Alternative Therapies for Pets

September 17, 2010

More and more people are seeking Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) as a method of treatment for their pets. As a result of this demand, more veterinarians are educating themselves in this field.

TCVM is a huge field and includes acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tui-na (a form of massage and acupressure), diet/nutrition and Qi-Gong (a form of energy exercise). Each field requires extensive education and expertise to perform it effectively. Because of this, you will often find a veterinarian who incorporates only one or two of these modalities into his/her practice.

As TCVM gains popularity and trust here in the United States, a number of veterinary schools have added acupuncture to the veterinary training curriculum. Some schools offer courses in other TCVM modalities as well.

Holistic, homeopathy and chiropractic are other terms often used when discussing alternative therapies.

The word “holistic” actually means that you treat the whole patient, not just the disease. It seems to me that any good veterinarian does that. However, the term often implies that alternative modalities are used, thus you will hear people interchange the terms “alternative medicine” and “holistic medicine”.

Homeopaths view disease as a manifestation of a disturbance in the “vital force”. It is now understood that this vital force is the immune system at work. Homeopathic remedies work to assist the vital force in healing the body. This is very complicated and should be prescribed by veterinarians trained by the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. Very dilute substances are used and modern scientists have trouble explaining why homeopathy works.

Chiropractic is a term that is now familiar to most people. It is defined as the art and science of diagnosis and correction of dysrelationships between the nervous system and the spinal column through manual spinal manipulation. How is that for a mouthful? The American Veterinary Medical Association’s policy on chiropractic states that “a licensed veterinarian must be involved in diagnosing, prescribing, and supervising chiropractic treatment of animals.” Thus, it is best to find a veterinarian who is licensed by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Chiropractic does not replace traditional veterinary medicine and surgery, but provides an additional method of care. This modality focuses on the health and proper functioning of the spinal column.

Herbal therapy and nutritional supplements may include the Chinese herbs or other substances that have been shown to be effective for certain ailments based on evidence of improvement in a few to many thousands of patients. They have generally not been proven effective based on scientific theory using controlled standards. Many conventional practitioners are using herbs and supplements to treat conditions from liver failure to arthritis because the evidence in the field is convincingly strong that it helps.

With a better understanding of Chinese and alternative modalities in veterinary medicine, you can decide if you feel comfortable choosing this type of care for your pet. NEVER initiate this type of treatment on your own. Just because a supplement is good for you, it does not mean it would be good for a dog or a cat.

The use of conventional medicine along with TCVM or other alternative modalities is now being referred to as Integrative Medicine. I like this term, because it demonstrates the importance of conventional medicine and doesn’t rule out the use of other therapies as a complementary therapy.

In my experience, conventional medicine is very important for the initial diagnosis of disease. Once a disease is diagnosed, conventional and alternative medicine can be combined. For example, a pet undergoing chemotherapy for cancer might benefit from acupuncture for pain control, herbal therapy for immune stimulation and mineral supplements to help build red blood cells. An arthritic pet who receives acupuncture and nutritional supplements often requires fewer non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) to control his/her pain.

I am a conventional practitioner by training and it is this scientific type of medicine that I enjoy. Thus, if a pet owner is interested in seeking additional care for their pet, I refer to veterinarians who have received extensive training in complementary medicine. I am fortunate to have such a veterinarian in my office, but I wouldn’t hesitate to send folks to distant locations if I felt they might benefit from additional care.

Always discuss your pet’s condition with your trusted veterinarian first. Then, if, as a team, you feel additional therapies might help, seek only certified trained veterinarians in the field. Look for letters like CVA (Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist ), AVCA (American Veterinary Chiropractic Association) or that they received training from one of the above mentioned schools or the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society or the American Veterinary Medical Association. Using complementary medicine incorrectly or without the approval of your veterinarian could be disruptive to your pet’s health.

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One Response to “Alternative Therapies for Pets”

  1. Jewel Says:

    Wow, what an interesting post. I never knew that veterinarians were being trained in the use of acupuncture. This shouldn’t really be surprising given how commonplace acupuncture is in the medical community these days. Great to have an alternative to all the expensive drugs that being prescribed for pet health issues these days.


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