By Dr. Becker
We’re doing something a little different today. Dr. Mercola is sitting down for a chat with Dr. Barbara Royal, incoming President of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and me to discuss a wide range of topics related to holistic and integrative health care for pets.
Dr. Royal, who I’ve interviewed before for Mercola Healthy Pets, has written a new book called The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets. She’s also the owner of the Royal Treatment Veterinary Center here in Chicago, and is an internationally recognized pioneer in integrative veterinary medicine and physical rehabilitation for both domesticated and wild animals.
Good News for Pet Owners Seeking Holistic and Integrative Veterinary Care: AHVMA Membership Is Growing Rapidly
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal to talk about the role of the AHVMA and how it differs from the traditional approach to pet health care.
Dr. Royal responded that the AHVMA focuses on all things integrative, with the goal of accomplishing more education and research into holistic and alternative veterinary medicine. Historically, veterinary school training has not exposed students to anything of a holistic or alternative nature. But that’s beginning to change because of the AHVMA.
The organization designs its conferences to be extremely comprehensive so that veterinarians can attend and get their feet wet learning a little about all the different alternative methods for treating animals. At the conferences, attendees make contacts and are exposed to the different types of certifications they might be interested in obtaining, for example, in veterinary acupuncture or chiropractic.
In addition, the AHVMA is very involved with the AVMA, which is the traditional parent organization for all practicing veterinarians. Of course, the AVMA remains focused on the conventional model of veterinary medicine – the drug-surgery-processed food model – as are the 30 or so veterinary schools across the U.S. Vet students are taught about drugs, surgery, and disease – but not about health. What’s missing in the conventional medicine model is a focus on what causes health. Integrative medicine provides that missing link.
The AHVMA is growing immensely, according to Dr. Royal. There is demand for holistic and integrative veterinary medicine from both pet owners and the pet care industry. Veterinary clients really want DVMs to know more about integrative medicine. So membership in the AHVMA is seeing solid growth, which has not gone unnoticed by the AVMA. In fact, for the first time, the AHVMA has qualified for a seat in the House of Delegates at AVMA meetings.
There’s one delegate allowed for each state, plus about 15 additional. It makes a big difference to policy-making to have the AHVMA represented, and it makes a big difference in the organization’s ability to expose new veterinarians to an integrative approach.
The Goal of the AHVMA Is to Facilitate the Mainstreaming of Alternative and Integrative Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal what she believes is the AHVMA’s most ambitious goal. She answered that it’s to bring integrative medicine into the mainstream to take its rightful place beside traditional veterinary medicine. That’s the primary goal of the organization, to have all things related to the health of animals considered medicine by the veterinary community at large. Medicine is medicine. Food is medicine. Alternative practices are medicine. Acupuncture, chiropractic, better nutrition, herbal medicine – all should be viewed as medicine with the potential to keep animals healthy and help sick animals regain health.
Dr. Mercola stated that as a physician caring for human patients, two of the biggest issues he sees are the focus on the use of drugs to treat disease, and the general focus on treating disease as opposed to creating health. Another issue is a lack of focus on nutrition, which is the primary tool for improving health.
Dr. Royal agreed that the same situation exists in veterinary medicine. Many of the same challenges overlap between human and veterinary medicine. What Dr. Royal has seen in her practice, for example, when an animal’s poor health makes a remarkable turnaround due to a dietary change or because he’s no longer being over-vaccinated or over-medicated, is that pet owners’ eyes are opened and they start to think about what it might take to improve their own health. Many of the lifestyle obstacles we place on our pets we also place on ourselves, like the standard American diet, which has the apt acronym SAD.
Processed chemically laden foods, the carcinogens that are byproducts of processing methods, GMOs – these are all problems in both human and pet diets today. We’ve traded good nutrition and sustainable agriculture for convenient-and-cheap. It’s really a disaster. Fortunately, many people who see the result of the lifestyle obstacles they’ve placed on their pets – obesity, diabetes, cancer – become willing to try to do something to change the situation. They may not be as willing to make changes to their own poor habits, but they begin to think twice about what they’re doing to their pet.
