Common Health Problems affecting Dogs and Cats

Veterinary advice from John Burns BVMS MRCVS

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A Holistic lifestyle

lisa and boxerThe animal kingdom depends entirely for its existence on the plant kingdom. Animals need to consume plants for sustenance. Even carnivorous animals depend on plants by eating animals which have eaten plants. The evolution of the animal kingdom reflects the evolutionary changes in the plant kingdom. As plants became more complex so the animal kingdom developed. The most highly developed animal is man. Man has the most sophisticated nervous system and is the most adaptable species on earth and is capable of surviving in the widest habitat of any creature.

The macrobiotic view is that this has come about because man evolved through eating the most complex plants, namely whole cereal grains. Eating cereals plus the ability to cook have given man the pre-eminent position at the top of the evolutionary tree. As recently as a few hundred years ago, man relied on a diet based on whole cereals and vegetables with meat and other foods forming only a minor part of the human diet.

In the West, the change to a diet based on meat, dairy foods and refined foods high in sugar has taken place as recently as the Second World War.

Our affluent Western society has largely overcome the problem of infectious disease. This is due as much to improved public health measures as the role of medicine in developing vaccines and antibiotics. Similarly, our pets rarely die of infectious disease (unlike farm animals which suffer epidemics due to poor hygiene and overcrowding).

But although we have largely seen off infectious disease, our hospitals and mental health clinics are swamped, veterinary clinics are busier than ever and our society is fragmented and ill-at-ease. We have replaced the problem of infectious disease with that of degenerative disease.

Many people believe that a return to a more holistic, inclusive lifestyle offers a solution to many of the ills of modern society. To begin that process we have to define and understand what we mean by the word “holistic” which has become one of the most used (and abused) terms in present day language.

“Holistic Medicine” is defined as “a system which treats the whole person physically and psychologically, rather than simply treating the individual [affected] part.”

While this may seem self-evidently desirable, that is not how modern medicine is structured or practised. We have experts who specialise in the different organ systems e.g. specialists for skin, kidneys, gastro-intestinal system and so on. Veterinary Diets extend that process into nutrition tailored to specific ailments.

My view is that nutrition is fundamental to the practice of Holistic Medicine. Correct diet underpins all therapies, whether conventional or complementary and may even make them unnecessary. Some companies market additives or supplements which they describe as “holistic” but a holistic lifestyle involves much more than correcting a deficiency or providing a particular stimulus.

It is beyond the scope of this section to set out a comprehensive prescription for a holistic lifestyle but it does seem sensible that if we try to provide a holistic life for our pets we would wish to do the same for ourselves.



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