I am repeatedly asked the question: how does one become a holistic veterinarian? There are a number of reasons I have chosen this path. After practising for a number of years in a busy animal hospital, I noticed that many patients appeared to temporarily improve as long as they were on medication but once they stopped, they would relapse. This pattern continued until I realized the need to expand my toolbox in order to have other methods of treatment to offer. When I began to study homeopathy, I discovered that this modality could in fact treat chronic disease with the hope of a cure and allow my patients the ability to function without the reliance on constant medicines.
In veterinary college in the mid-80s, there was very little exposure to alternative medicine. There was also very little opportunity to practise it. The other thing about veterinary college is, all the information is so overwhelming that alternatives take a back seat at that point to actually graduating! I graduated from veterinary college in 1990 and in that year moved from Saskatchewan to British Columbia.
After practicing for a number of years in Surrey, BC, I came across a text on homeopathy. The system sounded very logical and possibly useful: its main focus is to help the vital force or the body’s energetic force rebalance itself and stimulate its own healing. Nevertheless, I put the book aside. Then about five years later I met someone on an airplane who, in that four-hour flight, rekindled my interest in homeopathy. I learned about the Vancouver Homeopathic Academy ( homeopathyvancouver.com ), which had just opened, and I began studying there a short time later.
After the first class, this system of therapy made sense to me and answered a number of questions I had gathered during the first years of my practice. Homeopathy opened my eyes to the fact that there was a genuine, well-proven alternative to the methods of treatment I had been using. After studying and practising that first year, I began a two-year course with over 250 hours of class study on veterinary homeopathy. Upon completion of the course, one is eligible to become certified in veterinary homeopathy through the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy ( theavh.org ).
In 1996 I began using homeopathy with troublesome patients and there were a number of successes. As my knowledge improved I began to look at other aspects of medicine that were seldom questioned, such as vaccination and nutrition. Slowly, though my “tool box” had indeed expanded, I felt there was less and less need for reliance on conventional medical treatments. I became more focused on homeopathy, avoiding over-vaccination and improving nutrition. By 1999 I was using homeopathy as the main treatment in my practice and it continues as such today. I still find there are situations where conventional medicine has its merits, but every day I find more situations that can be treated with homeopathic medicines.
Throughout recent years, the exposure to other alternative modalities has been increasing. There are courses for veterinarians in acupuncture and chiropractic, as well as homeopathy, and there are a number of vets who now practise traditional Chinese medicine, herbology and massage therapy. At this point in time I share an office with Dr Gail Jewel, a veterinary homeopath and veterinary chiropractor.
Illness in pets can sometimes be linked to both physical and mental causes – a holistic veterinarian looks at both in order to determine treatment.
Do you think that a vet is a vet? The reality is that there are different subspecialties for veterinary medicine and different approaches to veterinary medical practice as well. In the same way that there are both traditional medical doctors and those who practice alternative medicine, there are also regular veterinarians and holistic veterinarians.
What is a Holistic Vet?
The term “holistic” can be interpreted in different ways, but a holistic veterinarian is generally defined as one who uses alternative medicine to treat animals. Holistic veterinarians tend to look at the bigger picture, taking into account all aspects of an animal’s being (both physical and mental) to diagnose health problems and to determine the ideal treatment.
Most holistic veterinarians utilize minimally invasive techniques, focusing on methods such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, ethnomedicine, chiropractic, and homeopathy instead of prescription medications and surgery. Holistic vets take into account not just the animal’s physical ailments, but the context of the environment as well.
By its nature, holistic veterinary medicine is humane. The techniques used to diagnose and treat medical conditions are as gentle as possible and they incorporate the animal’s general well-being as well as specific treatment for the condition at hand. Holistic veterinary medicine also places a heavy focus on stress reduction and natural remedies, often combining a variety of different therapies that work together to produce the desired result.
But before any treatment takes place, a true holistic veterinarian will examine the problem from all angles to determine the “why”. Whereas traditional veterinary medicine is often aimed at relieving symptoms, holistic veterinary medicine aims to solve the whole problem, gently and naturally.
