Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Tampa Florida

Healing Pets Holistically: Integrative Vets Treat Root Causes

Dec 30, 2020 09:30AM ● By Julie Peterson
Dog receiving acupuncture treatment from holistic veterinarian

firn/AdobeStock.com

Emma, a mini-schnauzer mix, was 4 years old when she started acting like a senior lacking zest for running or playing. After being treated by an integrative veterinarian for one month, she regained vibrancy. “She’s 6 years old now, and she’s her normal, barky, running, zig-zagging self,” says Yvonnda Agent, a volunteer with animal transport rescue operations, near Rockvale, Tennessee.

Agent’s practitioner determined Emma had kidney issues that were slowing her down. Upon deeper investigation, these problems were found to be the only visible symptom of a tick-borne illness. Once given immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory and liver-detox herbs, the dog made a full recovery.

Expanded Options

Getting to the root cause of the condition is what integrative veterinarians are known for. They combine both conventional and holistic medicine, may use fewer drugs and limit vaccinations. 

“With conventional medicine, we tend to treat the symptoms, versus treating the root cause of disease, which is why a majority of the time, the symptoms return when the drug is finished,” says veterinarian Katie Woodley, in Fort Collins, Colorado, who blogs at The Natural Pet Doctor. “With a holistic approach, we look at the nutrition, gut health and how all the systems are connected … and resolve the imbalance.”

Holistic veterinarians may specialize in acupuncture, herbal medicine, kinesiology, chiropractic, laser therapy or any of many other natural modalities as an adjunct to conventional medicine. They first must earn a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree and then may pursue optional holistic training. Following this path can take a great deal of time.

Natural Nutrition

At the Franklin Road Animal Hospital, in Brentwood, Tennessee, Mark C. Ingram, DVM, has found inadequate nutrition from low-quality foods at the root of most health problems. High-quality food helps animals absorb nutrients needed for optimal well-being. “The first ingredient should always be meat, and we like limited-ingredient foods due to the numerous allergies we see,” says Ingram. “Every case of cancer that we have seen in the last 20 years has food allergies. Every torn cruciate and every paralyzed dog with disc problems has food allergies. It is also the most underlying cause for ear infections and cystitis.”

This was the case with Gabby, a 3-year-old mini-schnauzer that Agent rescued about a year ago. “She came to us with a bottle of ear solution and a history of green pus in her ears,” says Agent. Gabby’s medical history indicated that the ears, in addition to digestive problems, had been unsuccessfully treated with antibiotics and changes in diet.

“Our holistic vet recommended a raw diet with no grains and no starchy vegetables. Gabby hasn’t had a single instance of ear irritation since,” says Agent, who believes that whole foods served as medicine and now serve as prevention for her pets.

Vexing Vaccinations

There is ongoing debate whether pet vaccination boosters that may be required by law or strongly recommended by vets provide increased protection or are harmful. Mounting evidence says that they are often overdone: for example, both five-pound and 100-pound dogs receive the same dosage. Yet vaccinations do prevent some serious diseases. “We do not like to over-vaccinate, but provide appropriate protection by minimal vaccination and encourage titers,” says Ingram. Titers are blood tests used to determine if a pet’s antibodies are high enough from a previous vaccination to warrant a booster shot for the specific disease.

“Many of the core vaccines that your pet needs to be protected from diseases like parvovirus and distemper actually provide lifelong immunity with one vaccine,” says Woodley.

Choosing a Veterinarian

Commonly, people seek holistic veterinarians after they have had success with human integrative medicine. But finding such a provider isn’t simple. “My clientele regularly travels one to four hours for a consultation,” says Ingram, who fully understands that demand is outstripping supply for integrative veterinary care.

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, which has 1,500 members, has a search-by-state feature that also lists the modalities practiced by each veterinarian. In addition, Woodley, Ingram and others offer telehealth or long-distance consults. In lieu of finding a vet that is listed as holistic, pet parents can call clinics to ask questions about alternative treatments. Some facilities are more flexible than others.

Choosing a veterinarian is a personal decision for owners. “I feel that traditional versus holistic care is simply sick care versus well care,” says Agent. “Their quality of life is so important to me and they’re solely dependent on the choices I make for them. I’m going to choose well care.”


Julie Peterson writes from rural Wisconsin and has contributed to Natural Awakenings for more than a decade. Contact her at [email protected] 
Upcoming Events Near You