TOP #20: What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine for Dogs?

Many pet owners think they know what holistic veterinary medicine is, but if you dig deeper, you quickly find that it's not as cut and dry as some may think. In this week's episode I'm going to discuss what holistic dog care actually is and what to expect if you're trying to find a holistic veterinarian for your dog in your area.

How much do you know about holistic veterinary care as it applies to dogs? Do you know the difference between holistic medicinal care for dogs and the traditional veterinary dog care? In this Theory of Pets podcast episode I'll walk you through these differences, and discuss many of the aspects of holistic veterinary care, and what many pet owners miss when considering this option versus traditional veterinary care.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

What Is Holistic Veterinary Care for Dogs?
(raw podcast transcript)

What Is Holistic Vet Medicine Dogs

Hello everyone, welcome back to Theory of Pets, my name is Samantha. This week I want to talk to you guys about holistic medicine for our pets.  This is something that has been gaining a lot of attention in recent months, a lot of pet owners are looking for alternative treatments and I think a lot of the reason for that is because humans are also looking for alternative treatments for themselves.  And the more you really look at the human industry and the pet industry if you compare them and look at things like trends in food, trends in accessories, trends in medicine, they kind of go along the same path.

As we get more technologically savvy as humans and start using technology more in our day-to-day lives it's slowly leeching over into the pet industry as well and we're seeing a lot of ways that we can now use technology to help out in our pets' lives every day.  The same is going from medicine, there's this trend in the human world to look for more holistic treatments, more natural treatments to treat your whole body versus just treating a symptom here and there.

People are seeing that pharmaceuticals along with the astronomic costs that keep increasing there's all these side effects, you're taking a medication for one thing and it's giving you side effects causing you to have to take another medication which gives you side effects, and it's becoming this vicious cycle kind of.

So we are looking for more natural holistic type approaches, and that's again leeching over into the pet field and we're seeing more pet parents that are wanting these holistic health treatments for their dogs.  So I get a lot of people that ask questions about it, I have a lot of people that don't really understand exactly what holistic health is.

Holistic health care is kind of used interchangeably with terms like ‘alternative medicine', ‘natural treatments', things like that; and holistic dog care is so much more than that.  Holistic dog care, think of that the word ‘holistic,' they look at the whole body, whether you're doing talking about pets or people it's not something that you're going in and you're saying “I'm having this symptom, this is what's wrong,” and they try and treat the symptom.  You say “I'm having the symptom…” or in this case “My dog is having this symptom, ” and they, holistic veterinarians, are looking at what's causing the symptom, what is the root cause, we need to treat what the actual initial problem is to treat all of the symptoms.

And if you think about it, there's a lot of times when you're having some kind of a health issue or your pet in this case is having some kind of health issue, and I think specifically with pets we don't always know what all of the symptoms are, you might see that your dog has a rash but you can't see that …oops, sorry that's my dog… so you might be able to see that your dog has a rash but you're not able to see that your dog has maybe a fever, a mild fever that's going  on.  You might not be able to see that your dog is also having an upset stomach and a lot of digestive issues with that.

Dogs can't talk, they can't tell you that they're feeling bloated or that they're feeling  nauseous, you know you don't see it unless they're sick to their stomach or they're having diarrhea, you might not notice that there's any kind of digestive upset.  So holistic care is looking at all of that.  Your dog can't tell you what's going on so what a holistic veterinarian is going to do is say “Well your dog has a rash but what's causing the rash?”  They're not just going to say like a traditional veterinarian would, “Here's a cream to put on the rash to take the rash away.”  Well why did the rash start in the first place?  So holistic dog care is really looking at the whole animal… or holistic, I should say, pet care is looking at the whole animal, what's going on that's causing the symptom?

And a lot of times you know holistic care is linked with more organic foods, natural products, natural healing methods, maybe some essential oils, things like that, so they kind of do go hand in hand but you certainly can't say that they're an interchangeable method of treatment because holistic vets may use traditional veterinary treatments, they may pair them with natural treatments, they may recommend an organic all-natural dog food, they may recommend something that's a little bit more traditional.

Holistic isn't just about natural, it's about what's best for your overall dog, or cat, or pet in this instance, they want to do what's best for the animal and if that's a traditional treatment, great; if that's something that's a little bit more homeopathic, if they're looking at something that's a little bit outside the box of traditional medicine, that's okay as well.  They want what's best for the dog at the end of the day.  So holistic health care for our animals is a lot more, I think, than what some people presume that it is.

Some of the things that you need to consider when you're thinking about holistic medicine, first of all obviously you're going to need to find a holistic veterinarian in your area.  There are some, they are not as popular, obviously, as traditional vets, but you should be able to find one fairly close to your area, they are becoming a more and more common so take a look around, and just like when you're looking for a veterinarian for yourself, just because there's only one holistic vet in your area they may not be the right vet for you, you may need to end up traveling to another area, another city or another community to find a holistic veterinarian that's going to be able to meet your needs and the needs of your pet.

