It might not be on your radar now, but it’s possible your dog or cat could benefit from holistic veterinary care, whether that’s acupuncture, herbal medicine, or chiropractic care.

By Austin Cannon
August 24, 2020
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Daniel Barrios Jurado / Shutterstock

A traditional veterinarian can provide all the health care your dog or cat needs. But sometimes pet owners are still left looking for answers after a visit to the pet doctor. In those cases, holistic veterinarians offer another option for pet health care. 

In fact, some conventional vets also offer holistic treatments—acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, herbal medicine, and even laser therapy—at at their practices to complement their traditional methods, says Neal Sivula, a holistic veterinarian in Ohio and president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) board. 

“It gives us more tools in our toolbox to help patients,” he says. 

Considering taking your furry friend to a holistic veterinarian? Here’s what else you should know: 

What Is Holistic Veterinary Care?

Holistic vets generally use “gentle, minimally invasive” techniques to treat pets, determining the best combination of conventional and alternative treatments. 

According to the AHVMA, holistic vet care means “taking in the whole picture of the patient—the environment, the disease pattern, the relationship of pet with owner—and developing a treatment protocol using a wide range of therapies for healing the patient.”

Sivula says that holistic vet care can often complement traditional care, or it can be an alternative if a pet parent has objections to the traditional methods or can’t afford them. Sometimes pet owners seek out a holistic vet if traditional care didn’t work, and a holistic method might be the last resort.  

A dog may have a bulging disk, for example. Surgery to repair it could cost thousands, but a holistic vet may try treating it with acupuncture, massage, or herbal medicine, Sivula says. 

While he practices only holistic treatments in his office, other holistic vets will offer a combination of holistic methods and traditional medicine and surgeries—what Sivula refers to as “an integrated practice.” 

What Therapies Are Included in Holistic Pet Care?

The AHVMA lists 12 primary holistic therapies its veterinarians might practice. 

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Flower essences
  • Herbal medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Low-level laser therapy
  • Mega-nutrient therapy
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Osteopathy
  • Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine
  • Stem cell therapy

Not all holistic vets will offer all these services. At his office, Sivula offers acupuncture, chiropractic care, nutrition care, and massage therapy. Acupuncture—which has been practiced by humans for thousands of years—relieves pain by using fine needles to stimulate your pet’s nervous system. The needles are blunt, unlike the ones used for injections. Sivula uses it to treat musculoskeletal disease, allergies, and cancer.

Chiropractic care, similar to the treatments used for human backaches and pain management, can help realign a dog’s or cat’s joints when they’ve been jolted out of place. 

Finding a Holistic Vet

Sivula urges pet owners considering holistic treatments to make sure they go to a holistic veterinarian to get them. 

That might seem obvious, but there have been people who try to take their dogs and cats to human chiropractors, he says. He’s also heard of pet owners getting herbal medicine prescriptions that “might be totally inappropriate” from pet stores. 

The risk is that people who do that bypass months or years of training that a holistic veterinarian will have received on the subject. 

What Kind of Training Do Holistic Vets Receive?

Another important note: Holistic vets are full-fledged veterinarians. They attend and graduate from vet school before undergoing additional training for holistic treatments. Sivula, for example, graduated from Ohio State University’s vet school

After vet school is when holistic vets get their additional training. That’s another tip, Sivula says: Make sure you find a holistic vet with qualifications and training listed on their website. 

“That’s something we invest a lot (in),” he says. 

If you’re interested in finding a holistic vet who may be able to offer your pet something outside the standard practice, the AHVMA’s database of holistic vets offers options across the globe. 

Like in human medicine, Sivula says there’s sometimes animosity between traditional and holistic vets. But that’s not always the case: He receives pet patients by referral from other conventional vets who trust him. He adds that vets who are more recently educated tend to have more exposure to holistic practices than their predecessors, so that conflict is ebbing away as older vets retire. 

“They’re just a little more open to considering it as an option anyway,” he says.