Alternative and Complementary Medical Therapies

girl and her dogThe underlying philosophy of all alternative and complementary medical therapies is the ‘holistic’ approach, in which the patient is treated as a ‘whole’ being, rather than as a diagnosis. Holistic veterinarians take into account even seemingly insignificant symptoms to identify patterns and underlying changes to the individual’s vitality, which affects their ability to self heal. The treatment is modified along the way according to how they respond, and may involve lifestyle changes, dietary changes and one or more types of treatments. Once treatment has begun, the patient’s response must be accurately assessed, the cause of this response determined, and the treatment adjusted if appropriate. Often the disease process may still be there, but the patient is healthier overall, drug doses have been lowered, and many symptoms resolved. Other times, a return to full health and vitality can be observed and all drugs withdrawn.

If multiple therapies are given to a patient at one time, it is impossible to know which treatment caused which response. The combination of treatments may have acted additively (each treatment worked without interfering with the other treatment), synergistically (the combination of treatments has produced a much greater effect than would be expected from an additive effect) or antagonistically (the treatments interfered with each other, cancelling out some or all of their effects).

The alternative treatments most likely to act deeply on the immune system are acupuncture, herbal medicine (including Traditional Chinese Medicine), and homeopathy. As a general rule, acupuncture, herbal therapy, and homeopathy should only be combined under the advice of a properly trained vet to avoid interference between the various disciplines and enhance the chances of a synergistic or additive reaction. 

Caution must always be used when combining these therapies with conventional treatments, including surgery. The use of steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs can mask symptoms of value in prescribing homeopathic remedies, herbs, and even acupuncture. The action of homeopathic medicines is also believed to be interfered with by the use of potent compounds such as antibiotics, corticosteroids, pungent ointments, and strong-smelling products such as camphor or tea tree oil. Some natural therapies can also increase the risk of bleeding more than usual with surgery- so it’s important to work with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about possible interactions and to keep your vet informed about what you are using.

"Caution must always be used when combining these therapies with conventional treatments, including surgery."

An experienced holistic vet will be able to advise on an appropriate treatment plan for each patient, even if two animals have the same diagnosis from a conventional viewpoint, their treatments can be profoundly different.

Veterinary practitioners trained in acupuncture, herbal therapy and homeopathy are the best sources of information on what conventional and alternative treatments will combine well and which ones should not be used together. Such practitioners are more and more moving towards ‘Integrated Medicine’. This is where the best of conventional and alternative therapies are woven together, to take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Treatments that may be combined

As a general rule, Bach flower remedies, massage therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic, nutritional therapy, and some supplements may be safely combined with most other forms of conventional or alternative therapy. Usually, mild products such as slippery elm, green tea, psyllium husks, and aloe vera will not interfere with other treatments. If it is necessary to identify how much each treatment is contributing individually to a patient, they may be given at different times or even on different days and the patient’s response assessed. The most important philosophical difference between conventional and holistic medicine, is that the holistic veterinarian isn’t concerned what individual substance changed the course of the disease, but that the health of the patient has improved overall.

To summarise, combining alternative or complementary medical therapies, either with other alternative therapies or with more conventional treatments, may improve the patient’s health or speed the healing. However, combined incorrectly, these same therapies have the potential to interfere with healing or may, rarely, cause serious health consequences. 

Therapies should never be combined except on the advice of a knowledgeable vet trained in some aspect of alternative medicine. If you would like to pursue these other forms of treatment we are happy to refer. Ask at the practice and we can guide you to veterinarians trained and properly qualified in homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, chiropractic and other alternative therapies in the area. Together we can work as a healthcare team, in your pet’s best interest. Please feel free to talk to any of our vets who will be happy to advise.

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