Four Pillars of Holistic Dog Care

Holistic dog care is more than diet, more than good veterinary care – it’s a total approach that must include respecting the emotional needs of the dog and keeping the environment he or she lives in as toxin-free as we can. The greatest diet in the world isn’t going to save your dog from cancer if he is living in a sea of carcinogens – household and lawn chemicals, fabric softeners, cigarette smoke, formaldehyde and more.

My focus professionally is on diet and herbs, but I take care to use only the safest household cleaners, no smoke in the house, no lawn chemicals of course – and encourage readers to do the same.  This is an article I wrote way back in 2005 or so, when I first set up TPC (the site and group). I’ve recently heard the term or some variation used by others, but this is the original.

Four Pillars of Holism

“Holism” is a term originally coined by the South African Scholar Jan Christiaan Smuts from the Greek word holos, which means whole. He applied the term in categorizing the new type of theories in the physical sciences that were gaining widespread recognition in his time. These new evolutionary or dynamic theories (Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, 1859; Henri Becquerel’s theory of radioactivity, 1895; Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, 1915) had finally displaced the old inherited mechanistic scientific theories of Newton and the pre-Darwin world. This post-Darwinian type of scientific theory conceived of the physical world as an evolving dynamic whole, as opposed to the “atomistic” theories, which held a static or deterministic view of the world. These holistic theories are essentially couched in the belief that the whole is not only greater than the sum of the parts, but that the parts are related in such a way that their functioning is conditioned by their relationship to each other.

Since holists acknowledge the organic unity of human wholes, they are obligated to study the whole living system rather than one part taken out of context. The context of a particular event is important because the character of any given part is largely conditioned by the whole to which it belongs and by its particular function and location in the larger system. Thus, reality for holists is viewed as a process of evolutionary change driven by the dynamic interaction between the parts and the whole. Use of holist pattern models appears appropriate when an explanation involves many diverse factors, each of which is important; when the patterns or connections among those factors are important; and when these patterns can be observed in the particular case under study.”

This excerpt from a lengthy article by Charles Wilber is quoted here as background to my own philosophy of canine care and use of the term holistic. Over the past decade this term has come to popular attention and is often used interchangeably with “natural” or “naturopathic” when in fact, it refers directly to the interconnected relational theory described above.

So how does this apply to my work as a Canine Consultant? Well, in a nutshell, it means that when a client approaches me with a particular problem, I look at all aspects of their dogs life and evaluate how various elements interact and ultimately, affecting the whole. For instance; a dog who is terribly nervous will be prone to develop health issues no matter how excellent a diet you feed him, so I would make food recommendations but perhaps also suggest herbal and TTouch support for his edginess. By asking my clients to fill out a comprehensive questionnaire regarding all aspects of their dogs specific lifestyle, medical condition and history, and any current issues they would like to address, I can start to pinpoint where the most work needs to take place, and how best to guide dog and owner through the maze of options now available for the holistically inclined. People also come to me who aren’t experiencing any special problems or issues, but simply want to make the best choices preventively, to ensure a long and healthy life for their dog. It’s always a pleasure to work with dogs before trouble starts as well as watch the ones with difficulties improve – whether it’s food allergy, overweight, arthritis or other illness, optimal nutrition and appropriate supplementing can go a long way to promote healing and balance in your dog.

In meeting with clients and giving seminars over the past several years I have often seen people very excited about making healthier choices for their dogs, but at the same time feeling overwhelmed by what at first glance appears to be an amorphous mass of changes. In order to break down the lifestyle, diet and behavioral issues into more manageable quadrants, I utilize a model I call my “Four Pillars of Holism” – and suggest making changes in all, instead of radically revamping one while leaving the others alone. For me, these “Four Pillars” are diet/nutrition; behavior/emotional environment; physical environment; and veterinary care. In my experience, most dogs can benefit from specific changes in all of the above, although it varies from case to case. Some dogs have an excellent diet but are emotionally stressed as a result of under exercise, excessive solitude or owner illness/stress. While not all of these are “fixable” we can offer support for the system undergoing stress – Ttouch, Bach Flower Remedies and some nutritional support can make a difference to a dog experiencing grief over a death in the family, for instance, or stress from too much time alone. I’ve seen over and over that making small, manageable adjustments in any or all of these areas results in more optimal health than does a dramatic focus on one pillar to the exclusion of the others. I strive for balance in the dog’s entire being and it’s a joy to watch how adjustments in these interrelated spheres affect the whole dog, in a positive and healthful fashion. Let’s take a closer look at each of these four areas, or pillars, as I envision them – supporting a house of health, balance, and harmony.

Emotions
The field of inquiry known as psychoneuroimmunology is a new area for Western science, but one that resonates deeply with insights that have been around for thousands of years. Briefly put, psychoneuroimmunology (or PNI as it’s referred to) investigates the intricate and powerful connections between the mind (psychology) brain and nervous system (neurology) and the immune system (immunology). It seems obvious and commonsensical to many people that mind affects body and vice versa, but Western medicine has been slow to catch up with the concept. Now that it has, much exciting and groundbreaking work is being done. Candace Pert’s book Molecules of Emotions discusses in detail how emotional states translate into various neurotransmitter activities and produce chemicals that impact profoundly on physical health. No longer do we see the body and mind as distinct and unrelated entities, but the connections between them are indeed so strong one can say they truly are one.

And just as this holds true for humans, so it is with our dogs. My studies with Tellington Touch and with the Bach Flower Remedies have both taught me that a dog’s emotional state will be reflected not only in behavioral clues and attitudes but ultimately in the state of his physical health.

