In this week’s episode of IWG Radio, Functional Medicine practitioner Dr. Nicole Rivera interviews veterinarian Dr. Alexia of Thrive Wellness. Dr. Nicole and Dr. Alexia discuss how pets can develop human lifestyle diseases, proper nutrition for animals, and a holistic approach to animal wellness.

 

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Dr. Nicole:
[00:01:00]
So today we're actually going to be talking to Dr. Alexia, who is the veterinarian over at Thrive Veterinary and Wellness, which is located in Little Silver. I was really excited to bring her on just talk to her about why she started Thrive and also just some of the different approaches that they're using. I always say to other people that she is the functional medicine practitioner for our pets. I'm really excited to get her perspective because I think dogs, nowadays, are getting a lot of different human diseases, but also lifestyle diseases, and kind of talking about how different things we could be doing with our dogs or feeding our dogs can be contributing. We're going to dive in and I'm going to introduce Dr. Alexia and have her just kind of tell us why she started Thrive Wellness in the first place.

Dr. Alexia:
[00:02:00]
Sure, so thank you for having me. My partner, Dr. Penny Rochelle, and I started Thrive because, essentially, we're both holistic veterinarians, and we've practiced conventional medicine for the last 10 years, and I know personally within a year of practicing conventional medicine, I knew that there was more that could be done to help my patients. I was just tired of giving the same antibiotic over and over again, and you just keep seeing the same thing, and you're like, "How else can I help?" From there, I learned about acupuncture, and I became certified in acupuncture, and it all just kind of snowballed from there. Within the traditional Chinese medicine approach, you look at food, you look at stress, you look at the dog's or cat's environment. You really start to learn to look at the whole patient and not just the disease. They are not the disease. You need to treat the actual animal.

Dr. Nicole:
... and the cause.

Dr. Alexia:
... and the cause, exactly, which I know is the same approach that you take, where you can't just stick ear medicine in for the ear infection. What is the underlying reason for that? Where's the imbalance? Is there a bacterial overgrowth problem? You really have to look at things. In my conventional medicine world, I'm able to do that, but we really wanted a place where people can go that they get a true holistic look at their pet. They know that that's what they're going to get from us, and there's no antibiotics around. There's no vaccines. There's nothing. We are strictly holistic in that way.

[00:03:00]
Dr. Nicole:
I think that's really great. It's such a different approach in comparison to the run-of-the-mill places, looking at the animal as a whole. I think that even the fact that you said "stressors" is important. We wouldn't always consider the fact that our dog is under stress or in a stressful environment, but most dogs are a reflection of their environment, and if the home is stressful because of a disgruntled spouse or parents and kids that are fighting and those different dynamics, it does affect the pet. I think those are all really important things to consider. With the approach that you're taking at Thrive, why don't you to give us an idea of some of the different modalities that you're using. I know you mentioned acupuncture.

Dr. Alexia:
Yeah. We use acupuncture. We use chiropractic.

Dr. Nicole:
Awesome.

[00:04:00]
Dr. Alexia:
Herbal therapy, which includes Chinese and Western herbs. We do what's called food therapy, where basically it's nutrition, but it's looking at food almost in a medical kind of way. We don't do like nutrition breakdowns or anything like that. It's just eating whole, healthy foods, essentially, and we also use laser therapy, as well.

Dr. Nicole:
Great, so give us an example. We use laser therapy as well. I would love to know some of the things you are using the laser therapy for with these pets.

Dr. Alexia:
[00:05:00]
Yeah, totally, so we actually have two different lasers in our practice, but they're both class 4. We use them for anything from musculoskeletal disease and inflammation to ... I lasered a dog before for a bladder infection, chronic kidney disease, IBS, IBD. Mainly, we run to it for musculoskeletal problems, but even internal organ diseases where there's inflammation and infection, it really helps.

Dr. Nicole:
That's so great. I'm so glad that you said that, because I know that even growing up having two dogs, the dogs had chronic ear infections. It was drops and drops and drops, and they were typically the antibiotic drops, and I didn't know a lot then, I was young, but I always said to my mom, "Do you think that it's the right treatment? Why are they having to get the same thing every week? I think that it's great to know that laser is out there and it can be used to fight infections. I would love to just even talk about our experience together because despite what I do as a functional medicine practitioner ...

[00:06:00]
We have a dog. We love our dog. It's like our child and also not really knowing if the same practices I use with my patients as humans could apply to my dogs, and my dog having a chronic, reoccurring yeast infection in his ears. Yes, he plays in the water and I get that that can contribute, but at the same time, I personally thought, "Okay is this coming from the gut," because he did have a past infection of parvo. Just by you saying, "Yeah, that's totally a contributing factor. You have to treat his gut," and giving me the different supplements that I can open up as capsules and dump into his food, it's been a game changer. It's finally gotten to the root cause of his ear infections. I think that it was so simple, but it was just so amazingly useful, so that he's not that dog that is getting the ear drops every other week. I really value that and appreciate that we're able to take this holistic approach with our pet.

