Holistic Veterinarians: What to Expect

Source: Published originally in Good Dog Magazine, September 16, 2017 by Heather Wallace.

This week I’m taking my dog to our local holistic veterinarian. We are so lucky to have a few in our area! While I do respect traditional medicine when it comes to my dog’s wellbeing, I prefer a more integrative approach. After all, I’m a canine sports massage therapist and see the benefits of non-invasive therapeutic techniques on a daily basis.

My 5-year old mixed breed Gonzo has been injured twice this summer due to rough play with his brother. Our “typical” veterinarian is concerned that he is showing early signs of arthritis, and wants to have scans done to determine if there is arthritis or perhaps even early signs of hip dysplasia. Before I have scans and medication, I want to find the root cause of his issues using a more integrative approach.

So it’s our first appointment with a holistic veterinarian. What can we expect?

Holistic Veterinarians

What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?

The first thing you should know is that holistic or integrative veterinarians is that they are licensed veterinarians. These doctors went to veterinary school and then proceeded to become certified in in non-traditional therapies that have a more natural approach to healthcare.

“In treating an animal, a holistic veterinarian will determine the best combination of both conventional and alternative (or complementary) therapies for a given individual…Once the symptoms have been treated, the task is not complete until the underlying disease patterns have been redirected.” American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

The techniques promoted in holistic medicine are minimally invasive, and include  patient well-being, lifestyle, and emotional state. These veterinarians do not focus only on natural treatments but treat the whole body. The “why” of a symptom being utmost important. The holistic veterinarian’s goal is to treat the symptoms yes, but also the underlying root cause. This root cause may be physical, emotional, or mental.

Holistic vs. Integrative Veterinarians

While most people use “holistic” and “integrative” as synonyms, there is a slight difference in perception. Many people view holistic veterinarians as those who prefer to perform only complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as acupuncture, homeopathy, etc. And there are certainly some veterinarians who do this. The term “integrative” instead refers to a veterinarian who performs both modern and alternative therapies.

Dr. Kendra Pope of Integrative Oncology and Veterinary Wellness explains:

“‘Integrative was truly created to step away from the long accepted CAM (Complementary and Alternative medicine). It is a term defined separately to encompass not only incorporation of conventional and mainstream treatment with other complementary therapies, but really focus on using ALL tools in the toolbox all at the same time. Integrative medicine, by definition, is also meant to be evidence-based when possible, and also should be a type of approach to healthcare that the healthcare practitioner themselves must practice daily in order to be good healthcare providers.”

Certainly not all veterinarians are cut from the same cloth, holistic or otherwise. Choose a veterinarian that has the same views as you, that you feel comfortable asking questions. And most importantly, that your pet likes. After all, your pet is the patient.

What Can You Expect From a Holistic Veterinarian?

Expect a Personal Approach

Dr. Pope

Visiting a holistic vet can be a little different from traditional veterinarians. For one they are usually smaller practices. There are pros and cons to small practices, but usually this means a more personalized approach to your pet’s healthcare. You will not feel rushed to ask your questions quickly and get out to make room for the next patient. A lot of integrative vets will spend the time to make sure you understand your pet’s needs because they realize that as the owners, your consistency at home makes a big difference in their health and wellbeing.

Of course the down side of this is that your appointment may be slightly delayed, or is longer than you anticipated. What’s more important in the scheme of things? An extra fifteen minutes or your pet’s health?

Expect a Non-Clinical Setting

We have a few holistic veterinarians in our area. Walking into their offices is similar to walking into a spa. Quiet music, beautiful decor, and low lighting. On shelves you will find all natural pet products for sale.  Brochures for cold laser therapy or herbs lay in wait to teach you about individual practices.

Of course you will still see a waiting room and individual treatment rooms. But the sterile “doctor” environment has been left behind at a more traditional veterinarian practice.

Expect a Thorough Initial Evaluation

The initial evaluation is likely to take an hour and will be slightly different than subsequent sessions. This is the all-important first meeting between your pet and his/ her doctor. Them getting to know their vet, and feeling comfortable, is so important because stress can have a major impact on your pet’s health.

Intake Forms

You can expect to fill out detailed paperwork for your pet before your first evaluation. A holistic veterinarian will ask common questions such as nutrition, vaccinations, age, weight, allergies, and energy level.

But your holistic veterinarian will take it further. You may be asked questions that you had not before considered. Some questions may include, but are not limited to:


How does your dog react in certain situations. What is her/ her personality? Do they have separation anxiety, are they reactive, timid, confident, easy going, etc.

