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
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit 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, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.



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14 Comments on “The challenges of combining Eastern and Western medicine for your pets

  1. Dr. Kay,

    I very much appreciate your recent newsletter on combining Eastern and Western medicine for your pet.

    Beginning in October, 2009 with a melanoma in my dogs mouth, I began building his care giving team beyond our basic vet. He had been the picture of healthy his first 8 years. Over the last two years his team consists of his original western medicine vets, an at home vet, a holistic certified acupuncture/chiropractor/cancer specialist vet, a Vet rehab practitioner, an orthopedic specialist, a TTouch practitioner and his groomer. All are on the team. There are a couple more as well with specializations.

    A winning baseball team is not made up of all pitchers, a winning football team is not made up of all quarterbacks. Just so my dogs winning team is very diverse. Since the melanoma, bilateral CCl injuries; one Sept, 2010, one in Jan, 2011, my dog has enjoyed the input and expertise of his amazing team. He is today a healthy, happy, active, impeccably groomed, fit, well adjusted canine, thanks to everyone on his team. We achieved it all without surgery. Yahooo!!

    As a Professional Dog Trainer, I support and appreciate my team members with active referrals. They are connected and referred on social media such as LinkedIn or “liked” on facebook. I have their cards and pass them out.

    I am my dogs advocate for optimum health. I will build the best care giving team I can for his needs. This also includes palliative care and end of life care. Those professionals are on our team already.

    I would love to have the healthcare team my dog has!!!

    All the best,

    Joey Iversen, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP
    TAGteach Primary Certified
    Professional Trainer & Behavior Counselor for People Who Live with & Love Dogs

  2. I can see how this would be difficult, particularly when more than one vet are involved.

    The easiest thing to do would be finding an integrative vet, one that combines the two to start out with, like Dr. Patrick Mahaney for example. I think many of those certified by the Chi Institute Veterinary might.

    Now that would be the easiest solution.

    Will such a practitioner have in-dept knowledge of both modalities? He may and he may not. It is likely that he/she will have superior knowledge of one with the other one “fifth-wheeling”.

    My friend who is big on alternative modalities believe that it is best to chose a vet who specializes in the TCVM.

    How does one get the best of both worlds? It is possible to have two vets working in tandem. It takes a lot of work, if nothing else keeping them both up to date on what the other one is doing.

    I think that if you find a vet who really cares about your pet, he will be open to such collaboration.

    Jasmine’s vet, God bless his soul is like that. It took a bit of convincing to get him on board, but he is all about Jasmine’s well-being. Whatever takes her there is fine with him.

    Our TCVM IS an integrative vet, practicing both, western and eastern medicine. It would actually make sense to stick with him alone. But you know what? While he is the best TCVM vet around here, we truly believe that Jasmine’s “main” vet is the one who deserves to be in charge.

    In our case, it is actually the TCVM vet who is not all that happy with the arrangement. But while we are interested in the benefits of eastern medicine, Jasmine’s “main” vet is the one who we trust at the end.

    And he is able to put his ego aside and go along with it, over time he even acknowledged the benefit the eastern approach had.

    If we were to change a vet, it would be the TCVM one, not the “main” one.

    Jasmine, in fact, has three vets. Her “main” one – the traditional western medicine vet, her TCVM vet and her physical therapy and chiropractic vet.

    Bottom line is, I believe that if the vet puts the patient’s well being above all, he’ll be open to different approaches.

  3. Almost six years ago my BMD started acting “off”. I could not describe what was wrong, but I knew something was. I went to my local veterinarian, he thought I was crazy, but agreed to do a full blood work up. It showed a slightly elevated BUN. After changing the diet, I still knew something was wrong. Knowing that I was not going to back off, he referred Amadeus to a friend of his who had a holistic practice.
    While visiting with him was interesting…. but since my dog had no visible signs, I felt like I was charged a great deal of money for his consult, patted on the head and sent away.
    After more searching, I found an veterinarian who practiced Nutritional Response Testing. She found that Amadeus had several brain issues and was just beginning to show some neurological signs.
    I still visit her every 6 months and my dog’s issues are always found before my local vet would be able to identify the problem.
    Amadeus also still sees the local vet every 6 months for Bordatella, and basic physical exams.
    Using both practices works extremely well for us.
    Athens, OH

  4. Excellent conversation. We have been combining both Eastern and Western medicine at our house for 11 years, and my oldest dog is 13! Frustrated with the limits of Western medicine I actually asked for a holistic provider, and was referred to another veterinarian. Over the years we have successfully combined both approaches, including vets who practice both. That means we’ve done everything, including acupuncture, acutonics, animal communication (I do that professionally), energy healing, Chinese and ayurvedic herbs, homeopathy, supplements, massage, antiobiotics, prescription pain relief, surgery … am I leaving anything out?

    My advice is to be in charge and up front. Find out what works for each individual animal, and keep track of it. Make sure multiple vets know about each other and listen to their input on meds, for example: we are using Rimadyl successfully, and have also used herbal and other supplements, but you have to strike a careful balance to avoid overload and toxicity, for one.

    I’m grateful for both: my animals would not be here without modern veterinary science, including surgery. Then again, we also wouldn’t have experienced vaccinosis. Be careful, be prepared, do your homework.

    And there are clinics who work long distance, combining close work with your vet and careful analysis of medical records and testing.

    We’ve tried it all, and highly recommend that people and their animal care providers learn as much as they can and team up.

    Read. Learn. Pay attention. It’s tempting to try anything and everything that has worked for other animals. Keep records of what you try and make sure it makes sense.

