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Rover's Got the Sniffles? Pet Owners Try Aromatherapy for Healing

Herbal healing is part of a new citywide trend of holistic veterinary care.
Herbal healing is part of a new citywide trend of holistic veterinary care.
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Facebook/Riverside Veterinary Group

MANHATTAN — Plenty of New Yorkers have turned to echinacea for a nasty cold or used lavender oil in a relaxing bath.

Now, many are giving alternative medicines to their pets, as well.

More and more pet owners in the city are ditching antibiotics and medications and turning to herbs and aromatherapy to holistically cure their pets of everything from anxiety to pesky skin conditions or even canine cancer.

"I think people are becoming better educated and more open to alternatives," said Dr. Steve Kasanofsky, a Manhattan-based veterinarian who administers Chinese herbs to pets as a way of practicing alternative healing methods in his Manhattan offices.

"Regular medicine is great, but pet owners are looking for something that might be a little easier on their little systems."

Whiskers, a holistic pet store in the Lower East Side, sells liquid and dry herbal formulas for homeopathic pet care.
Whiskers, a holistic pet store in the Lower East Side, sells liquid and dry herbal formulas for homeopathic pet care.
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DNAinfo/Della Hasselle

Across the city, veterinarians, holistic pet stores and Internet sites have hopped on the bandwagon of homeopathic pet care, which includes everything from aromatherapy to acupuncture, as DNAinfo reported Monday.

Kasonofsky and several other veterinarians in Manhattan use homeopathic remedies as an alternative or in addition to Western medicine in their practices at Riverside Animal Hospital, Riverside Veterinary Group, Yorktown Animal Hospital and Ansonia Animal Hospital.

The hospitals are part of a group called VETSnyc, which touts itself as the only group in Manhattan that combines Western medicines with Eastern and alternative medicines.

Kasonofsky said demand for the services has been staggering, with clients snapping up twice as many alternative medical treatments for pets in the past year, despite the hefty price tags.

Treatments range from a rhizome and barley concoction named "Subdue Internal Wind" to rosemary, ginseng and willow bark. The herbs cost anywhere from $10 for an ear-cleaning formula to $200 for a 5-milliliter bottle of aromatherapic essential rose oil.

The pills, ointments and oils — available online and in holistic pet stores like Whiskers, on the Lower East Side — are flying off the shelves.

"Some people want to be as natural as possible," Kasonofsky explained.

Although some of the aromatic concoctions may be new to pet owners in New York, many of them have been used by Eastern practitioners for thousands of years for general ailments such as eye conditions, arthritis and weak hearts.

"It's been around for 5,000 years, so there's gotta be something to it," Kasanofsky said about the Chinese medicines he uses, which tend to be more potent. "It doesn't tax the body as much."

However, hospitals aren't the only places where the herbal trend is taking hold.

Some pet-owners have tried self-prescribing essential oils as a means of therapy for their animals when they come down with colds, or even after surgeries.

"The essential oils are extremely therapeutic," said Terri Gorbea, a "certified aromatherapist" and Brooklyn resident. "I can just feel the vibration of these plants and oils when I smell them."

Gorbea swears by an essential oil mixture of rosemary, eucalyptus, lemon, cinnamon bark and cloves that she fed her cat, Jewel, in lieu of oral antibiotics after surgery.

Gorbea, 51, is so confident in her self-healing methods that she travels to pet stores and people's homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island to give workshops on aromatherapy.

"More and more people are embracing this lifestyle change," she said.

Some pet store owners, however, aren't convinced.

"I'm not sold on it," said Marion Weiner, owner of Brooklyn-based pet store It's a Dog's World, about a workshop Gorbea conducted in her store last month.

"Some homeopathic stuff works, some doesn't."

Weiner, for example, says she would never use the remedies in lieu of antibiotics on her own animals.

Kasanofsky cautioned that it's a bad idea for pet owners to medicate their animals with anything, even herbs, without the supervision of a professional.

As much as people may be going wild over the idea of an "all-natural" cure for their pets' disorders, Kasanofsky warns that even with homeopathic cures, it's important to be mindful of the dangers of overdosing or potential reactions occurring from mixing medicines.

"We always have to remember that even Chinese herbs are medications," he said. "You can have a reaction to almost anything if you misuse something."