2. Exercise

What type of exercise do you do with your pet? How often and for how long? Further, what type of exercise does your pet prefer? Long walks, dog park, beach, etc.

3. Skin Condition

Is your pet’s skin dry, clammy, itchy or flaky? Skin is a good indicator for nutrition, hydration, and allergies.

4. Mental stimulation

What keeps your dog busy? Puzzles, games, training and tricks. Are there other pets in the home? Small children? Are your pet’s left alone for long periods of time? These all have an impact on overall health and important to your holistic veterinarian.

5. Hot or Cold Surfaces

Does your dog prefer heat or cold? Do they prefer to lay on carpet or hard floor? In Eastern Medicine there is a significant difference between the two (yin/yang) and what this can tell the veterinarian about your pet.

Not all holistic veterinarians will ask the same questions. However, the more detail when completing the initial evaluation the better.

Expect a Detailed Conversation about Diet

Most pet owners, holistic veterinarians, and conventional veterinarians will agree that diet and nutrition plays an integral part for your pet’s well being. It’s a constant struggle to maintain a healthy, nutritious balance for each pet and their needs.

Your holistic vet will be very pleased to hear if you are feeding your dog gently-cooked or raw diet and supplements rather than kibble. But be prepared to answer detailed questions about ingredients, supplements, and be open to advice.

Expect to Receive Treatments During Your Appointment

Your holistic veterinarian will perform a detailed evaluation of your pet based on your discussion. Your pet may receive some or all these therapies during their session, and be encouraged to come back regularly for treatment. Much of holistic wellness is prevention. Thus, regular treatments and helping your pet achieve and maintain balance is of utmost importance.

While you may shudder at the impeding cost, think instead how much less expensive it is to keep your pet healthy and happy for the long term.

  • Nutritional Advice
  • Herbal Supplements
  • Cold Laser Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Spinal Manipulation
  • Aromatherapy
  • Sports Massage
  • Reiki

Of course, not all holistic veterinarians will be certified in all modalities. A good holistic vet will work together with other vets or certified sports massage therapists or reiki practioners for their client’s wellbeing.

Expect to Talk About Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a hotly debated topic by many people of course. I will not delve into great detail in this article but will acknowledge that rabies vaccinations are mandatory by law. In the grand scheme a holistic veterinarian’s priority is on health, diet, and overall lifestyle rather than dependence on a complex vaccination schedule. That being said, opinions of vaccinations vary by veterinarian just as they do with conventional medicine.

Why Choose an Integrative Veterinarian?

The question many people have is why choose an integrative, or holistic, veterinarian? My question back is why not? You may be uncertain or feel there is science lacking behind the different modalities. But it is important to keep in mind that a holistic veterinarian is not content with the limited views of contemporary veterinary medicine. Instead, they choose to look further and learn more every day to better help pets everywhere.

So the question really should be, why wouldn’t I choose a holistic veterinarian?


34 thoughts on “Holistic Veterinarians: What to Expect

  1. Informative article! The animal clinic we use has mostly traditional vets. Over the past couple of years our favorite vet has received training in holistic medicine. It’ll be interesting to see how she and clinic evolve in their offerings over the years ahead.

    1. I love that more veterinarians are searching and learning for additional modalities that are a bit “outside of the box”.

  2. I have been using integrative veterinarians since 2003. It was my concern about over vaccination that got me started on that journey. I appreciate having the options of chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, NAET, lasers and other treatments to keep my dogs healthy.

    1. Yes, there are so many non-invasive options with integrative veterinarians!

  3. Very good information! I’m not sure what my vet is. She used too seem more holistic, but now I’m not so sure and her website doesn’t say. I’ll have to ask.

    1. It would be great to open a dialogue with her and see what she says. I’m glad you like your vet, it’s so important to feel comfortable asking questions.

  4. One thing both holistic and integrative have in common is individual approach, versus cookie cutter approach. We haven’t tried a holistic vet yet, but we’ve been working with integrative.

    1. That is a wonderful point about thinking independently, and taking each individual animal into consideration. It is truly patient-based.

  5. I love this! Although in the past I’ve only used traditional vets, I can definitely appreciate using a vet with an integrative approach as you mentioned. Traditional medicine doesn’t always have the best methods and can be very harsh on our pets (and ourselves). Holistic and more natural alternatives can work just as well if not better and have little to zero side effects. I know before my Dusty passed away we used traditional and natural remedies to try to treat her cancer. Although she eventually passed, I know that the efforts taken to use natural remedies did give her quality of life and more time than anticipated. Love the video summary at the end too!

