Experience a Different Kind of Veterinary Care More in Line with the Cocoa Beach Lifestyle

Pets are like kids, and for a lot of us, they’re like our own children. We worry about them and want to ensure they get the best care possible in order to lead long, healthy, happy lives. We also don’t want to see them go through unnecessary treatments when they’re in pain or suffering from an illness. 

For many pet owners in Brevard County, Animal Wellness World in Merritt Island with Dr. Donna Ragona, who specializes in noninvasive animal care, is the answer. Dr. Ragona’s practice combines traditional Western veterinary care with Eastern Chinese veterinary medicine. It was her vision to create a place where clients could have all of their animal companions’ needs fulfilled in one beautiful location, and she’s managed to accomplish just that.

The location is beautiful, and the expert and compassionate care patients receive there is phenomenal. It can all be chalked up to hard work and dedication fueled by a dream. But before that dream could come to fruition, there were years of training and hard work with other facilities that had to be tackled first. 

From the age of five, it was Dr. Ragona’s dream to become a veterinarian, but she actually started her career as an artist designing kitchens and working as an animal portrait illustrator for about three years before joining the Air Force, which paid her way through veterinary school.

Wanting to be a zoo veterinarian initially, she worked with exotic animals. As a matter of fact, her internship at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in 1996 saw her there when a female gorilla famously cradled a 3-year-old boy who fell nearly 20 feet into the primate’s enclosure. Crazy, right?

After graduating in 1998 from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, however, she decided she’d rather work with companion animals and their owners, saying once she started down that road she knew it was where she needed to be. Additionally, she did a year with the humane society, which she feels all vets should do. Most of her job now is comforting people, but her favorite part about the role she’s chosen for herself is working with the animals.

With those two things in mind, she designed AWW for animals and people, creating a space that is both comfortable and calming. Everything about it is feng shui, and from the minute you step through the door you feel as though you’ve been transported to China. Her admiration for the wisdom of Eastern medicine was and continues to be so strong that she took it a step further and purchased an acupuncture school from Dr. Bo Shih Ni, a well-known acupuncturist in the area. This falls completely in line with her affinity for holistic therapy. Since learning the skills of acupuncture herself, she now incorporates them into her treatment plans, whenever applicable.

“Surgery and emergency medicine is phenomenal, but when it comes to chronic disease, I think that Eastern medicine really has a better idea of how the body functions,” Dr. Ragona says. “Chinese medicine wants to heal you and move on. Its purpose is also to increase your qi, and raising your qi is going to make you healthier and help you live longer. Long-term, Chinese medicine is the way to go.”

When it comes to cancer cases, which AWW treats quite a few of, the approach to treatment is integrative. That simply means she uses both conventional and holistic medicine as ways of healing, viewing the combination of the two as just having a bigger toolbox to work from. In that toolbox are acupuncture, spinal manipulation, the use of essential oils, laser therapy, hyperthermia therapy, stem cell treatments and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments. In her practice, she’s found the use of stem cell therapy to be a permanent solution to hip dysplasia in dogs. She also just started offering physical therapy at the clinic, conducted by fellow vet Dr. Diego Sobrino.

“Probably the most important thing I do is design homemade diets for dogs,” she says. “Cereal in a bag is not ideal because it lacks moisture. Eating dry kibble every day is pulling the moisture from their bodies, and it can lead to Cushing’s disease, bad teeth, excessive shedding, etc. I can’t even begin to tell you the difference between dogs on kibble and dogs on a balanced homemade diet structured for their Yin/Yang needs. There’s no comparison. So it’s one of the most important things you can do for your pet. When I get a dog on the right food with the right vitamin/mineral balance, I rarely have to see them except for checkups.

“With cancer—Cushing’s disease is the biggest problem right now next to cancer, obesity, allergies and arthritis in dogs—the first thing I do with these ailments is design the right homemade diet. All of a sudden, the dog’s got a ton of energy, and that’s all that people want to see is that their dog doesn’t feel bad.”

When it comes to tumors, Dr. Ragona prefers the use of hyperthermia treatments for shrinking them. Hyperthermia reportedly doesn’t make you feel bad, and it doesn’t kill good cells—a win-win situation—so it’s nearly perfect for treatment. It works by producing a fever in the body (raising the temperature to about 104 F) and the cancer cells die. The noncancerous cells surrounding the mass, on the other hand, become more active in fighting the tumor. As an alternative to radiation, it’s far less punishing all the way around.

Beyond veterinary care, Animal Wellness World also provides boutique boarding. That means AWW limits the number of pets it will take for overnight stays at any one time with the knowledge that boarding can be one of the most stressful experiences an animal can undergo. Stress feeds on stress. The higher the number of animals, the more it begins to feel like a kennel or pound, leaving the creatures within frightened, confused and ultimately feeding off one another’s fear.

Instead, there are three themed mini suites decorated in murals that come equipped with beds and stairs leading to upper-level lofts. The dogs get plenty of exercise and have access to the grounds, which contain six different gardens with gridlines falling to the north, south, east and west planted with trees from China on 4 acres of land. It really is a beautiful facility.

Speaking of beautiful, Dr. Ragona hasn’t given up on her art. She’s quite accomplished with a vast array of works featuring animal companions. Her work can be viewed in several universities around the country, publications by the AVMA and even on Animal Planet. Her collection consists of prints, plaques and cards celebrating the human/animal bond and veterinary medicine. You can view it at VetMedArt.com.

Finally, AWW offers an annual “Mini Vet School” for children ages 9 to 13. The half-day course allows kids to explore the behind-the-scenes world of working in a veterinary clinic while learning valuable information about the career of veterinary medicine as they move through interactive hands-on labs and lectures.

With all of this going on, at the end of the day Dr. Ragona is exactly where she wants to be and credits her amazing staff for making her dream possible.

3149 N. Courtenay Parkway, 321.684.7060, AnimalWellnessWorld.com