Top Questions to Ask Your Holistic Veterinarian

By Greg Magnusson DVM, Leo's Pet Care Veterinary Clinic


Dr. Magnusson is a regular ol’, boring, general practitioner veterinarian in Indianapolis. Not a holistic vet, just a vet.

This post however, contrary to what you might expect, will not be attempting to change your opinions on holistic vs. traditional veterinary medicine, and is in no way speaking against my holistic colleagues. I merely want to propose a few questions you should ask yourself before following the instructions of a holistic vet. Or any vet, for that matter.

How long has this drug or herb or supplement been used for this indication?

I have a pretty simple rule of thumb, that has served me well throughout my career: I’m never the first vet on the block to try a new drug, or drug combination, I like to wait until it’s been out at least a year or two.

You can look at any human lawyer’s website for horror stories of diet pills, heart pills, etc. that have caused unintended side effects years down the road. “Have you or a loved one been harmed by suchandsuch drug? Call 800-SUE-THEM”

Any time a new herb is promoted as having magical healing properties, Dr. Magnusson’s Rule Of New Drugs should apply.

Remember Ginkgo biloba? That one was supposed to improve our memory. What about Ephedra and Fen-Phen diet pills?

Take a moment to scan this website of Prescription Drug Lawsuits, which lists commonly prescribed drugs beside their unintended negative effects, and the lawyers who will sue people on your behalf.

An acne medicine that causes Crohns disease! A diabetes drug that causes bladder cancer! A birth control pill that causes blood clots!

Not to cause fear, my point is that sometimes it takes a few years before a drug or herb or supplement has been used long enough that we can accurately predict its potential side effect profile.

If your holistic vet is prescribing a Traditional Chinese Medicine herb that has been used successfully by fifty billion people for 5,000 years, far be it from me to disagree with the effectiveness of that herb.

On the other hand, if this is a new indication for an old herb, or a new species, or with new instructions, use extreme caution.

Cats especially. Cats don’t process anything the way we’d expect.

What is the side effect profile of this combination of herbs?

Proponents of holistic veterinary medicine have a particularly bothersome habit; that of combining several potentially helpful herbs into a “cocktail” that “synergistically” treats such-and-such illness.

Here’s my problem with that: adverse drug interactions.

Carprofen treats pain and inflammation in dogs. So does Prednisone. Give either of them, and you’ll see a good therapeutic response. Give both of them at the same time, and you’re likely to cause a stomach ulcer.

Here’s a whole page of potentially toxic herbs and herbal combinations.

My point is: just because A and B are each safe and effective, doesn’t mean the combination of A plus B will be either safe or effective.

Is a holistic veterinarian better than a regular vet?

According to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), the techniques promoted in holistic medicine are minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being, lifestyle, and stress reduction.

There’s not a vet alive who will disagree with maintaining your pet’s healthy weight, minimizing stress and encouraging intelligent play, and feeding a high quality diet.

All veterinary medicine may be considered holistic in that it considers all aspects of the animal patient in the context of its environment.

Per the Wikipedia entry on Holistic Veterinary Medicine: The task force for complementary and alternative veterinary medicine for the American Veterinary Medical Association stresses that “There is only one veterinary medicine and only one standard by which it should be assessed. All treatments and modalities should be judged by the same criteria and held to the same standards. Descriptive terms such as holistic, conventional, traditional, alternative, integrative, or complementary do not enhance the quality of care provided and should not receive special consideration when judging the safety and efficacy of those treatments.”

Never trust a hungry holistic vet.

From one of my open minded clients, who uses my services, and those of a holistic vet, at the same time:

“I stopped going to a holistic practitioner myself last year when I found out she was lying to me and two of my friends who also went to her. She was in bad financial shape and all of a sudden was piling on the supplements to all 3 of us who were very trusting of her and what you would call “high compliance”–if she recommended it, we took it. Once we figured it out, we all stopped going to her.”

Never let your pet be an experiment. Never let a veterinarian, holistic, alternative, homeopathic, botanical, or otherwise, prescribe a course of therapy that hasn’t been proven adequately safe and effective.

You are always your pet’s best advocate. Just because someone identifies themselves as a “holistic vet” doesn’t mean they’re a better veterinarian. Sometimes, adding on more and different herbs and supplements makes things worse, not better. Always use your best judgement, and never be afraid to seek out a second opinion.

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