Taking a holistic approach
By Denise Baran-UNLAND Correspondent February 18, 2013 1:24PM
Former feral cat Bernard poses with holistic veternarian, Dr. Karen Becker of Bourbonnais. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Updated: March 20, 2013 6:12AM
Buck, a 7-year-old beagle mix, and Chester, a 5-year-old Chihuahua Corgi mix, both receive a three-year rabies vaccine, eat holistic and gourmet commercial food and snack on raw chicken necks for good dental health.
“We give heartworm prevention every 45 days instead of every 30 because of the life cycle of the worm,” said their owner, Karrie Licatesi of Mokena, “and we give the prevention from the second thaw to the second frost, not all year long.”
After completing an internship in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Licatesi trained as a veterinary technician for a holistic veterinarian and wildlife rehabilitator — Dr. Karen Becker of Bourbonnais — and then worked as her employee for several years.
As Licatesi learned about alternative vaccination schedules, chiropractic care for animals, Chinese herbs and homeopathy, Licatesi embarked on a natural wellness journey of her own and began a Natural Living Facebook group to provide information about holistic human and pet care.
“It has grown to 155 people with many of them active every day, asking questions and/or sharing information,” Licatesi said. “It makes me so happy to see it help even one person to make a healthier decision for themselves or their family. And it all stems from working for Dr. Becker.”
Becker practices “proactive integrative wellness,” or the science of creating a healthy pet from the inside out instead of simply treating illnesses when they appear.
Becker’s philosophy goes beyond the routine wellness blood work other veterinarians perform. She believes that lack of concerning symptoms does not mean your pet is healthy.
“A wellness veterinarian tries to create a thriving body,” Becker said. “We recognize there is no one way for the body to heal. We use herbs — eastern and western — as well as acupuncture, homeopathy, underwater treadmills and electro-stimulation for muscle groups. Detoxification is a big part of wellness. The best medicine is the one with fewest side effects. We have traditional drugs, but we don’t start with the strongest options first, unless we have a critical, life-threatening emergency.”
To foster optimal health, Becker sees younger pets once a year and senior pets every six months. She applies three precepts: species-appropriate nutrition (meat-based diet for dogs and cats), a balanced immune system (one that is not underactive and unable to ward off and fight infection or overactive and prone to allergies and autoimmune conditions) and a resilient musculoskeletal system. Certain types of younger pets do need to visit Becker more often.
“Working dogs, show dogs, athletic dogs and performance dogs see me twice a year even when they are young because their health plans are always changing,” Becker said.
She also advises against over-vaccination. Puppies and kittens receive several vaccines containing up to six viruses in each injection. Although most humans complete their childhood vaccines by college age, veterinarians don’t adjust the vaccination schedule for adult pets.
“Over the course of your pet’s life, it’s getting hundreds of different vaccines, which can cause immunological disruption as the pet ages,” Becker said.
Diet and exercise
Pets also need a strong frame with a healthy organ system. This means an appropriate weight and exercise for their size and breed for well-toned muscles and adequate range of motions in their joints, especially as pets age.
Benefits include reduced inflammation and injuries. It also means your 14-year-old pet might look and feel half his age. Good exercises for dogs may include hired dog walkers, agility and scent-discriminating games and dog-friendly swimming pools.
Cats enjoy laser lights, tinfoil mice on a string and owners willing to walk around the house with their food bowls, dropping bits of the meal behind them.
“This can keep them interested for 20 minutes,” Becker said, “which means I get my exercise, too.”
However, don’t assume that because cats like to hunt and nibble, a grazing attitude is good for them. The “all-you-can-eat buffet” option for cats often translates into overfed cats.
“You do have to recognize boundaries if you want to keep your pet healthy,” Becker said. “If I ate as much as I wanted, I’d be a 500-pound woman.”
Sadly, Becker never sees some pets until they are suffering from diseases such as cancer, severe allergies, kidney or liver failure, autoimmune or Cushing’s disease. So when selecting a veterinarian for your pet, Becker advises clients to allow their pets’ individual needs and owners’ philosophies for pet health care to guide them. Just because you have a wonderful relationship with the veterinarian your father used for 30 years doesn’t mean he’s the right fit for your pets.
“Pet owners need to be responsible in ensuring the best possible choices for their pets by educating themselves,” Becker said. “If your pet has recurrent symptoms and you feel the medicine is not working or that the vet is not answering your questions, it might be time to find another vet.”
For more information, visit www.naturalpetfamily.com.