A question worth asking.
There are lots of labels out there that are suggestive, even sexy, you might say, and yet may not be true: holistic veterinarian, homeopathic veterinarian, holistic veterinary care, natural vet, etc. “Natural” is so misused, we’ve got people in the government trying to pass off genetically engineered crops to us as natural! And organic? Similar woes in this field. Homeopathy is another one. Oh boy, don’t get me started on what flies under that banner!
But what is a holistic veterinarian? I grappled with this when I left conventional practice in the late ’80s. If I offered people healthy raw food diets, was I a holistic vet? Seemed like I was moving in the right direction, but didn’t holistic mean more than that?
After I learned acupuncture, and had a treatment modality that not only caused no harm, but promoted a return to health without drugs, I felt I’d come closer to being a holistic vet. After all, wasn’t I kind of looking at the whole animal more now? Trying to find the imbalances and putting my needles in spots to help move this thing called chi, something deeper and more subtle than the physical body it lived in? I was a natural vet, as I didn’t put drugs in any more, I was more working with the animals than trying to fight their disease symptoms, but was I really a holistic vet? Was I looking at the biggest picture possible in order to decide on treatment or prevention of animal illness?
Supplements came and went, herbs, Bach Flower Remedies, natural diets changed here and there, and then, a door opened: a training course, spanning a year, that would make me a homeopathic veterinarian. A Certified Veterinary Homeopath would be the reward at the end of the training and passing exams and presenting case reports for peer review. As I had some affinity for this type of natural medicine, I embarked on the training, and began to practice well before I finished the year. This natural, quasi-holistic vet had morphed once more to become a homeopathic vet!
If I’m not holistic, this homeopathy won’t work!
It was finally at this point that I could feel confident that what I offered was, in fact, holistic veterinary medicine. To be a homeopathic vet, and to do it well and fully, one by definition must be a holistic vet. You can’t practice good homeopathy and expect to get results without looking at the whole animal!
So, I put the needles away, I kept some supplements and added others as the years went by, still recommended balanced raw food diets or, second best, a healthy prepared food with raw additions, and I started taking much more time with each patient on the first visit. I had to ask about things beyond the “chief complaint” (the reason the owner brought the animal to my attention) in order to get the animal well. Why was I asking about sleep patterns and gummy ears if the animal came to me with seizures? How was it that I was as interested in the past history of diarrhea at every food change as I was in what the skin looked like in the allergic dog? It all had to be taken into account to get the best results.
What Does “Well” Mean?
And “well” took on a new meaning, too. I learned the possible outcomes of treatment, any treatment, conventional or alternative:
- Cure — the whole animal gets well, and stays that way without continued treatment.
- Palliation — the medicine, when stopped, allows the symptoms to return. Resuming the medicine returns the improvement. They need it forever to stay “well.” Over time, however, their health deteriorates.
- Suppression — the medicine works quickly and “miraculously” to make the symptoms go away, while the whole animal not only doesn’t get better, but gets worse, more deeply sick, down the road.
So, now I wanted to cure every animal that came to me, and that meant I had to be holistic. Veterinarians could use homeopathy wrongly, and suppress if they weren’t careful (I had firsthand experience with one notable case in my early days: I made a cat’s skin look fabulous with remedies, but the cat went on to become diabetic. It wouldn’t have happened if I was working with the whole animal, really being a holistic vet. I know better now). I learned sometimes the best that could be offered was palliation, most commonly in cats with chronic renal failure: the kidneys won’t repair, even with the most careful prescribing.
The most rewarding though, are the cases I’ve cured. Not only does the lame animal start running with his pack again, but his bad breath improves, shedding stops, eyes clear up, and he stops getting itchy every Summer.
So, maybe the holistic veterinarian is the one who cures his patients, where the “whole animal” improves? Makes sense to me. By treating the whole, the success is greatly increased, and there’s no risk of short-sightedly making the near term look rosier, while the animal slowly gets worse year to year.
As I look back over my 30 years in practice, and realize I’m one of the elders now, I’m really glad I stuck it out and became a truly holistic veterinarian. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.