By Karen Asp
If you've ever been to a holistic physician, an acupuncturist, or even had a massage, you know there's a profound difference between conventional medicine and integrative approaches. "The traditional approach to illness is to get rid of the symptom," says Christina Chambreau, DVM, an integrative veterinarian and founder of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. "The holistic philosophy views a symptom as a clue to a larger problem and plans treatments to strengthen the whole body, instead of targeting only the manifestation."
This is the mindset of both integrative veterinarians and holistic practitioners. The difference between the titles? Integrative vets have completed conventional training, earning a DVM, but have also been trained in holistic practices. They use Western medicine when needed—x-rays for broken bones, for example. Holistic practitioners have been trained only in healing techniques. Though you should never rely on a practitioner as your pet's sole caretaker, a vet may refer you for treatment that she can't provide herself. Both types of practitioners can administer a range of remedies, from acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic to lesser-known alternatives such as oxygen or laser therapy.
Should you jump in? Keep reading to find out what you need to know.
1. The Alternative Trend
The number of owners seeking alternatives has skyrocketed. Doug Knueven, DVM, an integrative veterinarian in Beaver, PA, estimates that demand for his holistic services has increased 400% in the past 10 years, and, according to a survey from the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly 21% of owners have tried a holistic remedy.
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There's good reason for this shift: One study from Duke University concluded that acupuncture is "in some cases more efficient than conventional Western surgery or drug therapy," especially for pain management in pets. Another cites successful treatment of hypothyroidism, epilepsy, and lymphoma with use of homeopathy. And some claim to see an increase in longevity in holistically treated animals—one cat at California's Bright Haven Healing Arts Center for Animals survived facial cancer and lived to the reported age of 34.
2. A Whole-Body Checkup
A first visit with an integrative vet will take more time than you're used to, as the doc will gather information about your pet's personality and do additional checks and tests. Depending on the type of practitioner, these extras may include discussing food preferences, checking pulse points, or analyzing gait, all of which are indicators of your pet's overall well-being. Your vet should tell you what she's doing at each stage of the exam and may list symptoms to track at home—health cues that you had considered normal, such as having an odor or your cat coughing up hair balls. While these habits may not point to a specific illness, symptoms are early warning signs that your pet isn't at his healthiest, Dr. Chambreau says.
3. Understanding The Treatments
Holistic care may include massage, Reiki (touch healing), botanical remedies, Chinese herbs, or a range of other therapies during treatment. Such techniques can be used to fight a gamut of short-term problems, as well as ongoing issues such as hip dysplasia or even cancer.
Once a regimen is started, many owners notice results in a few days for acute ailments and in a month or two for more serious conditions, such as hypothyroidism. Regardless, there's usually a noticeable boost in a pet's mood and energy level within a few days.
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5.Does Your Doc Have The Right Credentials?
Holistic pet care is becoming more widespread, but there's still no gold standard for certification. Check that your practitioner is recognized by one of the following reputable organizations. (Plus, check our Tips on Picking the Best Vet for your pet.)
1. The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy: theavh.org
2. American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association: ahvma.org
3. American Veterinary Chiropractic Association: animalchiropractic.org
4. Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine: tcvm.com
5. International Veterinary Acupuncture Society: ivas.org
If your DVM dismisses your interest in holistic care, it may be time to rethink your vet. "Many certified and well-trained vets are open to alternative approaches," says Christina Chambreau, DVM. Don't go to a vet who won't at least engage in a conversation.