In practical application I find that almost every dog can benefit from the appropriate flower essences as well as from some simple and effective use of TTouch bodywork and groundwork exercises. For me, emotional health and inner wellbeing is as important to health as diet, and an often overlooked area. In our quest for a holistic approach to canine health, the emotions must be considered, understood and often, rebalanced. And since we can’t just ask our dogs straight out how they’re feeling, we need to use subtle techniques and our own powers of observation to obtain feedback and to offer help. I believe each of us carries the possibility of being our own animal communicator – at least with our own dogs. TTouch and Flower Essences help gently with the flow of communication as well as overtly addressing issues common to many dogs; fearfulness, loneliness, depression, underconfidence, and many others.

My bottom line: you cannot achieve radiant health and fulfil your dog’s potential if the emotions are unbalanced. We need to listen to their whispers as much as their shouts. Try spending a whole day not using human language at all to communicate with your dogs. Let then show you what they want, need, think about. The deep bond you already have will grow and you’ll learn more than any book can show you; in addition, you will find they listen to your language more readily. Bach Flower Essences and TTouch are two other powerful ways to communicate and resolve emotional issues and I encourage anyone interested in a truly holistic approach to dog care to investigate both.

Nutrition
Over the past decade, and especially since the publication of Ann Martin’s seminal book Food Pets Die For, awareness about canine diet has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s heartening to me personally to see so any dog lovers grow far more informed and empowered about choices to improve their dog’s health through cleaner and more natural diet – food choices that can range from improved commercial foods to home cooked diet to an all-raw, prey model programme.In response to this enlightenment, many excellent organic foods have been made available and from pre-packaged, from raw foods to improved quality kibbles that feature human grade meats and an absence of questionable ingredients like BHA and BHT. And all of this is good news indeed! But the movement toward natural diet for dogs is still pretty much in its infancy, and as a Nutrition Consultant I regularly see owners falling into the same rut – wanting to do the very best for their dogs, but hearing conflicting information, often feeling overwhelmed, concerned about expense, many over supplementing or doing so in such a ways as to throw the dog off balance. More is not necessarily better! This is where I come in. the road to better health through nutrition need not be complicated, confusing or overly time consuming. What it does require is that whatever style of food one chooses, and whichever health issues an owner is targeting, actively or preventively – that the diet is balanced, complete, and the supplements used are going to work well for that particular dog.

While I have the greatest respect for science, and rely on the current (2006) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs as a basis for many decisions I make regarding diet, I also feel that individuality must be recognized and addressed when formulating a program. The same energy-nutrient percentages will not be ideal for all dogs at all times in their life. I will work with you and your dog to ensure that what we come up with is the very best program possible – including herbal support and supplements as needed, relying on the most current scientific knowledge and applying it to the unique individual that is your dog.. Nutrition is a key pillar of canine health, and your dog can benefit greatly from a balanced, carefully formulated program designed with his or her specific needs in mind.

The basis of my personal philosophy is a marriage between what we know and what we do not. I use the science as a guide and a safety valve, at the same time I am open to innovative approaches and supplement use. I believe in a very methodical application of change and regular monitoring of objective health where applicable. My use of supplements is always explained to you, and references are always available. Making your dog’s food need not be a great chore nor does it have to be worrisome, that all his or her needs are not being met. We will work together and with the support of your veterinarian to make it easy, fun and above all – supremely healthful for your beloved companion. The power of correct diet, its amazing impact on health – continues to be something I witness daily, and it’s my pleasure to help show you what you can achieve, too.

Environment
The third of my Holistic Pillars – and a goal I set for myself as well as for my clients – is the attainment of a safe, non-toxic and healthful physical environment. And in our chemical laden, pesticide infused and often very toxic modern world, this can be one daunting task! However, over two decades of working with various alternative practices has taught me that one can indeed detoxify the immediate living space and make significant changes in safety without having to move to another planet. In my seminar presentations as well as in my work with private clients I will evaluate environmental issues from the simple and obvious (drinking bowls, household cleaners, lawn chemicals) to the more subtle and often overlooked problems of “hidden” dangers around the house and yard. We can’t change the whole world but we can make our own living space safe and healthy for our dogs and ourselves!

Veterinary Care
No discussion of holistic dog care would be complete without a foray into this sometimes controversial area – veterinary care and what we choose to do (or not do) regarding vaccinations, use of NSAID drugs like Rimadyl and Metacam, use of antibiotics and steroids, flea and worm prevention and other similar topics. And while these choices will always be up to the owner and their vet, I feel it’s important to provide any one interested in holistic dog care with a broad range of facts that can add to their decision-making clarity. To that end, I provide a list of reliable Internet resources, reading material and gentler alternatives for managing and preventing common conditions such as dermatitis, osteoarthritis and fleas. While nothing I do is intended or should be taken as a replacement for veterinary care, I do hope to offer a wider range of options and information than is generally disseminated by allopathic veterinarians. And the rest is up to you.

In conclusion, then, while I focus greatly on nutrition, correct supplement use, herbal support and Bach Flower essences in my practice, I often include information on veterinary alternatives, environmental safety and Tellington Touch in my recommendations. Anything I suggest will always be backed up with references as required, and I always like to see people bring my suggestions to their holistic vet as well. My focus and aim as a Canine Holistic Consultant is to bring balance, health and harmony to your dog, in all aspects of his life, and to offer new ideas and possibilities to you as his guardian and caregiver. I look forward to working with you!