    1. Yes, I think often people turn to alternative therapies when they feel they have nothing left to lose, which is a shame in some way because it is very good for preventative treatment as well.

  6. We so much love this post! We are big believers in and clients of holistic veterinarians. We’ve found that by adding blood labs in, our holistic vet has a lot more info available to them, and we love their open mindedness about diet and vaccinations. Great post!

    1. Great point about the blood tests. I think this does indeed make a huge difference.

  7. When considering a veterinarian to care for your pets, I feel that it’s always best to be open to a variety of treatment options, both holistic and integrative. What works for one pet might not for another. Just like personalities, veterinarian approaches are differ from one person to another. Because there are so many options available, I am willing to try almost any approach that can help my pets. Sometimes you simply have to try a few possibilities to find the optimal treatment for your particular pet.

    1. Absolutely! I do prefer to take a conservative approach when it comes to health and explore all options, so it’s nice to be able to have the opportunity.

  8. I think I’d love to work with a holistic vet. I know a couple of Labs who had acupuncture for arthritis and it worked wonders.

    1. Yes, acupuncture and massage are amazing for arthritis. We’ve partnered with an integrative veterinarian and in 2018 we will be pleased to offer a package for acupuncture and massage for clients.

  9. Wow! This is so interesting. I’ve never taken any of my pets to a holistic or integrative veterinarian, but I’m very interested in seeing if there are any in my area.

    1. I would be interested to hear your experience if you do!

  10. We use a holistic vet with an integrative approach. The lobby definitely is upscale. Mr. N is happiest when we do the vet visit outside though!

    1. Mr. N is definitely a nature lover! Wonderful that your vet will see him outside.

  11. I’m a fan of integrative veterinary medicine. Nothing beats traditional therapies for emergencies, but for the chronic conditions, holistic approaches work best. So I like having a practitioner who can offer the best of all options.

    1. Amy, I agree with you exactly. Very well said!

  12. I honestly never gave thought to using a holistic vet — and never knew integrative was different! This is a great article Heather! I need to do more research into this — I love my vet, but do want to do what is best for my girls!

    1. Glad to have opened up a new avenue! Please do your research and let me know if you have any questions. We partnered with Dr. Kendra Pope of Integrative Oncology and Veterinary Wellness in Red Bank and she is unique in that she is a specialist as well as having a background in Chinese Medicine and Nutrition. The complete package.

  13. Great article! We have used a combination of traditional veterinary medicine and holistic medicine for our dog with cancer and fortunately we have several well known integrative veterinarians in our area.

    1. Yes, I’ve seen integrative veterinary medicine have great results on cancer patients, especially as it relates to pain and quality of life. This is something we may be starting a clinical trial on in the near future.

  14. I would LOVE an integrative vet! I appreciate a lot of complimentary medicines and supplements so this would be my dream vet.

    They tend to approach things, I think, in a different, more friendly and positive way. Our cats are not keen vet attenders (who is!?) so this would be a dream come true for us.

    1. Absolutely! My cat did not love the vet either but he rarely left the house unless he was having a check up. My fault, really on that score. But I think it makes complete sense to view health and wellness as a whole, not just one side.

  15. We have always gone to a more traditional vet, who we like very much, but I have been curious about trying a more integrative approach – especially with Ruby’s immune system issues. I would love to find a vet where the waiting room feels like a spa – for both myself and Ruby!

    1. There is a huge difference in feel for treatment as well. The treatments are less invasive and therefore often less scary to our pets. I love that integrative vets really focus on finding the root cause of the problem and seek to solve it using the body’s natural processes as opposed to chemicals. Would love to hear if you and Ruby find one!

  16. We think holistic veterinarian medicine really has a place in health of pets. We only wish we had a holistic vet closer to us. The nearest one is about an hour’s drive.

    1. That’s a bit difficult. I’m lucky that we have a few in our area, and actually partner with one through our business. She has clients come from out of state. There is definitely a need for more holistic veterinarians.

  17. Great post! I have a few vets on stand by for my pets, one of which is an amazing holistic vet. They’re the ones I prefer going too, but we also use a more traditional vet sometimes, and an after hours/emergency vet as needed. I remember not really knowing what to expect the first time I took one of my dogs to a holistic vet. I’m sure this post will be really helpful for people!

    1. Thank you. I also have a few vets that we see depending on the need or whether it’s preventative vs. emergency. Luckily we all work together to keep Gonzo and Beau happy and healthy.

What are your thoughts?