You might think you've already found a good veterinarian for your dog. He or she is a friendly person, the office isn't too long a drive from your house, the fees are reasonable, and the office staff "coos" happily over your dog.
Nice, certainly. But not a good reason to choose a vet.
The number one thing you want to know about a veterinarian is their philosophy of health care.
The most sensible philosophy of health care is holistic. Holistic means "whole." A vet with a holistic philosophy looks at the whole picture of what's going on with your dog. If Molly has a urinary tract infection, then sure, let's clear that up with an antibiotic....but why did Molly get that infection in the first place? If her immune system wasn't able to kill the bacteria that caused the infection, then in addition to treating the current infection with antibiotics, we should try to strengthen Molly's immune system so she doesn't end up with FUTURE infections.
This may be a completely new way of thinking for you – that you shouldn't just treat Molly's ailment – that you should treat Molly herself. Medications don't strengthen an immune system. Quite the opposite. That's why you'll have to follow up Molly's antibiotics with holistic supportive care – so that Molly becomes stronger and better able to resist future health problems.
A vet with a holistic philosophy helps you do this by recommending the right food, treats, toys, vaccinations, flea preventatives, shampoos, even the detergent used to wash Molly's bedding....everything your dog comes in contact with can affect her health for better or for worse. A vet with a holistic philosophy offers guidance on how you can make everything in your dog's daily life health-promoting.
Don't we all want this kind of forward-looking, whole-picture health care for our dogs? Yes, of course.
YOU are your dog's primary caregiver. A 15-minute visit to the vet doesn't have nearly the impact on your dog's health as how you care for her on a daily basis. But when you do need help, a holistic vet is the best choice.
Keep in mind that practicing a truly holistic philosophy doesn't end with your vet.
YOU are an essential part of your dog's health care. The things you do with your dog at home, the things you change, and the things you learn to avoid, can make such a difference to her future health.
When your dog does need treatment, a vet with a holistic philosophy has a wide range of options to choose from – drugs and medications, surgery, medicinal herbs, nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals, enzymes and antioxidants, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and common-sense supportive care.
A vet with so many options can choose the gentlest and safest treatment that will do the job with the fewest side effects.
Who wouldn't want all these options available for their dog's care? Why limit yourself to a vet that doesn't have such broad-based training and expertise?
Sadly, that's what most owners do when they choose a vet. They don't do it on purpose – more by default, simply because most owners find their vet in the phone book, and if you open the phone book and start calling vets, it's likely that all of them will have a conventional (also called allopathic) philosophy of health care, rather than holistic.
For virtually every health issue, conventional vets offer drugs, medications, surgery, or manufactured prescription diets. Now, don't misunderstand....drugs, medications, and surgery are true lifesavers when really needed. The problem is that conventional vets have to use these treatments for EVERYTHING because they haven't learned when (or how) to use other alternatives....many of which are just as effective and with fewer side effects.
I'll let Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM tell you more:
"In our eagerness for quick and easy solutions, we seize on a certain drug that may just cover up symptoms without addressing underlying causes. For example, synthetic cortisone is powerful enough to stop a wide variety of symptoms in their tracks, but inside, the disturbance continues unseen. Animals vigorously treated with such drugs (apparently successfully) go on to develop another condition within a few weeks or months. The suppressed disorder has simply gone on to create more serious inroads in the body." (Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs and Cats)
Additionally, drugs and medications can have insidious side effects. Just because your dog doesn't have an immediate bad reaction to a drug or medication doesn't mean he's in the clear. Sometimes the side effect is happening deep inside his body and will take time to cause problems.
Dr. Nino Aloro DVM says, "Sometimes the side effects are worse than the disease. Standard medications have the potential to cause frightening problems with the liver, heart, kidneys, skin, immune system, and digestive tract."
So why don't conventional vets offer additional options such as medicinal herbs, recipes for a raw or homemade diet, nutritional supplements, enzymes and antioxidants, chiropractic manipulation, and acupuncture? Because they haven't been trained for it. Veterinary colleges teach drugs, medications, surgery, and manufactured prescription diets. Vets who want to develop skills in alternative healing arts and sciences need to go to classes teaching those arts. Holistic vets have chosen to do that. Conventional vets have chosen not to.
