Just as holistic medical practices are becoming increasingly popular in treating humans, alternative, natural, homeopathic or holistic veterinary practices are rapidly growing in acceptance for the treatment of our furry companions. As in the case of human natural health care, the terms used to describe veterinary natural health practitioners and the treatments they use can be confusing. The basic difference between conventional veterinary care and holistic care is founded on sometimes opposing philosophical opinions concerning treatment.
Let’s start by defining the different types of veterinary practitioners.
First is the DVM, the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who holds a post graduate degree in veterinary medicine, is state licensed, practices traditional medicine and is the vet we have known and loved for many decades. This type of conventional vet relies on the observation of symptoms, tried and true lab tests, medications, or surgery to treat and eliminate symptoms. The main objection some of these vets have to holistic care lies in the fact that holistic treatments have not been scientifically proven to be effective. Some DVM’s believe these treatments are nonsense and a waste of time. However, more and more DVM’s are keeping an open mind regarding new methods of treatment and will sometimes recommend an alternative practice as a complementary treatment.
A holistic or integrative veterinarian has first completed a degree program in traditional veterinary medicine and has then completed additional training in the specialty of holistic veterinary medicine. Holistic practitioners take a different philosophical approach to treating disease in animals. They believe that only treating existing symptoms ignores the root of the problem and although symptoms can disappear with traditional treatment, they often recur, sometimes in a more serious form. The focus of holistic care is on treating the whole canine not just the symptoms of a problem. A first appointment with a holistic vet will likely be lengthy with extensive questions for the dog owner regarding your dog’s age, general health, daily habits, personality, likes and dislikes, home environment, the number and ages of adults, children or other pets in the home, diet, exercise level, disposition and mental state . The goal is to find customized, individual, minimally intrusive, natural solutions to permanently eliminate or lessen the effects of the condition while avoiding the unpleasant side effects or long term use of many prescribed or over the counter medications. If holistic treatments fail to be effective, traditional methods are used. Often the course of treatment includes both holistic and traditional veterinary methods. Many holistic treatments bring relief from pain to dogs suffering from chronic or terminal conditions. If your dog is currently healthy, holistic vets also focus on preventive practices in order to prevent future problems.
Be aware that some states have very lax regulations regarding those who call themselves holistic or integrative veterinarians. Licenses are not required in some locations making it possible for anyone to open a practice without any training. Avoid risking your dog’s health by checking the credentials of a practitioner before consulting them about treating your beloved pet.
Typically, a holistic vet will begin treatment with nutritional changes. Pet owners will often be instructed in how to compare and interpret confusing pet food labels and which ingredients to avoid. Reputable brands and proper amounts for your individual pet will be recommended. Some additional supplements or herbal treatments will likely be added. These supplements will be natural in composition to avoid side effects and will be customized to your dog’s needs. Brands, appropriate dosages and timing of delivery will be determined by the holistic vet.
Massage therapy is a common holistic treatment used to relax an animal in pain, alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and aid in the process of healing from an injury. Massage therapy is believed to increase blood flow and circulation to a specific area and lowers levels of stress hormones. Veterinary physical therapy use exercises to strengthen, heal and treat painful conditions and injuries. Often dog owners are instructed in these exercise therapies to perform at home in between appointments in order to hasten the healing process. Hydrotherapy is another type of therapy used in the treatment of injured dogs or those suffering from painful conditions. Warm water in heated pools relaxes muscles and allows easier movement of joints making exercise therapies much more effective and easier on the dog.
The ancient practice of acupuncture is also used as a holistic method of treating painful conditions in humans and animals. Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points of the body to enhance the flow of energy. The belief is that blocked energy causes health problems. The painless needles are left in for a determined amount of time, approximately 30 minutes and surprisingly, even the most active dogs become very calm and many even fall asleep.
Chiropractic involves physical hands on spinal adjustment to properly realign the body. The underlying thinking is that if any part of a body is misaligned it throws the whole body off, creating pain as well as many adverse medical conditions. Although some pets may find this treatment frightening, those experienced in chiropractic treatment of animals know how to make your pet comfortable.
Lastly there is homeopathy, although less commonly used in animals it is now growing in use for veterinary care. The basis for homeopathy is to introduce very minute diluted substances into the body that cause the same symptoms the animal is experiencing. These substances act by stimulating the body’s own immune response system to heal itself.
Some integrative veterinarians practice in a full-service complex that includes physical therapists, massage therapists, nutritionists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, warm water pools for hydrotherapy, exercise equipment, the ability to purchase herbals and supplements and other treatments under one roof. Other veterinarians will refer you to or make an appointment for you with a sole natural practitioner that they feel can meet your dog’s needs or supplement traditional treatment.
As a dog owner you have many choices for the health care for your pet. You may be comfortable with some of these treatment methods and not others. You may want to go with all natural remedies, stick with only traditional methods, or try a combination of both. Talk with your current vet and determine their level of comfort with alternative treatments. Most vets are willing to work with you to find the treatment methods that are the most advantageous for your furry friend’s health. The methods may be different, but the goal is the same. All veterinarians want your pet to be healthy. The bottom line is that the choices are yours to make. If traditional treatment is not working for your dog or if you would rather use more natural remedies alternative veterinary practices, then a holistic vet may be a good option for you to consider.