Being treated like a dog is taking on new meaning.
The ways to keep animals happy and healthy have become more sophisticated over the past several decades. Hydrotherapy, doggie massages and reiki healing are among the newest treatments some owners are seeking to keep their pets active.
Even traditional dog kibble is being replaced with fresh, homemade food.
During his 35 years as a veterinarian, Dr. Gary Winters of Affordable Pet Care in Port Royal said he has seen health care improve for animals, right along with that for their humans.
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"We are better at diagnostics, and we have better treatments," Winters said.
Winters said while some alternative treatments do work, pet owners should check with their regular vet before trying them.
"Pet owners should check for references and recommendations from their veterinarian," he said. "I've seen a lot of alternative treatments, and I think when traditional treatments fail, the alternatives are worth trying."
Imagine taking your dog for a walk in a 7-foot long glass aquarium filled with 87-degree water to help manage arthritis pain or recover from surgery.
Hydrotherapy is being performed on Hilton Head Island by Dr. Kathy Wander, an orthopedic veterinary surgeon who is a certified physical therapist at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute in Florida. Wander spends about four afternoons a week offering hydrotherapy at Southpaw Pet Resort.
"When you put them in warm water, it feels good to them," Wander said. "The hydrotherapy is like a nice warm heat wrap on their joints and you are able to exercise because water displaces your weight."
The hydrotherapy also helps with dogs who have neurologic injuries and severe arthritis, and offers cardiovascular benefits. One of the most common injuries she sees is a torn ACL.
"Without rehab it can take a dog six months to a year to get back to normal, but with rehab using hydrotherapy we can get them back to normal within a couple of months, and at least three months under controlled activity," Wander said.
Dr. Marikay Campbell of Port Royal Veterinary Hospital said rehabilitation techniques are a good example of how far pet care has come in a relatively short period of time.
"The standard of care is so much higher now than even 20 years ago," Campbell said. "We are finding rehabilitation in animals after fractures and injuries is just as important as people. Who would have thought 20 years ago of putting your dog on a treadmill or putting them in a pool to stretch their legs after surgery?"
DIET, MASSAGE, REIKI
Even though Tracie Korol treats dogs, some people wish they were her clients. The canines in her care receive homemade food, massages and reiki healing treatments -- a therapeutic hand placing believed to channel healing energy.
A Tufts University-certified canine behaviorist and holistic practitioner, Korol prepares nutritionally balanced frozen dog food bars and serves them with a small amount of high-quality kibble. Each dog's diet is individually created based on its medical condition. The bars are made of fresh meat, organic vegetables and fish oil, as well as amino acids.
Creating a special homemade diet for a pet is a good way to eliminate chronic health problems, Winters said.
"If a person tries something and sees benefits to it, that is great," Winters said. "The whole premise for veterinary medicine is to help and not hurt. There are a lot of prescription diets out there for certain ailments."
Linda and Henry Robertson's usually active German shepherd, ACE, contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted fever around age 2. It affected his joints and hips, so they sought alternative treatments after traditional therapies failed. A year ago, ACE could barely climb stairs and had given up walking out on their dock or swimming. Linda heard about Korol's program and called her.
Korol suggested ACE lose weight to ease the stress on his joints. She developed a special diet for him combined with massage and reiki treatments.
"This system has put life back into him," said Henry, as the more than 100-pound, 8-year-old ACE galloped around their Lady's Island yard recently. "He is 100 percent better than he was one year ago. Some people don't understand that a dog can have a smile on his face, but he does have a smile on his face now."
Dr. Jessica Rockwell of Sea Island Animal Hospital recommends working with your vet to incorporate diet and medical care that would be safe and helpful. She said just because something is natural doesn't mean it's good for your pet.
"Be careful with some natural remedies as they can be harmful," Rockwell said. "For instance, garlic is toxic to dogs in the right amount. A lot of times people give garlic to their dogs for natural flea control."
CARE AT HOME
Another alternative to traditional doctor visits are house calls. Veterinarian Dr. Stacey Levin brings her 5-pound teacup poodle, Stuart Little, on home visits to calm her patients.
For Joyce and Dick Burgess of Hilton Head, Levin's house calls relieved their stress as well as that of their three aging and ailing dogs.
"We had three dogs -- his, hers and ours," Joyce said. "They were all rescue dogs, and each with a lot of medical issues. It terrified them when they had to be treated, and they all hated going to the vet."
When the Burgesses noticed a car with a sign that read "Mobile Pet Vet" in a neighbor's driveway, they investigated. Fast forward five years and Levin has become a friend to the Burgesses' pets.
As one dog developed liver disease, another's diabetes required four insulin shots daily and the third lost her sight and use of her legs, Levin provided their hospice care, normally only available to humans.
"End-of-life issues for a pet are similar to that of family member's," Joyce said. "Dr. Stacey made the transition as easy as possible on us as the owners and family members, as well as the pets."
At-home care is an extended service being offered by at least two Beaufort County veterinarian offices. Dr. Amy Czarnecki, one of three vets at Riverwalk Animal Hospital in Okatie, will start offering home visits April 12. Coastal Veterinary Clinic of Bluffton has added Dr. Dana Resetarits, who takes at-home visit appointments.