Fortunately, all of these things are easily identified early, BEFORE your pet becomes ill, with a simple examination and a few basic lab tests. Any problems discovered during these tests are easily treated, usually without harmful drugs and chemicals, simply by using a few natural therapies.
A major difference between conventional and holistic medicine is that conventional doctors CAN’T treat a pet until a disease is present. Unfortunately, the presence of disease indicates a problem has been present and undiagnosed for a period of time and then finally clinical signs appear. This means that when a pet shows signs of illness the disease is no longer in its early stages but in its later stages. At this point it’s usually not possible to reverse the disease, although natural therapies are still helpful in arresting the disease and slowing down its progression.
As an example, a pet with elevated kidney enzymes but not yet sick can’t be helped by a conventional doctor because there are no drugs to treat this pet. Holistic medicine can do much to help restore this pet to health and in most cases prevent kidney failure. When we recognize subtle abnormalities we treat your pet immediately rather than wait for the problem to progress and then treat the pet when it’s really sick. This early intervention approach is just one of the many reasons our patients tend to live 3-5 years longer than pets only treated with conventional therapies.
I’m often asked…”Dr. Shawn, what is your specialty? What makes your hospital different?”
Legally I can’t call my self a specialist (even though my clients and many of my colleagues consider what I do a specialty) since there is no board-certification program for holistic, naturopathic, and functional medicine.
However, I can answer that question. Our “specialty” involves 2 things:
We are the only hospital in North Texas offering Functional Medicine for all pets (dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and small mammals.)
Functional medicine focuses on the function of the patient’s cells, using and individualized approach to promote health and return sick patients to healthy as quickly as possible. The practices of functional medicine are useful both for healthy patients (to improve their health) as well as for those suffering from illness, especially chronic illness, to return them to health.
Functional medicine uses diet, supplements, herbs, and homeopathics to improve the health of cells in order to facilitate healing. By reviewing a history of the pet’s lifestyle, prior diseases, and diet, we carefully fine-tune our recommendations rather than recommending the same health plan or treatment regimen for every patient.
Second, we offer help when other doctors can no longer help your pet. While we prefer to see pets when they are healthy (and keep them that way,) or see your pet at the beginning stages of illness, we know that not everyone finds up at these stages. Many of our patients are considered “hopeless” by conventional doctors, who often refer these pets to us for a “last hope at treatment.”
While we can never make guarantees, we have helped (and yes, even cured and saved) many of these “hopeless” cases. We have many success stories of pets for whom conventional medicine offered no help, but by offering integrative care these pets lived many months or even years beyond their expected prognosis. We love helping these pets, knowing that many patients are saved when we work with them to effect a successful treatment or cure.
I’m often asked just what it is that a holistic veterinarian does. In other words, how is our day different from those of our conventional colleagues? In this article, I’ll share a typical workday in the busy life of a holistic veterinarian.
Unlike conventional doctors, holistic veterinarians have 2 categories of clients. The first are those clients, usually regulars of the practice, who come in for wellness care. These pets typically are seen annually for a checkup, which includes blood titer testing to replace unnecessary vaccines, as well as other lab tests (blood profile to monitor organ function and to allow early screening for cancer and other inflammatory conditions, a fecal analysis to screen for intestinal parasites, a blood test for screening for heartworm infection, and a urinalysis to screen for disorders of the urogenital system, liver, and pancreas.) This is done every 6 months for pets 5 years of age and older (titer testing is done annually regardless of the pet’s age.) In addition to this wellness care, designed to allow early disease diagnosis and treatment, these regular patients are seen for other things such as dental cleanings and removal of tumors and cysts. In general, these regular patients tend to stay very healthy due to the holistic approach to health favored by the doctor and the pet parents; rarely do these pets develop severe problems that require aggressive treatment.
The other category of patient seen by holistic doctors are those whose owners are seeking a more natural approach to disease prevention/wellness or who suffer from (typically) chronic illnesses. These illnesses can include cancers, immune disorders, allergies, seizures, arthritis, disk problems, and diseases of the internal organs. Typically these owners prefer a safer, more natural approach to treatment rather than chronic use of conventional medications. Often these pets have not been helped by conventional doctors, or have been turned away since their cases are diagnosed as “hopeless” by conventional medicine (I share many of these stories in my book, Unexpected Miracles:Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets)
While we love keeping our regular patients healthy and free of horrible diseases, the real challenge and satisfaction comes through helping these “helpless, hopeless” cases.
Here is an example of a typical day I recently experienced that is similar to those experienced by my colleagues in the holistic field.
Wednesday February 11….
First appointment-Regular patient coming in for biannual visit (all pets 5 and over are seen twice yearly to assess health and allow for early disease detection and treatment.) Visit involves examination, discussing any concerns with pet owner, and running lab tests (blood, urine, feces) for diagnostic evaluation. Refill supplements to maintain health.
Second appointment-Regular patient returning for laser/acupuncture treatment for arthritis.
Third appointment-Regular patient dropped off for dental cleaning using holistic anesthesia and removal/biopsy of small skin tumors. Performed both procedures, took dental radiographs, and drew blood for early detection of cancer.
3 pets dropped off for continued fluid therapy and detoxification for liver and kidney disease.
1 pet dropped off for cardiac ultrasound to evaluate heart murmur/disease.
Lunch Break-Reviewed charts for hospitalized pets; updated service codes; reviewed progress of hospitalized cases. Spent time responding to client emails. Wrote article (this one!) for Animal Wellness. Wrote columns for practice newsletter. Worked on consulting job for supplement manufacturer. Prepared lecture notes for upcoming lecture to local dog club.
Afternoon First Appointment-Did phone appointment/consultation with pet owner in California who does not have local holistic veterinarian. Spoke with her about her pet’s cancer diagnosis and recommended therapy. Shipped various herbal remedies to help pet battle cancer.
Second appointment-New patient with skin disease. Reviewed medical records and examined pet. Due to the chronic nature and severity of the condition and lack of a proper diagnosis drew blood and collected urine and feces for evaluation. Scheduled skin biopsy and culture for the next day.
Released hospitalized pets to owners with discharge instructions.
Went home for a nice walk with my beautiful wife after a typically long and tough day saving lives naturally!
Note-You might be surprised that a holistic doctor sees far fewer patients (usually only half as many) as a conventional doctor. This is because we spend more time on each case rather than trying to “cram” as many appointments into our day as possible. By spending more time we can offer a more personalized approach to pet care, can accurately assess each case, and are less likely to misdiagnose a serious problem.
Of course, some holistic veterinarians (including yours truly) also stay busy doing other things. We write books (and articles!) to educate pet owners and other veterinarians. We speak at veterinary meetings, sharing our passion for this wonderful world of natural healing. Some of us have our own line of natural products that we use in practice and sell to the public, trying to make sure our patients and pets around the world have access to the best supplements to keep them healthy. The life of a holistic practitioner is indeed a very busy one but it is never boring. Each day presents its own unique challenges, as we do our best to help all pets, but especially those not helped by conventional medicine.