The Visiting Vet - Services
lntroduction to Holistic Medicine

What would you do if a member of your family was given a diagnosis of incurable illness? Most people would not stop at one doctor’s opinion, nor stop looking for other treatments. This scenario of relative desperation is how many people find alternative medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) give doctors and patients an entirely new arsenal with which to treat many diseases (including arthritis and allergies) and significant animal behavior problems.

What is alternative veterinary medicine? No universal definition exists, although many have defined it as diagnostic and treatment modalities (systems of medicine) not commonly taught in medical schools.

You may have heard other terms for alternative medicine: Complementary, Holistic or Integrative medicine just means that these methods are used in addition to, and not instead of, conventional medicine.

Holistic medicine implies that the modalities take into account the whole animal and the whole situation in treating the disease. This means that holistic veterinarians "treat the patient and not the disease".

Almost all of the systems used in alternative medicine are holistic in origin.

Many holistic practitioners feel that conventional medicine treats disease in an emergency fashion – wait for something to go very wrong, and then fix it. The cornerstone of holistic medicine is the prevention and early detection of disease. Of primary importance in preventing disease is proper nutrition. Early detection of disease means treating our pets for a problem that many conventional practitioners would ignore, or even consider normal, such as vomiting hairballs, the development of diarrhea, and the very common "red line on the gums above the teeth". If we consider these signs as early symptoms of disease, we have a chance to head off bigger complications later in life by dealing with these small imbalances as early as they are detected. In this way we restore balance and health.

Another important tenet of holistic, or alternative veterinary medicine, is holistic evaluation and treatment. This means that:

The doctor will look beyond the problem of the day, and try to determine what else may be happening in the animal’s body, as well as external factors in the environment.

For example, if a cat is presented with a urinary tract infection but also has mild dandruff, dirty teeth, eats a low budget diet, lives a sedentary life style in a house that is sprayed often with pesticides, and is left alone for the greater part of the day, the treatment must certainly involve more than antibiotics for a bladder infection.

The holistic veterinarian will address the whole patient. By modifying all the other problems, a recurrence of the problem of the day can be prevented. Dogs with chronic, recurrent ear infections often receive repeated prescriptions for ear salves containing steroids and antibiotics, but these poor dogs are rarely permanently cured. Many ear infections are caused by underlying allergies. This might prompt Dr Rice to recommend diet changes, nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies, or other holistic treatments. Pets with chronic skin disease and even epilepsy often respond favorably to a simple change in diet, yet many go through life living from one steroid or anticonvulsant medication to the next, unnecessarily.

Holistic medicine can give a pet with chronic or incurable diseases a new chance at health.

Holistic treatments are very often different from conventional drug treatment in that they are used either to strengthen body elements, or to use the body’s inherent defense systems to accelerate “healing”. By contrast, many conventional drug treatments are employed simply to make the symptoms disappear. Many thousands of pets live on steroids to get through the fleas and allergy season. The drugs do not cure the problem, and do not improve the pet’s health. Holistic evaluation of the dog gives Dr Rice some insight into why only some dogs develop these vexing skin problems, and she will make recommendations that begin to solve the problem, and not cover it up.

Our pets, like their owners, are born with the inherent ability to help themselves recover from truly stupendous insults. Bones heal, infections are controlled and hormonal problems balanced, but in many cases the body needs the help of conventional medicine and procedures to start. Without the animal’s help, however, bones don’t heal and infectious viruses don’t disappear completely. Holistic medicine has a strong place in veterinary medicine because of the potential for restoring an animal’s optimal health.