Your Dog is What It Eats
Ihor Basko, who brings acupuncture and holistic medicine to his veterinary practice, has a new book on the subject
We read about good health care all the time, but veterinarian Ihor Basko, DVM, CVA, views it from a different point of view: What it takes to keep your dog healthy. Basko is the author of a new book, Fresh Food & Ancient Wisdom: Preparing Healthy & Balanced Meals for Your Dogs.
Known for his advocacy of the natural path when it comes to pet care, Basko looks at healthy eating as good medicine – for people and their pets. He says the dietary wisdom he dispenses directly to clients and via his weekly radio show on KKCR Community radio Pets in Paradise is as good for us humans as it is for our pets. The show is broadcast Saturday mornings at 9 locally, in parts of Oahu and it streams worldwide on the Web.
Basko looks to the East, – China, Japan, Korea and India – for the wisdom of feeding, just as he looked in that direction years ago when he began treating animals with acupuncture. He’s given acupuncture to dogs whose backs were broken – and one who’d been paralyzed for three years – and they all walked again.
“It’s not like my power,” says Basko, whose steadfast beliefs in holistic veterinary medicine have people clamoring for his help. “Acupuncture is just powerful medicine that’s been passed on for thousands of years, and the reason it’s still here is because it works.”
The same is true, he says, for the wisdom of eating.
“The book will teach you about qualities of food,” says Basko, who’s studied Chinese medicinal cooking that teaches about food energetics, indicates which foods make you warm or cool you down and a whole lot more.
“You don’t want to eat lamb on a hot, sunny day, because it will make you and your dog hotter,” he says. “Garlic, ginger and other spices we eat make us sweat, but dogs have to pant to cool down.
“We’re having a food crisis in this country,” Basko adds “We have lots of food, but we don’t know how to eat, so we have all these diseases based on excess, according to Chinese medicine and ancient wisdom.”
Excess may include too many carbs, rich foods or overly processed foods, whereas in the ancient wisdom – Chinese and Asian therapy – the idea is to use food to be healthy, he says.
“This originated among healers, the herbalists and acupuncturists,” says Basko.
In general, people and pets suffer because, he says, we don’t think the food thing through thoroughly:
“As humans, we go to restaurants to eat for pleasure, and for our dogs, we look at commercials for what processed food to buy.
“We don’t really explore for ourselves. We’re all about what’s fast, cheap, easy and tastes good, which is what motivates us – and doesn’t work for us.”
The result is that our society is suffering from metabolic diseases: diabetes, obesity, hypertension, kidney and liver disease, heart disease and stroke, according to Basko.
“It’s all about balance – and learning how to balance your diet,” he says, and the fact that he so frequently intersperses discussion about doggie diets and diseases with people’s diets and diseases indicates he does not view those as distinct universes, but rather, totally in relationship with each other.
Basko was in premed to be an M.D. when he found his true calling in veterinary medicine. After working for one day as a hospital orderly and becoming disgusted by the inhumane treatment of the patients he saw, he jettisoned the job, pulled the plug on premed and switched to biochemistry, where he first heard the words “veterinarian medicine.”
“I love biology. I love medicine. I love animals,” he says. “It was just the best thing I ever did, study-wise – it was all the kind of stuff I love to just study, just for fun.”
Fast forward to years of veterinary practice during which he performed heart, bone, eye and other animal surgeries by day, and then, by night, studied Eastern religions at UCLA, learning about meditation, biofeedback, the use of massage to heal, and herbs.
It was the early 1970s and he became part of a UCLA team studying the effects of acupuncture on about 2,500 animals over a two-year period. The results?
“Some were too far gone, but almost every animal we saw got better, improved – 82 percent effectiveness – and nobody was doing this stuff then,” he says.
The vet was becoming the holistic vet. Three years into doing animal surgeries, Basko felt a crisis coming on, having the feeling he wanted to give it all up.
He took off with his dogs, camping for six months in the wilds of California, Oregon and Washington State, searching for another profession because he was fed up with what he perceived to be one that seemed all about money, money, money.
“I was reading Dr. James Herriot’s book, All Creatures Great and Small, and I saw that what was missing was personal relationships, treating animals in the environments in which they live and how important those relationships are in your practice,” says Basko.
“I started doing house calls, treating animals in their environments, figuring out how to do that without bringing the whole hospital with me. I think that made the biggest difference in my understanding of the disease process, by being in the family dynamics, seeing where people and pets live, looking into kitchens, seeing what kind of food they eat – not doing it in an office.”
Today, he says, “My advice is, if someone wants to get into holistic medicine, start doing house calls.”
Basko, a respected professional, lectures to veterinarians from all over the world, confers at least two hours each day with veterinarians on medical issues, problems and cases, and is the founder or a founding member of several societies and associations that further holistic health studies among veterinarians.
In between, he does phone consultations, prepares medicines, sees 40 animals a month during weekends on Oahu, and 20 more animals here each month.
Add in 10 hours a week for reading medical research and five hours a week in preparation for live streaming radio … but wait, there’s more.
Basko loves to study and learn. He helped create the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society that meets twice a year in various places around the globe; became one of the founding members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and four years ago created the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association for veterinarians who want to study botany and medicinal plants – and now provides online lectures for the organization.
“A vision of mine is that instead of one-on-one, I can reach 50 people at a time,” says Basko.
“For non-veterinarians, I can do that through radio shows, my newsletter and a blog; for veterinarians, by lecturing either in person or via the Internet.”
But at the end of the day, he says, “Working with animals is my favorite thing. This other stuff is something that I can give back, and share my knowledge with people that don’t know anything about this stuff – yet.”
Away from the office, Basko is married to Jane Winter, a counselor who specializes in marriage, family and children.
“We live a holistic life,” she says, “and help each other in our practices.”