Kind of talking about what I mentioned in the beginning, dogs getting these different types of lifestyle diseases that a lot of us humans are also dealing with, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Alexia:
[00:08:00]
I can tell you that was one of the earliest things I started to notice, even before I became a holistic practitioner, was I'd diagnose a dog with hypothyroidism and the owner would be like, "I'm hyperthyroid," or if the dog is diabetic, "Oh, I'm diabetic." It gets kind of creepy sometimes. Literally, like kidney disease. They have the same organs we have. I mean, their intestines are slightly shorter than ours. Their livers are slightly different in what they process and how they do it. Essentially, the body's physiology is really similar, so they can get kidney issues. They can get IBS and IBD, and they can get SIBO. They can get bacterial overgrowth of the gut, because we're all really similar. It is, it's tough. I can totally see it from your point of view, where you think they're that much different, but they really aren't. We use many of the same supplements, quite honestly. I mean dosages are obviously different, but I feel like the approach is really, really similar. We still do the same blood works. we look at the same values. Values are different, obviously, but everything is similar.

It's interesting looking at what human diseases are prevalent and what animal diseases are prevalent and then looking at how what we're doing is similar. The food that we're eating, the water we're drinking, the air that we're breathing, the stress that we're under. How much exercise are we doing? We're the reflection of each other.

Dr. Nicole:
[00:09:00]
Yeah, and I think that's a really good point to be making is that most of the things that we're doing with our lifestyle is obviously not really just even being passed to our pets, it's being passed to our kids. That's why so many things run in families is because the lifestyle is very similar. With that being said, talking about diet, talking about water, what do you think are some of the biggest players in these dogs getting these different lifestyle conditions. What are some the things that we should know about the food or the water, et cetera?

Dr. Alexia:
[00:10:00]
Definitely, I personally like fresh food. Like with people, fresh food is best, the same thing with dogs. I think kibble is okay, but if you're going to use a kibble, you want to use something that has high-quality ingredients in it. One of my issues with kibble is that it's heated to such a high degree that, how many nutrients are we actually preserving here? Just because it has the proper ratio that's been determined to be the right one, what's in it in the end? Is your dog able to absorb it properly? I mean, if we ate ... We don't want to eat processed foods everyday, right, but we're feeding it to our animals. Homemade diets, I think, are great. Raw diets are great, even dehydrated, where it's not as processed. The least processed, the best. Life isn't perfect. We're not perfect. Things happen and if you have to give your dog kibble for a day, a few weeks, as a supplement, you do what you can. I think as many fresh fruits, vegetables, meats as possible is the best thing so that they can get the most nutrient value out of it.

Dr. Nicole:
Let me ask you this. I have read up on a raw diet before we got our dog Booker. One of the things that I found really interesting is it said that the dogs don't have the proper enzymes to break down specific carbohydrates, especially grains, and things like quinoa and rice and breads and wheat, et cetera. I find that that is in almost all the kibble. It's in all the dry foods.

[00:11:00]
Dr. Alexia:
They do have amylase. They do have things to break them down. It's just it takes a little bit longer, so then you get more fermentation and you don't really want fermentation.

Dr. Nicole:
Which leads to these bacterial overgrowths.

Dr. Alexia:
Exactly. They can digest it. It's just that we don't want a food that's like 80 percent carbs. It's that having a better ratio of ingredients is also really important.

Dr. Nicole:
We've had a couple of run-ins with people that have had their dogs diagnosed with different types of cancers or other more serious conditions and they have asked our opinion about the dog food that was recommended, because a lot of times it's a prescription, and I find that these prescription dog foods, the first three ingredients ...

Dr. Alexia:
Carb, carb, carb ...

Dr. Nicole:
[00:12:00]
Exactly. It's either some type of sugar. It's soy, which is obviously coming from a genetically modified source, and then it's some type of rice, and then some other derivative of sugar. I just find that crazy.

Dr. Alexia:
I know. Listen, conventionally, it's how we're trained. I went to vet school and Royal Canin came in and they gave us our nutrition books, and that's how we learned nutrition. We know nothing else, and unless you actually are looking outside of that box of what you learned, you don't know any better, quite honestly. Yeah, I agree, dogs with cancer, I don't want them on carbs. I want that kind of ketogenic kind of diet happening where we have meat and veggies. There are some vets who don't agree with giving veggies, but I feel like you need the nutrients. You need those phytonutrients. You need the minerals. You need the fiber.