A conventional-only philosophy deprives your dog of valuable treatment options that might really help his long-term health.
Finally, many conventional vets (to be honest, MOST conventional vets) don't give sensible advice about your dog's all-important daily life.
For example, most conventional vets recommend (and often sell) dog food that isn't suited to a dog's digestive tract. Most conventional vets give too many vaccinations, and they do this in spite of the latest veterinary guidelines, which are finally acknowledging what holistic vets have been saying for years – that over-vaccinating damages your dog's health.
The good news is that an increasing number of conventional vets are recognizing that there were important things they were not taught in vet school, or were taught improperly.
Their nutrition classes, for example, were taught largely by representatives of the commercial dog food companies – hardly an objective source. Those same companies offer huge discounts to entice graduating vets to carry their products. The bags of kibble in the waiting room of virtually every conventional vet aren't there because they're good for your dog. (They're terrible.) They're there because the vet doesn't know they're terrible, or perhaps because he can't get past the high profit margin.
So, unfortunately, most conventional vets are not good sources for what to feed your dog, or how often to vaccinate him, or which treats and toys are safe for him. Most conventional vets simply don't give good advice in these areas.
Holistic vets are hard to find
I'll say it right up front – it's not easy to find a truly holistic vet. Quite a few vets will CALL themselves holistic, when they're really not. Holistic, you see, has become a vague word like organic or all-natural, where the definition depends on who you ask.
Here's my definition – a truly holistic vet offers the fullest range of treatment techniques (conventional and alternative) and seeks to prevent future health problems by helping you make all of your dog's daily routines and lifestyle as health-promoting as possible.
Based on my definition, vets who offer only a few treatment techniques aren't holistic.
- If all they offer are drugs, medications, surgery, and/or prescription diets, those vets are conventional.
- If all they offer are medicinal herbs, nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals, enzymes and antioxidants, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, or some other healing method, I call those vets alternative.
Only when a vet integrates BOTH conventional and alternative treatments do I call him or her truly holistic. (Integrative is another good word for such a vet.) Some veterinary practices might be called integrative if they include both conventional vets and alternative vets, but this isn't as helpful as having a single vet who can do it all.
But as I said, such vets are very hard to find.
My dog health book (see bottom of page) can steer you in the direction of vets who go beyond merely calling themselves holistic – those who actually practice holistic health care. You can use my checklist of questions (also in the book) to make sure the vet is truly holistic.
If you can't find a holistic vet
If it turns out that you don't live near a truly holistic vet....don't despair. Most pet owners don't. I don't myself. So let me tell you how I obtain excellent veterinary care for my dogs.
I have a wonderful alternative vet with advanced training in herbal medicine and acupuncture. She also prescribes drugs such as antibiotics and pain medications when needed. She educates her clients on the benefits of a natural raw diet. She does bloodwork and basic diagnostic tests.
So she comes very close to being a true holistic vet. But she has chosen to limit her practice so she can focus on her specialties. Consequently, she does not offer vaccinations, dental cleaning, surgery, or advanced diagnostic testing such as X-rays.
For these, I turn to my wonderful conventional vet – one of the best I've ever found.
Both vets share a valuable trait – open-mindedness. They appreciate what the other has to offer, and though they are located an hour apart and have never met, they work cooperatively through me. Indeed, the three of us are a team in providing the best possible integrated (holistic) care for my dogs.
There have been times when additional vets needed to join our team. As when my Papillon needed a quick X-ray to rule out an intestinal blockage, and of course it was a holiday weekend (isn't it always?!) and my conventional vet wasn't open.
Fortunately I had already scouted and chosen a 24-hour conventional veterinary practice to call upon in such circumstances. It pays to plan ahead and know who you will call if X or Y should happen. If your dog is hit by a car, you want a vet who is nearby with sophisticated diagnostic equipment and surgical expertise. And you don't want to spend valuable minutes checking hours of operation or searching for directions.
