Our affluent Western society has largely overcome the problem of infectious diseases. This is due mainly to public health measures. Similarly, our pet animals rarely die of infectious disease (unlike farm animals which can suffer epidemics due to poor hygiene and overcrowding).
But although we have 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.
Thankfully, Holistic Medicine offers us a solution.
The Bible says "In my Father's house there are many mansions." So too with Holistic Medicine. So, to begin I would like to explain what I mean by the term "Holistic".
My dictionary defines Holism as the "theory that the fundamental principle of the universe is the creation of wholes i.e. complete and self-contained systems from the atom and the cell by evolution to the most complex forms of life and mind." It also defines Holistic Medicine as "a system which treats the whole person, physically and psychologically, rather than simply treating the whole part".
While I empathise with the broader definition, as a clinician I will be focussing here on the latter definition; at present, there is no system of pet nutrition which satisfies Holistic principles of food production, transport, and environment and so on but which also meets the needs of pet owners.
In my opinion, nutrition is fundamental to the practice of Holistic Medicine. Correct diet underpins all other Complementary therapies and may make them unnecessary.
Although I am a veterinary surgeon (veterinarian) I came to my understanding of pet nutrition by way of human complementary therapies. As a recent graduate I quickly learned that my conventional veterinary training had left me ill-prepared to deal with chronic illness. In the 1970s complementary medicine did not exist in veterinary practice in the UK. (As far as I was aware anyway.) I trained in human acupuncture but at the same time I became interested in Macrobiotics, which attempts to interpret traditional lifestyle and philosophy in a way that is appropriate for our modern society.
Evolution is the process by which living things survive and prosper by adapting to a changing environment – food supply, climate, avoidance of predators etc.
By definition, evolution ensures that all living things that exist today are well adapted to their environment provided that they live according to the forces that shaped their evolutionary development.
A similar way of thinking is found in Naturopathy. The term has fallen from common usage (thankfully in my opinion because its derivation suggests Natural-disease. I prefer to think that health is natural.)
According to the Macrobiotic philosophy it was by eating whole cereal grains as its principle food that mankind developed its superior intellect. Use of fire for cooking allowed man to change their food which in turn allowed man to become more flexible and adaptable and therefore the most successful species.
It was the abandonment of this traditional way of eating in favour of our modern (Western) diet which has led to most of the illness that is so prevalent in modern society.
The Macrobiotic philosophy is that if we return to a diet based on whole cereal grains and vegetables with animal products, fruits and pulses as secondary foods, (rather than our present reliance on animal products) refined foods, sugars and chemicalised foods, we can regain our health, physical and mental.
This way of thinking gives rise to a set of Principles of Natural Health Care:
- Good health is a natural state
- The body will always attempt to maintain balance and heal itself
- Acute illness is a manifestation that the body is attempting to heal itself
- Chronic illness is a sign that healing has failed
I have been applying and developing these principles to the management of illness for animals over the last 25 years. Back in the late 1970s, I adapted the principles of Macrobiotics to my veterinary practice. I advised my pet-owning clients to avoid commercial pet foods but to feed their dogs on a combination of cooked brown rice, vegetables and meat (1/3 rd of each by volume)
This diet was of course based on the standard Macrobiotic diet for humans but with a higher proportion of meat than for humans. I saw excellent results even in dogs that had long-standing health problems. But most people were unable or unwilling to keep it up for any length of time, as it is more time consuming. Also, it may not be believable that the right diet could save more illnesses.
I beat that drum for a number of years before finally realising that if people were going to feed their pets holistically, the food would have to be convenient and readily available.
That is why I developed a food which is based on my original home-made diet.
I must confess that at first I was worried that a commercially prepared dry dog food would not provide the same health benefits as a home-cooked diet. However, in my experience, the commercial food gives as good if not better results as home-made, especially when treating an existing health problem.
I suspect that this may be because the commercial food has a fixed formula whereas home-made diets are subject to the whim of the cook. It is also easier to advise on treatment when you have a clear idea of exactly what is being fed.
By John Burns BVMS MRCVS
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