When I mention that I practice Integrative Veterinary Medicine, I am often greeted with a puzzled look. What is Integrative Medicine and how did I become a proponent and practitioner? More importantly, how can it benefit your furry friends?
In the world of veterinary medicine, there are mainstream vets practicing conventional western medicine and holistic vets offering alternative therapies. Those who combine the two approaches are called integrative vets.
Mainstream veterinarians are Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) traditionally trained in conventional western medicine. The general approach is to treat symptoms of illness or disease with drugs and/or surgery. The primary focus is on treating existing symptoms.
Holistic veterinarians are also DVMs, who have received the same training from the same institutions as mainstream vets and have the same licensing and certification. They then go on to pursue additional training in alternative methods of healing. The focus of holistic veterinarians is to promote wellness and prevent health problems from developing.
Integrative vets bring the philosophies of both western and alternative medicine to their treatment of patients. In my case, I graduated with a DVM from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1983, obtained my license and practiced Western veterinary medicine in the Bay Area for many years, eventually moving to the Sierra Foothills. Over time I began to feel some frustration with the limits of western medicine alone and began to seek out alternatives that would focus on the whole animal, not just a set of symptoms. In 2003 I pursued additional training in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) with a focus on acupuncture, herbs, supplements and nutrition. In Western medicine, things have a cause and an effect - there is health or there is disease. In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), things are more circular - there are balances and imbalances and health is in a constant state of change. Once the type of imbalance is understood a treatment plan can be developed.
Both types of medicine have practical application in the care of companion animals and they often complement each other. Integrative medicine allows practitioners to take a personalized approach to the healthcare needs of each animal with a focus on wellness and disease prevention. Instead of a standardized package of treatment recommendations, your companion is evaluated as a whole being including personality, behavior, environment, history, diet and lifestyle. This allows a multi-pronged approach to those animals suffering from complicated conditions.
As an example, shortly after completing my TCVM training I met a young Dachshund and Australian Shepherd mix. “Ginger” had been diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy and was being treated by UC Davis neurologists. She was on very high doses of phenobarbital and potassium bromide but grand mal-seizures continued almost daily. After her first acupuncture treatment she was seizure free for about 10 days. Over time we changed her diet, incorporated herbs, lowered her doses of phenobarbital and potassium bromide, monitored her thyroid function and added supplements to counteract the impact of the seizure medications to her kidneys and liver. Using this combination of modalities we saw her seizures reduced to one or two per year, and this little girl who came to us with a very poor prognosis had another 10 happy years with her family.
While Ginger’s story is very dramatic, it illustrates just how powerful integrative medicine can be. Without the intervention of western medicine and drugs, she may not have survived such severe and dramatic seizures. But she was also suffering side effects from the high doses of seizure medications to the point that she literally could not walk and all the while frequent seizures continued. Acupuncture, herbs and supplements vastly improved the quality of her life.
Integrative medicine can enhance the life of almost every animal that it touches, whether a puppy or kitten in need of a good start in life or a beautiful senior like “Beth” dealing with aches and pains of old age and the most severe case of hip dysplasia I had ever seen. This approach has helped so many patients with a wide variety of conditions like “Bear”, a young Australian Shepherd recovering from severe spinal trauma, “Dahlia”, a beautiful cat who was wasting away from chronic diarrhea and vomiting and “Anna Bella”, a lovely pit mix – and Sammie’s Friend – who had lost all of her fur and was in a stupor when we met her. Each of them has benefited greatly from acupuncture, herbs and a change in diet based on individual needs. Those who have also needed treatment with western medicine have improved most dramatically when supported with TCVM.
The way I see it, it’s always a good thing to have more tools available when diagnosing and treating our animal friends.
Integrative medicine terminology: