The Hunt for Holistic Pet Care — Gus' Story
by Catherine Morris | August 27, 2020, updated 11 months ago
I'm standing at the stove in my pyjamas, frying up a big batch of tripe. I don't eat tripe.
If I were to write a Tinder-type profile for my dog it would read a little something like this—
Gus. 6 year old rescue mutt living his best life. Likes: sofa yoga, frisbees, staring at birds. Strongly dislikes: kettles, wind, celery. Has stage 3 kidney disease so requires long-term care.
That last factoid is unlikely to win him a romance, but in the months since his diagnosis it's become the most important thing about him.
It's a lot of work treating a dog with a chronic disease… especially if you want to go the natural route. I've learned in the emotional whirlwind of the last few months that there is a shocking lack of accessible and affordable holistic veterinary care in Canada.
Getting a Diagnosis
Gus went to the vet's for a routine dental procedure, and came out with kidney disease. At least, that's how it felt.
In prepping him for the anaesthetic, the vet noticed something funky in his blood work. Several scans later, it was confirmed—our seemingly-healthy, youngish pup was now facing a limited lifespan, years of medication and a drawn-out, painful end as his damaged kidneys gave up the ghost.
I did not take the news well.
Gus had a rough start. He was discarded by a backyard breeder and found on a dumpsite teeming with fleas, ticks, and a host of intestinal parasites the names of which I can't pronounce. He almost died before discovering the delights of a warm bed, and regular mealtimes.
The end I hope for, for Gus, is one where he leaves us at a ripe old age, preferably in his sleep, mid-dream, with his paws tucked under his chin, feeling loved. It was hard to hear how improbable that ending was becoming.
I wasn't ready to give up though.
The Role of Our Vet
Alternative medicine is my go-to in times of personal health crises, and it's no different now that the four-legged member of the household is sick. When the vet told us that kidney disease is primarily managed by diet, I felt in control for the first time since getting Gus' news.
I know nutrition. I believe that food is medicine. I understand how to put together a healthy diet. I thought it would be easy. Spoiler—it wasn't easy.
My local vet is great. They're what’s needed when it comes to prescriptions, emergencies, procedures and anything beyond my very limited medical abilities. They also really love their patients—Gus goes into the clinic with his tail wagging, and comes out with his whole butt wiggling.
However, when we sat down for a chat about his treatment the first suggestion was a prescription kibble for senior dogs. That's when I knew I might have to break up with my vet.
The Hunt for More Help
Gus has never been on kibble. He got whole food right from the start. Not because I have a masochistic desire to chop obscene amounts of sweet potato, but because he has a host of food allergies. When a dog can't eat carrot, poultry, corn, or rice without scratching his own ears off, kibble just isn't an option.
The vet seemed lost when our discussion veered into the realm of dietary support with whole foods. Much like traditional human doctors, vets aren’t by necessity trained in nutrition beyond the very basics. I knew I’d need to look to another professional, as well as my vet, if I wanted to get complete support.
I was discouraged when I couldn’t find someone.
The Rocky Road to Wellness Information
After a long and unsuccessful search for dog nutritionists in my area, I ended up turning to that fount of all human knowledge—the internet.
There are many, many valid criticisms you can make about the internet, but trust me, you'll feel differently when you've got a sick dog and zero answers, but good wifi.
I browsed forums. I read studies. I watched culinary videos. I downloaded meal plans. I even met an amazingly kind woman in the US who gave me several (free!) sessions of nutritional counselling over email.
The upshot of all those hours hunched over my laptop is that Gus is now receiving a very balanced kidney-friendly, wholefood diet, with a few supplements and herbs thrown into the mix. The patient himself is quite happy with this turn of events, and I know this because he's hitting an average of 10 seconds from bowl to belly these days.
I'm feeling more confident about Gus' chances, and my ability to help him. I just wish I wasn't feeling so sad about the bleak state of holistic veterinary services.
We Need More Natural Pet Health Care Options
Having taken a small survey of dog-loving friends, it appears I'm not on my own in finding myself at a loss when my pet took ill and needed a more natural approach. I heard from several dog (and cat!) owners that they wished there were more holistic options available for their fur babies digestive problems, skin complaints, allergies and other issues.
I'm not just talking about nutrition, either.
There's a variety of 'alternative' treatments our beloved animals can benefit from. From acupuncture to therapeutic massage; from aromatherapy to homeopathy. Even Bodytalk and reiki, if energy healing's your thing.
But they're hard to find.
As with humans, holistic pet care isn't easy, it's not a quick fix, it takes work—and it should be an option.
When I'm cooking tripe in the pre-dawn hours, I think it might be easier to trade Gus in for a poodle with award-winning kidney function, but then I remember how much he's given me—the quiet companionship after my Dad died and I roamed the dark house, demented with insomnia; the reassuring butt waggle when we moved halfway across the world and everything seemed so chaotic; his playful, attention-seeking belly roll when I’m stressed and badly in need of a distraction.
It's simple—he would do anything for me (except eat celery), and I would do anything for him. It'd just be nice to have some more help.
Which Doctor welcomes all kinds of practitioners, including those who provide services to pets—the health of our animals affects our wellness too! Check out Which Doctor, and start advertising your services to a broader market.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.