Tips and ideas for introducing holistic modalities in a traditional veterinary practice setting.

For many years, I have practiced at a conventional, mixed, multi-doctor practice in southeast Pennsylvania. I gradually shifted into small animal work, leaving the cows, horses, sheep, llamas and pigs to my colleagues. Soon, I began to desire new ways to treat my patients. With the permission of management, I started learning some new holistic modalities, starting with acupuncture at the Chi Institute.

While I still cover regular appointments that include annual checkups, medical procedures, dental procedures, soft tissue surgery and emergencies, I have continued to explore holistic diagnostics and treatments in this conventional practice setting.

The holistic approach can be used for assessment in every patient, no matter the type of appointment scheduled. Even if clients do not yet have an interest in holistic medicine, I can offer them various holistic as well as conventional treatment options. Fortunately, I work for a practice owner who has been very supportive of my alternative way of practicing.

8 ways to integrate a holistic approach

Below are six methods I have used to successfully incorporate this approach into our conventional practice:

1. Evaluating lifestyle

For me, this means ferreting out what my patients’ home lives are like – what they eat, which toxic products they are exposed to, what kind of stressors exist in their lives.

2. Reviewing vaccine options

One of the messages I try to advance is that we need to have respect for our patients and their bodies. The body is amazing at taking care of itself; and by building health to help the process, there is less chance of infection. When pets come in for vaccinations and medical exams, I stress choosing a plan that takes each patient’s needs into consideration. We discuss vaccinations from this perspective. After discussing the risks and benefits, the client will choose what they feel is best. I try to be supportive of clients by offering vaccine titers and safer vaccine options, such as splitting up vaccinations and avoiding over-vaccinating, especially in fragile patients.

3. Managing fleas and ticks

Many clients have been using chemicals for flea and tick control, but after a brief discussion, a large percentage will use these chemicals more sparingly, add in (or replace with) essential oils like rose geranium, and dust off the old flea comb. My favorite!

4. Adding holistic treatments

I have a limited amount of time in a regular check-up or medical exam appointment slot. I still look for ways to insert food therapy, nutritional support and herbs into the treatment plan. Many clients are very enthusiastic about using herbal remedies rather than pharmaceutical medications, or about adding an herbal formula to a conventional Western medical treatment. Even when there is not enough time to delve too deeply, I find that many clients are willing to come back for a follow-up.

5. Doing a TCVM evaluation

Every physical exam can include a TCVM energetic exam, so I can offer alternative options if the owners wish it.

6. Helping manage surgical patients

Other doctors often refer cases involving tumor removal, and I always try to include integrative strategies. Many of my clients who would not normally seek alternative options will consider lifestyle and medical changes when faced with cancer in their pets, especially modalities like food therapy, herbal formulas and medicinal mushroom.

7. Minimizing side effects of pharmaceuticals

Herbs can be fabulous adjuncts to conventionally-prescribed pharmaceuticals with toxic renal and hepatic potentials. This can result in a new way to manage patients while they’re on drugs.

8. Including emergency medicine

Many of my emergency phone calls will also involve herbal and homeopathic ideas to try in the hope of avoiding emergency visits.

Response from other doctors

While the other doctors still practice conventionally, they are open to referring cases to me. We now stock raw food diets and the doctors often reach for them. Our staff members recommend herbs, especially Western formulas, including Standard Process.

How well do I fit into the overall framework of this Western practice I call home? I have often thought of doing solely holistic medicine, yet the desire to be able to share my perspectives with all types of client is important, so I have chosen to stay.

Practical tips

  • I feel that visits for acupuncture and holistic consults work best when separated into their own group of appointments, or tucked in at the end of other regular appointment blocks. Ideally, it would be best to have a dedicated place for patients looking for complementary therapies.
  • As far as dispensable products are concerned, I now buy all my own supplies and utilize the office staff to enter prices and inventory into the computer. I pay for the products and receive the income minus a small clinic fee. These include Chinese, Western and Ayurvedic herbs, nutritional supports, natural eye drops, algae products, etc. I add a few new products each year and direct my clients to buy some directly online (e.g. medicinal mushrooms). I hope that in every appointment my clients will learn about new products to enrich their pets’ lives.


It has been a bit of an uphill climb, and I’ve had to have a thick skin at times, but I think it’s been worth it. It’s a joy to talk to clients who were already on the holistic road to health, but it’s also rewarding to find someone who is been waiting for their veterinarian’s permission to do something different. Sometimes I see new clients who just want an open-minded doctor who would listen to their thoughts about food or supplements. In the end, I think it’s not always so much about what we use to treat our patients, but about much we care for them and how well we listen.