Blending the Best: Alternative Care with Traditional Medicine

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Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 3/6/2008 in General Articles

Concerned about the negative side effects of medication and the invasiveness and pain from surgery, more pet owners are seeking therapies that go beyond conventional veterinary medicine to help their cats and dogs.

They want to combine the best of traditional veterinary medicine with complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, massage – and more – to provide their pets with the best possible quality of life.

Ways that complementary medicine can be integrated with traditional care include using acupuncture in conjunction with pain relief medications to speed healing after surgery. Herbs such as milk thistle, licorice root and red clover can help improve liver function in dogs with diseases such as copper toxicosis.

Complementary therapies are also beneficial in preventive medicine. People with police dogs, guide dogs and other working dogs or whose dogs compete in agility, field trials and other sports use chiropractic, massage, nutraceuticals and other therapies to help their dogs maintain good condition and perform at their best. Techniques that can help include neuromuscular electrical stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, and the application of heat and ice. These treatments help the dog maintain or regain range of motion, tissue mobility, strength and function.

Complementary medicine has many success stories, but it’s not appropriate for every situation. If you’re considering trying it for your pet, approach it with the same investigative spirit you would any conventional drug or treatment. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful or that it’s a cure all.

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Here are four points to consider:

1. Ask your veterinarian how alternative and conventional approaches compare as far as effectiveness for your pet’s condition. If your veterinarian isn’t familiar with CAM, schedule a consultation with a holistic veterinarian ( who can advise you. Many offer phone consultations if you’re not in their area.

2. Consider the risks and potential benefits of each approach, and compare the quality of life and safety issues. Use the treatment that will most effectively address the problem. For some things, such as heartworm prevention, conventional is better.

3. Be aware of potential side effects. Like drugs, herbs work by causing biochemical reactions. Before trying any herbal remedies, find out if they will interact with drugs your pet is already taking.

4. When possible, choose a veterinarian who’s open to integrative medicine — the use of both conventional and complementary therapies. To find a qualified practitioner, start your search with professional organizations such as the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association.

There are many good reasons to try complementary therapies and no reason why they can’t be effectively combined with conventional veterinary medicine to become an integral part of your dog’s or cat’s veterinary care.

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