If you don't live near a truly holistic vet, you should seek out both an alternative vet and a conventional vet so your dog can be treated in an integrated manner, with all possible treatments. Make sure both vets are open-minded and supportive. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done.
If your current vet isn't supportive
Do you think the vet you're using right now would be agreeable to your input regarding feeding, vaccinations, and alternative treatments? If that turns out to be the case, excellent! But it's more typical that conventional vets are friendly and smiling as long as you agree to everything they want to do.
Many vets are unfortunately "rigid" in their thinking. Often they are not open to anything outside their own training. But that shouldn't stop you from pursuing the best health care practices for your dog.
But when you say, "I'd like to do a little research on this before I decide" or "I'd like to run this by my other vet and get her take on it".....those smiles might vanish.
If a vet clearly opposes holistic philosophies or alternative treatments, or gives you skeptical looks or makes condescending remarks, please find another vet. It's too frustrating to keep dealing with a vet who.....
- makes you feel guilty for feeding homemade or raw food – of course, I'm assuming you're doing this properly – there are right ways and wrong ways! (my feeding articles will explain more about this)
- makes you feel guilty for requesting a limited vaccination schedule (rest assured, the latest research is on YOUR side – see my vaccination article at the bottom of this page)
- makes you feel guilty for considering alternative practices aimed at long-term health rather than quick fixes.
DON'T let a conventional vet pooh-pooh your ideas and fill your dog with ill-considered medications or vaccinations. Find another vet who is more open-minded. Do this politely, so as not to burn any bridges, because you may need this vet for future emergency care, where conventional veterinary medicine is at its best.
YOU are in charge of your veterinary team
The conventional vets I use are smart and dedicated and I very much appreciate their skills. But they still have conventional mindsets, so their advice always revolves around surgeries, prescription diets, and drugs and medications. When I mention alternative treatments such as botanical medicine, or feeding a natural diet with nutritional supplements, or limiting vaccines, or anything else outside their training and expertise....they're okay with it....but they seldom bring up these options themselves.
Always remember that when a conventional vet gives advice, you're getting only some of the possible options – the ones he has been trained in. I listen to my conventional vet's interpretations of test results and his recommendations for treatment. But then I may ask my alternative vet for HER interpretations and recommendations, before I choose a course of action. I've found that I often choose to follow some of the recommendations from each one, combining what wisdom each brings to the table.
You can see why a truly holistic vet is your ideal choice! Then you won't need to go back and forth between two vets in order to find out what your dog's options for treatment really are. It takes more time and more money to use multiple vets. But, however you need to do it, valuable treatments that can make a difference to your dog's health should not be overlooked.
Also, don't assume that all of your dog's health care comes from VETS.
Raising a healthy child isn't done at your doctor's office – it's done primarily at home, with a little help from your doctor when needed. Same with raising a healthy dog. Get your veterinary team lined up. But start raising your dog holistically at home, right now.
While you do need to line up the members of your veterinary team, there's much you can do on your own, starting right now, to protect your dog's health – so he can AVOID health problems and NOT need to visit your veterinary team very much at all.
Improve your dog's diet.
Say no to repeated vaccinations that aren't needed.
Avoid allergens....and there are more than you think.
Clear your dog's environment of toxins and stresses.
Identify safety hazards in your home and yard.
Learn how to check your dog's health on a regular basis. It takes only 5 minutes to look at your dog's eyes, ears, nose, teeth, gums, head, neck, chest, legs, feet, skin, coat, tail, weight, shape, breathing....etc.
How do you do all this? There are some specific things you have to know, or know how to look up when you need them. I have all the support materials you will need.
Start by reading my flagship article,
Then move on to these articles,
Then when you are ready, move on to reading about my book,
11 Things You Must Do Right to Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy,
which details the daily nuances of switching to holistic care of your dog,
including how to find a veterinarian who practices holistic, alternative,
or integrated medicine.
I wish you all the best in finding good vets and taking care of your dog holistically,