Holistic medicine is about treating the whole person (or in this case, pet) taking into account external factors, rather than just the visible symptoms of a condition. It’s gaining popularity among people, and as a dog and cat-loving society, it’s no surprise that many are seeking holistic healthcare for their pets.
Taking care of the mind, body, and spirit is often the refrain of holistic medicine. However, understanding what that looks like in practice can be a question for pet parents. We’ll discuss why you might seek holistic healthcare for your pet, some available treatment options, and insight from a practicing holistic veterinarian with over a decade of experience.
Why seek out holistic healthcare for your pet?
“When you’re in healthcare, you see similar situations happen again and again. You start to learn the limitations of what you can do. When I saw a patient and we went through all the traditional treatment options, it was troubling to go back to the pet parent with ‘I’m out of options,’” says Dr. Gary Richter, lead veterinarian at Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California.
It was this frustration that led Dr. Richter to start looking for more options for pets in holistic medicine. He realized there were more things to be done for animals with conditions he once saw as the end of the road. “Once you see it you can’t unsee it,” he says. The most common reason pets are seen at his holistic clinic are arthritis, chronic allergies, chronic gastrointestinal issues, and seizures. Recently, more pet parents are bringing in their pets for preventative care. Dr. Richter says, “The biggest thing that people can do to keep their pets healthy is to take a proactive approach.”
What to expect from a holistic vet
Dr. Richter explains that when new patients are seen at his clinic, consultations start with a discussion on what the pet is eating. Whether at a holistic clinic or general practitioner, he says we can all do more to get involved in a conversation about something as critically important as nutrition. Then, the vet and pet parent will discuss the pet’s activity level and any change in their routine. Lastly, as with any vet visit, a discussion on any additional questions or concerns is had. “The patient isn’t talking, so the pet parents’ input is invaluable,” says Dr. Richter.
At a holistic vet clinic, pets are offered treatment options like acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, chiropractic adjustments, herbal medicine, and more. Dr. Richter explains, “Acupuncture has gained a lot of footing in veterinary medicine and can be used to balance out the body. We often use it to treat arthritis and pain, and even seizures. For herbal medicine, almost anything that pharmaceuticals are used to treat you can find an herbal formula that can be used to treat the same condition. Sometimes they can be used together and sometimes they are used separately.” The best treatment depends on many factors related to the pet’s current health.
Deciding if holistic healthcare is best for your pet
Since holistic veterinary healthcare is still a relatively new practice, finding a clinic near you can be challenging. In that case, the best thing you can do for your pet is to educate yourself. When visiting your general practice vet, come prepared with your own research into what’s going on. Present it in a respectful, nonthreatening way, but be your pet’s advocate. Dr. Richter’s book, The Ultimate Pet Health Guide also provides guidance on taking a holistic approach preventatively and for specific conditions for your pet.
If you are visiting a holistic vet, Dr. Richter suggests, “Often pet owners find it helpful to keep a journal handy so they can jot down observations and rate symptoms and improvements after a holistic appointment. Holistic treatments gradually bring the animal’s body back into balance, so even subtle signs of changes – good or bad – can be meaningful to your holistic doctor.”
Taking into account our pet’s mental, physical, and emotional state is important. Just as we as humans can manifest something like stress or happiness in a physical way, so can our pets. “What’s important to realize is by the time an animal is acting sick, usually they’ve been sick for a while,” explains Dr. Richter, “Pets are good at hiding signs of illness. Take your pet to the vet on a regular basis and ensure they’re eating an ideal diet. Routine screenings like bloodwork can help with early detection of any underlying problems. We have to be the medical advocates for our own pets.” As we deepen our understanding of their holistic wellbeing, we become better caregivers.