A Look at the Alternative
April 14, 2011
This year marks the 250th
anniversary of veterinary medicine, as the world's first veterinary
school opened in Lyon, France in 1764. However, veterinary medicine
has been around since people and animals have coexisted, and there
are many ancient techniques in veterinary medicine that have been
used for thousands of years. Those ancient techniques are
reaching the forefront once more as clients demand all available
treatment options for their pets and veterinarians start to
consider the staying powers of antique methods.
According to Dr. M.A. Crist, clinical
assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), alternative veterinary
medicine is best described as a term for a group of treatments or
modalities that lie outside of the conventional or mainstream
treatment of veterinary medicine. Occasionally, the terms
"alternative veterinary medicine", "integrative veterinary
medicine", and "complementary veterinary medicine" have been used
as synonyms; therefore, veterinarians now use the acronym CAM to
reference all three terms.
The American Veterinary Medical
Association guidelines for alternative and complementary medicine
state that holistic veterinary medicine includes, but is not
limited to, the practice of acupuncture and acutherapy (involves
the stimulation of specific points on the body by use of
acupuncture needles, low level lasers, and other tools), botanical
medicine (the use of plants and plant derivatives for treatment),
chiropractic (refers to the adjustment and alignment of specific
joints to create comfort), homeopathy (unique form of medicine),
massage therapy (touch technique used to eliminate pain and to
improve the bloodflow) , nutraceuticals (the use of nutritional
supplements to aid in treatment), as well as conventional medicine,
surgery and dentistry.
"Holistic veterinary medicine
considers all aspects of the animal's life in the context of its
environment, behavior, medical and dietary history, emotional
stresses as well as a comprehensive physical examination, and other
factors that may play a role in the animal patient's life,"
explains Crist. "In other words, diagnosing and treating the animal
patient in the context of the 'whole' patient."
Most alternative medicine treatments
are based on clinically accepted medicine. However, it is difficult
to find scientific data to support the theory that these modalities
are safe and effective. More clinical data is becoming available,
but it is a very slow process due to limited funding for
There are still a lot of questions
concerning alternative veterinary medicine techniques as some
practitioners believe there is still little evidence today to back
up the powerful claims.
"Some veterinary practitioners view
complementary and alternative medicine as controversial," notes
Crist. "Some critics believe that there is limited to no
evidence-based data to support unconventional therapies or
modalities and others claim that the evidence-based data to support
these therapies is of poor quality."
"Owners need to understand that some
of these modalities are slow and gentle and take time to take
effect," says Crist. "Others may believe that alternative medicine
does not work at all, because they may have waited too long in the
disease process and despite what therapy is used, nothing will
"The approach in the field of
complementary and alternative veterinary medicine is the philosophy
that an integrated approach with conventional veterinary medicine
will increase the chances that the patient will do well," explains
Crist. "Conventional and alternative veterinary medicine is
becoming more available from veterinarians because of client demand
and also because some veterinarians are recognizing the value in
using these alternative modalities in their patients."
If an animal does partake in any
alternative technique without the care of its primary veterinarian,
it is necessary for the owner to notify its primary veterinarian of
any alternative modalities; especially if a pet takes medications,
herbs, and supplements on a regular basis. Some of these therapies
may interfere with other medications prescribed by the
"The FDA has classified herbal
products as food supplements and they are marketed as such," says
Crist. "Most herbal products or remedies are sold in various forms
such as dried bulk, herbs, oils, tinctures, ointments, creams, and
capsules. It is important to purchase high-quality products from a
reputable and established supplier."
If interested in learning more about
alternative medicine practices, it is important to visit with a
veterinarian who is trained in CAM. To practice in any of these
modalities veterinarians must first be certified and well versed in
their area of interest within the scope of complementary and
"These modalities should be practiced
by a veterinarian with licensure and referral requirements
concerning each modality," explains Crist. "The certification
includes hundreds of hours of continuing education in that field,
numerous examinations, multiple case reports, and hours and hours
of shadowing an expert in the field. It is important that if an
owner requests any of these integrated modalities that he or she is
referred to a veterinarian certified in that field. It is also
important that if they are referred by their regular veterinarian,
that the two work together to do the best for the pet."
Alternative medicine is another option
for the treatment of your pet. It is your job to do extensive
research and consult with your veterinarian to decide if it is the
best option for your pet.
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