Holistic Dog Breeding

The vast majority of our companion dogs and cats are neutered, for a variety of good reasons. As a consequence, the healthcare of breeding animals is not a major part of most small animal practices, and it hasn’t been a subject I have covered often here. However, it should be no surprise to learn that there is an abundance of alternative medicine products and services advertised for assisting in breeding companion animals and treating breeding problems. And for the most part these products have no greater foundation in real scientific evidence than any other CAM interventions.

A good example is the NaturalRearing.com web site. This site manages to hit almost every cliché and bogus claim found in alternative medicine and raise every red flag on the list of warning signs of nonsense:

“Natural” and “holistic” are mere synonyms for “good” and “healthy.”

Vaccines and commercial diets are labeled toxic, while raw diets and herbs are automatically assumed to be safe and healthy.

Scientific medicine treats symptoms with technology, “holistic” medicine treats the vital life force of the patient to achieve true wellness.

Any and all alternative methods are good even when they each claim different and incompatible causes and treatments of disease.

There’s a big conspiracy to brainwash us into mindlessly believing in science while the truly brave, independent thinkers are following these mutually incompatible paths laid out by “ancient” traditions or misunderstood geniuses.

Cures and perfect health are implicitly or explicitly promised.

While science and its accomplishments are persistently derided and dismiss, it is still claimed that science validates the claims made by the alternative medicine community.

The site goes even farther than many others. Chlorination and fluoridation of drinking water are identified as unappreciated health hazards, as are fabric softeners, genetic modification of crops, antibiotics, and pretty much anything that would not have been a common technology or practice 200 years ago.

And what is the evidence for all of these warnings and promises? Well, there isn’t any. Apparently, “those who think for themselves” are expected to swallow all these claims based only on the word of the people making them.

The cast of characters at NaturalRearing.com includes some we’ve seen before and others who haven’t yet appeared here. What they share is a deep ideological commitment to the idea that conventional scientific understandings of health and disease are wrong and that completely incompatible alternative explanations are the real truth. The site is owned by Marina Zacharias, who is apparently a homeopath practicing on humans as well as animals. And there is Dr. Deva Khalsa of magic water fame, among other accomplishments. And Catherine O’Driscoll, an anti-vaccine activist and proponents of raw diets and numerous corporate conspiracy theories about animal care. Also Dr. John Fudens, a “holistic” veterinarian who argues that rabies vaccination is a “Big Scam” and who appears to believe that one of the most important causes of cancer is negative emotions.

Besides carcinogens, stresses from viruses and pollutants, there also exists an insidious degenerative process within the person or animal and the family connected to them. This process starts in the mind and emotions. It is an illness that leaves the individual paralyzed in poor self esteem, powerless to control their lives and destiny and feeling they or the body cannot create anymore.

It could involve suppressed emotions like anger, grief from loss of love or respect, guilt from resentment toward a person close, augmented by a loss in ability to communicate and trust. A big factor is the physical loss of a loved one. This despair is the breeding ground for an unhealthy attitude towards life. In such an environment a cancerous process grows strong.

These individuals are not simply promoting traditional or novel therapies. They are ultimately rejecting the entire scientific understanding of biology and medicine that has so greatly improved our lives and health and seeking it to replace it with an incoherent mish-mash of idiosyncratic and mystical theories. It is important to know this when evaluating their advice, since their arguments can seem quite reasonable and even consistent with science on the surface.

What, specifically, does this site recommend in terms of interventions for breeding? A more accurate question would be what doesn’t the site recommend?! Homeopathy is touted as a preventative or outright cure for many problems, despite being a baseless pseudoscience with no reliable evidence it helps fertility or in any other way facilitates breeding and rearing healthy dogs. Herbs of various kinds, usually in complex proprietary mixtures, are recommended for everything from deworming and fertility enhancement to treating panosteitis and other disorders. Traditional Chinese Medicine remedies and arbitrary individual food ingredients along with lots of extra vitamins are also recommended.

The only theme appears to be that food or homeopathic magic water cure everything and one should never give anything that could be considered a scientifically tested and proven medicine, except of course in a real emergency. If a little of something, like a vitamin, is good then more must be better, despite the growing evidence that this is dangerously untrue. And while the owner of the site sells many of the remedies she recommends, we can rest assured that concerns about financial motives only apply to conventional medical practitioners.

