Looking for alternatives to conventional veterinary care à la holistic medicine? If you are, you’ll know they’re not easy to find. While human health practitioners of every stripe can be found in and around most any major metro area, veterinary medicine isn’t so amenable to so-called alternative and complementary medicine.

Why’s that? Contrary to human healthcare, in which alternative traditions have flourished for thousands of years and the U.S. medical establishment consequently accepts (albeit grudgingly) the presence of alternative kinds of healthcare providers, veterinary medicine in the U.S. doesn’t have much of a history of that.

No, there is no clear path for studying complementary and alternative medicine, or for achieving a license in a specific field. Acupuncture, massage, chiropractics, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathic medicine, etc. can be studied via a variety of increasingly respected certification courses. Nonetheless, the sad reality is that for all this progress, any veterinarian can claim to practice any of these disciplines without any training — formal or otherwise.

The trend towards combining both Western and Eastern medicine (rough stand-ins for traditional and alternative practices, respectively), however, has become more commonplace over time. But it does have its challenges. Internist Dr. Nancy Kay addressed this issue in her last e-mail blast. Here’s some of what she has to say:

Choosing a veterinarian who practices Western medicine (conventional medicine/allopathy), or one who practices Eastern medicine (alternative/complementary medicine) is fairly straightforward. Successfully combining the best of both medical worlds, however, can be challenging. Speaking for Spot fan, Carolyn recently sent me an email based on her experiences:

"It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who practices Western medicine and supports referral for complementary medicine, and vice versa. Truthfully, it is difficult for a veterinarian to be extremely well versed in both disciplines (hard enough staying truly proficient in just one of them). There are a few veterinarians who do a great job with both, but they are few and far between. Western medicine is the discipline predominantly taught in veterinary schools throughout the United States. Proficiency in complementary modalities including Chinese herbs, homeopathy, and acupuncture requires additional training and certification.

What can you do to avoid having your veterinarian roll his or her eyes at you? As you know, I am a big believer in picking and choosing your veterinarians wisely. Certainly, open-mindedness is an important trait in any doctor, whether providing service for us or for our beloved pets. The 'ideal vet' is happy to have you work with other veterinarians so that your pets receive the care that is best for your peace of mind. Just as most of us have a number of doctors for our health needs, it's perfectly acceptable for your pets to have different doctors for their different health care needs. Here is an example. The surgical specialists I work with frequently treat dogs suffering from severe arthritis pain. In addition to prescribing a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication and joint care supplements the surgeon may refer their patient to a rehabilitation therapy specialist for workouts on the underwater treadmill. Clients are also offered the option of consulting with a veterinarian who specializes in acupuncture. The key to success is that all three specialists are open-minded, communicate with one another, and share a common goal - namely what is best for the patient. Can such a winning combination be found in every community? No, unfortunately not. But you won't know until you look. What should you do if your veterinarian feigns hurt feelings or rolls her eyes? Stay true to your goals. You know what is best for your pet. Besides, which is more important, your vet's feelings or your pet's health?"

I’ll second that last bit especially. Because no one should be rolling their eyes in the face of a legitimate search for alternatives. Sure, we may not always be able to help you find what you’re looking for, but disrespect should never be part of the equation.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: david v. goliath the acupuncture model by run dorkas run

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