Understanding Holistic Veterinary Treatments
Holistic veterinary medicine is different from traditional veterinary medicine in many ways, but the most obvious different is in regard to treatments. To help you understand how holistic veterinary medicine works, here is an overview of some common therapies:
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an element of traditional Chinese medicine and it involves inserting tiny needles to stimulate certain points on the body to alleviate pain or to speed healing. It has been used to treat everything from diarrhea to arthritis.
- Ethnomedicine: This type of medicine involves studying and utilizing the traditional medical practices utilized by various ethnic groups and indigenous peoples.
- Homeopathy: This is a type of alternative medicine that is based on the idea that whatever is the cause of a problem can also be the solution – that taking a small dose of something that causes the symptoms the patient is already experiencing can help to cure the problem.
- Chiropractic: Animal chiropractic is the practice of manual therapy and/or spinal manipulation that can be used for pain management and to treat musculoskeletal problems.
- Chinese medicine: Many of the same theories of traditional Chinese medicine used to treat humans can also be used for animals. This type of medicine usually involves herbal therapies, acupuncture, food therapy, and hands-on treatments like Tui na and qigong.
The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) is a group of member veterinarians and allies who are elevating the veterinary profession through innovation, education, and advocacy of integrative medicine.
The AHVMA publishes the only peer-reviewed scientific journal focusing exclusively on integrative veterinary medicine, The Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, four times yearly.
The Association also holds an annual conference in various locations throughout the United States. This conference is the premier source of post-graduate integrative veterinary medical continuing education worldwide.
Membership in our Association includes access to the Journal, discounted conference registration rates, and many more benefits.
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- Vet Practice
- Vet School
- Animal Care
Whether you’re a feline fan, a dog devotee, or another type of animal admirer, you want the best for your pet. You make sure they have plenty of love and attention. You also take your pet to the veterinarian for routine care.
While you’ve always scheduled check-ups with a small animal vet at a conventional clinic, you’ve started to wonder if you should investigate other options. You’re particularly curious about holistic veterinary care. There seems to be a lot of advocates out there, but you feel like you need a bit more information. What is holistic veterinary medicine and what does it entail?
We’ve done the heavy lifting for you, so there’s no need to spend hours researching the ins and outs of holistic veterinary care. Keep reading to learn more about this alternative veterinary medicine approach and whether it’s right for the animal (or animals) in your life.
What is holistic veterinary care?
There are differing opinions on what exactly holistic veterinary medicine entails. It can be confusing, especially when you hear skeptics weigh in. We reached out to Dr. Angie Krause of Boulder Holistic Vet to get to the bottom of it.
“I would define holistic veterinary care as using all diagnostic and treatment modalities that are available and effective,” Dr. Krause says. “Whether it’s a traditional pharmaceutical or an ancient herb, it’s really just using everything that’s available to address all aspects of an animal’s health.”
“I would define holistic veterinary care as using all diagnostic and treatment modalities that are available and effective.”
Holistic veterinarians also try to treat the whole body rather than focusing on one specific ailment. There’s a lot of emphasis on incorporating preventive measures, which can be useful for managing chronic conditions. Bear in mind that any veterinarian needs to have graduated from vet school and obtained licensure to practice, regardless of their treatment philosophy.
How does holistic veterinary care differ from traditional veterinary care?
Truthfully, the distinction between these two approaches depends somewhat on the veterinarian in question. Some holistic practitioners prefer to focus solely on alternative veterinary medicine therapies. Others, like Dr. Krause, use a blend of traditional Western treatments like vaccinations as well as holistic modalities.
“If I can fix something with Western medicine without too many side effects, I’m going to use that,” she explains. “But there are some diseases and disease processes where Western medicine just hasn’t left us with a lot of options.” She mentions that this is where alternative therapies, such as Chinese medicine, can make an impact.
There are plenty of times when a vet might employ multiple strategies as well. Dr. Krause uses an ear infection as an example. She explains that most traditional veterinarians would treat the condition with a combination of antibiotics, steroids, and antifungals.
