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Think Your Veterinarian Is Good? Here's How To Tell

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books


Your vet should not be making the decisions about your dog's health care. Instead, you and your vet should work as partners. So choose the right vet to partner with!

You might think you've already found a good veterinarian for your dog.

He or she is a friendly person. The office is not far away. The fees are reasonable. And the office staff greets your dog with smiles and petting.

Nice, certainly! But not the best reasons for choosing 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, a holistic vet will treat it with an antibiotic. But the vet also knows that something is not quite right with Molly's immune system because it wasn't able to kill the bacteria. So the vet will also give nutritional supplements and medicinal herbs to make Molly stronger and help her resist future health problems.

Holistic vets offer 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 dog? Yes, of course.

owner shaking hands with his dog

YOU are your dog's primary caregiver. A 15-minute visit to the vet doesn't have as much 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.

Holistic vets also have a wide range of treatment options to choose from:

  • Drugs and medications
  • Medicinal herbs
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Homemade diets
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • Laser therapy

A vet with so many options can choose the gentlest and safest treatment that will do the job with the fewest side effects.

The problem with conventional vets

Sadly, most owners limit themselves to a vet who doesn't offer many treatment options.

Of course owners don't do this on purpose! But if you open the phone book and start calling vets, it's likely that all of them will have a conventional philosophy of health care, rather than holistic.

For almost every health issue, conventional vets offer medications, surgery, or prescription diets.

Of course, those are true lifesavers when really needed! The problem is that conventional vets have to use those treatments for everything because they haven't learned how to use any alternatives – many of which are just as effective and with fewer side effects.

Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM can tell you more:

Dog veterinarian"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." (Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs and Cats)

Drugs and medications can have side effects that you don't see, side effects that happen deep inside your dog's body and take some time to cause problems.

Dog veterinarianDr. 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."

Why don't conventional vets offer more kinds of treatments? Because they don't know how. Veterinary colleges teach classes that rely on medications, surgery, and prescription diets.

Vets who want to add more skills, such as acupuncture or herbology, need to take extra courses. 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.

pointing fingerAlso, many conventional vets (probably most, to be honest) don't give good advice about your dog's all-important general care.

For example, most conventional vets recommend dog food that isn't suited to a dog's digestive tract. Their nutrition class was taught by the employees of a commercial dog food company – hardly an objective source.

Most conventional vets give too many vaccinations, even though the research is clear that over-vaccinating can damage your dog's health. Most conventional vets suggest spaying and neutering too early, despite studies that show health risks.

So.... most conventional vets simply don't give good advice about your dog's general care. Holistic vets do much better in this all-important area.

Holistic vets are hard to find

Unfortunately it can be difficult to find a holistic vet.

A real one, I mean. Quite a few vets will CALL themselves holistic, but they're really not. Holistic, you see, has become a "fad" word. Sort of like organic or all-natural, where the definition depends on who you ask.

Here's my definition of a truly holistic vet....

A truly holistic vet offers a full range of treatments (conventional and alternative). And a truly holistic vet helps you make your dog's daily routines and lifestyle as health-promoting as possible.

Based on my definition, vets who offer only a few types of treatments aren't holistic.

  • If all they offer are drugs, medications, surgery, and prescription diets, those vets are conventional.
  • If all they offer are medicinal herbs, nutritional supplements, chiropractic adjustment, 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).

My dog health book (see bottom of page) shows you, step by step, how to find holistic and integrative vets.

If you can't find a holistic vet

If you follow the step-by-step search method in my book and there is no holistic vet near you, don't despair.

Let me tell you how I obtain excellent veterinary care for my dogs.

Labrador puppy with veterinarianI have a wonderful vet certified in herbal medicine and acupuncture. She also prescribes drugs (such as antibiotics and pain medications) when needed. She does bloodwork and basic diagnostic tests.

But she does not offer surgery or advanced diagnostic tests like X-rays or ultrasounds.

For those, I turn to my wonderful conventional vet – the best I've ever found.

Both vets share a valuable trait – open-mindedness. They appreciate what the other has to offer, and work cooperatively through me. The three of us are a team providing the best possible integrated (holistic) care for my dogs.

Jenna needs a veterinarianThere have been times when other vets needed to join our team. As when my Papillon needed a quick X-ray and of course it was a holiday weekend (isn't it always?!).

Fortunately I had already chosen a 24-hour emergency practice. It pays to plan ahead and know who you will call if X or Y should happen. You don't want to waste valuable minutes making frantic phone calls to find someone who is open.

If you don't live near a holistic vet, you should look for both an alternative vet and a conventional vet, so your dog can be treated in an integrated manner with all possible treatments. And you want both vets to be open-minded and supportive.

If your current vet isn't supportive

Do you think the vet you're using right now would be agreeable to your ideas about your dog's health care? Even if those ideas are different from what the vet suggests?

If that turns out to be the case, excellent! But in my experience, most conventional vets are friendly and smiling as long as you agree to everything they want to do.


Many vets are "rigid" in their thinking, not open to anything outside their own training. Don't let that stop you from pursuing the best health care practices for your dog.

But suppose you say,

  • "I'm interested in feeding my dog a homemade diet."
  • "I've learned that booster shots are no longer required every year."
  • "I'd like to do a little research before I agree with your treatment plan."
  • "I'd like to run this by my other vet and get her take on it."

Then those smiles might vanish.

Vets disagree with each other about a lot of things, but typically your vet doesn't want you to know that. Human doctors are the same way – they declare their opinions  to be facts , and never tell you when other doctors disagree with them. Many doctors and vets just want us to do what they say, no questions asked.

But you and I both know that doing your own careful research is good . Getting second opinions is perfectly reasonable . And when it comes to your dog's health, the more treatment options available to you, the better .

So if your vet doesn't believe in holistic philosophies or alternative treatments, you might consider finding another vet.

Do it politely, so as not to burn any bridges. You might need that vet for future emergency care where conventional medicine is at its best.

Remember that YOU are in charge of your veterinary team

The conventional vets I use are smart and dedicated. I very much appreciate their skills.

But they have conventional mindsets, so their advice always revolves around surgeries, prescription diets, and drugs and medications.

When a conventional vet gives advice, you're getting only some of the possible options – the ones he has been trained in.

When my dog has tests done, I listen to what my conventional vet has to say about the results. I listen to his recommendations for treatment. But then I do some research on my own. And I ask my alternative vet for HER recommendations.

Often I decide to follow some of the recommendations from each one, combining the wisdom each brings to the table.

You can see why a single holistic vet is your ideal choice! Then you won't need to go back and forth between two vets, which takes more time and money.

But however you need to do it, valuable treatments that can make a difference to your dog's health should not be overlooked.

Don't assume that all of your dog's health care comes from VETS

child with dog

Raising a healthy child isn't done at your doctor's office. It's done at home, with a little help from your doctor when needed. Same with raising a healthy dog.

You do need to line up the members of your veterinary team. But 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.

Everything your dog comes in contact with can affect his health – for better or for worse. Your goal is to make everything in your dog's daily life health-promoting.

Start by reading my article,

Dog Health Care – The Sensible Way

Then move on to these articles,

The Best Dog Food

Vaccinations and Booster Shots

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

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If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
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book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.