Most pet owners are familiar with traditional veterinary medicine–the vaccinations, medications and surgeries that have saved the lives of so many animals. But increasingly, owners are turning to an alternative approach: holistic veterinary medicine. This method, which encompasses a wide array of treatment protocols, takes into consideration not just physical health, but also an animal’s emotional well-being. Holistic veterinarians treat illness through a combination of traditional veterinary treatments, dietary changes and natural remedies.
What is holistic veterinary medicine?
The goal of holistic veterinary medicine is to not only treat symptoms, but also create a lifestyle that nurtures an animal’s physical and mental well-being. Holistic veterinarians combine alternative methods with traditional medical treatments, and tailor treatment plans specifically for the individual animal.
Holistic veterinarians receive the same training as traditional vets, and employ many of the same techniques. Holistic veterinarians usually obtain additional training in holistic medicine, sometimes at a traditional veterinary school, and sometimes at one of the many holistic veterinary medicine programs across the country. By combining both approaches, they hope to treat the whole animal, addressing everything from emotional health to physical well-being to their environment and their relationship with their human companions.
What can holistic veterinary medicine be used for?
Holistic veterinary medicine is best suited to chronic medical conditions, rather than acute or emergency situations. Holistic treatments often take longer to produce results than do conventional methods, so in cases of trauma, for example, animals will likely fare better if administered a fast-acting standard treatment. However, holistic methods may be a viable option for long-term care, providing owners with more options.
What kinds of treatments do holistic veterinarians use?
Holistic veterinarians use many conventional methods, including surgery, pharmaceutical drugs, blood tests, X-rays and ultrasound. To this, they add a variety of alternative treatments, many of which have roots in ancient forms of medicine. These methods, used for centuries, have steadily been gaining favor in recent years, both for humans and animals.
Part of traditional Chinese medicine for 3,500 years, acupuncture uses tiny needles to stimulate the body’s self-healing abilities. These needles are inserted at specific points along what are called meridians, 14 invisible channels that run through the body and are believed to control certain physical and mental functions. The meridians lie deep within the body, but surface at 360 points, called acupuncture points. By inserting needles into the acupuncture points, practitioners believe it is possible to heal the organs or systems associated with those points. Holistic vets use two kinds of acupuncture: with the needle alone, or in conjunction with electrical stimulation or stimulation using a laser. Vets also place gold beads, magnets or staples on the acupuncture points to provide permanent stimulation. Acupuncture is used to treat several common conditions, including digestive problems, pain, hip dysplasia and epilepsy. Some owners have also noticed emotional improvements in their animals, often before any physical improvement occurs.
Chiropractic therapy focuses on misalignment of the spine as a source of poor health. If the vertebrae, or bones of the spine, are misaligned, the effect can extend to several parts of the body, including tissues, joints, muscles and nerves. Blood flow and overall functioning of the body can also suffer.
Chiropractors re-align the vertebrae through quick, controlled thrusts to the affected joints or bones. The relief is often immediate, and can be either total or partial. Several treatments are sometimes needed for long-lasting improvement. Most often used for pain relief, chiropractic therapy can be used for a wide variety of conditions, even to improve overall health. The body’s organ systems are controlled by the nerves, which can be affected if the spine isn’t properly aligned. By correcting the misalignment, it may be possible to improve the overall functioning of the body and of the internal organs.
Herbalism is one of the oldest forms of medicine, used for centuries to treat both animals and humans. In fact, many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants and herbs, and are based on traditional folk remedies. However, herbal practitioners believe that pharmaceutical-grade drugs don’t possess the same healing properties as the whole plant. Processed drugs may operate differently in the body than the whole plant would, herbalists contend. And, they say, in the whole plant, various compounds may work together to produce healing effects that cannot be duplicated when only one compound is used, as is the case with many medications.
In addition, many people believe that, in the wild, animals instinctively eat certain plants to remedy certain ailments. Some herbal systems are based on observations of what animals eat when afflicted with certain illnesses. By mimicking what wild animals do, it is hoped that domestic animals can have access to these same healing properties.
The goal of homeopathy is restoring balance within the body, to not only treat symptoms, but correct the underlying imbalance causing them. Illness, according to homeopathic principles, results from an imbalance in the body, an imbalance present long before symptoms manifest. These symptoms, it is believed, are the products of the body trying to correct the imbalance. However, these symptoms may only represent a portion of what is taking place within the body, and so determining the extent of the illness is crucial prior to formulating a treatment plan.
Homeopathy is centered on the principle “like cures like,” meaning practitioners use remedies that produce symptoms similar to what the animal is suffering. An animal with nausea, for example, would receive a substance that also produces nausea, but this remedy would be stronger than the imbalance suffered by the animal, and so would replace it. Homeopathic veterinarians start by studying the severity of the animal’s symptoms, determining which should be treated first, and choosing a remedy with the appropriate properties for those symptoms. Homeopathy uses diluted solutions of herbs, chemicals and animal products as treatments, and homeopathic vets generally prefer natural diets and infrequent vaccinations.
Using the Holistic Approach
Holistic veterinary medicine is most effective when combined with traditional medical treatments. Together, the two approaches can help owners ensure their animal’s overall health, both physical and emotional, and provide ways to not only treat the symptoms, but the underlying causes as well. Holistic medicine, like all forms of medical treatment, also works best if the owner is educated about the process. By understanding how holistic and conventional veterinary medicine work, and knowing which method is best suited to certain conditions, owners can improve their pet’s health and happiness.