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Holistic medicine treats the person (or, in this case, animal) as a whole: mind, body, spirit. It uses several different practices, including acupuncture, massage, herbal remedies, chiropractic treatment, aromatherapy, nutrition, acupressure, and even sound therapy to address a variety of ailments and conditions.

Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on alternative treatments for adults and children, and increasingly, pets are included in that expenditure, according to Tricia Stimac, a veterinarian who is on the board of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. People often turn to alternative therapies when their pet doesn’t respond to traditional medications and procedures. And, for some people who have made nutrition, clean eating, and other holistic lifestyle choices a priority, it’s only natural (pun intended) they would make the same choices for beloved pets.

There are many holistic practices that may benefit your dog. Many veterinarians today combine holistic therapies with traditional vet care, but before you embark on any treatment, please consult your vet.

Dog Massages

Anyone who’s ever had a massage can attest to its healing, calming benefits. It goes beyond just relaxing sore muscles, too. It can improve blood flow and oxygenation, heal sprains and strains, reduce pain, and ease anxiety and stress in your dog. Some experts believe that massage even strengthens the immune system, aids digestion, aids in the removal of toxins, and decreases blood pressure. As a bonus, most dogs seem to like it. If you have no experience with massage, take your dog to a trained animal massage therapist. But you can learn to give your dog a massage, which also may strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Chiropractic Treatments for Dogs

Chiropractors manipulate the spine and other bones in other parts of the body to relieve joint, muscular, and skeletal problems. Veterinary chiropractic is a gentle process; low force is used to make adjustments to relieve pain and loss of agility, without the use of medications. While it’s gaining in popularity, it’s important to consult your vet before starting any hands-on course of care.

Your Dog’s Nutrition

This is almost a no-brainer. A healthy diet, with the right combination of nutrients and rich in protein, is a major contributor to overall health. And if your dog suffers from allergies or digestive upsets, adjustments to his diet can make all the difference. Before you change his diet, though, consult your vet to discuss what type of diet will most benefit your dog.


This ancient Chinese therapy has been around for about 5,000 years. It involves the insertion of thin needles into the body where nerves and blood vessels come together at acupuncture points. The goal is to encourage the body to heal itself by correcting energy imbalances in the body. Should you decide to go this route, there may be several benefits for your dog, including pain relief, anti-inflammatory properties, improved blood circulation, and reduced anxiety, among others. It’s relatively new in the treatment of pets and should only be done in consultation with your vet.



Like acupuncture, acupressure is based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and can be helpful in treating injuries and anxiety and improving general well-being and health. According to TCM, by using acupressure points, you can re-establish the balance of blood flow and other vital substances to help the body heal itself. It’s a noninvasive and gentle method for healing injuries and soothing an anxious dog.


Research has shown that music affects the nervous and cardiovascular system in humans. Now, according to “Psychology Today,” there is increasing evidence that some types of music can calm a stressed, anxious dog. But what kind of music? An Irish animal behaviorist and psychologist, Deborah Wells, studied the effect of different types of music on numerous breeds of dogs. She found that dogs in a shelter environment that are exposed to classical music, like Beethoven, Brahms, Vivaldi, or Bach, spent less time barking and more time in a resting state. Ditch the Metallica though: heavy metal increased agitation.



Another tool in the holistic arsenal is aromatherapy. If you’ve fallen asleep with the aid of lavender essential oils or just felt yourself relax from the scent of a candle, you can assume that calming scents will also help an anxious dog, especially given a dog’s heightened sense of smell. According to Barbara Royal, DVM, president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, “Scent is so important in an animal’s life. It can change the way your brain functions, whether you’re feeling alarm or discomfort.”

The therapeutic use of essential oils, used in a mister or diluted into a massage lotion, can calm a dog with anxieties triggered by thunder, fireworks, travel, or separation. But because of that incredible canine nose, please consult your vet before trying aromatherapy. Some essential oils are toxic for dogs, cats, and other pets like birds.

For a truly holistic approach, you may find that some combination of conventional medicine and various holistic modalities work best for your dog. For example, a combination of herbs and a change in diet may relieve digestive upset. A combination of massage and acupuncture may best relieve your dog’s joint pain. If you’re hoping to improve his general health, you might try acupuncture, massage, and beneficial herbs.

And a variety of holistic treatments are thought to alleviate stress, anxiety and fear, and the behaviors they cause. Some technology devices, for example, combine various noninvasive methods that reduce the neurochemical responses of anxiety or fear.

Other approaches to reducing anxiety and stress include combinations of several holistic treatments, such as giving your dog a gentle massage while using a calming essential oil diffuser. Allergies or skin irritations may respond to herbs such as aloe vera, as well as a change in diet.

If you’ve tried several traditional ways to help a dog with arthritis, allergies, pain, digestive issues, or anxiety and haven’t seen the success you hoped for, a more holistic approach may be the right answer. In fact, many veterinarians today use traditional methods like lab tests and prescription drugs in conjunction with holistic remedies and procedures. As Dr. Royal says, “As a doctor, I want any tool that’s going to work. Having more tools in my tool kit has made a huge difference.”
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