Are “Natural” Treatments Better?

Holistic or “natural” products are now being heavily marketed to pet owners.  Many people feel that natural products are safer because they don’t have "medicine" in them.  Before you give your pet a natural pill that promises good health and vitality, it is important for you understand the potential risks.

What separates a ‘natural’ product from a medicine?  Medicine, simply defined, is a substance that is used to treat or prevent a health problem.  If you are giving your pet a natural supplement with the expectation that it is going to help treat a health condition (for example, arthritis or a dull coat), you must admit that you are giving your pet a form of medicine.  

Myth: Holistic products are always more safe than prescription drugs.  People commonly take Ephedra for allergies and sinus conditions. It is a natural product that has been around for a long time.  However, if taken in high doses or mixed with certain drugs (caffeine or aspirin), Ephedra can cause strokes, heart attacks, seizures, and more.  Does that sound safe to you?  Do you know the right dose of a supplement for your pet and are you accounting for your pet's existing health problems and body condition?

Myth:  The quality of holistic supplements is equal or superior to prescription drugs. Natural products are able to get around FDA testing because they are not classified as drugs. This means that there may be a lot less oversight or quality control in natural products than in prescription drugs. Natural products vary widely from one manufacturer to the other in their strength and effectiveness.  Are you sure that the product your pet takes is the best, safest, or is consistent in its strength and quality?

Myth:  Holistic treatments work at least as well as prescription drugs.  Glucosamine and Chondroitin have achieved some recognition for treating arthritis in dogs.  While I am convinced that these chemicals help dogs feel less pain, my experience has made it clear that this combination is not nearly as effective as an actual prescription drug that is readily available.

Myth:  Natural remedies don't have side effects like prescription drugs.  Even Glucosamine and Chondroitin, which are both naturally occurring substances in dog's joints, have been linked to health problems if given in high doses.  This natural supplement can delay normal blood clotting in dogs, and has been linked to diabetes in people. Since holistic products can cause negative side effects, shouldn’t we start thinking about them more as drugs than as "safe alternatives" to drugs?

Understanding the pitfalls of holistic treatments, I still use many natural supplements to treat pets.  Natural products can be worthwhile and effective tools. However, I manage these holistic products just as I would any other drug.

Prescription medicines can provide a guarantee that natural products cannot—they are pure and they are consistent. The predictability of a prescription drug can make it a safer alternative to a natural therapy.

Our society has become too focused on treating health problems with pills.  However, many natural therapies are just a drug by another name.  Before you start prescribing these medications to your pet, be sure to discuss them with your veterinarian.  Many veterinarians are open-minded about the use of holistic treatments, and can point you to important resources where you can research safe doses and side effects of these products.