An Introduction to Holistic Veterinary Medicine
by Jordan Kocen, DVM, MS
Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist
“Holistic Medicine” has come to mean any of the non-conventional medical systems. Alternative and Complementary are also terms that are used to describe these medical therapies. At this time all nutritional supplement tends to be classified as Holistic and it is assumed that a “Holistic” practitioner is familiar with all of the different medical systems and products available to the general public. The multitude of supplements flooding the market make it almost impossible for anyone to be familiar with all of the products.
The term “Holistic Medicine” doesn’t refer to any particular therapy; it is more a way of looking at the case. Holistic in its broadest sense means that all of the symptoms are taken into account in the case evaluation. This includes mental, physical and emotional symptoms. The entire symptom picture is recognized as inter-related, that is, the whole animal is considered. Examples of therapies that fall under the Holistic umbrella include Acupuncture, Western and Chinese Herbal Medicine, Chiropractic and Homeopathy.
By their very nature these therapies tend to be “Holistic”. They focus on evaluating the entire patient. They work by stimulating the immune system and the medications used are usually of a non-synthetic or unrefined nature as opposed to modern drug therapies.
Many Holistic practitioners focus on preventive strategies as well as working on current problems. Issues that come up are diet, vaccination protocols and lifestyle. Some of these new therapies may be applied in a very “conventional” way, but the results are much more significant if the principles of a Holistic approach are also applied to the case.
In my experience all theories are just a way to explain observed phenomenon. And different approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is important to understand the strength and weakness of each approach so you can determine what the most appropriate therapy is for any given situation. Holistic Therapies tend to all have several things in common that differentiate them from conventional medical therapy.
A concept common to alternative therapies is that the individual has the ability to heal themselves and the therapy is directed at aiding that process. Therefore the doctor does not cause the healing to occur; they only facilitate the process. The more options the doctor has available to offer the patient, the more efficient the doctor can be at affecting the curative process.
Health is not the absence of symptoms, but the absence of disease. Many approaches view symptoms in quite a different way than we do in Western medicine. Symptoms are created by the body when it is in the process of trying to re-establish a state a health. We all recognize that a fever, for example, is a positive process when a microbial invader is present. The elevated body temperature will have a negative effect on the organism and help to activate the host immune system. A prolonged fever, however, can create problems of its own. The conventional approach is to stop the process, that is, give an antipyretic. This action will unfortunately shut down the healing process and prevent the individual from being able to rid itself of the pathogen. The holistic approach is to try to figure out why the body was unable to finish the healing process on its own and help it to do so. In chronic disease situations this approach can often take longer than the conventional approach, but the individual will be healthier for finishing the process on its own. It has “learned” how to effect a curative reaction from start to finish.
Our knowledge of the details of healing are not yet complete, so the attempt to micromanage the process tends to perpetuate the state of ill-health and although those particular symptoms may be resolved the individual tends to continue to have problems that recur or manifest elsewhere. This is not another disease, just another manifestation of the state of ill-health.
The individual often presents with acute symptoms that are not a disease itself, but simply an acute manifestation of a chronic disease state. That is, the individual is never well, they continually manifest symptoms that may or may not occur the same way time after time.
In conventional medicine we tend to believe that if one is not sick, that they must be healthy. The symptoms are seen as the problem and once the symptoms are under control, the patient is no longer sick. Medication is chosen that can help control any symptom of a disease process. The Holistic approach views symptoms as the body’s attempt to return itself to a state of health, not just a state of “not sick.” Therefore the therapies are directed at aiding this process, not just removal of symptoms.
There is an underlying idea that the individual is an “energetic being” and that the state of this “energy field” is reflected on the physical plane creating the state of health which the individual perceives. The therapies are therefore directed at stimulating the energy field to return to a state of balance and normal flow. In Chinese Medicine this energy is called the Qi and in Homeopathy it is called the Vital Force.
Disease and health manifest on 3 levels
The energetic state manifests on the physical, mental and emotional levels; so an imbalance may manifest on any of these levels. In fact, an imbalance, or state of ill-health, does indeed manifest on all 3 levels at the same time. We may not be able to appreciate the imbalance, but it is present none the less. An imbalance in the individual may start on one level and symptoms may develop on that level or any of the others. The correct therapy may therefore be to balance an area that does not appear to be where the current problem is, but will lead to the deepest healing result and act to prevent future problems from occurring. From this we can see why a “Holistic” approach requires obtaining information about areas that do not appear to have a direct connection with the presenting complaint; i.e. evaluating the whole patient. An example could be a tendency to stress diarrhea: treatment of a single episode would not help to prevent future episodes, but treatment of the underlying weakness will not only help this episode, but can help prevent future episodes.
There are a variety of new therapies available which can increase the level of health in their patients. The majority of these Holistic therapies work by stimulating the body’s own natural repair mechanisms and so tend to have a low potential for negative results. Not all patients are responsive and response can sometimes take a while to manifest. But for many patients the symptoms are resolved and the patient ends up much healthier
There are several veterinary organizations that are dedicated to teaching the use of these therapies for use in clinical practice and encouraging research to provide better understanding of the method of action of these techniques and the medicines used.