One of the questions most frequently asked at the weekly online holistic animal care chat I used to run was, "What is holistic?" I think that's a definition you should get from your veterinarian before deciding if he or she is "holistic" or not.
Some vets truly are interested in finding less harmful alternatives to conventional medical treatments, and I applaud them. Some have realized that acupuncture is effective in controlling pain and inflammation, without the side effects of steroids. Good for them! Some have come to believe that there's no good reason to give annual vaccinations, and I think that's great.
But it doesn't make them holistic, no matter what they call themselves.
Some vets have been trained in veterinary homeopathy, maybe even well-trained. They may have studied acupuncture and nutrition, may know a great deal about herbs, remedies, diet. When a cat comes in with a hot spot, they know just what herb or salve or remedy to use to make it go away. When someone wants to help their hyper dog, they can always find the acupuncture point that soothes him.
But none of that makes them holistic, either.
Holism is a different way of seeing, and I've known allopaths who were more "holistic" than some of the holistic practitioners I've met. If you are peddling suppression, practicing allopathic medicine using homeopathic remedies, and looking for a "substitute" for cortisone, you are not thinking holistically.
Thinking holistically is not so much about the substances they prescribe, but the way they see your animal. Do they look at the WHOLE animal, at the mind, body, spirit, genetics, environment? Or do they just lunge for a "fix" for the complaint that brought you in?
Some vets, who have come out of a longtime allopathic practice and have become disillusioned, are very holistic in their thinking. They experienced a real "conversion" of the way they perceive sickness, health, and the life force. Others came into veterinary medicine with holistic stars in their eyes, and have always practiced that way. But there are a fair amount of vets out there who advertise themselves as "holistic" who really aren't, and there are a lot of folks getting very disillusioned with those vets.
The best way to find a vet, holistic or not, is to ask your friends for recommendations, and buy 15 minutes of this vet's time for an interview. (Sometimes I bring a dog in for something like a heartworm test or blood panel, just to get something concrete for my investment. However, I have also just paid for a 15 minute appointment, brought no animals, and spent the time interviewing the vet about his or her attitudes and beliefs and practices.)
For those of us looking for a holistic vet, this process should include questions about what "holistic" means to them, how they became involved with holistic medicine, what training they have had, how long they have been practicing holistic veterinary medicine, and perhaps what some of their experiences with it, both good and bad, have been. Try hard during this process not to talk too much yourself; some people will unconsciously try and please you with their answers, and you are looking for what this vet really thinks, not what they think you think.
I frequently refer people to the page on "Obtaining a Referral to a Holistic Veterinarian" at www.naturalholistic.com, or the AltVetMed website when they are looking for a holistic vet, but that must be only a FIRST step. Ask the vet for references, try and interview them, and try and work with them on simple problems before dumping your twelve-year-old with cancer on them. Badly practiced holistic medicine does more harm than well-practiced allopathy, in my opinion, and should be avoided like the proverbial plague. (Nothing does as much harm, in my book, as poorly practiced allopathy, of which there is a frightening amount out there.)
It might seem harsh, but it's true nonetheless: caveat emptor is the motto of the marketplace, even when that marketplace is holistic veterinary medicine: Let the buyer beware.
Copyright 1999 by Christie Keith