“I would go a step above to maybe look at diet and consider some Chinese herbs or think about digestion.”
“I would use that, too,” Dr. Krause says. “But I would go a step above to maybe look at diet and consider some Chinese herbs or think about digestion.”
What treatments do holistic veterinarians use?
Now that you have a better understanding of what holistic veterinarians do, you might wonder what types of alternative veterinary medicine treatments they use. Holistic options, veterinary care experts will tell you, are both numerous and diverse. Vets who practice in this specific area employ a wide array of therapies to address health issues. You might even recognize some of them if you or someone you know uses nontraditional treatments occasionally.
“Acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, and homeopathy — those would probably be the biggest modalities,” Dr. Krause says.
And there are even more options. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) mentions low-level laser therapy, aromatherapy, and numerous other types of treatments. One thing to keep in mind is that services may vary from one veterinarian to another. It never hurts to ask a vet if they offer something specific or whether they can provide a referral.
Is holistic medicine right for your pet?
There’s no right answer to this question. Whether a holistic veterinarian is right for you and your pet is largely dependent on your own philosophy and what puts you at ease. Depending on the person and the pet, holistic care may or may not be the best choice.
“I really encourage people to do what feels right to them,” Dr. Krause offers. “If going the traditional path is what feels comfortable to you, I think that’s what you should do.”
“If going the traditional path is what feels comfortable to you, I think that’s what you should do.”
Before you commit to holistic veterinary care, be sure you have all your bases covered. We mentioned earlier that some holistic vets don’t use Western medicine at all. Dr. Krause recommends pet owners also find a traditional vet if they’re working with a practitioner who exclusively uses holistic therapies, because there are some limits to alternative veterinary medicine.
“A lot of Western medicine and surgery is life-saving and appropriate,” Dr. Krause explains. Emergency surgery following an accident is one example.
How can you find a holistic veterinarian?
If you’re interested in seeking holistic veterinary care, you can start by searching the AHVMA’s database. You can filter by location, practice type, and even specific treatments. Don’t be afraid to shop around to find the right fit.
“I think that it’s important to find a veterinarian that you’re comfortable with and that your communication style works with,” Dr. Krause says. “It’s never okay for your veterinarian to make you feel bad about your choices.”
Prioritize animal health
Now that you know a little more about holistic veterinary care, you can decide whether it’s right for you and your pet. It’s really a matter of preference. Plenty of pets have had wonderful success with both traditional and holistic vet care. And don’t forget that you play an important role in your animal’s well-being.
Good nutrition, a safe environment, and proper grooming are all important for keeping your pet healthy. Learn more about how to ensure your household creatures thrive by reading our article, “Taking Care of Animals: Pro Tips for Pet Owners.”
Working in Alternative Veterinary Medicine
Many years ago, alternative medicine was the only kind of medicine there was. In today’s society, alternative medicine has taken a back seat to advancing Western Medicine. Many wonderful things have happened in alternative medicine and that includes alternative veterinarian medicine as well. Many pet owners aren’t aware of the advantages of alternative medicine for their pets. As a vet tech working in alternative animal medicine, you could educate owners and help spread the word.
There are some alternative veterinarians who practice some holistic healing along with conventional medicine and there are others who practice only in the alternative method. The veterinarians who practice alternative medicine wholly are few and far between. However, if you have an interest in alternative medicine and would like to be a part of an alternative medicine animal hospital as a vet tech, you should add a few courses in during school that teach about holistic and herbal medicine.
Holistic health care for animals
As a vet tech in an alternative animal hospital, you will have the same kind of duties as you would in a conventional hospital, with possibly a few extra duties added on. One task you may have do for an alternative veterinarian is to keep amber dropper bottles ready for adding different herbs and plant extractions to make into an applicable medication. You will need to learn about all the different plants and herbs that are used in holistic animal healing. For, example, arnica, a perennial flower that grows in the mountains of Europe and Siberia, is used as highly effective pain reliever. These kinds of facts are the ones you will need to add into your knowledge of animal medicine if you are interested in working at an alternative animal hospital. You will be able to learn a lot about holistic while working, including about acupuncture.
