Natural (or holistic) medicine is becoming an increasingly popular choice of treatment for human ailments. It therefore comes as no surprise that many people are looking for natural remedies for their pets as well.
So what’s the difference between a holistic vet and a ‘regular’ vet? Basically, a holistic veterinarian (also known as a naturopathic veterinarian) is an animal doctor that offers natural medicine and treatments to pets. To be a holistic vet, you need to specialize in at least one or more alternative remedies.These include herbal supplements, botanical medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, behavior adaptation, chiropractic treatment and physical therapy. Holistic veterinarians also set themselves apart from traditional vets by viewing each pet as a ‘whole’.
They analyze all aspects of an animal, including its physical condition, environment, nutrition, genetics, mental state and even the relationship it has with its owner.These factors play an important role in the health and well being of any pet. For example, a dog suffering from stress (an emotional problem) may develop a skin condition such as eczema (a physical problem). Holistic vets believe it’s essential to pinpoint and treat the root of a problem, rather than just its symptoms.
Holistic veterinarians believe that vital force and the immune system are powerful healers of the body, and that alternative veterinary medicine is more effective than traditional medicine, because it treats both the mind and the body of an animal. The heart of this philosophy is that all pets should be cared for with love, empathy and respect, and that as a holistic vet, your patient’s quality of life should be your top priority. That’s why holistic veterinary medicine is considered humane; it’s gentle and as minimally invasive as possible.
Even if a symptom appears simple to diagnose, it may be caused by several factors. This is often the case with chronic illnesses. Therefore, by analyzing the animal’s life as a whole, a holistic vet can figure out the root cause (or causes) of an ailment to improve all aspects of the pet’s lifestyle. Even though holistic veterinarians strongly support the use of alternative veterinary medicine and prefer to treat pets with natural products / methods, many of them aren’t against using conventional medicines, if it really is the best treatment for a pet.
This is called an ‘integrative approach’; when a vet is open to using both traditional western medicine and holistic remedies. In fact, he or she might suggest both for a patient if each treatment has value in the pet’s well being or recovery.
If you’re thinking of becoming a holistic veterinarian, you will need to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in animal science, zoology or a similar field, followed by a DVM – Doctor of Veterinary Medicine – degree. These courses can either be done separately or you could look for a college that offers a 7-year program combining the undergraduate and graduate work. You will also need to become certified in a few holistic veterinary medicine treatments; for example, homeopathic medicine or acupuncture therapy (to perform acupuncture on animals, you’ll need to be further endorsed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). You can also join holistic medicine groups, such as The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA).
Often, holistic veterinarians continue studying after they graduate to learn about new techniques, treatments and modern innovations in the world of holistic medicine. As the saying goes, you’re never too old to learn! Until you do qualify, we suggest you get as much experience working with animals as you can. Whether it’s becoming the local dog walker, interning at a vet’s clinic in your area, joining a wildlife / conservation organization or volunteering at an animal rescue shelter, you can kick start your career as a holistic veterinarian, gain invaluable experience and get a better understanding of what it means to work with animals on a daily basis.