Traditional, Holistic Vets and Integrative Veterinary Medicine: What’s the Difference?

Veterinarians are doctors that are licensed to practice medicine on animals of all species and have received training primarily in conventional treatment options. Some veterinarians opt to take further training and choose to practice holistic or integrative medicine and offer alternative therapies that aim to offer treatments to complement Western medical/traditional treatments. In times where western medicine has no treatment options and as an added treatment option, alternative therapies may provide alternatives to traditional therapies. It is important for pet owners to understand that alternative therapies can be used to complement conventional medicine providing a whole-body approach which is why they are often called integrative therapies.

What is a Traditional Veterinarian?

Traditional medical treatments and protocols involving medications and surgery are referred to as Western, allopathic, mainstream, orthodox, biomedicine, or conventional medicine.

In Western veterinary medicine, when your pet has an ailment, there is often an extensive diagnostic workup, including blood, urine and radiographic tests, before a definitive diagnosis is made. Then treatments like surgery, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications are used to treat or suppress symptoms. This is what most people think of when they think of when their pet sees a veterinarian.

Although conventional veterinary treatment is excellent at diagnostics, it mostly treats our pets’ symptoms and doesn’t always address the root cause of why the illness occurred in the first place.

Traditional veterinary preventative care focuses heavily on the importance of regular vaccinations, examinations, diagnostic testing, including blood work and fecal examinations to keep your pet safe from infectious diseases. Vaccines are not only extremely successful, but some vaccines, like Rabies, are also a legal requirement in most states. Traditional vets help owners understand the science behind vaccinations and why they’re important in protecting your pet from disease. There are sometimes limitations to what traditional veterinary medicine can find answers for or treat, however.

What is a Holistic Veterinarian?

According to the AHVMA, holistic vet care 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.”

Holistic veterinary-care takes a whole-body approach. The primary difference between holistic and traditional veterinary care is that your holistic vet will not only look at the problem and its most obvious cause but will also assess the overall health and wellbeing of your pet in ways that, to the untrained, may seem like it is not related to the problem at hand.  The whole pet will be evaluated with special care to evaluate the pet’s preferences, their personality, their other ailments and their history. Your pet’s pulses and even their tongue color can give holistic veterinarians information about your pet’s underlying health.

Holistic vets take a much more natural approach to healing and will usually recommend a variety of different, “alternative” treatments and lifestyle changes and may recommend a Chinese herbal therapy, food therapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic care or other adjunctive therapies.

What is Integrative Veterinary Medicine?

Integrative medicine embraces the incorporation of alternative therapies together with mainstream Western medical practice. This type of medicine combines many Chinese and holistic therapies mentioned above such as veterinary acupuncture, herbs and food therapy with the positive attributes of Western medical techniques, like emergency medicine and critical care, advanced dental and surgical methods and sophisticated diagnostic tools. When it comes to vaccinations, Integrative vets understand the importance of vaccinations but may be more likely to evaluate a pet’s vaccine needs based on exposure and tailor vaccinations based on their specific needs. They may even recommend titers for some vaccinations (these are blood tests that evaluate the antibody level response to a specific vaccine).

Working together to provide more

Combining traditional medicine with alternative therapies gives us more opportunities to keep your pets healthy and more options on how to treat them when they become sick. Here at Mobile Pet Vet, we are an integrative practice and we use the best of both conventional and holistic veterinary medicine, aiming to restore health and balance on all levels of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of your pet. When Western medicine has no answers to your pet’s illness, our holistic approach gives us more options to choose from in our toolbox. With our cancer patients, we are happy to offer some options that conventional therapy doesn’t and have found that our patient’s quality of life is often extended beyond what was expected by traditional veterinary care… in some cases years past the months they were originally given!

Lisa Beagan

Lisa Beagan

Dr. Lisa Beagan is a 1995 graduate of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. After working in an equine practice then a small animal clinic, she opened Mobile Pet Vet in 2003. Dr. Beagan has also completed a veterinary acupuncture certification through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

More from the Blog