Health care for our pets has become incredibly complex. Many medical procedures that are available to humans are also now available to our pets, too! So how does one go about choosing a veterinarian? Sure, you can look in the phone book to find a vet or a clinic close to home... but now there are veterinarians who embrace different philosophies when it comes treating and managing the health of a pet.
Conventional or Traditional Veterinarians
Conventional vets are similar to conventional human doctors. They are trained in Western-style medicine and can diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, and alleviate symptoms, often with the help of prescription diets, pharmaceutical drugs and/or surgery. They offer a large range of services - vaccinations, xrays, dental care, all sorts of diagnostic tools and procedures, and many types of surgery. There are even veterinary specialists who are experts in a specific field such as orthopedics, internal medicine, or opthamology.
Conventional veterinarians are the 'norm' and see a huge number of pets and treat a vast array of sick animals. Although many conventional vets will counsel their clients on things that can make their pets healthier (for example, weight loss if the pet is obese), they do a lot of diagnosing and fixing of health issues that are identified when the pet is brought in because the pet isn't feeling well. Many conventional vet clinics are well-equipped to handle both routine care and emergency situations. Conventional vets generally try to stay educated and current on ways to diagnose and treat pets, as well as on surgical techniques.
Holistic vets try to look at the pet's entire body, lifestyle, and environment as a whole. The goal is more on prevention and trying to get to the root of an issue, rather than solely treating a problem after it's already occurred.
For example, let's say a dog has a recurring limp. In addition to an examination and possible diagnostic tests, the holistic vet may look at other factors that can help the dog be and feel healthy. This can include things like whether the dog is overweight (which would put more pressure on his joints), how much and what type of exercise the dog gets on a regular basis, and what he was doing prior to developing the limp. Unusual, intense bouts of exercise in a dog that's not accustomed to it could result in injury, and certain types of exercise are more punishing to the joints than others.
Holistic vets can suggest herbs, nutritional supplements, and vitamins. They might also recommend dietary changes, or suggest alternative therapies such as chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, or physiotherapy. Some vets who identify themselves as 'holistic' vets do not offer surgery or pharmaceutical drugs, although they may continue to offer bloodwork and other tests. Some people feel that their holistic vets treat their pets using methods that are less harsh or invasive than would be found with a conventional vet. Remember, however, that just because something is 'natural' or a 'herb' doesn't necessarily make it safe or effective - herbs can interact with each other just like drugs can.
An integrative vet is the best of both worlds. They utilize whatever tools and methods they need to make the pet feel better and to help him be as healthy as possible. Each pet is different - not just in terms of physical health, but also in temperament, environment, and many other factors. An integrative vet will individualize treatment for the pet using any combination of drugs or medication, supplements, herbs, vitamins, nutritional changes, or alternative therapies like acupuncture, laser or physical rehab therapy.
Integrative vets may not be easy to find. Some veterinary clinics, however, will have both conventional and holistic vets available. Some pet owners will use a conventional vet for stuff like dental care, diagnostics and surgery, and a holistic veterinarian for everything else. If you are using more than one veterinarian, make sure that each one is aware of any drugs, herbs, supplements, etc. that your pet is taking or was prescribed by the other vet. Just like pharmaceutical drugs can interact with other drugs, so too can herbs, supplements, etc. interact with each other or possibly even with drugs.
Calling oneself a 'holistic' vet doesn't make that vet any better than a conventional vet (or vice versa). The goal is to choose a good vet, regardless of whether they identify themselves as holistic or conventional. It's more than okay to get another opinion before settling on a course of treatment for your pet - remember, you are your pet's best advocate!
"A dog owns nothing, yet is seldom dissatisfied." (Irish Proverb)