Holistic Veterinarians: What to Expect

This week I’m taking my dog to our local holistic veterinarian. We are so lucky to have a few in our area! While I do respect traditional medicine when it comes to my dog’s wellbeing, I prefer a more integrative approach. After all, I’m a canine sports massage therapist and see the benefits of non-invasive therapeutic techniques on a daily basis.

My 5-year old mixed breed Gonzo has been injured twice this summer due to rough play with his brother. Our veterinarian is concerned that he is showing early signs of arthritis. My job is to do everything I can to stave off the onset of arthritis and keep my dog in peak physical condition.

holistic dog

So it’s our first appointment with a holistic veterinarian. What can we expect?

What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?

The first thing you should know is that holistic or integrative veterinarians are licensed veterinarians. These doctors went to veterinary school and then proceeded to become certified in non-traditional therapies, with a more natural approach to healthcare.

“In treating an animal, a holistic veterinarian will determine the best combination of both conventional and alternative (or complementary) therapies for a given individual… Once the symptoms have been treated, the task is not complete until the underlying disease patterns have been redirected.” American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

The techniques promoted in holistic medicine are minimally invasive, and include patient well-being, lifestyle, and emotional state. These veterinarians do not focus only on natural treatments but treat the whole body. The “why” of a symptom being utmost important. The holistic veterinarian’s goal is to treat the symptoms, yes, but also the underlying root cause. This root cause may be physical, emotional, or mental.

Holistic vs. Integrative Veterinarians

While most people use “holistic” and “integrative” as synonyms, there is a slight difference in perception. Many people view holistic veterinarians as those who prefer to perform only complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as acupuncture, homeopathy, etc. And there are certainly some veterinarians who do this. The term “integrative” instead refers to a veterinarian who performs both modern and alternative therapies.

Dr. Kendra Pope of Integrative Oncology and Veterinary Wellness explains:

“‘Integrative was truly created to step away from the long accepted CAM (Complementary and Alternative medicine). It is a term defined separately to encompass not only incorporation of conventional and mainstream treatment with other complementary therapies, but really focus on using ALL tools in the toolbox all at the same time. Integrative medicine, by definition, is also meant to be evidence-based when possible, and also should be a type of approach to healthcare that the healthcare practitioner themselves must practice daily in order to be good healthcare providers.”

Certainly not all veterinarians are cut from the same cloth, holistic or otherwise. Choose a veterinarian that has the same views as you, that you feel comfortable asking questions. And most importantly, that your pet likes. After all, your pet is the patient.

What Can You Expect From Your Holistic Veterinarian?

Expect a Personal Approach

Visiting a holistic vet can be a little different from traditional veterinarians. For one, they are usually smaller practices. There are pros and cons to small practices, but usually this means a more personalized approach to your pet’s healthcare. You will not feel rushed to ask your questions quickly and get out to make room for the next patient. A lot of integrative vets will spend the time to make sure you understand your pet’s needs because they realize that as the owner, your consistency at home makes a big difference in their health and wellbeing.

Of course the downside of this is that your appointment may be slightly delayed, or is longer than you anticipated. What’s more important in the scheme of things? An extra fifteen minutes or your pet’s health?

Expect a Non-Clinical Setting

We have a few holistic veterinarians in our area. Walking into their offices is similar to walking into a spa. Quiet music, beautiful decor, and low lighting. On shelves you will find all natural pet products for sale. Brochures for cold laser therapy or herbs lay in wait to teach you about individual practices.

Of course you will still see a waiting room and individual treatment rooms. But the sterile “doctor” environment has been left behind at a more traditional veterinarian practice.

Expect a Thorough Initial Evaluation

The initial evaluation is likely to take an hour and will be slightly different than subsequent sessions. This is the all-important first meeting between your pet and his/her doctor. Them getting to know their vet, and feeling comfortable, is so important because stress can have a major impact on your pet’s health.

You can expect to fill out detailed paperwork for your pet before your first evaluation. A holistic veterinarian will ask common questions such as nutrition, vaccinations, age, weight, allergies, and energy level.

But your holistic veterinarian will take it further. You may be asked questions that you had not before considered. Some questions may include, but are not limited to:

1.   Emotional

How does your dog react in certain situations. What is her/ her personality? Do they have separation anxiety, are they reactive, timid, confident, easy going, etc.

2.   Exercise

What type of exercise do you do with your pet? How often and for how long? Further, what type of exercise does your pet prefer? Long walks, dog park, beach, etc.

3.   Skin Condition

Is your pet’s skin dry, clammy, itchy or flaky? Skin is a good indicator for nutrition, hydration, and allergies.

4.   Mental Stimulation

What keeps your dog busy? Puzzles, games, training and tricks. Are there other pets in the home? Small children? Are your pet’s left alone for long periods of time? These all have an impact on overall health and important to your holistic veterinarian.

5.   Hot or Cold Surfaces

Does your dog prefer heat or cold? Do they prefer to lay on carpet or hard floor? In Eastern Medicine there is a significant difference between the two (yin/yang) and what this can tell the veterinarian about your pet.

Not all holistic veterinarians will ask the same questions. However, the more detail when completing the initial evaluation the better.

Expect a Detailed Conversation about Diet

Most pet owners, holistic veterinarians, and conventional veterinarians will agree that diet and nutrition plays an integral part for your pet’s well being. It’s a constant struggle to maintain a healthy, nutritious balance for each pet and their needs.

holistic diet dog

Your holistic vet will be very pleased to hear if you are feeding your dog gently-cooked or raw diet and supplements rather than kibble. But be prepared to answer detailed questions about ingredients, supplements, and be open to advice.

Expect to Receive Treatments During Your Appointment

Your holistic veterinarian will perform a detailed evaluation of your pet based on your discussion. Your pet may receive some or all these therapies during their session, and be encouraged to come back regularly for treatment. Much of holistic wellness is prevention. Thus, regular treatments and helping your pet achieve and maintain balance is of utmost importance.

While you may shudder at the impeding cost, think instead how much less expensive it is to keep your pet healthy and happy for the long term.

  • Nutritional Advice
  • Herbal Supplements
  • Cold Laser Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Spinal Manipulation
  • Aromatherapy
  • Sports Massage
  • Reiki

Of course, not all holistic veterinarians will be certified in all modalities. A good holistic vet will work together with other vets or certified sports massage therapists or reiki practitioners for their client’s wellbeing.

acupuncture dog

Expect to Talk About Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a hotly debated topic by many people of course. I will not delve into great detail in this article but will acknowledge that rabies vaccinations are generally mandatory by law. In the grand scheme a holistic veterinarian’s priority is on health, diet, and overall lifestyle rather than dependence on a complex vaccination schedule.

Why Choose an Integrative Veterinarian?

The question many people have is why choose an integrative, or holistic, veterinarian? My question back is why not? You may be uncertain or feel there is science lacking behind the different modalities. But it is important to keep in mind that a holistic veterinarian is not content with the limited views of contemporary veterinary medicine. Instead, they choose to look further and learn more every day to better help pets everywhere.

So the question really should be, why wouldn’t I choose a holistic veterinarian?

Heather Wallace, ESMT, CCMT provides sports massage and aromatherapy for equines and canines in central New Jersey. Check her out at: www.bridleandbone.com

author equine