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What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?
People have different ideas about what the terms holistic medicine or holistic veterinary medicine means. Some folks think holistic means natural veterinary medicine, but the word natural is too vague and natural things can actually be either good things or harmful things. Others consider holistic therapies to be anything outside of conventional American medicine, also referred to as Western Medicine. Many veterinary and human health practiioners choose to use terms such as Alternative (Veterinary) Medicine or Complementary (Veterinary) medicine to designate a variety of healing arts that can be used instead of, or in addition to, Western (Veterinary) Medicine. These varied therapies arise from different cultures and sources and some are proven reliable while others are not. The only thing this loose group of Therapies considered holistic treatments have in common is that they are not Western (Veterinary) Medicine.
So, whether one uses the term Holistic, Alternative, or Complementary Veterinary Medicine, we are usually referring to the most common practices used outside of conventional veterinary medicine, which include acupuncture, herbal medicine, whole food nutrition therapy, chiropractic care, homeopathic medicine, other energy medicine, and cold laser. I am the most interested in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, which includes acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. I have completed the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society course and Studied Chinese Herbal Medicine at Dr. Xie's Chi Institute in Florida and at the College of Integrative Veterinary Medicine in Australia. Traditional Chinese Veterinary medicine (acupuncture and herbal medicine) are very powerful tools in treating pets with chronic pain and chronic disease. Conventional Western medicine falls short in this area, or requires drugs with potentially severe side effects.
We also incorporate nutritional counseling in our patient care. Choosing a quality diet is the single best thing you can do to prevent illness in your pet. Class IV laser (also called Cold Laser) has been a great addition to our practice. Just recently approved by the FDA, our Class IV Laser treats inflammation of any kind in a painless and cost effective manner.
The true meaning of Holistic Veterinary Medicine, to me, is not a list of alternative therapies. Holistic is supporting every aspect of the pet's health by addressing diet, lifestyle, emotional health, behavior and both the prevention and treatment of disease. A holistic approach incorporates Chinese medicine and conventional medicine together. Conventional drug therapy is often the best for sudden and serious injuries, illness or infection. The diagnostic testing and imaging available now through advances in conventional Western medicine is great. For treatment of chronic illness, Chinese medicine (acupuncture and herbal medicine) is often safer and more effective, even for treating some forms of cancer. The combination of conventional and alternative therapies is called Integrative Medicine and brings to the patient the best of both worlds. Integrating various healing arts to treat the entire patient and not a disease or a symptom is the true defintion of holistic veterinary medicine.
Herbal Therapy and Acupuncture are Typically Used Together, as the Combined Effect is Greater than Using Just One of Them Alone.
Herbalists use many of the same methods as naturopaths but employ specific use of plant leaves, flowers, and roots to affect healing. While pharmaceutical companies make many drugs from plant extracts, herbalists maintain that there is more benefit from use of the whole plant. For example, a given plant may contain a second or third substance that balances or enhances the main substance or counteracts any negative effects. Western Herbal Medicine is based on the use of, usually, a single herb to treat specific symptoms of mild disease. Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (TCM) is more complex, using elements of plants and other natural substances combined into formulas of 4-10 ingredients. Many of these formulas are patented, ancient and very powerful. In the right hands, they can be used to treat serious and chronic illness. Results of treatment of animals with Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine is consistent with results in treating humans for many hundreds of years. For this discussion we will use the term TCM to mean both veterinary and human medical use.
TCM herbal prescriptions are not available over the counter; they are prescribed the same way as conventional pharmaceutical drugs. The herbs used in these prescriptions are from the same companies as those used to treat humans, which means they have been tested for purity and quality. TCM herbs are safe and effective and can be used for long periods of time with minimal to no side-effects when prescribed and used appropriately.
Chinese herbs can be used to treat most conditions recognized by conventional medicine. They can be used alone or combined with other therapies for an enhanced effect. Often, a TCM herbal and a conventional prescription will be used together.
TCM herbs are especially helpful in the treatment of chronic diseases, and disease of the geriatric animal. They can be used to relieve pain, help improve and restore organ function, as well as strengthen and support the immune system. TCM herbal prescriptions are specific for the individual patient and are directed at the root cause of an illness to correct it, and are not given to control symptoms alone.
In general, TCM herbal prescriptions must be given for longer periods of time than pharmaceutical drugs, but the benefit lies in their natural ability to gradually return the body to a state of balance and health, without side-effects. Clinical results from TCM herbs can be seen in 3 days to 2 weeks depending on the formulation; full effects can and may take longer.
Herbs must be given regularly two to three times a day to see any therapeutic effect, just as with conventional medications. Modern herbology research is currently working to identify and document the chemical constituents of many of the herbal formulas used today.
Herbal medications come in a variety of formulations: pills, tablets, capsules, liquids, topical tinctures, washes or pastes, and concentrated herbal extracts in powder or granule form. The formulation used depends on the type of condition treated and the species of animal.