Integrative Medicine for Pets? Yes!
As a veterinarian, with over 30 years of experience, I have seen advancements in surgery, diagnostics and pharmaceutical products. These areas of medicine are considered mainstream, and are the foundation of our medical education. There are other approaches to health that incorporate the environment effect, nutrition, body movement and non mainstream therapies to improve animal health.
As a medical discipline, integrative medicine is defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, integrative medicine “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
An example of this approach would be a veterinarian prescribing a pain relief medication for your arthritic dog, combined with a joint supplement to increase joint fluid, recommending back massage to loosen tight muscles 3 - 10 minute walks a day to manage the arthritis. After asking about how your home is arranged, the veterinarian would also suggest a therapeutic dog bed, a ramp to manage stairs in and out of the home better and maybe an elevated feeding bowl to ease neck pain. The home environment, benefits of medication, nutrition, and moderate exercise are incorporated in a total management plan for the arthritis.
The approach integrates each of these disciplines to create an improved quality of life for this animal. Each aspect of management is supported by known the veterinarian knowing the pharmacology and safety of the drugs, the nutritional needs for the age and inflammation management in the body, the biomechanics of movement needed for daily function (like going down stairs to reach the yard to toilet) and how to accommodate this without aggravating a physical condition. There is science to support each of the recommendations, and continual development of studies to support the benefit of the integrated approach.
Veterinarians who have an interest in an integrative approach often gain additional education to their veterinary degree in nontraditional therapies, behavior, and nutrition. Acupuncture and Chiropractic for animals are now available from veterinarians certified in these techniques. These therapies are often added to a pain relief, physical therapy or behavior therapy plan. Chinese medicine and essential oil therapy is also available but must be under the care of a veterinarian. While there are not pharmacy laws limiting the sale and use of these product, they can be harmful if not used in the proper way.
Many veterinarians have always taken an approach that integrated diet, medications, surgery, and environmental (your home set up) changes to help an ailing pet. We did not have a name for it. Now we do - Integrative medicine. There are veterinarians who offer services in integrative medicine. They may offer some therapies - but not all. As you can see there is a large scope to integrative medicine.
As a behaviorist, I have learned more about the use of nontraditional therapies to aid my clients. Like many other integrative practitioners, I like to create a partnership with my client to create a whole health plan for the animal. I may refer to other practitioners who offer services that I do not, such as acupuncture to bring a whole health approach. Personally I enjoy an integrative approach to medicine because I can see the appreciation of my clients and the improved whole health of the animal. I have been in practice for a while now, and this area of medicine I find fulfilling and rewarding. If you are seeking a veterinarian who has an integrative approach, please contact us at Okaw Veterinary Clinic. I am available to work with a primary care veterinarian to bring behavior, alternative therapies, and nutritional expertise to a case if you are seeking a second opinion.
- written by Dr. Sally Foote