

So DeFelice, a Spokane Valley resident who favors holistic treatments for his own health care, decided to try the same kind of gentle, natural regimen on his dog.

Now, Samoa gobbles fish oil capsules tucked in string cheese. He takes homeopathic remedies and black currant oil and snarfs down a “green powder potion” that’s sprinkled on his organic dog chow.

Just as humans have become increasingly interested in alternative health practices such as chiropractic, homeopathy and acupuncture, many are turning to the same treatments for their animal companions.

“As the level of respect and compassion elevates for our pets, so too does the care,” says Rockford veterinarian Colette Bergam.

Bergam, who combines Western medicine with holistic therapies in her practice, specializes in acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies.

Membership in the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association has continued to grow since the group’s formation in 1982, says Carvel Tiekert, the group’s executive director.

There are now about 800 veterinarians in the Maryland-based association, Tiekert says.

Holistic veterinarians are often called on when conventional treatment has run out of options. An animal has cancer. A skin condition won’t improve. Orthopedic problems are hampering mobility.

“Most of the cases that come to me tend to be very difficult, chronic cases,” says Jonathan Wright, a holistic veterinarian in Spokane.

Wright centers his practice on homeopathic remedies and has found that a proper diet, along with a variety of herbs, can ease many conditions.

But he tries to move beyond his patients’ bodily ailments to find the deeper root of their problems.

“We take into consideration not only the physical, but the emotional, the mental and so forth,” Wright says. “Health is much more than the absence of physical symptoms. Health is a state in which the body is free of pain and the emotions are balanced.”

Of course, it’s tricky to get Fluffy or Fido to bare their souls in a psychotherapy session.

So, Wright relies heavily on the status reports coming from the animals’ human caretakers.

“The people that tend to come to me are very connected to their animals,” he says. “It amazes me how much they seem to know.”

One veterinarian recommended chemotherapy and radiation for Diana Roberts’ yellow lab when a tumor recurred at the base of the dog’s tail. Roberts thought Tessa had been through enough, so she searched for a more gentle form of treatment.

Homeopathic remedies helped Tessa live another five years before she succumbed to an immune condition, Roberts says.

Roberts, who lives in Spokane, also put her 11-year-old Maine Coon cat on a homeopathic regimen after Pamberi suffered repeated urinary tract infections when he was younger.

“He would be fine when he was on the antibiotic, but when it wore off he would be back in that cycle,” she says.

But Roberts – and Pamberi – persevered through an 18-month course of remedies prescribed by Wright. And the cat’s problems eventually went away, though he has occasional flare-ups that resolve with treatment.

“It definitely takes diligence and patience,” she says.

Roberts, like many fans of holistic care, doesn’t shun conventional medicine for her animals.

“I work with a Western vet as well,” she says. “That’s great for if they had a broken bone or something like that. It helps to combine the two … But in any kind of health care, I believe in taking personal responsibility for what’s going on.”

Holistic veterinarians, however, part with most of their Western-focused colleagues when it comes to vaccinations. It’s an area of some controversy, but most who favor alternative therapies say animals are given too many inoculations.

Animals should get their shots when they are young, but they don’t need boosters every year after that, Wright and others say.

“I do believe it is one of the sources of chronic disease in animals,” he says. “I don’t do any vaccinations at all. I don’t tell people not to vaccinate. I do encourage people to look into the issue.”

Samoa the malamute got his shots when he was younger, DeFelice says. But he decided not to give him any vaccines, including the rabies shot, this year.

“There is a legal issue there,” he admits. “He’s in a fenced yard. He shows no signs of aggression. I don’t want to keep upsetting his system.”

Whatever DeFelice is doing, it seems to be working for Samoa.

Friends who hadn’t seen the dog since he began the all-natural routine were amazed by his good health, DeFelice says.

“Boy, he sure looks good,” he recalls them saying. “His fur and eyes look good.”

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