Dr. Royal feels one of the most important things she does in her practice is educate clients about their right to demand better for their pets. Demand better nutrition. Demand to know whether a medication your vet is prescribing is really necessary. People must advocate for their pets, because the only entities really “regulating” the pet industry are self-interested companies selling processed pet food and veterinary drugs.
One of the Goals of the AHVM Foundation Is to Release the Stranglehold Pet Food and Pharmaceutical Companies Have on the Study and Practice of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal how holistic veterinarians address the pet food issue and the vaccination issue. These are highly controversial topics.
Dr. Royal replied that the biggest obstacle right now is a sort of stalemate. The pet food and pharmaceutical industries have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and the wall they’ve constructed is very difficult to break through. Fortunately, as AHVMA membership grows, there will be more practitioners dedicated to getting the word out – more “feet on the street” – and they will be able to chip away at that wall faster and more effectively.
One of the goals of the AHVM Foundation is to fund research that enables veterinarians to cite evidence-based studies that prove that yes, over-vaccination is causing disease. And yes, core vaccines do indeed protect animals from disease for much longer than we’ve been told they do. And yes, processed pet food is also causing disease. Most holistic practitioners, including Dr. Royal and I, have watched animals eat themselves back to health.
What Kind of Pet Food Helps Animals Eat Their Way To Good Health?
Dr. Mercola asked what kind of food program allows animals to eat themselves healthy. Dr. Royal answered that for her, it’s getting rid of most carbohydrates in the diet. Dogs and cats are carnivores – meat-eaters -- though many people believe dogs aren’t true carnivores because their bodies can process grains and starches. The fact is that while a dog’s body can adapt to process biologically inappropriate food, it’s not a diet that allows him to thrive.
Why feed the animal in your life food that doesn’t allow him to thrive? Why deliberately feed food his body must adapt to, when you can feed a diet of adequate, appropriate animal meat protein that is easily digested, along with a moderate amount of fat, and few if any chemicals and preservatives?
And the other benefit of feeding whole, fresh food is that it isn’t processed. High-heat processing of pet food – especially kibble – creates potent carcinogens like acrylamide and heterocyclic amine. Needless to say, these cancer-causing by-products of processing won’t be listed on any pet food ingredient list. But they are extremely dangerous, even in small amounts, when fed day in and day out. There’s a connection between these carcinogens and the rising rates of cancer in today’s pets.
I asked Dr. Royal what kind of pushback or backlash she’s seeing from the traditional veterinary industry. She replied that interestingly, some companies are making an effort to fall in line. For example, some pet food manufacturers are creating grain-free formulas. Now, these are still high heat-processed, but at least they’re making an effort. And some vaccine manufacturers are backing off the scare tactics normally used to sell their products and instead are trying more reasoned approaches.
Dr. Mercola made the point that mainstream pet food manufacturers, while they may be making an effort, are still not producing raw diets, which is the nutrition both Dr. Royal and I believe is best for most pets. Nothing compares to species-appropriate, whole, organic, unprocessed raw food.
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal if it is challenging to convince clients to shift their pets to a raw diet. She answered that it’s becoming easier and easier. The word is getting out. She does see probably 10 clients a week who simply refuse to feed raw. So she tries to give them non-raw options that are still preferable to processed pet food. And the more those clients visit her practice, talk to other pet owners, and hear of the amazing results and turnarounds in sick pets, the more likely they are to ultimately agree to change their pet’s diet because it just makes sense.
Dr. Royal explained that her practice is very open and there are all kinds of people coming in an out. Clients wait in little stalls where they are able to talk to each other while keeping their pets separated. This client-to-client interaction really helps pet owners get the message without Dr. Royal having to say much.
Finding Funding for the Studies the Veterinary Community Needs to Prove the Validity of Holistic and Integrative Medicine Is a Problem We MUST Solve
One of the problems integrative veterinary medicine faces is that while we as practitioners have huge amounts of anecdotal evidence of, for example, the benefits of whole, raw, fresh food diets, the traditional veterinary community wants scientific studies to back up our claims. These studies cost about a million dollars each, and it’s extremely difficult to generate the money required to conduct them.