Dr. Nicole:
Yeah, of course.

Dr. Alexia:
[00:13:00]
Handing you a powder with all the vitamins that you need, that's great, but A, it's not delicious and B, I think the plants contain so much more than just the vitamins and minerals, they have those phytonutrients that are really important.

Dr. Nicole:
[00:14:00]
Yeah, and eating live foods, like you mentioned, whole foods, live foods, because a lot of the foods that are given to dogs, they are heated up past their capacity, and they're dead foods. They're not getting the proper nutrients, let alone absorbing them. I think that's a really important thing. Some of you might be thinking right now, this sounds like a lot of work, but it really comes down to ... We make a crock pot for Booker every week and we kind of just throw a hodgepodge of different things in there. People are constantly complimenting him on his coat and his physique. He's so much more active, but he's also calm. He's not hyperactive, jumping on everyone. I do find that it affects their behavior, not just their physique or how they look physically. It's the same as us. If you eat sugar all day, then you're going to be hyperactive or have ADD or whatever you want to call it.

Dr. Alexia:
Well, then you can really get into the gut and how the gut affects everything, totally.

Dr. Nicole:
I think the biggest point we're trying to make is the fact that they are so similar to us. When your dog is developing an auto-immune condition, that it can be due to these different types of infections, overgrowths, and even the water.

Dr. Alexia:
Toxins ...

Dr. Nicole:
I think that that's something we overlook as well. If you want to elaborate a little bit on that, just even the tap water for these dogs, what are you finding?

Dr. Alexia:
[00:15:00]
Yeah, it's like the tests that you run where we have so many pollutants in our waters, and people just switch over to bottled water or filtered water, and the tear staining goes away and there's so many changes. We're not running hair test analysis, as of yet, I've contacted some companies, but it makes a difference. If you can cut down on the load of pollutants, it's just one thing less for the liver to have to heal, to deal with. The less over-bogged the liver is, the better it's going to be at handling everything else that it's exposed to.

Dr. Nicole:
Of course, and even outside of the pollutants, then you have the chlorine which is a major ...

Dr. Alexia:
And fluoride and ...

Dr. Nicole:
It completely depletes a lot of the good flora in the gut, as well. Dogs are eating stuff off the ground. They'll eat garbage. They'll eat anything.

Dr. Alexia:
They're replenishing their flora in different ways.

Dr. Nicole:
Yeah, in different ways, so replenishing that flora, or having a depletion of the flora, and then getting exposed to bad bacteria, now it can live within the gut and cause a whole slew of problems.

Dr. Alexia:
Then if you throw food that's not great for them and not well-digested on top of that ...

Dr. Nicole:
It's a cascade effect.

Dr. Alexia:
It is. It totally is. It is.

[00:16:00]
Dr. Nicole:
Yeah, definitely important points to take away. In the world of food, what would you say are the top things that people want to keep their eye out for on either the kibble ingredients, the other types of foods. What are the main things they want to avoid for their dogs?

Dr. Alexia:
We definitely want meat to be the first few ingredients. I don't like foods that have a ton of ingredients in them. What else is in there? I don't want preservatives. We want to stay away from the typical corn, wheat, soy and again, if you can buy organic, it's going to be better. You want to stay away from GMOs and anything that's going to have a lot of pesticides on it.

Dr. Nicole:
What are your thoughts, and I don't know if you know of this food, the food Orijen? What are your thoughts on that?

[00:17:00]
Dr. Alexia:
It's a good food. It's a good food, but again is the Orijen dry or ...

Dr. Nicole:
It is.

Dr. Alexia:
It is. Again, you have to kind of think about the dry factor ...

Dr. Nicole:
Not as much nutrients ...

Dr. Alexia:
Not as much nutrients, but again, if you do that as your base and you add in some veggies and a little meat, I think it's good. It's about finding that balance. You can't expect ... I make my dog food, but sometimes she eats kibble and it's okay. Sometimes, my kids eat crappy fast food. It's okay. You have to find the balance. I can't sit here and preach, "You only have to eat fresh food." Then honestly, it's too much pressure and then you give up and you've got to move on.

Dr. Nicole:
[00:18:00]
Yeah, well I just want to talk from my own experience, because we did, before we met you, we did work with a doggy nutritionist and I asked him about the Orijen food and he did say the same thing. He said, "It's good, but it is a dead food." The nutrients that you think your dog is getting, he's not really getting that much. Because Booker did have the chronic occurring yeast infections in his ears, he said, "Why don't you at least get rid of the dry food for a little while?" and we did solely just the homemade foods and the crock pots. That really was a big part of resolving the issues, let alone some of the supplements that we used. I think that if you're listening to this and you are someone who has a dog who maybe does have a chronic condition, maybe an auto-immune condition, maybe diabetes, you probably want to at least give it a try for a little while, to try to do the whole food-type diet, and maybe leave the kibble out for a little while. You could see some really massive changes through that.

