Celebrate (or Mourn?) National Holistic Pets Day

Oops, looks like I just missed the party! Apparently, yesterday was National Holistic Pets Day. This holiday was created by Colleen Paige… I was going to give a brief description of who exactly Ms. Paige is, but I don’t think I can. Her website describes her this way:

Colleen Paige is one of America’s premier Family & Pet Lifestyle Experts…She is also an Animal Behaviorist, Best Selling Author, Interior Designer for both people and pets, Artist, Gourmet Cook, Beauty Expert, former Paramedic, Child & Pet Safety Expert, Family Crisis Counselor, Wellness Aficionado and Publisher of Pet Home and Style & Bliss Magazines.

Wow! She also apparently likes to create holidays, usually to raise awareness and money for some animal-related cause; 19 holidays according to her foundation website. She sounds like a remarkable person, and browsing through her various web sites, I am impressed by her energy, creativity, and the depth of her commitment to her vision of animal welfare. She is undoubtedly doing a lot of good things for pets and people.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, sincerity and a commitment to doing what is best for pets don’t always correspond with a deep or accurate understanding of what actually is best, at least in the area of healthcare. Her description of National Holistic Pets Day includes all too many of the usual myths and misconceptions and fuzzy thinking that characterize the meaningless buzzword “holistic.” Ms. Paige dedicates this holiday to a companion she lost to cancer, and her description of the experience is both touching and representative of the mixed up thinking behind the idea of holistic medicine:

After the Feb. 2010 death of my fur child Tinkerbelle, from a brain tumor…I began to think about her diet and health regimen and wondered if somehow I could have done better in terms of her health care. I gave her filtered water, fresh filtered air at home and only all-natural food and treats void of corn, wheat, sugar and chemicals.

I didn’t however, give her vitamins and supplements. Could the addition of these have fought against free radicals and other toxins in her body that caused this tumor? Maybe, maybe not, but it made me really uneasy to know that there were other things I could have done that would have at least left me with the surety that I did everything I could.

Already committed to the belief that illness is caused by mysterious “toxins,” despite the lack of evidence for most specific chemical suspected to be harmful and ignoring the role of genes, age, and simple random bad luck, Ms. Paige followed many “holistic,” and completely pointless, guidelines in trying to protect her pet from “this overly toxic world we live in.” When her pet unfortunately developed cancer anyway, did this cast any doubt on the theories or practices she followed? No. Sadly, Ms. Paige was just filled with a vague guilt that she hadn’t kept her pet’s life “pure” enough and was somehow responsible for the cancer. So she rededicated herself to adding still more unproven and largely irrational preventative measures to her pet care routine. If her subsequent companions develop cancer, will she follow the same road even further? And if they don’t, will this constitute “proof” that the new additions worked?

This is an understandable but very dangerous pattern of thought that we are all in danger of succumbing to. We fear pain and illness and loss, naturally, so we try to prevent them and comfort ourselves with the idea that we are in control of our fate, that if we do the “right” things in terms of our physical and spiritual care of ourselves and our loved ones, we can prevent the suffering and pain we fear. But the universe gives little us little reason to believe that our magic rituals really work. The only thing in all the history of humankind, with all the myriad of lifestyle and spiritual practices we have employed, that has ever made a dramatic and unequivocal improvement in the length and quality of our lives has been the development of science, and the growth of true understanding and effective manipulation of the world science has allowed us. Many things are, maddeningly, beyond our control. But magical thinking, however sincere and well-intentioned, is not truly the best way to give our pets the best lives we can.

Other supporters of National Holistic Pets Day go even farther than Ms. Paige in misleading the public with comforting nonsense. This press release (ostensibly from the PetMD web site, though I can find no mention of the holiday on the PetMD site, and it would be a bit inconsistent for this company to promote the myth of holistic medicine since it runs a pet food and pet pharmacy business selling all the “toxins” the holistic crowd) contains the usual clichés from some of the usual sources.

homeopathy can treat the deepest constitutional causes of dog diseases and cat diseases…”While the ‘find it and kill it’ Western medical approach may work for infectious diseases, holistic medicine takes preventative measures by treating the whole body,” says Dr. Nancy Scanlan, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association (AHVMA). “Holistic veterinary care can be much more effective when treating chronic illnesses like heart disease.”

