Complementary medicine is a method used by holistic veterinarians to provide an exhaustive treatment plan for animals. Holistic veterinarians approach their practice with the entirety of your pet’s well-being in mind. If you bring your dog, cat, or exotic animal in with an illness, they will seek a course of treatment that minimizes negative side effects and improves your pet’s complete health, rather than treating just the illness. Complementary medicine is used in addition to conventional treatments. Many of the alternative therapy methods offered have minimal or no negative side effects, which is one of the main reasons that they are used.
Types of Complementary Medicine
There are numerous types of complementary medicine, many of which are practices that we use as additional therapies for humans, such as chiropractic treatments.
AcupunctureAcupuncture is the use of needles piercing the skin to treat physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Like with humans, acupuncture can be used as a complement to traditional treatment. The focus on mental and emotional conditions is representative of the holistic school of thought in veterinary medicine.
- Common conditions where acupuncture is used - Health concerns include functional problems, allergies and respiratory problems, and pain relief.
- Benefits - When administered by a properly-trained veterinarian, acupuncture is a very safe treatment for your pet. Side effects of this treatment are rare, though some do exist.
- Cons - The biggest risk with acupuncture is that the needle will break while inside the skin. However, acupuncture needles are designed to be flexible, and they are inserted only slightly into the skin, so this risk is minimal.
As with humans, chiropractic treatment in animals uses the manipulation of joints so that they are properly aligned, particularly in the spine—when misaligned, these joints can affect nerves, muscles, and organs, potentially causing some illnesses.
- Common conditions where chiropractic treatment is used - Chiropractic care is most effective when used as a preventative treatment. However, there are symptoms that your pet may be experiencing that can call for chiropractic therapy. Your companion may have joint-related pain, they may pant more than normal, they may carry themselves differently, and they may refuse to jump or move as they normally would. Your pet may experience stiffness, lameness, difficulty navigating stairs, muscle atrophy, stumbling, weakness, and even paralysis. Chiropractic treatment can be great for pets with floating kneecaps, hip dysplasia, and urinary incontinence.
- Benefits - Chiropractic treatment helps minimize joint degeneration, skeletal degeneration (as your pet ages), treats pain, and can often work as a solution (or part of a solution) towards additional illnesses and problems. Using chiropractic care as a complementary treatment can work as an alternative to surgery, has a lower cost than some more traditional treatments, and has the potential to decrease dependence on addictive medications.
- Cons - Chiropractic adjustments may cause temporary discomfort (usually not lasting more than 2 or 3 days), and being a preventative treatment, it requires more regular visits to the practitioner.
Herbal medicine relies on the use of plants or plant extracts to treat illnesses. A qualified animal caregiver, trained in herbal therapy, may suggest medicinal and supplemental herbs alongside conventional medicine.
- Common conditions where herbal medicine is used - Herbal medicine is commonly used to treat skin abrasions and abscesses, arthritis, worms, fleas, ticks, lice, heart weakness, kidney trouble, paralysis, incontinence, bad breath, eye problems, distemper, diarrhea, obesity, vomiting, insect stings, and even cancer.
- Benefits - Herbal medicine can improve the functional capacity of body organs, increase overall health and well-being, strengthen the immune system, and be used to treat (or help treat) a variety of ailments.
- Cons - If administered by a professional, the greatest risk with herbal medicine is that some herbal treatments may not be effective. However, if used incorrectly, herbal remedies can be poisonous. Never attempt herbal treatments on your own.
Homeopathy works similarly to how vaccinations work for humans, except instead of injecting a weak version of a virus, homeopathy uses natural substances that would produce the symptoms of the disease in question. Much like acupuncture, homeopathy strives to address physical, mental and emotional maladies. Homeopathy is often used as an alternative treatment—in place of traditional treatments, such as vaccinations or medicine—but that’s not to say it can’t be used to complement traditional medicine. It’s an option for illnesses that have more expensive or dangerous treatments in traditional medicine.
- Common conditions where homeopathy is used - There are thousands of homeopathic treatments available for both major and minor illnesses. Because homeopathy is regularly used as an alternative to other medicines, there is likely a remedy for just about any condition your pet may have.
- Benefits - Most homeopathic medicines come in tiny pills or drops, so they are easy to give to your pet. They are also an affordable alternative to traditional medicine. Because homeopathic medicines are typically very diluted, they are really safe and produce minimal side effects.
- Cons - There is a lot of debate over whether or not homeopathy really works. Even if you choose to pursue this type of treatment, it is advised that any other form of treatment should be approved by your homeopath (the provider of the treatment) so that they don’t interfere with the homeopathic medicines. Symptoms may worsen after treatment, temporarily, and it’s possible that discharges (such as diarrhea, discharges from the eyes, etc.) may occur.
Just what it sounds like, magnetic therapy uses magnets to treat pain and other illnesses. This is the type of therapy utilized in bracelets that have magnets alleged to improve balance and overall health in humans.
- Common conditions where magnetic therapy is used - Magnetic therapy has proven most effective for skeletal issues, such as arthritis, joint pain, back problems, and hip dysplasia. It can also be used for tendon and ligament injuries and to assist in poorly healing wounds.
- Benefits - Magnetic therapy is a safe treatment approach with no known negative side effects. These treatments are inexpensive and relatively simple in their execution.
- Cons - One of the greatest challenges with this treatment is keeping the magnets in place on your pets while they are moving. However, there are some ways to address this—such as magnetic beds and blankets or magnetic strips. Currently, there is still a lot of research being done regarding this treatment’s effectiveness, with professionals disagreeing on the subject.
What is Right for Your Pet?
Complementary medicine is a great alternative to treating your pet and ensuring a holistic health plan is in place. Some complementary treatments may work for your pet, while others may not. It’s important to work with both your pet's traditional veterinarian and holistic caregiver to determine which complementary treatments will be the most helpful for your pet’s health and well-being.