by Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA

Ask yourself this question: If conventional veterinary medicine is doing such a great job, why are pets living shorter lives than they were 40 years ago?

When I started practicing in the late 1980s, most dogs and cats lived until at least 15, while a good percentage of them lived longer. I’d treated many pets into their twenties. I even had a dog and a cat who lived until 27!

Nowadays, conventional vets tell my clients that their dog is old at 8 and their cat at 10. That’s middle-aged! The majority of dogs under conventional care don’t seem to last past 12, while cats may make it until 14.

Thirty or forty years ago, I never saw cancer in young animals—it would show up after 10 or so. Nowadays, I see cancer in dogs and cats even at three years old. Thirty years ago, I never saw skin allergies or inflammatory bowel disease until the pet was at least one and a half. Now I see these conditions in kittens and puppies just a couple of months old.

I met a Russian woman in the dog park several years ago who, upon learning I was a holistic veterinarian, exclaimed that she’d never seen such sick animals until she moved to America. “Russia is a poor country,” she said, “so we barely take them to the vet. We give dogs one vaccine as a puppy and feed table scraps and they live until 18.”

So what’s changed?

Let’s talk about disease. There are two types of disease: acute and chronic. Acute diseases come on suddenly, run a short course and can often resolve on their own. These include trauma (for example, cats falling out of trees or dogs from cars), bite wounds (from an animal or an insect, such as a bee), food poisoning, burns, and infectious diseases (upper respiratory infections, such as kennel cough), among many others.

Chronic diseases develop slowly over time and can last a lifetime. Common chronic diseases in pets include inflammatory bowel disease, skin allergies, asthma, pancreatitis, lupus, seizures, anxiety disorders, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hyperthyroidism. Many of these are autoimmune, which means the body gets confused, sees itself as the enemy and attacks itself. Conventional medicine cannot and does not claim to cure these diseases. It merely palliates or suppresses the symptoms with drugs.

Palliation means that symptoms disappear temporarily. But they will recur down the road, either in the same or a different location, and usually worse than before. For example, many drugs that treat allergies may stop your animal from itching, but only temporarily. The allergy inevitably returns with a vengeance, prompting even higher doses of the drug, or the need to switch to an even stronger pharmaceutical.

Suppression may rid the body of a symptom, but it can cause even more dangerous symptoms. When I was a conventional vet, my dog, Annie, developed a severe ear infection for the first time at 12 years old. I squirted a topical antibiotic into her ear canal, the standard treatment. The ear infection disappeared after the first dose, but within 24 hours her back legs went paralyzed. That is suppression.

To accomplish true healing, it is important to understand that symptoms are NOT the disease, but rather evidence that there is an internal imbalance in the body. Symptoms are usually the means by which the body tries to heal itself. A fever, for example, is our friend, not our enemy. During the course of an infectious disease, a fever stimulates the immune system to send out more white blood cells and chemical mediators to fight off the intruding bug.

It is possible to avoid running to a conventional veterinarian and the subsequent inevitable pharmaceuticals. Many acute diseases can be managed successfully by pet owners with simple natural methods.

One client of mine had a cat that peed outside of the litter box. The conventional vet diagnosed cystitis and dispensed antibiotics, even though the urinalysis showed no bacteria. The owner, holistically-oriented, was reluctant to use the antibiotic. Instead, she did some research. She discovered that sometimes cats pee outside the box because they want a bigger litter box. Despite living in a studio apartment, she bought her two 9-month-old cats a litter box as big as a child-sized swimming pool (a kitty pool vs. a kiddie pool, as it were). The problem resolved—without antibiotics.

Chronic diseases usually cannot easily be addressed by a pet owner. So it’s best to know how to prevent them in the first place. Of primary importance: figuring out the cause of the problem. When I first consult with a new client, we discuss what I have found to be the four main causes of chronic disease in animals: vaccines, pharmaceuticals (including flea and tick products), food, and emotions. 


I call these “the original sin.” Vaccinations often trigger the very first symptom that a pet manifests. It might be an ear infection or diarrhea or, worse, possibly seizures or cancer if your pet is genetically weaker or older. Symptoms usually start within days or weeks of the vaccination and can be the root cause of many auto-immune diseases.

When you bring your sick dog or cat back to the vet with these “new” symptoms, rarely will he or she associate the symptoms with the vaccine. The vet may order a culture, biopsy, bloodwork, CT scan and more before prescribing the inevitable pharmaceuticals (the second sin). Thus begins the slippery slope down a lifetime of disease, which progresses and accelerates over the years, causing misery to your pet and your family, all the while depleting your savings.

Several years ago, a woman brought a young, black, domestic, short-haired cat to me because of its constant drooling. Her regular vet had done bloodwork and X-rays and had even biopsied the mouth. All the results came back normal. Despite a slew of drugs and thousands of dollars spent, Theo continued to drool. I reviewed the doctor’s notes that I’d requested, searching for the entry prior to the onset of drooling. I discovered the cat had received a rabies booster about two weeks earlier. Aha!