Fortunately, the AHVM Foundation is working to address the problem. The foundation funds research, education and scholarships for integrative veterinary medicine. Integrative practitioners tend to work somewhat fractured from the traditional veterinary community. As Dr. Royal explained, we work very hard knowing the amount of money we make will be less than what a traditional practitioner makes who deals with the pharmaceutical companies. So getting research dollars is just that much more difficult.
Dr. Mercola asked why holistic vets make less than other vets. Dr. Royal replied that she has found that as a general rule, holistic vets don’t get the margins because they sell very few drugs in their practices. Traditional practices also sell pet food. And they do a lot of surgeries, whereas in a holistic practice, surgery is often avoided through the use of alternative therapies. And holistic practices aren’t going to sell the typical prescription diets, because most are simply more of the same – high heat-processed and not species-appropriate.
Dr. Mercola then asked whether there’s a strong incentive for new vets to join the AHVMA. Dr. Royal responded that while it may not seem that there is a direct financial incentive to join, the motivation to join is becoming stronger for many reasons. Her practice has grown by leaps and bounds even through the recession because pet owners are realizing the importance of keeping their animals healthy. Dr. Royal estimates she has probably tripled her practice in just the last year. So her success and the success of other holistic practices are helping to attract new clients and more vets toward an integrative approach.
According to Dr. Royal, fundraising through the AHVM Foundation has also picked up speed. The Mercola team has done two wonderful matching grants that have made all the difference in the foundation’s ability to move forward. Mercola Healthy Pets newsletter readers were really interested in contributing, knowing their donation would be doubled by Mercola. It made an incredible difference in the foundation’s fundraising success.
The money the foundation was able to raise thanks to Mercola’s involvement – almost a half million dollars – has funded over 10 programs in integrative medicine in veterinary schools where there were none five years ago. The more of these programs the foundation can fund, the more people will begin to pay attention.
The word will get out, as Dr. Mercola says, because the truth speaks for itself. It’s just a matter of letting people know what’s available. Pet owners want what’s best for their animal companions. They don’t want them to die prematurely or develop chronic degenerative diseases.
How Pet owners Can Find a Holistic or Integrative Vet in Their Area, and How You Can Help Make Their Services More Widely Available
Dr. Mercola remarked that the more he studies about health, and he’s been studying the subject for a few decades now, the more he realizes that it couldn’t be much simpler. It’s about foundational basics.
Dr. Royal replied that she makes the same point in her new book. She wanted to get the information out there that what she’s offering are some really basic principles that are adaptable to your own life. There is an innate health in every animal. The body has a fundamental interest in being healthy and we just need to tap into that and get out of the way. And we need to make those causes of health more available to people. When we look at the results of research over time, we can see that this approach actually does work.
Dr. Mercola made the point that all pet owners who want to see integrative veterinary medicine made available to a wider audience should make a donation to the AHVM Foundation. He went on to say that it’s really tragic that pets should have to suffer because of the financial interests of large corporations that oppose a holistic approach because it may affect their bottom line.
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal what the best way is for someone watching here today to find a holistic or integrative veterinarian in his or her area. Dr. Royal replied that the AHVMA website home page has a button you can click to find a holistic veterinarian. If you’re interested in a vet who specializes in nutrition, acupuncture, chiropractic or another area of pet health care, you can pick your state, select the service you’re looking for, and get a list of veterinarians in the local or general area. The member directory of the AHVMA website is growing, which is wonderful. And there’s a lot of good information available on the site as well.
Dr. Royal Explains Her Approach to Vaccinating Pets
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal if there are any veterinary vaccines she feels are wise and relatively low-risk. And which ones should be avoided?
Dr. Royal responded that the rabies vaccine is required by law, and a DVM’s license depends on doing that one. It should be given every three years. Puppies and kittens should receive a booster after one year and then move to a three-year schedule. The one-year vaccine is no less potent than the three-year vaccine. They’ve proved the one-year lasts three years, so now there’s a three-year vaccine. Next, hopefully, we’ll have a five-year vaccine.
Dr. Mercola asked if most pets are still vaccinated for rabies every year. Dr. Royal replied that many still are. So a good first step in creating health in your pet (and saving a few bucks) is to insist on the three-year rabies vaccine vs. the one-year vaccine. Dr. Mercola then asked if after three years, if an animal is still protected from rabies as proved by a blood test, can the pet owner opt out of re-vaccination? Dr. Royal replied that it isn’t an option when it comes to the rabies vaccine.
