Choosing a veterinarian for your pet is as important to your pets health as choosing a doctor is to your own. Now, pet owners have the option to choose holistic veterinary medicine for their pet’s healthcare. Understanding the philosophy behind and methods used in holistic veterinary medicine can help you decide if holistic vet care is the right choice for you and your pet.
What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?
When your pet is in the care of a holistic vet, the doctor’s aim is to identify and treat the “root cause” of illness, not just alleviate symptoms. Let’s make a comparison with medical care for humans: Just like a conventional “people doctor,” traditional vets prescribe medicines primarily to alleviate the symptoms of an illness. This approach may--or may not--actually address the underlying factors that caused those symptoms.
Here’s an example:
You have back pain. A conventional doctor prescribes anti-inflammatory medicine and a muscle relaxant. The pain lessens or goes away. When you stop the medicine, the pain comes back. The underlying cause has not been addressed: The pain could be caused by weak pelvic floor muscles, a pinched nerve, or a pulled muscle.
And here’s a pet example:
Your cat has diarrhea and isn’t eating well. The bloodwork is normal. The physical exam also is normal. The vet prescribes medication to produce firmer stool. Things get better, but soon after the cat finishes the medicine, the loose stool returns. Still, the bloodwork is fine. Next, the doctor gives you an expensive, medicated cat food. The problem still isn't resolved and your cat is now losing weight.
What might the holistic vet do differently?
A holistic vet would likely have ordered a food sensitivity or allergy test. Aha! There is an allergy! Now that you know what the cat is allergic to, you can check food and kitty litter for this ingredient, avoid it, and… kitty no longer has diarrhea.
Of course, these examples are simplified from what can occur in real life healthcare situations for pets or for people. What you should notice is the difference in philosophy of care between conventional and holistic veterinary practice.
A Conventional Veterinarian’s Philosophy of Practice
The conventional veterinarian identifies symptoms of disease and asks, “How do I make these symptoms go away so the pet can be more comfortable?” Then, the doctor dispenses medicines or other treatments to manage the symptoms. The philosophy of practice is: If there are no symptoms, then there is no more disease.
A Holistic Veterinarian’s Philosophy of Practice
The holistic veterinarian identifies symptoms of disease and asks, “Why is this pet having these symptoms, in this organ system, at this time?”
Like a medical detective, the holistic vet wants to uncover the root cause of the disease process, not just get rid of symptoms. They will address symptoms, but they do not stop when symptoms disappear. If the root cause is not addressed, then symptoms may return in the same organ system or in a different body system. Holistic veterinarians will use the most efficacious, safe and affordable path to curing the pet’s ailing health at the source to provide lasting recovery and optimal wellbeing for the pet.
Remember: Holistic veterinarians promote healing of the root cause of illness utilizing the least invasive, most efficacious, and holistic treatments.
Treatment Techniques in Holistic Veterinary Medicine
HVM uses gentle, safe, and minimally invasive treatment modalities. Holistic Vets also are known to spend more time educating the pet owner. They also make inquiries about the pet’s lifestyle relative to their owner’s daily schedule and activities.
Some of the most common treatments you may see in a holistic vet practice may include:
Botanical (herbal) medicines
Food Intolerance Testing
Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation
Stress management for the pet / pet owner
Keep in mind, treatment techniques can vary widely among holistic veterinarians as each vet has different training and areas of specialization.
Education and Training for Conventional v. Holistic Veterinarians
All veterinarians must have the same foundation of education in order to practice medicine:
Completion of a four year college degree (usually in a science such as biology)
Completion of a veterinary medical school
Passing a state licensure exam
Most veterinarians complete post-doctoral training for specialization in a specific health condition or a surgical specialization (e.g., orthopedics, cardiovascular)
Along their healthcare journey, the veterinarian may have experienced the benefits of holistic medicine for themselves or become curious about how holistic therapies could benefit animals. Thus prompting them to pursue coursework, practical training, and certification in holistic medicine for pets.
Remember: Holistic veterinarians must have successfully completed a certifying exam to refer to themselves as a holistic vet.
Inside a Visit with a Holistic Veterinarian
For the holistic vet, the whole picture of the pet-patient is part of a process of discovering why the pet is ill. During your pet’s visit with a holistic veterinarian, the doctor will ...
take a history of the illness, from before symptoms started to the present
evaluate the disease pattern (how have symptoms changed over time)
inquire about the animals daily routine, including physical activity
take fecal samples and blood work for lab tests
assess the pet’s diet and fluid intake, and elimination behavior
ask about the pet’s living environment and daily routine
inquire about the relationship with the pet owner and other animals
Many other considerations, including lab tests, will go into creating a treatment protocol.
When Should I Choose Holistic Vet Care?
In a true medical emergency, go directly to an emergency animal hospital!
Proper emergency medical attention can make the difference between saving your pet’s life or saying good-bye to your pet.
For routine care, you may want to consult with a holistic veterinarian for specific treatment options, but not as a replacement for your pet’s routine healthcare. Holistic medicine alone cannot replace vaccinations and other essential veterinary healthcare for your pet. Holistic vets usually do provide routine vaccinations, but always check to make sure.
Choosing a holistic veterinarian is a personal choice. For some pet owners, HVM is a choice made after conventional treatment has been unsuccessful. For others, holistic veterinary healthcare is the first and only choice for their cat or dog. Every pet and every situation is different, but science-backed treatment options --conventional and holistic--are what is best for every pet.