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Providing Pets With the Royal Treatment

Nov 27, 2012 04:52PM ● By Megy Karydes

Providing acupuncture treatment for a cat or underwater treadmill therapy for a dog might seem unconventional, but consider that those treatments may save money when it comes to a pet’s long-term health.

Veterinarian Barbara Royal noticed something was wrong with American pets soon after she began treating animals in different settings. She wondered why the animals she treated in the wild or in zoos were typically healthy and thriving, while those in her practice, the Royal Treatment Veterinary Center, in Chicago, often suffered from obesity, chronic illnesses and allergies. It didn’t make sense to her.

Royal discovered that many pet owners are shaping their pets’ health with their own preconceived notions of what the animals should be eating or doing. In fact, owner actions are not only harming pets, but also keeping them from getting healthy on their own.

“Dogs shouldn’t be eating grains and corn, and many of the additives and ingredients in dog food aren’t going to keep an animal healthy long-term,” Royal shares. Instead, she recommends that owners consider a raw food diet that more closely resembles what that dog’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild. The key to healthy pets is mimicking their natural environment as much as possible.

Royal does not blame vets or pet owners, though. “Nutrition wasn’t a focus when I was in [veterinary] school,” she says. “We were not taught to think critically. If a bag of food was labeled as dog food and it was approved, then it must be fine.”

Observing her “wild” patients faring better than their domestic counterparts, she began to focus on improving the underlying health of pets. Royal’s practice combines traditional veterinary services with integrative medical care and rehabilitation, such as acupuncture, massage, underwater treadmill therapy, chiropractic, herbal and nutritional consultation and chronic care.

Her approach has raised eyebrows among some pet owners and veterinarians, but healthy patients are reason enough to continue her work. “We need to go back to paying attention to the details and asking more questions,” Royal says. “Just because a doctor says your pet has a problem and must be on medication for the rest of its life doesn’t mean that is the final answer. Pets have some basic tools to help them maintain their own health. Sometimes the medicines we give them block that ability to heal themselves.”

Her positive results in healing pets, many of which were on the brink of death, has gotten the attention of veterinarian colleagues that bring their own pets to her to observe how she The Royal Treatment Healthy Petsdoes it. They ask to shadow her, so they can bring the treatments to their own respective practices.

Her holistic approach branches farther than colleagues. During one of her volunteer days at PAWS Chicago (, Royal met Oprah Winfrey, who was there to adopt a dog. She and Royal discussed her approach to caring for pets and the doctor became Winfrey’s Chicago vet.

Royal realized she needed to educate others about how to better care for their pets. She recalls a conversation with her sister. “I said something to the effect that everyone knows kibble food isn’t good for dogs, and she told me that everyone does not know that,” Royal explains. “My sister is a writer, so together we worked on a book to help educate pet owners how to better care for their pets.”

The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets is part memoir and part guidebook that covers a wide range of subjects, from diet and litter management to humanely and ethically managing pets’ inevitable mortality. Royal embraces both Western and Eastern medical techniques and provides owners with solid examples of what works for her and why.

“The goal of the book is to provide pet owners with ways to help them maintain the health of their pets,” Royal says. “Owners should ask questions of their vets if it doesn’t make sense to them or it’s not working. There are options.”

Royal adds that the book’s tips are practical because she realizes most of us are busy, but want the best for our pets. “I’m a practical person myself,” she says. “I work six days a week. I volunteer. I have two kids. I have to be able to do this myself, too. Nothing in the book is too crazy or requires too much time or energy.”

Dr. Barbara Royal is the owner of Royal Treatment Veterinary Center, located at 4130 N. Rockwell, in Chicago. For more information, call 773-267-9966 or visit