skip to Main Content
Holistic Health Care For Pets Breeds Creature Comfort

Holistic health care for pets breeds creature comfort

Photo: Store Cat Claudia Dreams, ©Rose De Dan. All Rights Reserved.

Seattle Times, July 17, 2003

by Jesse Tarbert and Young Chang

SEATTLE – (KRT) – Until 6 p.m. most weekdays, chiropractor Dr. Lincoln Kamell treats people’s bad backs and aching joints. But once his Eastlake, Wash., office has cleared out, Kamell extends his practice—to his patients’ furry companions.

While cats and dogs don’t get to climb onto his state-of-the-art chiropractic chairs, they do lie or sit on the floor and receive spinal adjustments. Kamell has been a chiropractor since 1990, but also holds a veterinary chiropractic certificate from the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, based in Bluejacket, Okla. He treats pets for free, as the state requires that only licensed veterinarians receive payment for treating animals.

Kamell views his after-hours service as an extension of his regular practice, which is why the majority of his four-legged visitors belong to his human patients. Sometimes he sees them on weekends, at home.

“It’s incredibly helpful,” he said. “Animals have spines, too.”

More pet owners are choosing acupuncture, chiropractics and other alternative treatments to keep their animals healthy.

Though complete figures on holistic animal care are hard to pin down, at least 2 percent of dog owners had given their dogs homeopathic remedies, according to last year’s National Pet Owners Survey, presented by the Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

About 64 million U.S. households own pets, according to Bob Vetere, managing director of the APPMA. These owners are expected to spend an astounding $31 billion on pet-related goods and services this year, an 8 percent increase over 2002, including $6.7 billion on veterinary care and another $7.6 billion on over-the-counter pet-care supplies.

And the animals? What do they think about holistic/alternative healing?

“I think they’re more curious than scared,” said Kamell, who said it’s difficult sometimes to get a dog to settle down. “They’re more excited than anything else. Sometimes dogs will turn their heads for a moment and see what I’m doing.”

Sure, he’s treated some that were uncooperative or skittish, but Kamell said animals aren’t any harder to treat than humans. He can remember only one occasion when he was unable to treat an animal.

“Generally they have a sense that you’re trying to help them,” he said.

The doctor relies on the owners to know what’s hurting his patients where, based on changes in pet behavior: A dog won’t chase the Frisbee anymore; a cat won’t be able to make her usual leap between kitchen counters.

He prefers that owners take their pets to a veterinarian first. Once conventional treatment options have been explored, he is happy to treat the animal.

Sydney, a Frisbee-playing, 8-year-old Australian shepherd, has been seeing Kamell for four years.

Her owner, Sharon Ellis, notices the effects of Sydney’s active lifestyle. Sometimes, after heavy activity, Sidney gets stiff or starts to limp. But Ellis said she sees “a huge improvement” in Sydney after each visit.

“The last time she went, she could barely walk,” Ellis said. “By the time she left, she walked right out.”

Needle work

Samantha, an 11-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, sits patiently in the lobby of Four Paws Veterinary Center in Seattle.

She is about 20 inches long, with a white coat with large red-brown spots. There is a patch of bare skin near the base of her tail.

Samantha weighs 14 1/2 pounds, down half a pound from her last visit. Her owner, Robin Leavitt, is worried. In February, Samantha was diagnosed with liver disease.

“I was told she had about a week to live,” Leavitt said.

The illness caused Samantha to lose weight. She lost fur, and began having tremors and digestive problems.

Leavitt was happy with her previous veterinarian, she said, but the conventional options for canine liver disease are limited. So she began seeing Dr. Eric Hartmann, a vet who also practices holistic medicine, acupuncture and homeopathy.

Four months later, Samantha’s weight has stabilized; her digestive problems have improved; she’s not losing as much fur; and she’s sleeping better. Leavitt credits Hartmann.

“He’s phenomenal,” she said. “I think he’s brilliant.”

Acupuncturists—whether treating humans or animals – insert needles into specific points in the body, supposedly directing energy flow and stimulating the body’s own healing processes. Acupuncture has been practiced on humans and animals in China for at least 2,500 years.

Hartmann, a veterinarian for 13 years, received his veterinary acupuncture certification in 1993 from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, based in Fort Collins, Colo.

Hartmann leads Samantha and Leavitt into his office and places the dog on an upholstered chair. He squats in front of Samantha, who begins licking his face. After examining her, he starts inserting acupuncture needles. The dog twitches almost imperceptibly as the needles are inserted. With each needle, however, she becomes more and more relaxed. She doesn’t bark, yelp or growl. She lies quietly, eyelids drooping.

Stephen Greene, a licensed veterinarian and certified acupuncturist, said many pet owners choose acupuncture to avoid drugging their pets and the possible side effects of anesthesia.

“In general, people are fairly open-minded about it,” said Greene, also an associate professor of anesthesiology at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hartmann said he sees conventional and holistic treatments as complementary.

“Just because I practice holistic medicine doesn’t mean I’m against conventional treatments,” said Hartmann, who treats his human patients at a separate office on Capitol Hill. “For me, holistic means whatever works for that animal.”

A cat tale

Rose De Dan performs Reiki on pets, wild animals—and humans. Reiki is a method of diagnosing and correcting energy-flow blockages in the body. But Reiki is not body work like acupuncture, chiropractic or Rolfing. Rather than physically manipulating the body, Reiki practitioners place their hands either on or above energy—junction points in the body, corresponding, they believe, to the seven chakras, and redirecting imbalances within the body.

De Dan, who works out of Seattle, also has been trained in using shamanic healing techniques and says she is able to communicate with animals on an intuitive level.

De Dan has been working with the Friends of the Animals Foundation in Seattle for two years, helping the foundation with some of the hundreds of cats it rescues each year.

Judith Davis, head of the foundation, relates the saga of Claudia, a calico discovered wandering near a condominium complex. Davis tried placing the cat in foster homes, but people kept bringing her back because she refused to use a litter box.

Davis called De Dan, who used Reiki and shamanic techniques to treat what she called Claudia’s energy imbalances. During the treatment, Davis said, De Dan discovered another reason for Claudia’s erratic behavior: Claudia, it happened, did not want to be a house cat; she preferred to be a store cat.

So Davis arranged for Claudia to live at Next to Nature, a pet health-food store in Seattle’s Alaska Junction neighborhood.

Now, Davis said, “she’s a good kitty. She’s happy at the store.”

“At first—I’ll be candid—I had some doubts,” Davis said of De Dan’s methods. “But I’ve seen it work too many times not to believe it.”

For more information

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association:

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society:

The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association:

Back To Top