Once a favorite of English royalty, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a breed known for its adorable looks, playful nature, and desire to stay close to its owner. Unfortunately, it is prone to multiple health disorders, particularly heart disease, that can lead to an early death. Ten years is considered a ripe old age for this breed.
Diana, however, is an exception. Since the age of two, this 18-year-old Cavalier Spaniel has been a patient of Alexandra Barrientos, DVM, at Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls, which offers integrative medicine for pets. That means that, in addition to Western modalities like prescription medication, vaccines, surgery, and the specialized care of a cardiologist, Diana has benefited from almost every single alternative method Earth Angels offers, including good nutrition, herbal supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic, Reiki and other energy work, homeopathy, and laser therapy.
“Diana has displayed all the classic diseases this breed gets,” says Dr. Alex, as she is known. “But she’s walking, she’s moving.”
The cost of seeing Dr. Alex is similar to that of a traditional vet, but everything else is different. For instance, instead of examining the pet on a cold steel table, Dr. Alex lines the surface with a rug covered by a towel so the animal is more relaxed. (Of course, every pet gets its own fresh towel.)
When it comes to everyday healthcare, good nutrition remains the foundation. Even pet owners who eat organic food themselves worry they’re serving their dogs and cats “junk food” from the grocery store. Dr. Alex recommends high-quality brands or even homemade recipes spiked with supplements like fish oil, B12, antioxidants, or herbs based on the breed, age, and condition.
Dr. Alex also takes a conservative approach on vaccinations. She administers the initial vaccines, but spaces them out rather than giving them all in one day. Later, she does a blood test, called titering, that shows the levels of antibodies in that particular animal. If they are high, the pet may not need the vaccine.
When a pet gets sick with Lyme disease, Dr. Alex prescribes antibiotics to kill the bacteria, but might recommend pain-relieving treatments like acupuncture or chiropractic to help the pet feel better as it recovers.
Dr. Alex received traditional Western veterinary training at Cornell University, but awakened to alternative possibilities after her first job. “We had a cat in major renal failure and tried everything — fluid therapies, antibiotics, blood-pressure medication,” she recalls. “There was nothing else we could do. So we recommended euthanization.”
The owner took her cat home for a few days to say goodbye. When she returned, it was not for euthanization — but to show the vet how happy and healthy the cat looked after being treated by an alternative vet who prescribed herbs and a homemade diet.
Dr. Alex recognized the limits of her traditional veterinary knowledge, and sought out a position at Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in South Salem, founded by Martin Goldstein, DVM, a pioneer in holistic medicine for pets. For 10 years, Dr. Alex worked at that practice, absorbing the philosophy and learning more alternative modalities. Six years ago, she opened her own practice.
While Dr. Alex does see animals for routine healthcare, she specializes in more serious conditions, like cancer. Many clients travel from Massachusetts, Vermont, and Pennsylvania to see her. “People often start with me when their pet is in an acute state, and, after that, bring their puppies and kittens to me. They learned the hard way.”
Ultimately, the holistic approach is not just offering a trendy treatment or special herb. “It’s simply that we are treating the whole animal,” says Dr. Alex. “We look at each animal as an individual and develop a treatment plan.”