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What to Expect at a Holistic Veterinarian Appointment

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How a Holistic Veterinarian Exam Works

If you are committed to providing the most natural pet care for your furry family member, you may want to consider taking her to a holistic veterinarian. Like their conventional counterparts, a holistic veterinarian has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. However, they also undergo training to practice complementary and alternative therapies like animal acupuncture or homeopathy.

Holistic veterinarians take a big-picture approach to your pet. “Basically, we’re not just looking at a pet’s physical symptoms; we’re looking at the animal in relationship to his environment at home and in the greater world, as well as his mental and emotional makeup,” says Dr. Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA, who practices in New York City and Fairfield, CT.

Not all holistic veterinarians are alike, though. Depending on which holistic therapies the veterinarian is trained in, the examination and treatment will be different. In general, the more therapies (or modalities, as they’re known in the holistic pet care world) a veterinarian is trained on, the better. “If they are certified in quite a few things, they’re probably dedicated holistic vets because they are spending their free time going to courses,” says Dr. Deva Khalsa, DVM, CVA, and author of Dr. Khalsa’s Natural Dog. Be sure to check the veterinarian’s credentials before you go.

You don’t have to do too much prep work before your visit. Reading a book or articles on holistic animal care can increase your familiarity with the field, as can checking out natural pet care sites. Then get your furball into her carrier—or try the Four Paws Comfort Control Dog Harness and a sturdy leash—and get ready for your trip to the vet’s office. Here’s what you can expect once you’re there:

Your First Holistic Veterinarian Exam Will Be Long

At the first visit, the veterinarian will want to get a complete history—medical, emotional and mental, says Dr. Fallek. Besides the usual questions on age, weight and vaccinations, be prepared to answer queries about your pet’s diet, her temperament (shy or confident), how she is with other animals and people, her exercise routine, and her habits. No detail is too insignificant. For example, if your fur baby scratches after every outing outside, tell the veterinarian, because it may be a sign of allergies. The veterinarian will also be observing your pet during the visit.

Your Pet Won’t Get as Many Vaccines

Holistic pet care places great emphasis on minimizing an animal’s toxic exposure and maximizing non-invasive healthy supplements, says Dr. Khalsa. Many holistic pet practitioners adopt a different vaccination schedule—vaccinating puppies and kittens against common conditions like parvovirus and distemper and avoiding annual boosters after adulthood, when pets have immunity against most diseases. (The exception is the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory.)

Diagnostic Tests May Be a Bit Different, Too

While a holistic veterinarian may do fecal samples and blood tests, some of the other ways they’ll examine your pet may be totally different. If the practitioner is trained in chiropractic, he may run his hands along your pet’s spine to see if anything is misaligned. If he’s also trained in animal acupuncture, he may do a pulse diagnosis to check the health of your pooch’s liver and other organs. Someone trained in homeopathy will spend time observing your pet’s personality to get a read on her overall well-being.

Treatment Probably Won’t Include Drugs

“If your dog had chronic infections and you went to a conventional veterinarian, she may give you an antibiotic among other drugs to kill the infection,” says Dr. Khalsa. “But if you went to a holistic veterinarian, she would figure out why the dog’s immune system wasn’t working correctly. And maybe she’d give Chinese herbs or supplements to boost the immune system so that the dog doesn’t get the chronic infections anymore.” That’s not to say that holistic animal care practitioners don’t use antibiotics or other prescription meds at all—they do when necessary. But a holistic vet will treat your Golden Retriever’s back problems with animal acupuncture or spinal manipulation, not painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

Some Conditions May Take More Time to Treat

“Drugs can be a quick fix, but building up your pet’s immune system can take months,” says Dr. Fallek, who counsels pet parents to keep an open mind. Plus, holistic pet care includes taking care of such emotional conditions as anxiety or fear. For instance, if your four-legged family member suffers from stress, the remedy may be something like a calming pet chew from Pet Naturals of Vermont, with L-Theanine and vitamin B, to help quell anxiety in dogs or VetriScience Composure cat chews for cats.

Prevention Is Worth It

Most pet owners come to a holistic veterinarian at the eleventh hour, says Dr. Fallek, when their fur baby has spent years with a chronic ear infection, for example, or has cancer. While those conditions can be treated with holistic pet care, a better strategy is to set your pet up for a healthier life through eating right, taking supplements, and getting gentle, non-invasive treatments when needed.