17 February 2013

Western vs. Holistic Veterinary Medicine

I mentioned a while ago that I lean towards holistic veterinary medicine, including herbs, homeopathy, etc.  I've heard some people say, "Yes, my vet is holistic".  But when I listen to what their vet does and what I see a holistic vet does, the two vets are miles apart.  So, maybe I should more clearly define what I mean by holistic vet.

Vets come in two main types:

  1. traditional, western medicine vets
  2. holistic medicine vets

The traditional western medicine vets are the ones most people take their pets to.  They are trained basically to use medicine and surgery to cure a specific problem.  And for some problems, such as a broken leg or a ruptured eye, nothing beats this approach.  Problem, treatment, cure!

The problem with this approach is that many cat problems are not simple.  Take for example Isabel.  She has a runny nose again, slightly dirty ears, and demands that I hand feed her.  The western medicine approach would be to treat her nose as one problem, her ears as another, and ignore her need to be hand-fed (because there's no medicine for that).

Holistic medicine is suppose to look at the whole cat, and not just the 'diseased' part of the cat.  A good holistic vet would look at Isabel and immediately point to a general immune system problem.  The nose and ears are just symptoms of a deeper problem.  And the hand-feeding?  Yes, that goes along with it because her need to be hand-fed seems related to her emotional state which relates to her physical state.  A holistic vet looks at the big picture and works to bring the cat closer to the ideal.  If that means not immediately curing or suppressing symptoms with say steroids so that a long-term cure can be had, then a holistic vet will do it.

Just as there are specialties in western medicine, there are holistic specialties.  Some include:

  • homeopathy
  • acupuncture
  • Reiki
  • herbs
  • nutrition
  • Tellington touch
  • Chinese herbs

The problem today is 'holistic' is a new buzz word for pet owners and vets are jumping on the holistic bandwagon.  Some of the vets are doing it right -- they go and get additional training and work on adding new skills, such as acupuncture or homeopathy, to their practice.  But some join professional groups and call themselves an expert in herbal pet medicine with no intention of ever using herbs.  It is a way for a vet to attract the growing numbers of pet owners who want an alternative to traditional medicine.  It is a dishonest practice that gives all holistic vets a bad name!

Wendy in her condo
As for my vets -- yes, plural -- the place I use in town is a traditional, by the book western medicine vet.  Both vets have serious questions about feeding raw, so we don't talk about it.  But when a cat needs immediate diagnosis, such as when Wendy was having severe vomiting and diarrhea, they do have x-rays, ultrasound, and in-house bloodwork to get answers.  Unfortunately, their treatment plans and my ideas on treatment are usually not in sync.

Now my main vet is also a western trained vet, but she has gone on to be certified as a classically trained homeopathic vet and is exploring other alternative medicines. She is a holistic vet in the purest sense. Her practice is small, without some of the bells and whistles, but when it comes to complicated, long-term problems, she has all the tools needed.  She doesn't use herbs or Tellington touch, but she is more than open to both being effective and she encourages me to use it when it is appropriate.  I will be taking Isabel up to her and working with her to improve Isabel's immune system (and energy level) -- we won't be directly treating her ears or nose.  An office call is usually 45-60 minutes long and she even asks questions about how the cat seems to feel emotionally.  She works hard at understand what is going on with a cat at the deepest level.

Two very different ways to practice and to think about veterinary medicine.  Each has it's place.  And my cats benefit from the best of both vet worlds.

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