Posted on June 6, 2011
The challenges of combining Eastern and Western medicine for your pets
Choosing a veterinarian who practices Western medicine (conventional medicine/allopathy) or one who practices Eastern medicine (alternative/complementary medicine) is fairly straightforward. Successfully combining the best of both medical worlds however can be challenging. Speaking for Spot fan, Carolyn recently sent me an email based on her experiences:
Hello Dr. Nancy! My question has to do with both holistic and conventional medicine for our dogs. I try to do everything as “green and natural” as possible for my dog: home-made food & treats, non-toxic cleaning products, natural materials in beds and toys … you get the idea. I think supplements and holistic treatments have their place and often are very valuable in maintaining health and even in treating illness. That said, I believe conventional veterinary medicine is valuable too. My conventional vet is great … but she does roll her eyes when I discuss a holistic approach. So how does one balance both therapy options for their dog? Are there any vets who practice both holistic and conventional veterinary medicine, that have a more diverse toolbox so to speak? I sort of feel that I have a foot in both camps and I’m not sure my dog is well served by one approach over the other.
Here’s how I responded to Carolyn. By the way Maggie, the insanely adorable cotton ball flying over the hedge in the accompanying photo is Carolyn’s lucky companion.
Hi Carolyn. How nice to hear from you. Please give Maggie a treat from me! You are correct. It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who practices Western medicine and supports referral for complementary medicine, and vice versa. Truthfully, it is difficult for a veterinarian to be extremely well versed in both disciplines (hard enough staying truly proficient in just one of them). There are a few veterinarians who do a great job with both, but they are few and far between. Western medicine is the discipline predominantly taught in veterinary schools throughout the United States. Proficiency in complementary modalities including Chinese herbs, homeopathy, and acupuncture requires additional training and certification.
What can you do to avoid having your veterinarian roll his or her eyes at you? As you know, I am a big believer in picking and choosing your veterinarians wisely. Certainly, open-mindedness is an important trait in any doctor, whether providing service for us or for our beloved pets. The “ideal vet” is happy to have you work with other veterinarians so that your pets receive the care that is best for your peace of mind. Just as most of us have a number of doctors for our health needs, it’s perfectly acceptable for your pets to have different doctors for their different health care needs. Here is an example. The surgical specialists I work with frequently treat dogs suffering from severe arthritis pain. In addition to prescribing a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medication and joint care supplements the surgeon may refer their patient to a rehabilitation therapy specialist for workouts on the underwater treadmill. Clients are also offered the option of consulting with a veterinarian who specializes in acupuncture. The key to success is that all three specialists are open-minded, communicate with one another, and share a common goal- namely what is best for the patient. Can such a winning combination be found in every community? No, unfortunately not, but you won’t know until you look. What should you do if your veterinarian feigns hurt feelings or rolls her eyes? Stay true to your goals. You know what is best for your pet. Besides, which is more important, your vet’s feelings or your pet’s health?
Have you been successful at combining Eastern and Western medical approaches for your pets? Do tell!
Best wishes for good health,
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.