Western Medicine VS. Homeopathic and Holistic – What’s Best for Your Dog?

There are more choices than ever when it comes to treating whatever ails your dog. One of the biggest questions is whether you should seek alternate forms of treatment that may diverge from what is thought of as traditional or “western” medicine.

In the debate between the two, who wins?

Homeopathic and Holistic Medicine

The very first problem with these terms, is there is no clear definition of their meaning, what they involve, or the methods used from one vet to another.

Diane Monsein Levitan, VMD, Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, has received worldwide recognition as founder and first owner of the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care and The Compassionate Care Center.

“Holistic can mean different things to different people and even to veterinarians,” Dr. Levitan says. “What is considered ‘holistic’ and what is eastern medicine?  What training do pet owners expect or understand?  What training do holistic practitioners have? Do they need special training or credentials to call themselves holistic? Who should you go to?

“Some pet owners turn to what they believe is ‘holistic’ when other traditional remedies have not worked. Some vets offering holistic medicines/treatments offer pet owners hope rather than helping pets. It is unlikely that 2 vets offering ‘holistic care’ will be trained the same or will offer the same treatments. Often times bottles of medications are not labeled with ingredients other than ‘liver support’ so working with a traditional vet may be difficult since they would not be able to predict drug/treatment compatibility.”

There appears to be no credentials for homeopathic and holistic specialists from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). And in 2013 the AVMA purposed a policy (which is now being called a consideration) that “homeopathy is an ineffective practice and that its use as a veterinary therapy be discouraged.” (www.avma.org) But, as Dr. Levitan points out, they do not define what they see as homeopathic treatments.

Instead, the AVMA’s only policy page on alternative medicines is short and vague:

The AVMA believes that all aspects of veterinary medicine should be held to the same standards, including complementary, alternative and integrative veterinary medicine, non-traditional or other novel approaches.

  • The foremost objectives in veterinary medicine are the health and welfare of the patient.
  • Diagnosis and treatment should be based on sound, accepted principles of veterinary medicine and the medical judgment of the veterinarian.
  • Veterinarians should have the requisite knowledge and skills for every treatment modality they consider using.
  • A valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship must exist.
  • Owner consent should be obtained prior to initiating treatment.
  • Medical records should include outcomes of treatment.
  • Veterinarians should be aware of and abide by local, state, and federal statutes.

(source: AVMA)

Acupuncture is great, but it can't mend broken bones.
Acupuncture is great, but it can’t mend broken bones.

Another main problem can come from the clients, not necessarily the doctors or lack of knowledge. Sometimes dog owners will refuse any type of treatment but what they consider to be holistic or homeopathic. This can be a major problem if the ailment is just not treatable by alternative medicine.

For example, Dr. Jeff Levy, an NYC veterinarian, answered a house call involving a dog with a broken back; he couldn’t move at all. The family wanted to use a holistic approach combing homeopathy and acupuncture. “I affirmed their philosophy, but recommended adding an orthopedist to the treatment team. With medication and acupuncture, the dog recovered completely.”

Western Medicine

Traditional or western medicine is thought of as the “norm” when it comes to medicine on this side of the globe. We are all brought up on it – going to our family doctors and taking over the counter drugs when something hurts. It’s works for decades, so many feel why mess with what works?

For starters, people are starting to think all those chemicals and drugs are not the best for you (or your dog). And, as we learn about alternative forms of healing from around the world that have less side effects but work just as well, dog owners are starting to look toward those.

And, for some, they like the idea of “home remedies” and doing something to help their pet themselves, rather just giving them a pill every day.

But a warm and fuzzy feeling is not enough for some, who are still wary about all these holistic approaches. After all, if all these organic and natural stuff works, why were drugs created in the first place?

As you can see, the battle can go back and forth endlessly.

A Combined Approach

The answer might be not one or the other, but both.

Dr. Jeff Levy is a well-respected NYC-based Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA). He’s trained in canine rehabilitation, and his practice consists of in-home traditional and holistic treatments for pets in New York City. He is a recipient of the 2006 Merit Award of the NYC Veterinary Medical Society; The Deans’ Pegasus Award from his Alma Mater, The Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine; and he was nominated for a Congressional Fellowship Program. Dr. Levy provides acupuncture treatments and veterinary medical care to his many animal patients through his local house-call practice.

Dr. Levy, obviously, believes in the power of combing any knowledge we have to give pets the best treatment possible.

“Complementary medicine combines techniques of Western diagnostics, pharmacological and surgical intervention, as well as technological advances; with the humanistic approach associated with various alternative modalities such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbology, chiropractic, and energy work. Integrating various modalities based on patient needs is the way to go,” Dr. Levy explains.

Trupanion® pet insurance has seen an increase in holistic treatment among pets, everything from Inflammatory Bowel Disease to lameness. In fact, they have added a Recovery and Complementary Care Rider which covers physical therapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, chiropractic, behavioral modification, and therapy, homeopathy, and naturopathy.

But, mainly, it’s a balance they say.

“We see a balance of both and cover treatments in both categories,” says Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM and Director of Veterinary Services at Trupanion. “Holistic care isn’t necessarily a replacement for ‘traditional’ care—they often complement each other. The recent emphasis of holistic veterinary care in western society has only provided more options for pet owners across North America.”

So who wins? Our pets and we do. Why? Because it amounts to choices and chances. The more choices may mean the better our chances are to keeping our pets healthier and living longer than every before.

About the Author

Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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