While I respect Ms. Paige’s motives and efforts to improve the lives of pets in many different ways, it is unfortunate that her misconceptions about medicine have led her to throw those efforts behind the kind of nonsense that only drains energy, talent, and resources away from finding and employing truly effective healthcare for our pets. Many of the pets in the U.S. have too little access to preventative healthcare, or even treatment for illness, due to both economic factors and misconceptions about the need for regular care and the reliability of information found on the Internet. A campaign to raise awareness about the need for veterinary care should focus on those measures that are proven to benefit our pets, and despite Dr. Scanlon’s assurances, this is not the case for so-called holistic medicine. Perhaps we need a National Science-Based Pet Medicine Awareness Day?

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9 Responses to Celebrate (or Mourn?) National Holistic Pets Day

  1. Rita says:

    I agree – sad to see that someone who actually cares enough about animals to stop killing and eating them, and who, as you say, seems to devote an enormous amount of energy to her work for nonhumans will nonetheless get sucked down by quackery……Be difficult to weigh up the benefit/harm balance there (unless you put anguage like “furry kids”, eeew, into the balance).

  2. Tomcat says:

    I have also been concerned about Ms. Paige…she mentions she is an Animal Behaviorist but there is NO mention of where she received any sort of degree.

  3. skeptvet says:

    Yes, unfortunately “behaviorist” is one of those terms anyone can have printed on their business cards without a shred of real knowledge or training in animal behavior. Sort of like “nutritionist,” as Dara O’Briain so humorously points out. Of course, a few minutes watching Cesar Millan illustrates how meaningless self-credentialing in animal behavior is.

    Ideally, people should seek out veterinarians or others certified by the Animal Behavior Society.

  4. v.t. says:

    Well, this is a new one on me – I did not know that commercial dog food causes ADHD and ADD in dogs. Methinks Paige is a self-appointed *expert* in way too many things.

  5. Janet Camp says:

    I recently gave a copy of (real) nutritionist, Marion Nestle’s book “Feed Your Pet Right” to a friend who is following Ms. Paige’s advice at considerable financial cost (that she can ill afford, having recently lost her employment). My friend has lost four family members to cancer and is, naturally, fearful of her own fate and that of her beloved cat. She is so fearful of corn, for example, that she weeps over a bag of conventional dog food she sees at my house (that my very healthy pet has eaten for years).

    This post makes all the points I try to make to my friend, and perhaps sharing it with her will help as well. The book I mentioned has at least got her thinking that perhaps the “mainstream” pet industry isn’t just a bunch of callous and care-less devils trying to kill our pets. Mind you, she eats animals and I don’t (just a little dairy, and eggs from my own hens).

  6. skeptvet says:

    Yes, fear and a desire to control our fate is, I think, a big motivator for irrational behavior. Dueling anecdotes aren’t very useful, but I try to point out to people with these concerns that tens of thousands of dogs and cats eat commercial foods exclusively and live long, healthy, happy lives. My own large breed dog is nearing 15 years of age with a strictly conventional healthcare approach, including nutrition. And I see such cases every day in practice. While I would argue such stories don’t prove anything either way, they can be comforting to people who have had bad experiences and have developed anxieties that aren’t relieved by more objective information.

    As for Sagan’s words, I take them as expressing an ideal to be worked towards rather than how things really are most of the time. Sadly, facts and reason frequently don’t help people much at escaping from the grip of fear or irrational thinking. But hopefully they provide a little immunity and maybe a touch of therapy for such a condition. 🙂

  7. Rita says:

    ADHD & ADD in dogs…..you will, perhaps, remember that some time ago I put in a link for someone selling a “supplement” to “help” with lack of concentration in horses (the manufacturer subsequently got into an ill-tempered dispute on a horse forum about his product – he doesn’t like criticism!). I wonder if anyone has thought through the implications of claiming states of concentration or attention in nonhumans?

  8. Janet Camp says:

    Thank you SkepVet for your very thoughtful input following my comment. I think you are very perceptive and care as much for people as for pets.

  9. 3Xmom says:

    SkepVet is a very descriptive name. Skepticism is healthy. I welcome it. But it can be a block and obstacle to opening doors to new knowledge and understanding. Not all dog food is good. Not all “good” dog food is all that good. And, yes, poor dog food can lead to poor health and higher bills. We must listen to SkepVet and dissect and analyze all the information presented, and then do our own research and study to form our own base of knowledge and understanding. It might be that after all that I would agree with SkepVet’s view. Or, it might be that after all that I might have a different perspective, and not be wrong.

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