You can titer to determine your pet’s rabies immunity status, and actually, many people do opt out of re-vaccination because their pet is ill, or sensitive, or they’re just opposed to it. But that doesn’t satisfy the government. If you run into a problem where your pet bites someone, for example, you will be in violation of the law if you can’t produce proof of timely vaccination. But the AHVM Foundation is working with Dr. Ronald Schultz and Dr. Jean Dodds of the Rabies Challenge Fund to prove the three-year rabies vaccine actually lasts at least five to seven years. So hopefully there will be a five-year rabies vaccine in the future.
Dr. Royal believes in providing distemper and parvo vaccines for puppies and kittens. She believes pet owners should provide the full series of puppy and kitten shots. Once the pet has received the full series of puppy or kitten shots, you can do titers every one or three years to prove there’s still immunity. Many kennels and boarding facilities will accept titers in lieu of proof of re-vaccination.
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal if she feels that after the initial series of core vaccines, providing the animal has been effectively immunized, do those vaccines typically provide lifelong immunity? She replied that she definitely sees that in her practice.
Dr. Royal also feels the Bordetella vaccine for dogs that are kenneled is appropriate because so many kennels require it. She prefers the nose drops to the injectable vaccine. She doesn’t see too many side effects from it. Dr. Mercola stated that there are significant side effects of a similar vaccine for humans, and in fact, it’s one of the worst. Dr. Royal agreed, but she doesn’t see too many side effects in animals, except that sometimes they actually contract Bordetella from the vaccine, which isn’t ideal.
In my experience, that vaccine isn’t terribly effective for pets. It seems designed primarily to bounce liability away from the kennel or boarding facility, and I feel if you can get around not giving it, then don’t. Dr. Royal agreed but made the point that unfortunately, it can be hard to get around.
I also believe that if you have an indoor house cat that never goes outside, never sees other animals, and is in his senior years, there’s no need to vaccinate that kitty.
Balancing the Competing Needs of Cats to Live Safely Indoors, but Also Be Grounded to the Earth
Dr. Mercola remarked that if possible you should let your cat go outside, because if his paws don’t contact the bare earth, he won’t be grounded. Like humans, pets thrive, live longer and are more resistant to disease by simply walking outside.
Many cat owners, however, live in high-rise buildings. In those situations, you may want to get a grounding pad or some other means of grounding the cat without actually taking him outside. On the one hand, it’s important for pets to make contact with the Earth; on the other hand, it’s just as important to keep them safe from harm.
Dr. Mercola remarked that his girlfriend has a cat and also a grounding pad on her bed. The cat could choose to lounge anywhere on the bed, but she’s always on the grounding pad. She wasn’t trained to do that -- she just heads there instinctively. She knows.
Dr. Royal made the point that many cats today have urinary tract disorders, and a lot of the problem in her opinion is from the stress of being inside all the time when they do need outdoor activity. The problem with being outdoors is that cats are really effective carnivore hunters, so they do kill other animals. She puts two bells on her cat. He can still catch mice, but he can’t catch birds anymore because the birds pick up on the bells very quickly.
In my neck of the woods, there’s a coyote risk. There’s also risk from rotten humans who like to hurt cats. So there are risks when cats go outside, and they should be supervised. Dr. Mercola also mentioned the presence of hawks, raptors and other predators. Owls are another risk. So it’s important to supervise your cat when he’s outside.
Dr. Royal's Unique Approach to Her New Role as President of the AHVMA
I asked Dr. Royal to share with our viewers, and Dr. Mercola, why she wanted to become president of the AHVMA. She has unique insight and vision that I really love.
Dr. Royal replied that she feels the AHVMA is linked into so much that is important in the world today, and her goal is really to change the world. She wants to make a difference. Dr. Mercola jokingly asked her, “Can you get a loftier goal?”
Dr. Royal said she decided to start small. When the organization seemed like it needed a little push to get out there in the world in a bigger way and make a difference, she thought, “This is something I can do.” She grew up in a family of seven. She says they were sort of like the Von Trapp family from the Sound of Music. They all sing and dance.
