Today I took Fletcher for a romp in the woods. At 14, he can still run wild for a couple hours, though he crashes on the car ride home and spends the rest of the day napping. Often I see dogs far younger than him who aren’t nearly this healthy, and I wish I could bottle what I do for Fletcher and prescribe it to those dogs. However, the very definition of holistic is to consider every aspect that contributes to the whole, and there isn’t one thing that I’ve done in raising Fletcher that has lead him to where he is; it is everything I’ve done working together.
Since Fletcher was 3 years old, he has eaten variations of a raw food diet, primarily raw meat, bones, and vegetables. I’ve made this my primary focus of healthful living for dogs, since I believe it to be a cornerstone of health. I see many dogs who have had similar results on a such a diet, and others who are only marginally better, or, in some cases, worse than they were on a commercial dog food. I believe that the most proper way to feed dogs is to tailor the diet to their needs and to aim for complete and balanced nutrition. To this end, I have always supplemented my diets with mineral/vitamin mixes, paying particular attention to the calcium phosphorus ratio, as well as nutraceuticals (such as glucosamine), essential fatty acids, and additional herbal medicine as needed. To me, it is a continuem; a base diet with the extras added based on individual needs, segwaying into herbal medicine from both a Western and Chinese medicine perspective.
Speaking of medicine, I have adopted a blend of East meets West that works well for me. I use the minimal core vaccines to reach immunity, running blood titers as needed to confirm, and keep up with a single rabies booster every 3 years. I run bloodwork every 6 to 12 months when my dogs are healthy, depending on age, to catch issues early. Bloodwork is also checked before any anesthesia or if they are sick. The same goes for abdominal and cardiac ultrasounds. I use drugs including antibiotics and pain control when needed, in addition to chiropractic and acupuncture treatments both for specific ailments and routine tune-ups. I’ve also used homeopathic remedies both alone and in conjunction with drugs. Fletcher is currently on minimal steroid eye drops as needed to control an autoimmune disease, on the advice of both his veterinary ophthalmologist and my most trusted holistic vet. He has had two root canals done by a veterinary dentist. Any lumps or bumps are immediately biopsied, and benign masses are not removed unless they are interfering with quality of life.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, health comes from both food and daily exercise. Fletcher would not be so healthy without exercise. For an old dog, it lubricates joints, fights muscle wasting, improves neurologic function, and provides mental stimulation. He walks and has yard time every day, and at least once a week is allowed to hike off leash, to run and explore at his own pace. It scares me at times to let an old dog engage in potentially dangerous activities (and if you saw him ripping around the forest, you would know what I mean). At some point, I just decided that I would let him be, that if he injured himself at his favorite activity, it would be worth it to let him live his life. Pictured is Fletcher on a hike shortly before his 13th birthday.
The discussion of exercise and mental stimulation leads me to the emotional side of raising a holistic dog. I can’t ignore the importance of raising a dog who has had the benefit of being emotionally engaged through interactions with both people and other dogs. Would Fletcher be so healthy without his younger brother and sister, dogs that he wrestles with, snuggles with, and acts as the patriarch to? What about his training sessions which stimulate his neurons, keeping him mentally fit? As a younger dog, he had many “jobs”, including accompanying me to summer day camps, and doing dog safety classes in elementary schools. Many long-lived dogs are ones who have had some sort of job, something to live for. You can see Fletcher is completely engaged in his job of interacting with schoolchildren.
A Holistic Hound
Someday I will have to say goodbye to my beloved heart dog. He is my first holistically raised dog, and the one to whom I owe the most for the lessons he has taught me. I take comfort in knowing that since I adopted him from the shelter, he has not wanted for anything, and I thank him for showing me the way.
I hmm and haw about 2 dogs versus 3. I am 100% a two dog person rather than a one dog person. I much prefer to have dogs, plural. I spaced the ages of Fletcher and Tiki-Granger intentionally, so that their needs (exercise, medical care, etc) would be different enough. I intended to get a puppy when I finished vet school, and was on my way to doing so when my personal life kinda fell apart, and I unintentionally fell for a fellow dog lover (something I swore I'd never do). I don't know if I would have fallen so hard, had I not first fallen for his dog. Jake was absolutely a perfect match for me (see Falling for Jake Milner) and he fit into my canine crew better than I could have hoped for. We make a lovely little family of five now.
When one of my dogs passes, I am not sure if I would go back to three dogs. I don't know that I would ever get such a great 3 dog mix again. Though, if one of the dogs isn't with us, their presence is missed greatly. Yesterday we were going to be out all day, in and out of a hot car, so Fletcher went to stay overnight with my brother. The first thing I do in the morning is reach for Fletcher, who sleeps on the floor beside my side of the bed. This morning I thought "Merle must have slept on the couch", before I remembered he wasn't there. I haven't gone to pick him up yet, and something about 2 dogs doesn't feel like "enough".