This site engages in one of the most frustrating and disingenuos CAM marketing practices. It dismisses science-based medicine as useful only for emergencies (by which is meant cases where a pet is genuinely sick and the success or failure of treatment is easily determined), and then make all sorts of baseless claims for alternatives in promoting “wellness” or “real health” in animals that either aren’t sick in the first place or have chronic, waxing and waning illnesses where it is impossible to legitimately make a clear, direct connection between interventions and changes in symptoms. It’s a classic case of “heads I win, tails you lose.”

I’m sure Ms. Zacharias breeds many healthy, happy dogs. And while she gives the credit for this to the unproven or outright mystical nonsense she promotes and sells, the reality is that these dogs likely do well despite the remedies she applies to them, and would likely do as well or better with conventional care. But of course that is impossible to prove, so she is free to believe and claim what she likes without having to back it up with any real evidence. But I would not recommend taking breeding advice, or any other healthcare advice, from a site that opposes vaccination, antibiotics, and many other proven beneficial therapies and promotes, homeopathy and other pseudoscientific fantasies.

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12 Responses to Holistic Dog Breeding

  1. Bartimaeus says:

    They seem quite interested in selling a wide variety of purebred dogs. the site owner, Marina Zacharias breeds Basset hounds, one of the chondrodysplastic breeds that is especially prone to orthopedic problems because of their breeding. The site also lists a variety of brachycephalic and giant breeds, among other breeds that tend to be a little healthier, with no discussion of the problems associated with these breeds. Apparently they are happy to sell lots of nonsense to take care of the dogs they are selling. Once again we see breeders following kennel club standard that are almost guaranteed to result in health problems resorting to quackery to pretend to take care of these problems. In the topsy turvy world of purebred dogs and cats, “good” breeding really means inbreeding and perpetuating detrimental traits that are written into the standards.
    Thanks for pointing the site out-always good to be aware of these things.

  2. v.t. says:

    And then there are those breeder sites who will not sell to anyone not willing to adhere to the breeder’s list of non-no’s (vaccinations, appropriate puppy food, etc). Yes, it’s actually in their contracts.

  3. Rita says:

    How on earth can anyone justify (human caprice doesn’t count) breeding dogs in this day and age? Adopt from a shelter!

  4. Geneva Coats says:

    Hi Rita,
    Why should anyone be made to feel guilty about breeding dogs? For some people the appropriate choice is an intentionally bred dog with predictable temperament, health and physical characteristics rather than a random-bred dog with an unknown background. And many of today’s shelters are importing dogs from Mexico, Taiwan, Romania and the Caribbean. Those imports bring with them parasites and diseases including RABIES. Yes, it is happening right now. Read “Humane or Insane” by Patti Strand or “It’s Raining Dogs…..from Other Countries” written by Yours Truly. Shelters in the northeast US have a serious shortage of adoptable dogs, and that has been the situation there for decades.

  5. Geneva Coats says:

    “The Science of Vaccine Damage” debunked here…

    Pure BUNK and pure “JUNK SCIENCE” !!!

    There has been a widely circulated article entitled “The Science of Vaccine Damage” which is filled with inaccuracies, half-truths, and scare tactics. Now I must confess, when I first read this article, I fell for it hook, line and sinker! Then, my skeptical nature took over. This article extensively references a limited Purdue study which involved a very small number of beagles. I accessed the study and read the entire report. This study concludes that certain dogs may develop antibodies to bovine contaminants in the vaccine serum. This is certainly no evidence for vaccines causing any long-term health effects in any dogs, let alone ALL dogs…yet that is just what this author states in her article!

    I quote here from the Purdue report:

    “This study did not find any evidence of autoimmune disease in the vaccinated dogs”

    ”There was a marked increase of autoantibodies to the skeletal muscle proteins, myoglobin and myosin, in BOTH groups of dogs”(vaccinated and non-vaccinated… this is surmised to be due to frequent blood sampling of the dogs for the study).

