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Holistic Versus Traditional Veterinary Care

by Dr. Judy Morgan

In the past two decades, traditional Western veterinary medicine has advanced in every area of medicine and animal care. Diagnostic testing rivals that in human medicine, with the incorporation of advanced imaging techniques such as MRI and CT scans, PET scans, and cyberknife radiation therapy. Organ and joint transplants, open-heart surgery, and artificial limbs are available if the owner can afford the cost.

Specialists are available in over forty different fields of veterinary medicine. Physical therapy centers now incorporate underwater treadmills and exercise therapy for improved mobility. New drug therapies are available for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Chemotherapy treatment has become commonplace for pets with cancer. New generations of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications are extending the lives of senior pets suffering from painful, degenerative joint diseases. Unfortunately, many of these medications have serious side effects, limiting their use for some animals. More medications may be added to treat the symptoms or side effects of the first treatments.

In acute situations such as sudden onset of illness or trauma, traditional medicine shines. However, chronic disease presents a bigger challenge. While traditional therapy is excellent for treating symptoms of disease, it often has limitations at effecting a cure.

Holistic medicine addresses the whole body – both physical and spiritual – and sets a goal of allowing the body to heal from within. Rather than focusing on disease as a separate entity, it means taking in the whole picture of the patient—the environment, the disease pattern, the relationship of pet with owner—and developing a treatment protocol using a wide range of therapies for healing the patient. The holistic practitioner is interested not only in a medical history, but also genetics, nutrition, environment, family relationships, stress levels, and other factors.

Holistic therapies range from energy medicine to therapy with food, herbs, and oils, to hands-on treatments including acupuncture, cold laser therapy, and massage. Veterinarians practicing alternative therapies will inquire about the pet’s diet and lifestyle, looking at the individual pet. While a traditional doctor may treat all kidney failure patients with the same prescribed diet and medications, alternative practitioners will incorporate different foods, herbs, and treatments for each patient, depending on lifestyle and personality of the animal.

A healthy immune system is closely linked to a healthy gut, which means the holistic practitioner will address any shortfalls in the diet and digestive health, in order to strengthen immunity and help the pet heal. Animals suffering from anxiety, stress, or frustration will have lowered ability to rebuild and heal; the spiritual needs of the animal must be met in addition to the medical needs. The pet owner’s ability to treat the pet will also be addressed, looking at limitations on ability to care for the patient, financial constraints, and lifestyle.

Most holistic practitioners will strive to minimize use of vaccinations without eliminating them altogether, as they do have a place in pet healthcare. However, for many years, tradition has dictated the use of annual vaccinations for pets, while new research has demonstrated that immunity may last for many, many years, or even a lifetime. Over-vaccination results in more stress to the immune system.

Holistic practitioners tend to look for noninvasive therapies, reducing trauma to the body. The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction. While a surgeon may want to repair a ligament tear, an alternative healer might try acupuncture, food and herbal therapy, cold laser, physical therapy, and prolotherapy instead.

Emotional well-being of the patient will be addressed, incorporating dietary changes, herbs, flower essences, homeopathic therapy, essential oils, or lifestyle changes, as needed. Complete healing is difficult to achieve if the patient is not cared for spiritually.

Virtually every form of medicine and therapy used in holistic medicine for humans exists for veterinary medicine. Acupuncture stimulates specific points on the body. Although the use of acupuncture dates back thousands of years, modern research shows that acupuncture points are located in areas where there is a high density of free nerve endings and immune system cells. The use of acupuncture for pain relief is well supported by scientific studies, but it can also be effective for treatment of all types of diseases.

In a holistic context, herbs are used to stimulate, regulate, or adjust natural body functions back into healthy harmony with the rest of the body. Most drugs are composed of specific chemical compounds that have been isolated from their source and concentrated to maximum potency. A medicinal plant, however, consists of dozens or even hundreds of interactive or inert chemical components.

Nutrition provides the building blocks for maintenance of health, tissue repair, and energy. Consequently, most holistic health practitioners focus a great deal on diet and nutritional supplements. Feeding fresh wholesome vital nutrition is paramount in maintaining the health of the patient. In traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), foods are often viewed as an extension of herbs. Thus, TCVM practitioners will recommend certain foods for maintaining and balancing health and improving a variety of conditions.

Chiropractic care is centered on the role of the spine and the nervous system in maintaining good health. Chiropractic manipulation focuses on obtaining optimal range of motion in the joints. Restrictions in the motion of joints can lead to a variety of manifestations in the patient, such as lameness, pain, or other systemic problems. Chiropractic adjustments aim to reestablish optimal range of motion, thereby allowing the body to self-regulate, adapt, and heal.

Massage increases blood and lymph circulation and disperses pain in tense muscles. Massage can also help stimulate the immune system and expedite the removal of waste and toxins from the body, aid in digestion, and calm anxieties. Animal patients can benefit from massage, and many pets enjoy it. Simple techniques can be performed by pet owners and can also serve to strengthen the bonds and relationships between owners and their pets.

Holistic practitioners need to be well versed in traditional therapy, as well as alternative therapies. Integrating holistic and traditional medicine together can have extremely beneficial outcomes for patients. Practitioners who utilize integrative medicine can provide more options to their patients, optimizing healing and wellness.


Dr. Judy Morgan, the 2018 Woman of the Year in the Women in the Pet Industry Network, is a certified and accredited veterinary acupuncturist, chiropractitioner, and food therapist. Based in southern New Jersey, she currently operates two award-winning veterinary hospitals. She is a sought-after speaker at dog shows, pet expos, and veterinary conferences, as well as a best-selling author of four books on holistic pet care and feeding including the recently released title Yin & Yang: Nutrition for Dogs , a holistic cookbook for pets that encourages the healing power of whole foods. Her weekly Naturally Healthy Pets radio show can be heard on DreamVisions7Radio. She can be reached at www.drjudymorgan.com

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