Being a vet tech at an alternative animal hospital is going to give you the opportunity to learn about herbal treatments and mixtures that have been in use for many years. The ancients had some pretty amazing medicinal mixtures that are still in use today. Some of these same medicinal mixtures are used by alternative veterinarians.
This dog enjoys its massage.
Holistic medicine, by its very nature, is humane to the core. The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction. Holistic thinking is centered on love, empathy, and respect.
In treating an animal, a holistic veterinarian will determine the best combination of both conventional and alternative (or complementary) therapies for a given individual. This mixture of healing arts and skills is as natural as life itself. Therein lies the very essence of the word “(w)holistic.” It means taking in the whole picture of the patient—the environment, the disease pattern, the relationship of pet with owner—and developing a treatment protocol using a wide range of therapies for healing the patient. The holistic practitioner is interested not only in a medical history, but also genetics, nutrition, environment, family relationships, stress levels, and other factors.
Many patients present in a state of “disease.” At this point the holistic challenge lies in the question “why?” A simple-appearing symptom may have several layers of causation. When one area of the body is ill, it can manifest in many different ways. Only when the true cause of the ailment has been found is there the possibility for a lasting recovery.
Through a series of analytic observations and appropriate testing, the goal becomes finding the true root source of the pathology. It is at this point that the most efficacious, least invasive, least expensive, and least harmful path to cure is selected.
Treating a dog’s mouth with laser therapy.
In many acute situations, treatment may involve aspects of surgery and drug therapy from conventional Western technology, along with alternative techniques to provide a complementary whole. This form of treatment has great value for severe trauma and certain infections.
Once the symptoms have been treated, the task is not complete until the underlying disease patterns have been redirected. The patient, as well as the client, will be guided to a new level of health. The wholeness inherent in the scope of holistic veterinary medicine nurtures all aspects of an animal’s well-being, resulting in lasting physical, mental, and emotional health.
By: Chewy Editorial Published: December 21, 2017
BeWell / Wellness / What to Expect at a Holistic Veterinarian Appointment
What to Expect at a Holistic Veterinarian Appointment
If you are committed to providing the most natural pet care for your furry family member, you may want to consider taking them to a holistic veterinarian. Like their conventional counterparts, a holistic veterinarian has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. However, they also undergo training to practice complementary and alternative therapies like animal acupuncture or homeopathy.
Holistic veterinarians take a big-picture approach to your pet. “Basically, we’re not just looking at a pet’s physical symptoms; we’re looking at the animal in relationship to his environment at home and in the greater world, as well as his mental and emotional makeup,” says Dr. Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA, who practices in New York City and Fairfield, CT.
Not all holistic veterinarians are alike, though. Depending on which holistic therapies the veterinarian is trained in, the examination and treatment will be different. In general, the more therapies (or modalities, as they’re known in the holistic pet care world) a veterinarian is trained on, the better. “If they are certified in quite a few things, they’re probably dedicated holistic vets because they are spending their free time going to courses,” says Dr. Deva Khalsa, DVM, CVA, and author of Dr. Khalsa’s Natural Dog. Be sure to check the veterinarian’s credentials before you go.
You don’t have to do too much prep work before your visit. Reading a book or articles on holistic animal care can increase your familiarity with the field, as can checking out natural pet care sites. Then get your furball into their carrier and get ready for your trip to the vet’s office. Here’s what you can expect once you’re there:
Your First Holistic Veterinarian Exam Will Be Long
At the first visit, the veterinarian will want to get a complete history—medical, emotional and mental, says Dr. Fallek. Besides the usual questions on age, weight and vaccinations, be prepared to answer queries about your pet’s diet, their temperament (shy or confident), how they are with other animals and people, their exercise routine, and their habits. No detail is too insignificant. For example, if your fur baby scratches after every outing outside, tell the veterinarian, because it may be a sign of allergies. The veterinarian will also be observing your pet during the visit.