    “There was no increase of anti-thyroglobulin antibodies in the vaccinated animals, or other evidence of thyroid dysfunction.”

    “Vaccination did not cause immunosuppression or alter the response to an unrelated antigen (KLH)……we did not observe a transient lymphopenia in the dogs at any time”

    Consider for a moment the process by which a “core” vaccine (such as parvo, distemper or rabies) is produced. The virus is cultured on tissue, in this case cow or “bovine” tissue. With current technology, vaccines invariably will contain traces of bovine serum proteins. When a dog is vaccinated, they will form antibodies not only against the virus, but sometimes against these bovine contaminant proteins also. Various autoantibodies to bovine contaminants were detected in some (not all) of the vaccinated dogs. These antibodies were not found to react with the dog’s own tissues. The long-term significance of these autoantibodies has not yet been determined.

    “Since bovine serum components in the vaccine may be responsible for the majority of autoantibodies, elimination of these bovine components may avoid this problem…new generations of vaccines, especially naked DNA vaccines, are free of serum components, and these should not induce autoantibodies.”

    BINGO!! Thank goodness for research and development. We are discovering how to make better, safer, more effective vaccines! Great news for our dogs! So the next time you see that article floating around the internet lists, just remember to read it with some skepticism.

    I’d like to address a few more of her faulty accusations against vaccination in general. She states “The monkey retrovirus SV40 keeps turning up in human cancer sites”… Per the CDC, SV40 has been found in cancers of people who either DID or DID NOT received the polio vaccine. SV40 has not been present in any vaccine since the early 1960’s. SV40 may be associated with some cancers, but the virus is transmitted to people by a mechanism other than vaccines. Lastly, SV40 has not been proven cause cancer, any more than any other virus which might lie dormant in the body.

    She also states that “allergy…should be synonymous with the word ‘vaccination’”, and goes on to state that vaccines sensitize “render allergic”…this is such an inaccurate statement! Actual allergies are to vaccine components are rare, and the process of immune system activation, while perhaps sharing some similarities, is NOT the same as the allergic response process.

    More false statements: She states “The Purdue study found that the vaccinated dogs had developed autoantibodies to their own DNA”…Nowhere was this found in this study!

    She states, “The study dogs were found good homes.” No, they were euthanized at 22 weeks so that their tissues could be examined….did this woman actually read the study? Or just doesn’t understand it? Or doesn’t choose to try to understand it?

    There are many other misquotes in this article, and faulty conclusions as well, but the worst may well be her own conclusion, “Some of us, myself included, have chosen not to vaccinate our pets at all.”

    Luckily for her dogs, herd immunity will likely afford them some protection…even if she refuses to contribute to the health of the community through vaccination.

    Once you are terrorized against vaccinating your pets, you can go to the website where she will happily sell you untested, unproven remedies for health and wellness. For just $31 per year you can sign up for a newsletter!

    The “Science of Vaccine Damage” article is not an unbiased viewpoint, and far from scientific. We would do better to look to the real scientists and the ongoing research when formulating our health care plans, and not quacks who don’t have any understanding of basic biologic principles.


  6. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for bringing up the anti-vaccine tirade. I have addressed myths and exaggerated fears about vaccines before, but not this specific bit of nonsense.

    As for the comments about breeding, I think they are a bit too sweeping, but I understand the context so I can sympathize with the sentiments. In my experience there are certainly responsible breeders who produce healthy dogs all of which find good homes. So I certainly don’t believe that breeding per se is a bad thing.

    That said, I understand the frustration many feel about breeders, who as a group are often very attached to unscientific nonsense which they convey to the purchasers of their dogs from a position of supposed wisdom and authority. And to see a breeder rant about the health dangers of vaccines and other veterinary care while producing dogs that can’t breath, walk, or give birth normally because of breed standards that values bizarre and arbitrary aesthetic standards over the health and well-being of the dogs is infuriating. So while I work with many breeders I respect who do a great job, I do think that there are also many out there who have generated a lot of legitimate antipathy on the part of pet lovers, and who have created a reputation responsible breeders will unfortunately have to struggle to undo.