I had seen drooling post-rabies shot in the past. A vaccine may protect an animal from an acute form of the disease but often creates a chronic milder form. This is called vaccinosis (vaccine-induced disease). Rabies disease is characterized by a paralysis of the throat, which is why rabid animals foam from the mouth — they can’t swallow. An animal with rabies vaccinosis can have excessive drooling, be a sloppy eater or drinker, or have “reverse sneezing” which is a spasm in the throat; it’s not totally paralyzed, but mildly paralyzed. I gave this cat Lachesis, a homeopathic remedy that is one of many antidotes to the rabies vaccine. The cat stopped drooling.

Once we are aware of the potential consequences of vaccines, we can make an informed risk/benefit evaluation and decide if and when they are necessary. 


Why does the insert that comes with flea and tick products instruct the pet owner to put on gloves before applying the liquid to their pet’s skin? These poisons were developed during World War II to kill the Japanese. After the war, pharmaceutical companies figured out a way to use the excess: water them down and use them as insecticides. These products will not only kill the bugs, they could sicken and possibly kill your pet. Intuition warns us that something is wrong here; if the insecticide is not safe for us how can it be safe for our pets? Trust your inner voice!

I’ve seen thousands of animals poisoned by flea and tick products. One was Bella, a Shetland sheepdog. One hour after Ellen, the owner, applied the flea liquid between the dog’s shoulder blades, Bella began vomiting. Ellen rushed her dog to the veterinary specialist hospital and reported what had happened after she’d applied the insecticide. The vets told her that the flea and tick product could not have possibly caused the problem, claiming the poison is not absorbed into the body. Thousands of dollars in testing later, they told her that the dog was in kidney failure (though they could not come up with a cause). They recommended euthanasia.

Instead, Ellen pulled her dog out of the hospital and sought my help. I studied the doctors’ notes and exam results that the hospital had faxed me. The ultrasound showed that the dog’s kidneys were hypoplastic, meaning they were congenitally weak. It seemed clear to me (and to Ellen, a dentist) that these already compromised kidneys couldn’t filter the poisonous insecticide. In other words, the poison had been absorbed into the body! I used the homeopathic remedy Nux vomica, a remedy used to detox from drugs, and was able to extend the dog’s life. How much better it would have been to avoid the poison in the first place by using safer flea and tick preventatives, such as diatomaceous earth and certain essential oils. 


Drugs may seem like a miracle cure, where symptoms magically go away. But be forewarned: even a single topical application of a benign-seeming antibiotic can have disastrous effects. Many pharmaceuticals are poisons, which have negative effects and side effects. They don’t necessarily build health, but merely suppress symptoms.

Just before a house-call vet was due to arrive, Margaret, the pet-owner, called me. Five days before, her seemingly healthy cat, Beau, suddenly crashed and was rushed to the hospital, where he spent four days hooked up to an IV. The hospital diagnosed advanced kidney failure. There had to be a reason; there’s always a cause and effect. What happened?

I went to the cat’s home. After an hour or so of my digging into the timeline leading up to the crash, the owner remembered that she had applied an antibiotic lotion to the cat’s chin acne a few hours before he began vomiting. When I examined the X-rays, I saw that the bladder and kidneys were loaded with stones. The entire urinary system was compromised. Apparently, Beau had managed to deal with the stones, but the antibiotic lotion was too much for the kidneys. (The word antibiotic literally means anti-living thing.) I used homeopathic remedies to support the kidney function and, miraculously, helped extend that cat’s life for three more years. 


If they weren’t in our homes, dogs would live in packs outside. Cats would hang out together outdoors in colonies. The animals hunt together, play together, and have babies. Each dog or cat has its role within the group, keenly aware of their relationship with each other. They are family, their lives rich, multi-faceted and interdependent.

When they are brought to our homes and apartments, we become their pack and their world, so their emotional well-being revolves around us.

When I have a consult regarding a very sick pet and find neither vaccines nor pharmaceuticals in their immediate history, I question the owners carefully about their own lives. Has there been any discord in the house recently? A divorce? A new baby or a new cat or dog? Had they been on vacation shortly before the symptoms began? Our pets feel jealousy, resentment, anger, and, most especially, grief. They are emotional sponges unnaturally dependent on us. Yes, in the wild, they may grieve if one of their pack dies, but in nature, there are many others in their community, and there’s work to be done. Living with us, their world is much smaller.

Early on in my holistic career, my dog sitter, Anita, called me in Florida to report that my dog, Annie’s back legs became paralyzed a few hours after I’d left the house. I’d attended eight conferences a year during the ten years I lived with Annie and she’d never had a problem. I thought possibly Annie had herniated a disk and told Anita to give her Hypericum, the homeopathic remedy par excellence for slipped disks. This did nothing, she called to report. I wracked my brain to figure out what else could cause acute paralysis. Grief from my absence seemed the only logical explanation. Annie was older and weaker now. Maybe she missed me. (I later learned that grief often manifests in physical ailments when a favorite owner goes away.) I told Anita to administer Ignatia, a remedy for grief, and booked the next flight home. I returned the next day to a mobile, seemingly healthy dog. Anita said that about 10 minutes after administering Ignatia, Annie got up and walked. Previously, she had been dragging the 85-pound dog around by a blanket.

Annie’s paralysis recurred during two more trips. Each time she bounced back with Ignatia. For the third trip, I gave the Ignatia before I left. No paralysis.