You want to interview them, you want to ask for references.  Check with people that you know if they have a holistic veterinarian that they work with that they like.  Just the same way that you would look for a regular veterinarian, just because they are holistic veterinarians are less common doesn't mean that you want to settle for one just because it's the closest one to you, they may not fit with your needs or offer the services in the things that you really need and are looking for in a veterinarian, so make sure that you  speak with them the same way that you would and do an interview and find references just like you would with a traditional veterinarian.

One of the things that I think is the greatest about holistic pet care is that …or veterinary care, is that no two animals are the same, two horses are not the same, two dogs are not the same, two cats are not the same, so when you look for a holistic veterinarian they understand that.  Whereas if you take say…okay so for example we have three dogs and if our chocolate lab got a rash and I took her into our traditional vet, they are going to give me a topical cream, send me home.  If a few months later our beagle ends up with a rash, same thing;  and a few months after that our Boxer ends up with a rash, same thing.  If you go into a holistic veterinarian just because the symptom is the same they're going to look at each dog individually.

Now for example let's say my chocolate lab she gets a rash in the summertime, she's in the water all the time so they ask about that, they want to know.  And maybe the issue is something in one of the brooks or streams that she was swimming in caused a skin reaction. And then they might take a look at our boxer who has a …she's been diagnosed with a condition called boxer cardiomyopathy, she takes six pills every day as well as a couple of additional supplements, she eats a very specific diet because of her condition, so they may look at our boxer Chloe and say maybe it's linked to her diet, maybe it's linked to medication that she's on  and they're going to look for other symptoms, instead of just taking that one symptom of the rash and saying “Oh yes let's treat that,” they're going to look at the individual dog, what's going on with this dog?

Why is this rash, maybe it looks the same as a rash from another dog but there's a totally different reason that the rash is starting.  So that I personally to me is the greatest aspect of holistic health care and I think something that pet owners really need to think about is that you really get a specific course of treatment that's specialized for your pet's needs.

One thing that maybe frustrating to some pet owners but it does take more time often with veterinarian practices because what they're doing is they're not taking that single solution, it's not as cut and dry as it is with traditional veterinary care.  So instead a holistic vet is going to combine lots of different approaches, they may use let's say acupuncture along with some kind of a prescription or topical treatment for an issue.

They may use some conventional types of medicine mixed with some homeopathic types of medicine; they might recommend, as I mentioned you know, acupuncture is a really big thing, aroma therapy, some chiropractic care.  They may talk about changing a diet, using herbs and things like that to treat things instead of just looking at that  traditional Western medicine that we've kind of come to know.  They don't give out prescription drugs just to suppress symptoms, that's not the way that it's done in holistic care, so sometimes that can be frustrating.

A lot of times as pet parents we love our dogs like they're family members, we don't want to watch them suffer with something …we'll go back to that skin rash or say some kind of skin condition where our dog is itchy and uncomfortable.  You don't want to see that, you don't want to have to deal with that while a holistic veterinarian is looking into other types of treatments or things like that, you want a cure.  So a lot of pet parents think that by going the traditional way, you go into the vet, you get your prescription and you're done, that's it, your dog feels better, that's great right.

Not always, and while it might take a little bit longer with holistic treatments, they're not just giving the drug to suppress the symptoms and move on, they're looking for what's causing that and it's actually long term going to be better for your dog than just taking the drugs that are going to lower his immune system and …his natural immune system I should say, they kind of fight what the symptoms are and weaken that natural immune system.

So overall long term looking at a holistic approach that's really going to get to the root of the problem, and they're also going to talk about ways to boost your dog's immune system, ways to use his diet to give him the best quality nutrition for his individual needs.  So it's really looking long term at the whole dog, and that's what I think a lot of pet owners don't understand, they like the idea of the more natural approach but they're not fully informed on exactly what holistic veterinary medicine is all about.

So if you've decided that you like the idea of holistic veterinary care and you're thinking maybe you're going to look into it, you're going to check around see if there's a veterinarian in your area that offers these services and you think this is the route that you want to go, there are some things that you need to be prepared for.  One is like I said that extra time, you're going to need a little bit of patience, it's going to take a while for the holistic veterinarian to learn about your dog, your dog's lifestyle, the environment that you live in.

These are all things that add or take away from your dog's overall health and well being, and that's what you want, at the end of the day isn't that what we all want is for our dog to be as healthy overall as possible?  So you need to talk about other animals in the environment, things that they do.

Like I mentioned our lab Sadie, she swims all the time, so are they swimming in natural water, the type of food that they're eating, the things that they're exposed to in the environment.  Are you …let's say you are a mechanic or you do body work on vehicles and sometimes your dog is out and about in the garage, there are fumes and chemicals and things like that that when breathed in and exposed to over long periods of time could cause issues.

So little things like that that you may not think affect your dog's everyday life actually could play a huge part in it.  So you need to be patient and go through that process with a holistic veterinarian to learn, or for them to learn I should say, everything that they need to know about your pet and your environment.  So that's one thing.