  7. Bartimaeus says:

    Just to be clear, I am not opposed to the general idea of dog breeding-there are good reasons to breed dogs for specific sizes, temperaments and purposes-I have two Jack Russell terriers myself. The things that bother me are kennel club breed standards which promote unhealthy and painful conditions such as extreme conformation and/or head shape, or other problems such as the extreme wrinkles and skin folds which are considered desirable by shar-pei breeders and are linked to a genetic abnormality which causes fevers and pain in addition to puppies who have to suffer through painful procedures to keep the skin folds away from their eyes. I do not think that most individual breeders are intentionally breeding unhealthy dogs, but the show/kennel club system is set up to perpetuate these types of problems. Again, I do not think this is intentional, but there is a lot of evidence at this point that the system is broken, and many breeders along with the larger organizations are content to leave it that way. Organized veterinary medicine also bears some responsibility for not pressuring kennel clubs to change some of their worst practices, in my opinion. There can certainly be problems with adopting shelter animals as well, but at this point they don’t seem as institutionalized and entrenched.

  8. Nancy Sims says:

    I raised Afghan Hounds for 26 years. In 1997, I bought mishandled/defective vaccine and my hounds became victims of a huge local Parvo epidemic. (the local veterinary had received vaccines that evidently had been allowed to get warm) I was raising pups for a friend, as well as my own, and lost 17 puppies to Parvo, despite veterinary intervention.
    I had another litter on the way, and knew that they had a poor chance of escaping the parvo. I contacted Marina Zacharias, to ask about nosodes or such that may help us escape another bout of Parvo. She shipped preparations for me to give the female prior to whelping, and then several immune-boosting mixes to give the puppies, beginning very early. She also recommended beginning the Parvo Vaccines in a small dose at 3.5 weeks old, and building the dose up as they matured. All that I can say, is that the litter thrived, seeming even more vital than any litter before, and my kennel produced 4 more healthy, Parvo-free litters, using the same methods. The costs were very minimal. ($80 for all, if I remember correctly) I recommended Marina’s council to my friend who had adopted a Boxer with Demodex. The poor dog had gone blind from (veterinary administered) Ivermectin poisoning. Marina Zacharias was quick to help, even shipping the remedy without first being paid! Her remedies worked, and the Boxer remained active-Demodex-free, without further Ivermectin.

  9. Nancy Sims says:

    May I add, that Marina Zacharias’ father is a retired traditional veterinarian, living with Marina, and much of her council comes from him. I have talked with him a number of times, and he is always gracious and helpful.

  10. zyrcona says:

    I would just like to point out that some breeders of dogs and other domestic animals are very scientific, and in effect are gene pool conservationists much like zoo efforts to maintain endangered species (and many domestic breeds are at risk due to shrinking gene pools). There are recent scientific studies such as Genoscoper’s ‘mydogdna’ and VGL’s canine genetic diversity research, both of which have published papers out in scientific journals, that have been used to develop tests to help breeders track, maintain, and beneficially redistribute genetic diversity. And many breeders have for a long time been using computers to calculate deep COIs from detailed pedigrees prior to this.

    The problem from the perspective of such people is that to a lot of the public, marketing puppies as ‘natural’ and claiming there are no health problems in their breed seems more attractive than do openness about health conditions and a determination to use scientific methods to reduce them, health tests to the hilt, calculations on COI and genetic markers, and complicated scientific explanations about how to work out if a food has a correct calcium:phosphorus ratio for growing pups.

  11. Happy Basset says:

    Marina Zacharias is deceased. Her father was an accountant, not a veterinarian. They were honest people with good intentions. Marina was coached by an holistic practitioner and worked very hard. It was her interest and this became a good business. I recall her many years ago having a disclaimer on her web site that standard veterinary care was still necessary. It is my understanding her business is run by someone else now. I understand people’s concerns about misconceptions of various causes of disease and treatment. These are common. You should let Marina rest. I was gold she passed away in 2011. She only bred one litter. Yes her dogs were healthy, likely in spite of what they were given traditionally or otherwise.

  12. skeptvet says:

    I have no personal feelings, good or bad, about Ms. Zacharias, and this article is not about her but about the claims and statements made on her web site. Those claims are still there, and they are as misleading as ever, so unfortunately this warning about them is still needed.

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