And now, the idea of getting the word out about integrative medicine and making a difference is so important to her that she knows she can use her life experience and skills to achieve results. She doesn’t mind talking to large groups of people. She likes to be involved and get people to listen and make a difference. The AHVMA presidency seemed like a really great place to do that.
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal how long her term as president will be. She replied that it’s a year in length. She’s looking forward to working with her wonderful mentors and those she’s mentoring within the organization.
She just wants to change the world… that’s all!
Dr. Mercola Expresses Shock at the Careless Use of Veterinary Vaccines
I expressed that I’m very grateful to Dr. Mercola for taking an active interest in the Healthy Pets site and interviewing some of my amazing colleagues, including Dr. Royal.
He responded that he believes pets are important, and while he doesn’t have one, it’s not because he doesn’t want one. It’s just that he travels so much and hasn’t figured out the complexities of managing a pet well while he’s away. But if he could solve that problem, he says he’d have a pet in a heartbeat. He believes they are great companions and an amazing substitute for the lack of human love many people experience in their lives.
Dr. Mercola went on to say that he’s grateful there are people like Dr. Royal and I who are applying the principles of human health to optimize animal health, because someone needs to stand up for the animals. The conventional health system clearly does not.
Dr. Royal remarked that she has found that many people would give their lives for their pets. And their pets would give their lives for their owners. In a story from her book, she tells how she ran into a burning building to save her pets. That’s not necessarily what you’re supposed to do, but as veterinarians, we save pets. It’s what we do.
In a sense, while the times we live in are a less immediate danger than a fire, Dr. Royal feels the emergency is now. We need to take the same kind of active, loving energy and put it into saving pets, one meal at a time, one less drug, and making their lives healthy. This in turn will make our lives better.
Dr. Mercola mentioned that the last time he and I met with Dr. Royal was at Yosemite National Park, at the base of El Capitan, and he was shocked by what he learned during our conversations about the careless use of veterinary vaccines. We were discussing the fact that the traditional protocol is to give vaccines at 8, 10, 12 and 16 weeks, and then annually for parvo, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, lepto, corona, Lyme, and Bordetella – whether the animal is sick or well. This is a reason a certain number of animals die every year.
Many veterinarians are vaccinating chronically ill animals that have degenerative diseases, and those vaccines represent a huge boulder on their path to regaining their health. Veterinarians as a whole are very caring, compassionate people, but we’re doing a lot of things as a profession without thinking. Many vets seem unable to see that our traditional training has not provided a picture of what whole health really is. This is where the AHVMA is really starting to open doors and the minds of students. It’s so important.
Dr. Royal agrees that vet students aren’t trained very well -- prescription diets being a great example. She mentioned that she’s working with a raw pet food company, Darwin’s, to formulate the very first raw prescription diet. The goal is to address the fact that animals must be fed species-appropriate nutrition. If it’s a hummingbird, it’s nectar. If it’s a carnivore, it’s good-quality meat.
Too many pet owners believe, “You can’t change the diet. It’s a prescription diet.” The word “prescription” validates the food in their mind. But it doesn’t validate a thing, in reality. Food needs to be biologically appropriate for the species eating it. So it will be good to have a raw food version of a prescription diet.
How Pet owners Without Access to a Holistic or Integrative Vet Can Learn to Begin on Their Own to Create Health in Their Animals
Dr. Mercola remarked that it’s his guess pet owners don’t have easily available access to veterinarians who share Dr. Royal’s and my philosophy of integrative medicine. We agree, but both of us feel the day is coming when there will be many more holistic and integrative veterinary practices around the country.
In the meantime, pet owners can find excellent resources like Dr. Royal’s new book, The Royal Treatment. But as Dr. Mercola points out, the most important variable is the food pets are fed. He asked Dr. Royal if there is a way for pet owners to find species-appropriate raw food diets.
Dr. Royal suggests that the first thing to do is look around in your own neighborhood for independent pet product stores – smaller stores. If you shop in some of the big chain pet stores, all you’ll find are foods that are processed and preservative-filled so they can be warehoused. It’s just the nature of the business. So try to find a small, local shop run by people you trust who have a vested interest in their community.
