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Fido, Heal Thyself: Alternative Vet Therapies Gain in Popularity

dog"Holistic medicine" is rapidly becoming one of the hottest trends in veterinary care. Just as a growing number of Americans are seeking "alternative therapies" to care for their own health, they are seeking non-conventional treatments for their pets.

Holistic veterinarians employ a variety of alternative therapies – including homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs and nutrition and chiropractic therapies. Many also combine these with more conventional medicine.
Even mainstream vets are adopting some of these approaches as "complementary therapies" to conventional medicine and veterinary schools are adding courses in alternative medicine to their curriculum. As early as 1999, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine added an acupuncturist to its clinical program and in 2001, Tufts University added courses on the use of holistic treatments to its School of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Alternative approaches
In general, holistic medicine focuses on therapies that help the body heal itself. Rather than suppressing symptoms, holistic veterinarians attempt to address underlying imbalances and stimulate the animal’s own healing. Some of the more widely used alternative therapies include:

  • Acupuncture — One of the fastest growing of the alternative therapies, acupuncture has its roots more than 4,000 years ago in China. Based on the belief that Chi, the vital force that flows throughout the body, travels along channels of energy flow called meridians, acupuncture is used to open these meridians and stimulate blood supply. Western scientists believe that the powerful pain-relieving effects are the results of hormones, cortisone, natural painkillers and endorphins released by the treatment. Acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of arthritis and soft tissue injuries in the back or leg.
  • Homeopathy — Homeopaths believe that symptoms of illness are a reflection of an imbalance in the patient’s "vital force." The basic principle of homeopathy is called the Law of Similars, which means that "like cures like." Homeopaths believe that a substance that causes symptoms of disease at normal doses can stimulate the body to fight those same symptoms at homeopathic doses. Practitioners theorize that if the immune system is continually being strengthened and challenged, the patient will live a longer, healthier life.
  • Nutrition & Herbal Remedies — Practitioners of nutritional therapy, also known as orthomolecular medicine, believe that enhancing nutrition and balancing the body’s constitution will result in an improvement in every other aspect of a pet’s health. The specialist prescribes foods that are preservative free and made from the highest quality ingredients. Vitamin supplements are also used in these therapies, as are a variety of herbs and flower essences. Herbs can significantly affect the body, and should be used cautiously and only with the advice of a professional herbalist or vet.
  • Chiropractic — Chiropractic medicine focuses on the relationship between the spinal column and the nervous system, and its effect on an animal’s overall health. Chiropractic therapy is focused on increasing flexibility and performance. Practitioners also believe that it can help improve a variety of conditions more commonly treated with drugs and surgery.

Finding a holistic vet
There is currently no certifying organization for "holistic" veterinarians. However, there are individual organizations that offer certification in specific alternative modalities, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, and botanical medicine. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association web site includes a directory of members listed by states. For more information, visit