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Holistic Animal Care
NEW! Herbs for Pets, by Mary L. Wulff-Tilford and Gregory L. Tilford, is destined to be a classic. It is a huge, useful, interesting, well-researched book, illustrated with gorgeous full color photos, and printed on high quality, glossy stock. At first glance it seems like a coffee table book, and the quality of the design and photography reinforce that impression. However, the content exceeds even the highest expectations.

Both authors are experienced herbalists, and this book is far more than a list of recipes for dealing with common health problems. It covers the principles and theories of herbal medicine, as well as ethical issues involved with using plants.

There are literally hundreds of plant medicines included in this massive resource. Each entry includes a plant description, information on cultivating and obtaining the plant, a guide to the preparation and administration of the herb, beautiful, large, clear, color photographs of the herbs, and information on contraindications and side effects. There is easy to understand information about what common maladies can be treated by each herb contained with the description of each herb. The herb guide alone is almost 200 pages long, but the book includes more than that. It is followed by an excellent encyclopedia of ailments, with practical care suggestions as well as references to appropriate herbs.

There is even a comprehensive section on nutrition, utilizing the holistic approach that sets the Tilfords apart as herbalists. They cover nutrition and herbal care for many species of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, birds, and reptiles. They describe Western, ayurvedic, and Chinese herbs, and give information on how to grow many useful herbs in your own garden. The Tilfords explain different fields of complementary and alternative medicine, including acupuncture and homeopathy, and indicate which modality is useful for what conditions. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more useful comes the guide to losing animals to death and a listing of holistic veterinarians who work with herbs, as well as holistic veterinary organizations. There is even a short list of recommended commercial foods for those who aren't ready to make their pets' food themselves.

Still, the cornerstone of the book is the detailed, lushly illustrated herb guide, or materia medica. Each entry is at least two pages long, and most are several pages long and include multiple large photographs. The quality of this resource cannot be overstated.

If you have an interest in herbal medicine, for humans or for animals, this book will be a treasured classic and more than earn its shelf space. Its price of around forty dollars might seem steep if you haven't actually seen the book, but I have seen many books of this quality and much less usefulness for twice that amount.

NEW! Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs: Small Doses for Small Animals by Donald Hamilton DVM. What precisely is "a healthy animal?" holistic veterinarian Don Hamilton asks. "My perception of health and disease has changed considerably since I began to study and practice holistically, and particularly through homeopathy," he writes. "My veterinary education did not include a sense of how a truly healthy animal should appear. Many conditions we considered to be normal in dogs and cats I now understand to be early signs of illness…. I don't believe we know what a healthy dog or cat looks like these days. We can only speculate."

Hamilton's Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs is unlike any other book on holistic veterinary medicine. This is not a "how-to" book. Oh, it gives hints and suggestions for treating common problems, and includes a thoughtful materia medica, but above and beyond all else this is a book about the theory and philosophy of true holistic medicine for animals. Hamilton has an amazing gift for making the most unfamiliar theories and principles both clear and accessible. Most importantly, Hamilton is interested not in showing us how to apply more "natural" Band-Aids to our pets' health problems, but encourages us to seek out ways to actually cure illness instead of suppressing it.

Hamilton gives an overview of holistic theories of health and disease, and investigates, from this perspective, how diet, environment, genetics, and common practices such as vaccination effect health. Homeopathic Care includes an introduction to homeopathy, as well as chapters on the "Nature of Disease" and the "Nature of Cure." "The Nature of Disease" and his chapter on skin and ear problems are literally the best, clearest explanations I have ever read in either human or veterinary literature of how suppression works to damage the overall health of the animal.

"The body attempts to keep the disease centered in organs that are not essential for life or that can take a lot of insult before becoming life-threatening," writes Hamilton. "The skin and ears fulfill this requirement nicely. Because they are affected early and can be severely damaged without major limitations to health, these organs are sort of a 'dumping ground' for chronic illness- very unsightly but not necessarily dangerous.

"The importance of this is that almost all skin and ear ailments are external manifestations of internal, chronic disease and must be treated as such- not as local, isolated conditions," he concludes.

There are two basic groups of people who are interested in holistic alternatives for pets: those who just want gentler treatments with fewer side effects, and those who are looking at health and illness from a truly holistic perspective. While there is much of value for the first group in Hamilton's book, it is the second group who will find themselves most satisfied by his approach. Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, along with Herbs for Pets by Mary L. Wulff-Tilford and Gregory L. Tilford and The Nature of Animal Healing by Martin Goldstein, DVM, is one of three books published in 1999 that are definitely going to gain the status of classics in the literature of holistic pet care.

