Combining Holistic and Traditional Medicine for Pets

by, Laurie S. Coger, DVM, CVCP

Selecting a type of health care, for yourself or your pet, is very much a personal choice.  Many people choose to investigate holistic or natural methods when traditional medicine has exhausted all options. Others have seen or experienced benefits with one alternative method, and want to explore other modalities. My interest in holistic approaches was stimulated by my own dog’s autoimmune disease. His long survival with great quality of life using natural methods convinced to explore alternative medical methods for my patients. Combining holistic or natural methods with the best traditional medicine has to offer makes great sense to me – what is commonly called an integrative approach.

While I want to be able to offer  “something more” for my patients as well as my own pets, I am not totally dissatisfied with conventional medicine. Instead, I find that the traditional medical approach only includes one way of thinking, while the integrative approach views disease and healing in different ways. Combining complementary and alternative therapies with my conventional training goes beyond the limitations of just using an either/or approach. It treats the whole animal.

An integrative approach to your pet’s care includes consideration of lifestyle, nutrition, and medical conditions. Prevention of problems and supporting the body’s own efforts to heal are major aspects of many alternative medical techniques. Chiropractic and acupuncture both emphasize returning the body’s structures and energy to normal, so that healing can follow. Nutritional and herbal medicine emphasizes supporting the body at the cellular level, providing the raw materials each cell needs to function optimally. Other natural supplements work in a similar way, enhancing organ function.

Combining traditional medicine with alternative methods lets us attack health issues from multiple angles. The most common example is the arthritic dog, who is given a pain-killing drug, and also a joint support supplement. This is a basic example of integrating natural and traditional methods. The full integrative approach could also include chiropractic adjustment, dietary management, carefully selected herbal products or other remedies to decrease the amount of drugs needed, and exercise management or physical therapy. This multimodal plan gives us the best chance to help the arthritis pain, and improve quality of life for both dog and owners.

I find one of the greatest aspects of integrative medicine is the number of therapies available, and the possibility of using them in combination.  With a strictly traditional approach to, for example, a pet with long-term digestive issues, I am largely limited to antibiotics, corticosteroids, and prescription foods. With an integrative way of thinking, I have those options, as well as probiotics, vitamin therapy, supplements, digestive enzymes, chiropractic, acupuncture, home-prepared diets, and more. In short, many more chances to help the pet recover.

By combining the array of alternative techniques with the remarkable advancements of traditional veterinary medicine, we are often able to help cases that would not respond to any single therapy.  In many cases, the means greater length and quality of life for our pets.

Dr. Coger practices veterinary medicine with a integrative focus at Bloomingrove Veterinary Hospital in Rensselaer.