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Many people have biases toward alternative forms of healthcare
because there is not much evidence based on research to support it.
For them, more science and clinical data is needed to support
acceptance of these therapies. Others are completely sold on the
idea of alternative or 'holistic' medicine because it is known to
be a cure for the source of problems and not just a treatment for
the symptoms that result from those problems, as has been suggested
of the role of traditional Western medicine. Alternative medicine
for pets is referred to as Complementary and Alternative Veterinary
Medicine (CAVM) and it integrates multiple modalities for
veterinary medical therapy such as acupuncture, acupressure,
botanical medicine, chiropractic care, homeopathy and massage
"Some of the modalities include acupuncture, which is one of the
oldest forms of traditional Chinese medicine and involves the
insertion of a tiny needle into the skin to a predetermined area
called an acupuncture point, to treat or prevent disease" said Dr.
M.A. Crist, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "With
today's modern medicine we can also stimulate these points with
electrical stimulation, injections, laser, ultrasound, ultraviolet
and magnetic induction. Acupressure is the use of finger pressure
on designated points on the body. Sometimes a few points are taught
to owners to supplement their acupuncture."
Alternative veterinary medicine includes a wide variety of
medicinal and herbal treatments other than acupuncture and massage.
The purpose of these medicines is to attack the 'root' of the
problem that the animal is experiencing.
"Other methods of alternative medicine include veterinary
chiropractic care, which is health care for animals involving
manual spinal manipulation" said Crist. "It is the interaction
between the neurological system and the biomechanics of the
vertebral column. Therapy is directed toward prevention and
treatment of disease. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils
from herbal plants for cause and effect of physiological or
psychological response. Veterinary homeopathy is based on the
principle 'like is cured by like' founded by Samuel Hahnemann in
the 18th century. It is more important to understand that
homeopathic remedies are medications and the more diluted the
remedy, the more potent it becomes. Veterinary botanical medicine
includes the use of herbal medicine to treat or prevent disease.
This may involve Western herbs, Chinese herbal medicine, or herbs
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 because funding for the research is not readily
"Owners need to understand that some of these modalities are
slow and gentle and take time to take effect" said Crist. "Others
may believe that alternative medicine does not work at all because
they might have waited too long in the disease process and despite
what therapy is used, nothing will work."
To practice in any of these modalities a veterinarian must be
certified and well versed in their area of interest within the
scope of complementary medicine.
"It is not just a weekend seminar" said Crist, "it 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 they are 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 your pet."
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
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Angela G. Clendenin
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