NEW! The Nature of Animal Healing: The Path to your Pet's Health, Happiness, and Longevity By Martin Goldstein, DVM. I confess to being tired of books on holistic pet health that aren't much more than recipes and prescriptions. Use this herb for that ailment, this series of homeopathic remedies to prevent that condition, this diet to heal a disease. Martin Goldstein, DVM's The Nature of Animal Healing is more of a treatise on the concepts and philosophies behind natural health than a "how to" book.

Goldstein is particularly strong on cancer, and his account of his research into various holistic and conventional cancer treatment modalities is both fascinating and useful. Particularly fascinating was his "enlightenment" about the true nature of holistic healing, during the treatment of a poodle with a life-threatening tumor. Having failed with all conventional therapies, the distraught owners brought their dog to Dr. Goldstein and his brother, with whom he shared a practice at the time. Newly involved with an experimental alternative cancer therapy, the brothers rejoiced as each day the tumor got smaller and smaller. Day six, smaller. Day seven, smaller yet. They were busy congratulating themselves, until day eight, when the dog died. It's possible, Goldstein realized, to have a smaller, or even disappeared, tumor, and a dead animal.

The book contains a section on the spiritual component of animal life, an extensive encyclopedia of animal diseases and conditions, information on diet, vaccines, and when to use conventional therapies. It is liberally peppered with the stories of the dogs Dr. Goldstein has treated, both his successes and failures.

Goldstein writes with a warm personal style and a strong sense of conviction. For those interested in holistic alternatives, The Nature of Animal Healing will be an important reference book as well as provide food for thought. For those just beginning to explore, the book could prove inspirational or dogmatic, depending on your viewpoint. It's an enjoyable read either way, and contains much information that will be of use to the caring pet owner.

Four Paws, Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs by Cheryl Schwartz DVM. While most people are relatively familiar with acupuncture, knowledge about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is not as widespread. Possessing its own system of diagnosis, nutrition, herbology, and therapy, TCM is the oldest form of medicine being practiced on the planet. Its thousands of years in existence put the couple of hundred of western medicine in the shade. Cheryl Schwartz is a San Francisco veterinarian who has been practicing TCM on dogs, cats, horses, and other companion animals for more than fifteen years. She is one of the authors of the leading veterinary text on animal acupuncture, and has been invited to address both conventional and holistic veterinary conventions, both in the US and abroad. She is also my vet.

My first exposure to acupuncture for pets was on my dog, Colleen. Colleen is a mixed breed dog who I adopted from the shelter many years ago, and has a number of health problems. One of these is hip dysplasia, a crippling disorder of the hip joint.

The first time I took Colleen into Cheryl's office, she went in on three legs and walked out on four. I learned that regular acupuncture treatments kept Colleen limber and active. Her orthopedic surgeon told me he has never seen a case of HD with so little progression over the years. A hip replacement he thought she would need in three years is no more necessary today than it was six years ago.

Schwartz's book goes well beyond acupuncture, however. It covers the history and philosophy of Chinese medicine, presenting the underlying principles, and their application to animals. The book covers basic nutrition for pets, as well as the therapeutic uses of various foods and herbs.

The sections on specific medical conditions include both Western and Chinese diagnostic categories, and list herbs, acupuncture/acupressure points, and food therapies that are often used in treating these conditions. The information is well organized and comprehensive, and includes an excellent section on cancer.

Schwartz's book does an excellent job of easing the newcomer into a new way of seeing health and disease. Her approach is truly holistic; that is, she sees and treats the whole animal, not just the disease that the animal may be presenting. By integrating the philosophy, and explaining the principles behind the diagnostic system, she illuminates an area often left dark by conventional medicine.

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard Pitcairn DVM Ph.D. and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. An absolute classic. The 1983 edition of this book is what got me started on caring for my animals holistically. Contains useful diets as well as an overview of natural pet care and veterinary information. Indispensable.

Give Your Dog a Bone and Grow Your Pups with Bones by Ian Billinghurst. Dr. Billinghurst is an Australian vet and the originator of the so-called "BARF" diet... Bones and Raw Foods, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods. GYDAB is more theoretical and the feeding plan more general. Grow Your Pups has very precise recipes and also contains information very valuable for breeders following his methods. Despite the title, it's not just for breeders, and contains information on how to raise a puppy as well as feed adult dogs. These books have not been published in this country and so are hard to find in US bookstores. I recommend you order them at You'll get the best prices I've found on the books and help Ridgeback Rescue at the same time! These diets are for dogs only.

Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative by Donald Strombeck DVM Ph.D. I don't follow these diets, and don't agree with everything Dr. Strombeck has to say. This book, though, is an invaluable resource on nutrition, the canine and feline digestive system, and diets for specific diseases and conditions. His expose on commercial foods is top notch. Dr. Strombeck is not a holistic vet, and is a professor of gastroenterology and the author of the definitive textbook on the subject, Strombeck's Small Animal Gastroenterology. High credibility with conventional vets and a great alternative for those who want to make their own pet food but don't want to go raw.