Your Pet Won’t Get as Many Vaccines
Holistic pet care places great emphasis on minimizing an animal’s toxic exposure and maximizing non-invasive healthy supplements, says Dr. Khalsa. Many holistic pet practitioners adopt a different vaccination schedule—vaccinating puppies and kittens against common conditions like parvovirus and distemper and avoiding annual boosters after adulthood, when pets have immunity against most diseases. (The exception is the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory.)
Diagnostic Tests May Be a Bit Different, Too
While a holistic veterinarian may do fecal samples and blood tests, some of the other ways they’ll examine your pet may be totally different. If the practitioner is trained in chiropractic, he may run his hands along your pet’s spine to see if anything is misaligned. If he’s also trained in animal acupuncture, he may do a pulse diagnosis to check the health of your pooch’s liver and other organs. Someone trained in homeopathy will spend time observing your pet’s personality to get a read on their overall well-being.
Treatment Probably Won’t Include Drugs
“If your dog had chronic infections and you went to a conventional veterinarian, she may give you an antibiotic among other drugs to kill the infection,” says Dr. Khalsa. “But if you went to a holistic veterinarian, she would figure out why the dog’s immune system wasn’t working correctly. And maybe she’d give Chinese herbs or supplements to boost the immune system so that the dog doesn’t get the chronic infections anymore.” That’s not to say that holistic animal care practitioners don’t use antibiotics or other prescription meds at all—they do when necessary. But a holistic vet will treat your Golden Retriever’s back problems with animal acupuncture or spinal manipulation, not painkillers and anti-inflammatories.
Some Conditions May Take More Time to Treat
“Drugs can be a quick fix, but building up your pet’s immune system can take months,” says Dr. Fallek, who counsels pet parents to keep an open mind. Plus, holistic pet care includes taking care of such emotional conditions as anxiety or fear. For instance, if your four-legged family member suffers from stress, the remedy may be something like a calming pet chew from Pet Naturals of Vermont, with L-Theanine and vitamin B, to help quell anxiety in dogs, or VetriScience Composure cat chews for cats.
Prevention Is Worth It
Most pet owners come to a holistic veterinarian at the eleventh hour, says Dr. Fallek, when their fur baby has spent years with a chronic ear infection, for example, or has cancer. While those conditions can be treated with holistic pet care, a better strategy is to set your pet up for a healthier life through eating right, taking supplements, and getting gentle, non-invasive treatments when needed.
For more on holistic therapies for pets, read:
- Will Falconer, DVM
- August 9, 2013
I was aghast. A dozen years into veterinary practice, I’d just learned that an everyday, common veterinary procedure that I’d been told in vet school was benign, was not only not benign, it was causing illness in the name of preventing it!
Shortly thereafter, I also learned that the common way of using this procedure was useless: it did no good for the animals who received it.
Now my head was really reeling. I was doing this procedure somewhat regularly. In my conventional practice days, I did it a lot.
This eye opening, world shaking, revelatory information was coming not only to me, but to any of my veterinary colleagues who chose to read about it. In my case, it came in the context of rebooting my holistic vet career during my studies of veterinary homeopathy.
What I was hearing were two remarkable truths that had been entirely absent in my veterinary education to date:
- Vaccinations are capable of creating disease (and often do just that).
- Repeating vaccinations throughout life just plain didn’t work
I was taking the very first Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy in 1992-93 in Eugene, Oregon when this really sunk in. Here I was, surrounded by other holistic veterinarians, some at it much longer than I, and our instructor, Dr Richard Pitcairn, was showing us case after case illustrating the harm that was coming from vaccination. More significantly, he was also showing us that sick animals usually didn’t get better without, at some point in their treatment, receiving a vaccinosis remedy.
Vaccinosis, it turns out, is a term coined by the brilliant British homeopath, J Compton Burnett, MD. When?