Network locally. Look for commercially available raw pet food diets. Look for higher quality canned foods and even low heat-processed dry foods that are high in protein. Thirty percent protein is the minimum you should accept in a dry pet food. With canned foods, you have to do a little calculating to figure out what the protein content is. But the very minimum should be 30 percent.
And know what you don’t want to see on the ingredient panel. Dr. Royal has a list of those items in her book. Figure out what you can afford. Use coupons if they’re available.
Dr. Mercola suggested that pet owners can also consider making their pet’s food themselves, but it does present challenges. Dr. Royal responded that most of the people she knows who decide to prepare their own homemade pet food burn out after three to six months because it’s so time-consuming. This isn’t surprising at all – it’s hard work to nourish your own body and your pet’s body well. It’s just plain hard work.
Did You Know That Most Pet Feeding Schedules Are Contrary to the Nature of Dogs and Cats and Often Create Obesity and Other Serious Diseases?
Dr. Mercola asked Dr. Royal about intermittent fasting for pets. Do they really need to eat every six to eight hours every day of their lives? In his experience with humans and fasting, he feels we need to expose our physiology to periods of no food, just as our ancestors did.
Dr. Royal replied that pets can be fasted. She has clients that tell her they feed their dog four times a day. That means not only that the animal’s GI tract never gets rested, but also that the dog will eat every time he’s fed, and because of his scavenger nature, he’ll still act hungry all the time.
Also, in my experience, too many cat owners feed their pets an all-day, all-they-can-eat buffet -- but kitties are designed to hunt a mouse, kill the mouse, eat the mouse, and then fast. They’re not repeating that process every 15 minutes. Providing them with food to eat 24/7 means they’ll be eating around the clock – not because they’re hungry, but because the food is sitting there in front of them. They learn to “graze” as if they are herbivores – ruminants – instead of carnivores. They snack constantly, usually on inappropriate food (kibble). Feeding inappropriate foods at inappropriate times over a lifetime can create tremendous metabolic stress.
The digestive tract needs to rest, and as Dr. Mercola points out, this is something very few people appreciate about themselves or their pets.
I have clients tell me I’m the very first vet to ever tell them not to free-feed their cat. And in fact, other vets actually recommend free-feeding. So it’s no wonder it’s difficult for pet owners to wrap their minds around the fact that cats and dogs were not meant to eat all day, every day.
Dr. Royal agrees and adds that we’re creating obesity, GI problems and so many other health issues. Clients actually believe chronic diarrhea is just “normal” for their pet. Is it normal to expect every Labrador to be obese and arthritic? Is it normal to expect half of all male cats to have urinary blockages that are life-threatening? We just accept all these health problems now in our pets as “normal,” in part because we have the same or similar health issues. We just assume they’re a fact of life. But illness is not “normal.”
Dr. Royal adds that another blind spot is with pet obesity. She’ll mention to a client that his pet is overweight, and he’ll say, “Oh, no, my veterinarian… my friends… my groomer… everybody says my pet is not fat.” Meanwhile, she has just classified the animal as obese, and the owner is absolutely shocked.
She feels it’s important to be gentle but direct in informing clients they are creating obesity in their pet. A too-heavy dog or cat develops terrible metabolic problems – thyroid disease, adrenal stress, GI disorders. These are all the same things that occur in humans.
Dr. Royal recently heard about a keynote speech at an International Congress for Clinicians in Complementary and Integrative Medicine conference by a woman from a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. She said something that really stood out. She said that 80 percent of those who now apply for the military are rejected due to obesity. It has turned into a national security problem. That just speaks volumes about the obesity epidemic in this country.
My Sincere Thanks to Dr. Mercola and Dr. Barbara Royal for a Fascinating, Enlightening Discussion!
Dr. Mercola wound up our chat by thanking both of us for being out in the field making a difference for animals, and he wished Dr. Royal good luck in her new term as AHVMA President for 2014.
I want to extend my personal thanks to both Dr. Mercola and Dr. Royal for a lively and insightful discussion on so many issues that are near and dear to my heart!