  5. I have an amazing vet here in Oklahoma. She is expert in many modalities and uses western and eastern as required i.e. acupuncture, holistic medicines, surgeries, etc. The allopathic vet that is much closer is an \eye roller\ because I raw feed all my pets; however, he works quite well with my holistic vet. They simply fax the records back and forth. My holistic vet is a distance away so I use the regular vet in times of emergency and then as soon as my pet is stabilized, I make the trip to my holistic vet. Neither one has a problem working this way. I am extremely grateful to both of them.

  6. I am a rescuer. I recently found an amazing homeopathic remedy for kennel cough called Pulsatilla. I had a shelter dog enter my pack here with a bad case of kennel cough. I had to make her get up to go potty; I was giving her liquids from a syringe because she would not eat or drink. I was worried to say the least. A trip to the vet was no help though I have a very knowledgeable vet that stays current on new findings. Within 1 hour of giving this remedy, she was moving about and soon began eating and drinking again. Twenty-four hours changed everything. She is a healthy, happy little girl these days. There is certainly a place for natural remedies with pets and sometimes they are even better than Western options. In this case, there is no doubt it was the cure.

  7. Hello again Dr. Nancy, and thank you for opening my question up for discussion. I’m glad to learn, from earlier commentators, that there is such a thing as integrative veterinary medicine and a teamwork approach. Truly encouraging! I will be following this discussion with interest. Thank you!

  8. Great topic! With 6 giant and large breed dogs, I have found having 2 vet offices and a host of specialists including a neuro surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, to work best for our crew. We drive an hour for a holistic practice (with acupuncture and rehab) but have a traditional practice within 30 minutes that offers urgent care hours from Friday night through Monday night. That has been quite the life saver for my special needs dogs that often have “issues” after hours. I prefer the more individualized attention we receive there over going to the ER. It can be a bit of a juggling act, however, to have records scattered between 2 offices. I would love to have everything at one location- and for it to be affordable- but for now, this works for us. The “affordability” issue of caring for large packs would be a great future blogging topic 😉

  9. My late Dobie mix had a degenerative spinal condition that benefited from a combination of Rimadyl, massage and accupuncture. In fact, I found my chiropractor because she had a booth at an animal appreciation day and took such good care of Isis that I became a patient. I’ve also had amazing experiences with 2 wonderful animal communicators. They have pinpointed pain areas that were confirmed by my vet.

  10. Greetings all:-)

    When it comes to medical care for my dogs, the one rule we follow is this: if the condition is chronic, we do our best to ‘go natural’, with herbal/homeopathic remedies, etc. However, if the situation is acute, there’s no room for argument – it’s off to my ‘traditional’ vet! Having said that, I must admit I’m extremely fortunate in having a health care provider who listens to my concerns and often suggests alternative treatments that are well and truly \outside\ his ‘toolbox’. There are a few ‘dual’ veterinarians here on Vancouver Island and it’s wonderful how they switch and combine skills and diagnostic tools:-) Having said that, it’s crucial one has a solid relationship with their vet – it might take some time to find one with a good ‘ear’, but they’re out there, and worth their weight in gold!

    Yours in dogs,

    Dawne Deeley
    TsarShadow Carelians
    CKC Perm Reg’d Bear Dogs

  11. Hi Nancy,

    The kind of medicine you’re speaking of is commonly called integrative medicine, where Western and Holistic treatments are used as needed for the individual pet. I do that and there are a growing number of integrative vets, although as you say, there certainly is not one in every community. Some of my clients drive for 2 hours to bring their pets to me. Most holistic vets “swing both ways” and use Western meds if needed although some are strictly holistic. To find a holistic veterinarian near you go to You never know, there may be someone right around the corner.

    By the way, the American Holistic Veterinary Association is looking forward to Dr. Nancy’s lectures at this year’s holistic vet conference. She is truly unique with her deep knowledge of Western medicine and openmindedness about alternative medicine. Love your work Dr. Nancy!!!

    Dr. Doug

  12. Dear Dr. Kay,

    Your most recent blog really struck home with me- you are describing exactly what I do! You are right, it is very challenging to keep up on both modalities, and there are definately days that I lean more heavily in one direction or the other, however, as a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist, as well as having an LVT who is certified in Reiki and Healing Touch…we are able to incorporate whichever modality is most appropriate for the pet’s needs.

    From a practical approach, I generally do start with a western approach and proceed with a full workup from that perspective. If antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or other medications are needed, I do not hesitate to use them. However, I do discuss them with my clients, and perhaps we do not use them AS long, because we incorporate the use of a probiotic or supplement as well to help “take over” as the western med usage wanes. Most importantly, I listen to the pet, the client and we develop an approach that most benefits the pet and one that the client is most comfortable with. It is teamwork and although we are only 4 months into being open, it is definately working with my new clinic!

    Thank you for your wonderful blogs, and all the information you are sharing with our pet-loving community.

    Kind regards,

    Dr. Leslie Ann Jones

  13. I have a wonderful Western Vet that supports my decision not to further vaccinate my dogs and that I feed raw. She isn’t thrilled with these choices but she respects my decision.

    My dogs have their “Regular” vet, Dermatologist (which we no longer use), switched to a Holistic Vet to finish the allergy problem, a Neurologist for spine surgery and a Rehab Vet for physical therapy. Oh, and I do Essential Oil Therapy, Tellington TTouch, Reiki and am studying Massage!

    My dogs have it all…..and EVERYONE on our team communicates well with one another.

  14. I was fortunate enough to find a vet who practiced both western and eastern and did acupuncture! Her love has become eastern and acupuncture…Bad news…now she no longer has time for “well” patient visits and limits her appointment schedule to her sick patients who require acupuncture and/or alternative medicine. : ( Now I have to see other vets in the practice for regular checkups and my mentally disturbed dog, who has always had combined visits, will have to see a different vet in a regular exam room. Not sure how that will go.