The other thing that you need to be prepared for I guess when you're going into it is that it's going to be something that they're going to talk to you about your dog's overall health and wellbeing, so there may be some diet changes, they may recommend some supplements, a lot of times they'll recommend adding some things that are natural sources of nutrients to your dog's diet.  Apple cider vinegar is a big one, things like flax seed oil, fish oil, yogurt has natural probiotics and good bacteria for dog's digestion, so it may be things like that that they want to talk to you about.

It's going to be a lifestyle change for your pet, but obviously for you because you're the one that provides that lifestyle, so you need to be ready for that going into this journey of holistic health, and it may actually spark an interest for you to maybe think about it for yourself and your human family members but especially for your dog because you're the one that cares for them and gives them everything that they need on a daily basis, this is going to be something that's going to change your lifestyle too and you need to be prepared for that.

It's often that holistic vets will talk to you about changing your dog's exercise regimen along with their diet.  So there is things obviously if you're changing your dog's exercise regimen then that's going to change yours as well.  If your dog needs to go for more walks every day or get out in the yard and play a little bit more you're going to have to take him for those walks, you're going to have to go out in the yard, throw the ball, fetch with him, whatever the case may be.  They may also recommend things, like I had mentioned before, aroma therapy, massage, acupuncture.

Depending on your dog's condition a lot of times… you know let's take for example dog massage, a lot of people don't realize that dogs enjoy massage the way that people would.  Sometimes it's for some type of remedial purpose, it can help pets, believe it or not, with fear or anxiety issues; it reduces swelling, pets with joint issues, arthritis; it can enhance blood circulation so if that's an issue for your dog something like massage may be recommended and you're going to be the one that's going to have to take your pet to these appointments.

Aroma therapy is the same way, chiropractic treatments are the same way, I know people think some of this stuff, for example chiropractic for dogs why would you need …why would your dog need chiropractic care? Just like us dogs can suffer from back pain and neck pain.  Think about a dog's spine and the way their body is set up where their spine runs down the top of their body so all the weight's kind of hanging there.  Think about an overweight dog and how much weight that's pulling down on his back and that can do a lot of damage.  So if your dog used to be overweight and you've gotten that under control now there may still be some issues things like that.

Dogs that have had puppies that's a lot of weight, it's a lot of issue with their body.  Some dogs just genetically have weaker bones than others, may have back problems and things like that that you know there's nothing that you can do about it, it's a genetic thing, something that they're born with.  Things like that that may be recommended in those are things that you're going to have to be available to take your dog to, hire a pet sitter to take your dog to something like that.

And again, a change in diet that may increase the costs of your pet food it may mean changing to for example home a diet that's not going to cost you more money but is going to take some more time for you to prepare.  They may talk about adding, like I said, some of those natural things to your dog's diet like apple cider vinegar, yogurt is a great thing, things like that.  So maybe you're not changing the diet but you're adding some more things to it that might be a little bit more expensive, there's a lot of things to keep in mind.

So when you think about holistic dog health versus conventional veterinary medicine that we're all used to, you know there are a lot of aspects to keep in mind and it's something that you need to think about really open mindedly, you need to be aware that holistic doesn't necessarily mean that your dog's not going to get any traditional medicine, it doesn't mean that a holistic veterinarian is going to talk you out of vaccinating your dog or having any type of traditional Western medicine treatment.  It doesn't mean that all of a sudden your dog's going to have to be on this all-natural organic diet and that they're going to start making you do doggy yoga or something like that.

People tend to think of holistic veterinary medicine in two extremes and those are that, one, that you're going to get no veterinary care… any traditional veterinary care, they're not going want to do any vaccines or anything like that it's just completely away from Western medicine, completely the opposite of Western medicine I guess.  And then some people think of it on the other end of the spectrum that it's just going to be this huge life-changing thing and you're going to have to change everything that you do with your dog, and that's not it either.

So you really need to be open minded, you need to be able to work well with the veterinarian that you do select because holistic medicine is just about that, it's kind of one of those it-takes-a-village sort of thing.  So you are going to be working with a veterinarian, the veterinarian may perform aroma therapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, they may refer you to somebody else that does, you may work with an entire team of people.  They may have a canine nutritionist in their office that speaks on the dietary issues; so you have to be open to working with people.

At the end of the day all of these choices are yours because you are your dog's owner, you want what's best for them, you know what's in your budget, you know what your dog needs so you need to be able to speak with a holistic vet, speak with the team that they work with, make the best choices for your dog.

You certainly need to work with a veterinarian that you don't feel is pushing things on you and can really work with you as well, so if you say “Geez you know we'd really love the chiropractic care but this time we just can't afford it, is there another step that we can take?  Is there another direction that we can go?”  Or for example, “We can't really afford the massage therapy are there some things that I can do at home to help relieve some of my dog's pain?”  Or something like that.  So you need to be open-minded, you need to find a veterinarian that's open minded, and you need to be aware that holistic veterinary care is so much more than just treating a symptom like traditional veterinary care is.

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.