Selecting a Holistic Veterinarian

Copyright 2000, Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH

There is no standard definition for a holistic veterinarian. I define a holistic veterinarian as one who sees the animal as a whole being--body, mind, and spirit--and whose treatment supports the body's own healing mechanisms. Veterinarians who consider themselves to be holistic typically offer one or more of the following alternative and complementary treatment modalities:

  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Chiropractic
  • Nutritional Therapy
  • Western Herbal Medicine
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine

I recommend that you start your search for a holistic veterinarian with the

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA)
2218 Old Emmorton Road
Bel Air, MD 21015
Phone: 1-410-569-0795 Fax: 1-410-569-2346

While the AHVMA referral list may not contain all the veterinarians practicing alternative and complementary medicine, it probably contains the most comprehensive list. The AHVMA referral list indicates the treatment modalities offered by each practitioner. Be aware that the only requirement for membership in the AHVMA is to pay the annual dues. The membership includes conventional practitioners who are open-minded but who do not yet offer any alternative or complimentary treatments, practitioners who offer both conventional treatment and some alternative therapies, and practitioners who practice exclusively alternative and complementary medicine.

The AltVetMed Web Site <> contains referral lists for the AHVMA and several other holistic veterinary organizations. For each list, check the date updated. If the list has not been updated within the past 6 months, contact the organization directly for the most current referral list.

As with any profession, the best way to find a practitioner is through personal referral by satisfied clients. If you cannot locate anyone who has worked with a holistic veterinarian, the following guidelines should assist your search process. Realize that it is perfectly appropriate to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian for the purpose of interviewing the veterinarian and determining if this is a practitioner that you would like to have working with you and your animals.

Training of Holistic Veterinarians

Training in holistic treatment modalities varies from serious independent study to completion of courses offered by professional organizations.

When seeking homeopathic, acupuncture, or chiropractic services, I strongly recommend that you work with veterinarians who have successfully completed a course given by an established organization. This course should involve a minimum of 100 to 120 hours of instruction, usually taught in modules over a period of several months, often with homework assignments to be completed between modules. In my opinion, weekend courses are not adequate to provide the depth of information needed for a practitioner to become truly proficient in a treatment modality. Regarding homeopathy, in my opinion the most proficient homeopathic practitioners are those who practice homeopathy exclusively or those for whom homeopathy is the major portion of their practice.

Chinese herbs are typically prescribed on the basis of an animal's constitutional type, similar to the way in which homeopathic medicines are prescribed. There are probably a few veterinarians who have independently studied Chinese herbal medicine long enough to be proficient practitioners of this treatment modality. However, because of the complexity of the process required to select the proper Chinese herbs, I recommend practitioners who have received formal training in Chinese herbal medicine.

Regarding the use of therapeutic nutritional supplements and western herbal medicine, although formal training is helpful, a veterinarian who engages in serious independent study can use these modalities effectively.

Organizations that offer courses in alternative and complementary treatment modalities often offer certification following completion of the course. The certification process typically involves written and practical (hands-on) examinations, and submission of case reports describing the use of the treatment modality. Individual practitioners may complete the course and choose not to complete the certification requirements. Although certification ensures a baseline understanding of the treatment modality and a minimum skill level, it is not a guarantee of proficiency. Conversely, absence of certification does not necessarily indicate a less capable practitioner. In my opinion, experience in the successful use of a treatment modality is more important than certification or lack thereof.

An Option if a Holistic Veterinarian Does Not Practice in Your Community

If you are interested in homeopathic medicine, or nutritional or herbal therapy, and cannot find a local veterinarian practicing these modalities, you can assemble a health care team consisting of a holistic veterinarian with whom you consult by phone and an open-minded local veterinarian. The local veterinarian will provide physical examinations and any diagnostic tests that are required. The long-distance holistic veterinarian will work with you and your local veterinarian to develop a course of treatment appropriate for your animal. Do not be afraid to approach your local veterinarian with such a proposal. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that she/he is quite willing to work in a team approach to provide your animals with the type of health care that you desire for them.

If you are seeking a "hands-on" therapy (that is, chiropractic or acupuncture), you may need to drive some distance to obtain this type of care for your animal. If there is no practitioner within driving distance, be aware that many medical conditions for which chiropractic or acupuncture might be the first treatment choice do respond very well to homeopathic treatment or to therapeutic nutritional supplements. Do not give up on holistic treatment as an option for your animal just because you do not have a holistic veterinarian in your community.

Copyright 2000 by Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH. Except for printing single copies for personal use, reproduction of this article, either electronically or in print, without prior written permission of the author is prohibited.

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