Dr. Alexia:
[00:19:00]
There's a lot of good books out there, as well. They should talk to their vets, and some vets are really open to it. It's really nice. If they're not sure, then often they'll refer you out to who they think could help you. There's a lot of books out there by some really good vets who have some good recipes that you can follow, and you want to mix it up. You don't want to feed the same thing over and over again. Again, it's like with us. If we all eat peanut butter and jelly every day, you're going to not have certain nutrients. It's the same thing.

Dr. Nicole:
Okay, great. What we can do, too, is I will get the list of the different books that Dr. Alexia recommends and we'll make sure to have that as a resource for you on the podcast. Okay, moving on, I have to ask, there was a lot of vaccinations that were recommended for my pet in the beginning and I really just was on the fence. I wasn't sure what was absolutely necessary, what wasn't. If you could just give us any information about the vaccines, the ones that are absolutely necessary or going to be the most benefit for our dogs, and some of the other ones that maybe through your clinical experience, you've seen some reactions with, or anything along those lines.

[00:20:00]
Dr. Alexia:
Yes, the core vaccines that we usually use would be the distemper-parvo combo vaccine, rabies, and then, those are honestly, the two core ones there. From there, you can do bordetella, you can do lymes, you can add in lepto. I think that's about it. Dog flu, all depends on the season. As a puppy, they need their vaccines. I know there's some vets out there who are totally anti-vaccine, but I'm that person that I want to know that your dog is covered, and I want to know you are protected, as well. God forbid, your dog gets bitten by something. It's not vaccinated and then you get bitten. We have problems.

[00:22:00]
As a puppy, I definitely do the core vaccines of rabies, the DHPPV. I don't tend to vaccinate for lepto. There's like 250 serovars for lepto out there, and we vaccinate for 6 of them. It protects from some, but it doesn't protect from all of them. The same thing with bordetella. If your dog is going to be boarded, and in that situation where it's under stress, and the immune system is compromised, then it might be something to think about doing. At the same time, I would also work on boosting the immune system before they go in. From there on, I like to do titers. I like to know what the level of distemper and parvo are. We can easily test those. We send them out to the lab, and the same thing with rabies. Rabies, by law, is every three years. It's a tough one there, but there's always titers available. I think that kind of after the first year, I would titer, and see how they are. Before vaccines, I like to make sure that their immune system is optimal. I don't want to vaccinate a sick dog. I don't want to cause any possible problems.

Dr. Nicole:
Yeah, of course.

Dr. Alexia:
[00:23:00]
I like to vaccinate in cooler weather, just from a Chinese medicine point of view, a vaccine is hot. If you vaccinate during hot weather, I'm not saying it's going to cause a problem, but I like to limit as many possible causes of problems. I think vaccines are important, but I don't think we need to vaccinate as often as we do. Right now, there's the 7-year rabies challenge going on, that they're running. Dr. Jean Dodds is in charge of it. I think they're getting preliminary answers now. Hopefully once they get those results and if the results say yes, rabies is good for 7 years, hopefully we'll be able to change that, so that rabies is only due every 7 years, instead of every 3, just to limit the amount of vaccines that have to be given.

Dr. Nicole:
Of course, and coming from someone who had a dog with parvo, that is definitely something that you don't really want to experience. Avoiding it, I think, is important, because it's not a good experience and it's also something that we have personally seen the aftermath of, the imbalanced gut flora, which has been a big part of the chronic ear infections. It's all something that we've managed to balance through diet and supplements, which has been great, but also it would have been great to avoid it at all costs.

[00:24:00]
I thank you so much for your time and I want people to know where to find you since you are offering so many unique services and such great insight, to give people another perspective on how they can be taking care of their dogs, but also start to treat some of these chronic illness, but treat it at the root, ultimately. Why don't you give some ideas of how people can find you, if it's going to be through your website or your location, et cetera.

Dr. Alexia:
Our website is www.thriveveterinarywellness.com. We are located at 31 Church Street in Little Silver and our phone number, if people still use phones, is 732-576-8594.

Dr. Nicole:
Alright, great. We thank you so much for your insight. I think this is going to be really, really useful for people, really just allowing them to feel more in control and more empowered to start taking some different steps to get their pets on track, and knowing that what they feed them does matter. I thank you so much.