You can still enjoy his original treatise on the subject, called “Vaccinosis and its Cure by Thuja.” In it, Burnett takes you through his human cases of horrible suffering that simply would not yield to the treatments of his day, even those homeopathic treatments that seemed certain to work.
These folks didn’t get well until he considered vaccines in his patient’s history, and treated specifically to undo the illness that had begun from that procedure.
Seeking a term to apply to this wide group of illnesses that had begun after vaccination, he dubbed it vaccinosis.
First, Do No Harm!
Many of my holistic veterinarian colleagues who were on the same training had seen vaccine illness as well. Dr Pitcairn’s examples just made it abundantly clear that vaccination was anything but a harmless procedure.
I vowed to stop at that point, and to only do infrequent rabies vaccines.
How could I knowingly make animals sick? Hadn’t I taken an oath to make them well?
Second, Do Nothing Useless!
As our groundbreaking veterinary homeopathy course was drawing to a close, a seminal chapter on vaccinations appeared in Current Veterinary Therapy, one of the most respected books in veterinary medicine. A copy of it was brought in by a colleague and we all read it and discussed it over meals together.
The authors were Dr Ronald Schultz (University of Wisconsin), and Dr Tom Phillips (Scrips Research Institute). They are veterinary immunologists. These words stood out from their chapter, and were shared with our clients whenever and where ever we got the chance:
A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccination. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal…. Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response…. The practice of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy …
Now, my mind was firmly made up: I was not going to give my patients something that was neither good for them nor helpful to them! Damn!
Change? Not on My Watch!
Shortly after we graduated from what many of us felt was training that bested any we got in vet school, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association meeting was held in Minneapolis. Many of us attended, and the topic of greatest interest to us was vaccine illness, aka vaccinosis. We heard from Dr Jean Dodds and Dr Pitcairn about hypothyroidism and other chronic disease that was showing an onset after vaccination.
At these meetings, informal conversations are often as valuable as the lectures themselves, as we cross pollinate ideas with one another.
One comment really left me stunned.
It was on this great new information that we’d been doing harm for years and certainly not helping animals by annually vaccinating them.
One “holistic” veterinarian from Ohio, several years my senior, flat out stated, “Well, I’m not going to stop vaccinating!”
I didn’t hear any logic to that decision, just a strongly stated declaration! From a purportedly holistic vet. Who later went on to become the president of the AHVMA!
My friends and I were agog and our eyes opened to a deeper reality: there are financial reasons behind continuing to vaccinate annually! Stopping would mean losing one’s bread and butter.
While we were already committed to practicing as holistically as possible, many of our brethren were not. “Holistic vet” was a convenient term that likely drew in more clients, while it was sufficiently vague that it didn’t constrain what happened inside the practice.
I’ll Do Whatever I Damn Well Please!
It should come as no great surprise then that the average, non-holistic vet is not embracing these new understandings about vaccinations even now, some twenty years hence. My colleague here in Texas, Dr Bob Rogers, informally polled over 400 vets at national meetings, and got the following response in all but one:
“I don’t care what the data says, I am not changing.”
This same colleague, in visiting the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medicine, beseeching them to take up the charge for change, was told by a board member that he,
“…could vaccinate a clients (sic) pet every week for twenty two years and nobody could tell him not to.”
Attitudes That Damage Your Animal: Beware
As you set about navigating what seem like perfectly clear waters on your way to a vital animal, keep your eyes open for these dangerous attitude reefs. My profession is bemoaning the fact that veterinary visits are falling, yet refusing to step up to a responsible position on a damaging, useless procedure: repeating vaccinations throughout your animal’s life.
While there’s good value in a regular vet exam, if it comes with the burden of vaccinations, you’ll do well to either get your needs clearly emblazoned on Spot’s chart [No Further Vaccinations!] or find another vet who’s willing to work with you while respecting your choice to opt out of this procedure. And yes, I’m talking about rabies, too.
Unfortunately, the burden is on you to carry this torch. Don’t expect Dr WhiteCoat to lead the charge.
Tell us in the comments how you interact with veterinary care in a safe way.