The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. The grande doyenne of naturally raising dogs and cats, Levy has been feeding raw diets to her animals for well over 50 years. A bit hard to follow, but well worth reading and owning. Very inspirational and a "must" for breeders.

The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckroate. Fantastic book for cats, and includes home prepared cooked and raw diets, diets using baby food, how to supplement commercial diets, and grooming and veterinary information. For cats only. I'd love to see an updated edition of this book.

The Ultimate Diet by Kymythy Schultze. This is the most radical of the "natural" diets and the simplest. Her diets are for dogs and cats.

General Dog Books
Gazehounds: The Search for Truth by Constance O. Miller. This classic book is based on a series of articles the author wrote for Gazehound Magazine from 1976 to 1980. Don't let the dates fool you, though; it is as vital and interesting today as it was when she first penned it.

The origin of Gazehounds: The Search for Truth was Constance Miller's diatribe against what she perceived as lies, myths, and distortions about the origins of the sighthound breeds. While debunking myths may have been Miller's original goal, she ended up creating a fascinating history of sighthounds, liberally illustrated with photographs and illustrations. She discusses the revival of the Irish Wolfhound, the state of the modern Saluki, the history and creation of the Whippet, and how the Deerhound and Borzoi became show dogs. Her chapter on the Afghan hound, and its divergence from the Saluki, evokes an era of dog showing and breeding that few of us today can imagine.

In addition, Miller delves deeply into the features of sighthound gait, conformation, and function, and those chapters, as well as the pictorial records of some of the most famous dogs of all time, are worth the price of the book alone.

At the end of the book is a cartoon depicting the evolution of the Saluki. Those who admire this graceful dog and who have never seen the cartoon might find those four pages worth the price, too.

No serious sighthound fancier, whether interested in showing, breeding, judging, or coursing their hounds, should overlook this book. Hoflin Press has kept it in print since 1988, and it has earned its status as a "classic" many times over. Mother Knows Best: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog by Carole Lea Benjamin. My dog training bible. I won't lie and tell you my dogs are obedience champions or anything, but the principles in this book form the core of how I believe dogs and puppies should be raised and trained. Benjamin is also the author of some of my favorite dog mysteries, featuring Dash, the pit bull sleuth!

So Your Dog's Not Lassie: Tips for Training Difficult Dogs and Independent Breeds by Betty Fisher and Suzanne Delzio. Not even the cynical bulldog on the cover of So Your Dog's Not Lassie can match the expression on the face of one of my Deerhounds when I ask her to do something she doesn't care to do. It's a combination of disdain that I would be so foolish as to ask, a bit of offense that I would see her as being servile, and just a tiny bit of amused affection, her way of saying, "Will these humans never learn?"

Bulldog owner Betty Fisher has been down many of the same roads as those of us who try and train independent or even stubborn dogs, and has made an art of figuring out how to motivate them. For many dogs, pleasing their owner is all the motivation they need. For others, a hearty "Good dog!" and an ear rub will do the trick. (For the Royal Dog of Scotland, I'm not quite sure what the trick is, but if I ever find out, I'll let you know.)

The book covers the basics of dog training, and the simple, effective, humane tools Fisher describes are excellent for the raising and training of all dogs and puppies, from the most dominant and independent to the proverbial Lassie. She teaches dog owners how to train their dogs to walk quietly on the leash, come when called, and the most important lesson of all: how to pay attention.

While some trainers scorn the use of food, I am not one of them. The problem is, most of my Deerhounds do. If the way to your dog's brain is not through his or her stomach, some of Fisher's tips will be less than effective.

A real plus to Fisher's approach is that it can work with anyone's schedule. Since most independent dogs are easily bored, she recommends working no more than five minutes a day on basic obedience. Even competition training doesn't involve the repetition and drilling many programs call for; if your dog does the exercise once, she says, quit while you're ahead.

Most of us aren't looking for pointers on putting obedience titles on our independent and difficult dogs. We're willing to forgo the experience of having our dogs hang on our every word, breathlessly awaiting our next command. Most of us would settle for some vague acknowledgement that our dog has not gone totally deaf or forgotten his or her name when we call out, "(Not)Lassie, Come Home!"

With this in mind, I found Fisher's techniques for getting your dog's attention to be the most valuable tools in the book. Utilizing games, food rewards, tone of voice, body language, and the element of surprise, she shows the owner of the dog with his or her own agenda how to get an appointment on their busy schedule. Her method for teaching your dog to make eye contact has worked well with my sighthounds, and gives me hope that before I go to my grave, one of them might actually start to demonstrate a reliable recall. We live in hope.

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