Is Holistic Veterinary Care Right for my Pet?

July 17, 2021


July 17, 2021

Many people have used holistic care to treat their own ailments, and this medical approach is now more common in the veterinary world. You want to know that your pet’s health care is as safe and effective as possible, but you are not sure what holistic veterinary care entails, or about the differences between holistic and traditional veterinary care.

The holistic veterinarian’s approach

When presented with a pet’s malady, a holistic veterinarian will consider the pet’s entire health profile, including their emotional well-being, rather than concentrating solely on the presenting problem.

As an example, if your pet develops a skin issue, a holistic veterinarian will gather a complete history on your pet’s lifestyle, including their diet, changes in the home, and any other signs, and will perform a thorough physical exam. Depending on the information they receive, a holistic veterinarian may prescribe a diet or lifestyle change as opposed to a medication.

Holistic certifications

Holistic veterinarians must graduate from an accredited veterinary medical school, and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE).

No other requirements are necessary for a veterinarian to declare themselves a holistic veterinarian, but several optional certifications are available to enhance the practice. These include homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), chiropractic care, acupuncture, osteopathy, and applied kinesiology. A holistic veterinarian is not qualified to perform these procedures unless they have finished the certification process.

Differences between holistic and traditional care

Some holistic veterinarians rely solely on alternative approaches, while others use these methods as well as traditional Western medicine. Typically a holistic veterinarian uses medications and surgical intervention as a last resort, but most realize that surgery and medications hold great value for treating severe trauma and specific infections.

Holistic veterinarians tend to be more open-minded about using unconventional treatment modalities, and they focus more on how a pet’s diet affects their overall health. Holistic veterinarians are also more likely to recommend less frequent vaccination protocols.

Holistic veterinary techniques

  • Acupuncture — This process involves inserting needles in muscles, tendons, fascia, and nerve fibers at specific points to stimulate a healing response. Healing occurs when the inserted needles stimulate nerves and increase blood circulation, and cause muscle relaxation and release of hormones, such as endorphins and cortisol. Endorphins are chemicals released by the body that relieve stress and pain. Cortisol is a natural steroid that helps the body manage stress and affects the immune system.
  • Chiropractic adjustment — This procedure diagnoses and treats changes in the spinal column and extremities that cause musculoskeletal and neurological problems. Chiropractic adjustment most helps arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, incontinence, and degenerative muscle disorders.
  • Osteopathy This alternative medicine treats medical disorders by manipulating and massaging bones, joints, muscles, and fluid systems to free any restrictions. The goal is to correct imbalances and misalignments that prevent the body from self-healing. Osteopathy can treat muscular stiffness and atrophy, lameness, arthritis, spinal issues, digestive disorders, circulatory problems, and post-operative issues.
  • Applied kinesiology Also known as muscle strength testing, this process involves posture and gait analysis, and muscle evaluation by exerting pressure in certain areas to determine if the muscle is weakened. Specific muscle weakness can indicate an internal issue. This technique is used to complement standard diagnostic methods to gain more information about a patient’s physiologic condition.
  • Massage therapy This procedure uses specific hand movements and techniques to relieve tension and spasms in muscles and joints. Massage therapy is helpful for pets suffering from acute and chronic musculoskeletal issues. The treatments can decrease pain, increase mobility, and facilitate healing.
  • Aromatherapy Also called essential oil therapy, this treatment modality uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Aromatherapy targets the brain’s limbic system, which regulates mood and emotions. The essential oils can be inhaled or applied topically. Aromatherapy’s benefits include calming effects, pain relief, insect repelling, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Nutrient therapy Pets in every different development stage and wellness status require a specific diet to optimize their growth, performance, healing ability, and cognitive function. Nutrition therapy can help them overcome illness and injury, and help them remain cognitively engaged in their geriatric years.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) TCM involves using complex herbal formulations to support health and balance. Conditions that can be treated with this therapy include bladder issues, anxiety, behavior problems, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, and asthma. TCM can also be used as a complementary cancer treatment.
  • Homeopathy — This holistic method uses herbal dilutions, minerals, and other natural substances to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. Common uses include pain relief, skin condition treatment, and calming effects.
  • Low-level laser therapy — This treatment, which involves applying low-level lasers to problem areas, is most commonly used to facilitate wound healing, reduce inflammation, and treat musculoskeletal pain.
  • Bach flowers — Also known as flower essences, this practice involves using various flower extracts to balance emotions, and to help relieve emotional stress and anxiety.

A typical holistic veterinary visit

Similar to a traditional veterinary visit, your pet will receive a thorough physical examination. Any indicated tests, such as bloodwork, urinalysis, and fecal check, will be performed.

Unlike a traditional veterinary visit, the exam may occur on the floor, in the owner’s lap, or on a cushy pet bed, as opposed to a sterile metal table. Holistic visits tend to be longer than traditional visits, because holistic veterinarians generally take more time to discuss your pet’s history, any changes since the last visit, and all your pet’s signs, including their behavior and emotional status.

The focus of a holistic veterinary visit is on finding the least invasive and least harmful avenue to a remedy. Recommendations may require more effort on your part. For example, your pet may need a lifestyle modification, rather than a medication for a set time.

Once your pet’s symptoms have resolved, the relationship is not finished. A holistic veterinarian will want to see your pet regularly to continue their preventive care.

The best way to use holistic care

Holistic care is not a magic wand, and while some owners use this approach as a last resort for their sick pet, this modality has better results when used preventively. Puppies and kittens whose owners take them to a holistic veterinarian to evaluate their needs and recommend an approach to address the pet’s overall well-being, tend to have fewer issues with serious illness.

Determine if the holistic approach is right for your pet

Finding the right veterinarian for your pet is a personal decision. You should investigate the particular veterinarian’s treatment philosophy, as well as their approach to medicine and pet interactions.

You and your pet need to feel comfortable around your chosen veterinarian, and you must be assured they meet your pet’s medical requirements. If you find a holistic veterinarian you like who offers only alternative medical therapies, consider finding a traditional veterinarian as well, in case your pet experiences a life-threatening injury or infection.

How to find a holistic veterinarian

No specific licensure is required to become a holistic veterinarian, since this method is a philosophical approach. However, holistic veterinarians can become certified in many holistic techniques and should not practice these modalities unless they are certified. You can search the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s database (or use VetVet!) to find a holistic veterinarian near you.

Sources: AHVMA St. George’s University. 2020. Animal Wellness Magazine. 2013. Vin. 2002.

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Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.