Many people embrace a holistic approach to medical care for themselves, but few may realize that pets benefit equally from healing therapies that favor dietary changes, flower remedies and Chinese medicine over the commonly prescribed “silver bullets” like antibiotics and steroids. Dr. Susan Swanson owns the The Cat Care Clinic in Mahtomedi, MN, and she is one of the early pioneers in holistic care for cats in the Midwest.
Dr. Swanson’s interest in holistic care for cats was born out of her own healing experience. Shortly after graduating from vet school in 1988, she was diagnosed with highly inconvenient allergies to cats, dogs and horses. After years of allergy shots, antihistamines and inhalers, which only worked temporarily, she decided there must be a better way. By following an elimination diet, she discovered that the underlying cause of her pet allergies was to be found in her gut in the form of a gluten-intolerance. Eliminating this seemingly unrelated food cured her pet allergies for good.
This experience was an eye opener for Dr. Swanson as to the importance of examining the whole picture before attempting to treat an isolated symptom. As a supplement to her veterinary degree, she went on to study Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Chi Institute in Florida and she further enhanced her studies at the Beijing Teaching Hospital in China, where acupuncture and herbs have been practiced on animals for nearly 4,000 years.
“In the West, we have become accustomed to a medical approach that focuses largely on treating the symptoms — and treating them fast. We expect a doctor to make a symptom go away in a day or two rather than take the time to uncover the whole picture and address underlying issues,” Dr. Swanson says. While The Cat Care Clinic does offer a full range of standard medical services, such as vaccinations, surgery, dentistry, radiology and diagnostic laboratory tests when needed, Dr. Swanson makes it her business to educate cat owners about the sometimes very simple measures that will “keep the doctor away.”
“I learned from my own experience, and this has been confirmed time and again in my practice, that most if not all non-trauma health issues originate in the gut. If your gut is not happy, you are not happy — and it’s no different for a cat,” Dr. Swanson says. She explains that if you have been irritating your cat’s gut with inflammation-producing foods for years, it will take a while to build a healthy intestinal flora, but the results will be far reaching.
Grain-free is cheaper in the long run
Dr. Swanson strongly recommends that all cats be taken off grain-based foods for good. She explains that cats simply aren’t designed to digest grains.
“You will not see a tiger or a lion munching on grains in nature. Yet, the vast majority of cat foods, even those found in health food stores, are full of grains. The only grains cats ever consume in the wild are those found in the gut of the animals they kill, and those have been pre-digested by prey whose enzymes and digestive juices are designed to break down grains.”
Dr. Swanson often hears the initial argument from clients that the protein rich, grain-free cat foods are more expensive.
“They are,” she says, “but in my own experience — and I have had this confirmed by many clients — it is actually cheaper in the long run to invest in proper nutrition. A cat on a grain-free diet rarely develops the modern cat ailments such as diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, cats tend to eat much less of the nutrient-rich, protein-based foods, and hence, they end up using less litter. More importantly, they have far fewer visits to the vet. A simple shift in diet is one of the most important things you can do for your cat’s longevity.”
Hold the antibiotics and steroids
After Dr. Swanson implemented the holistic approach at her clinic, she had a drastic decline in the use of antibiotics. “I probably use it about 90 percent less than your average veterinarian, and I also find that steroids are rarely necessary,” she explains.
Dr. Swanson does find that people are increasingly more aware of the dangers of excessive antibiotics use in people and animals alike, and her clients are generally open to trying something alternative when resolving infections. Upon initial examination, Dr. Swanson will identify the cat’s underlying constitution, as well as the acute symptoms. In addition to the dietary advice, she may prescribe Chinese herbs to support the cat’s immune system in resolving an infection.
“During fall and spring,” she says, “I see a lot of kidney problems, which is typical for the change of season. For a cat with kidney issues, a conventional practice would put the cat on a low protein diet. Personally, I find that it’s not so much a low-protein diet that is needed, but a better protein diet. Changing to a high quality protein diet, in some cases paired with an appropriate Chinese herb, will relieve stress on the kidneys, support the cat’s immune system and promote healing.”
Cats have feelings, too
Sometimes a cat’s issue is not so much physical as emotional and behavioral in nature. In that case, Dr. Swanson turns to flower remedies for help. Flower essences are made from sunlight infusions of fresh blossoms in spring water. They are used to treat emotional disturbances that can manifest as both physical and behavioral problems in animals.
“These flower essences are very gentle, yet highly effective in addressing issues of a more subtle nature. A cat that has experienced a move, for example, may be acting out. A few drops of walnut essence for a couple of weeks will calm the anxiety and help the cat settle in to a new environment,” she says.
The flower essences are the same that are used for human beings and can be purchased in most health foods stores.
Declawing is amputation
Another hot topic is that of declawing. Dr. Swanson finds that even clients who are otherwise enlightened about holistic care still want to know why she is adamantly against declawing.
“In this country,” she says, “we still have a high acceptance level for declawing. In most European countries, this procedure has been banned by law for a long time. First of all, the term ‘declawing’ is misleading. The procedure does not merely remove the claws; it is, in fact, a full-on amputation of the first digit of the cat’s bones.”
Declawing often leads to permanent problems that aren’t always attributed correctly to the declawing procedure earlier in life. Dr. Swanson often sees a connection between declawing and cats that prefer to go outside of their litter box, unprovoked biting, impaired balance and agility and general lack of vigorous activity leading to obesity in adulthood.
But how do you stop a cat from scratching up your furniture? Dr. Swanson says it’s easier than you might think.
“Cats like to stretch and scratch upon waking, so keep a scratching post near his or her favorite resting spot,” she says. “Try rubbing it with catnip to attract your cat’s interest. Meanwhile, you can spray your furniture with lemon spray or cover certain areas with double stick tape or tin-foil to discourage scratching. With persistence, you can train your cat to leave your furniture alone.”
Holistic cat clinics are still few and far between, but more and more conventional doctors will refer clients to Dr. Swanson if they request a holistic approach to their cats’ health. To serve clients who don’t have a holistic vet nearby, Dr. Swanson also offers phone consultations.
The following cat foods are grain-free, but always check the label — some of these brands also make grain-containing varieties
Innova – EVO
Nature’s Variety – Instinct
Solid Gold – Indigo Moon
Taste of the Wild
If you want to go all the way and give your cat the ideal foods, here are some raw brands:
Stella & Chewy’s
Things to Avoid:
Corn, soy, wheat, barley, oats, millet, by-products, BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin
Cat Care Clinic is located at 1524 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi, MN. For more information on Cat Care Clinic and Dr. Swanson, call 651.429.4153 or visit www.holisticcatclinic.com