integrative medicine in veterinary curriculum

Many private veterinary practices and some teaching hospitals now offer integrative veterinary medicine modalities as an adjunct to conventional therapies.

There’s an increasing interest in integrative therapies within human medicine, and animal owners are seeking similar therapies for their pets. Many private veterinary practices and some teaching hospitals are now offering integrative veterinary medicine (IVM) modalities as an adjunct to conventional therapies.

A revealing study

The results of a recently published1 retrospective analysis of 5,195 integrative patient treatment sessions suggest that acupuncture, laser therapy and hydrotherapy were utilized in more than 50% of the patients.

Medical records from a mixed animal IVM service at an academic teaching hospital over a 400-day period were collected. The multiple modality treatment sessions were most commonly utilized for patients (n=274) with neurological (50.7%) and orthopedic (49.6%) conditions in dogs (95.6%), cats (3.0%) and horses (0.8%).

Acupuncture treatments included dry needle acupuncture, which was used in most patients (81.5%), followed by electro-acupuncture (60.5%) and aqua-puncture (9.8%). Next most frequently used were laser (66.3%), hydrotherapy (51.8%), therapeutic exercises (37%), and conventional drugs (37%). Other modalities included ultrasound, TENS/NMDS, nutrition, herbal and massage. The data support the fact that IVM can be successfully incorporated into conventional veterinary practices.

Integrative veterinary medical modalities in veterinary curriculum

To understand the need for IVM to be taught at veterinary colleges, 32 veterinary specialists have agreed on an IVM curriculum. Guidelines recognizing the important modalities to be taught to veterinary students as an introduction to IVM were recently published in Open Veterinary Journal.2

Veterinary students should receive adequate exposure to the principles, theories and current knowledge supporting or refuting these therapies. A proposed IVM course guideline would broadly introduce students to these veterinary treatments while increasing their ability to respond to questions from clients from a position of knowledge about IVM in clinical practice. Such a course should be evidence-based, unbiased, and unaffiliated with any particular IVM advocacy or training group.  Training future veterinary professionals in IVM may produce an openness to new ideas about scientific methods and a willingness to pursue and incorporate evidence-based therapies in clinical practice, including those presently regarded as integrative, or complementary.

A survey of AVMA-accredited colleges indicated that students should be aware of IVM modalities because of strong public interest.3 Nearly 25% of recent Washington State University graduates reported facing questions about IVM on a weekly or daily basis, and polled veterinary students had a positive outlook towards IVM education. These findings prompted the formation of a national curriculum committee, supported by the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA), tasked with developing a model curriculum for veterinary students. Committee members met during the AAVA annual conference in May of 2013, and agreed that IVM should be the focus and title of a model training course. The course outline was discussed, and consensus was established that the following IVM modalities commonly used in veterinary practices should be included in the curriculum: acupuncture, veterinary manipulative therapy, integrative nutrition, physical rehabilitation/sports medicine and herbal therapy (see Table 1).

Joint education efforts between IVM organizations

Non-profit organizations and one institution are assisting in accomplishing two goals — IVM education offered as a part of veterinary curriculum, and having IVM modalities become a part of veterinary practice. Joint efforts between IVM-related organizations are needed to assist veterinary students in learning IVM, helping veterinary faculty to become certified in IVM modalities, and increasing public awareness of the IVM benefits.

A. World Association of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (WATCVM, — This non-profit organization was founded in Spain on Sept 14, 2013 by 45 TCVM practitioners from 25 countries, with the mission to:

  • unite the global TCVM community through prom­­­otion and publication of research on all aspects of TCVM
  • develop guidelines for TCVM practice (standardize acupuncture points, channels, and herbal medicines — dosage and usage, etc.)
  • raise funds to support research and scholarship for veterinary students/faculty
  • to help establish TCVM curriculums for veterinary colleges globally.
  1. The Stuart Rosenburg International Scholarship — This scholarship is designed to support veterinary school faculty in developing countries with a per capita annual income less than US $2,000. Veterinarians from Bangladesh and Ecuador have received the Rosenburg Scholarship in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to support their veterinary acupuncture education to become Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists.
  2. Veterinary student support — In addition to other student membership benefits, WATCVM provides speakers to give presentations and demo acupuncture labs to veterinary students, meet veterinary college faculty/administrators to seek support for IVM, and assist in development and support of TCVM student clubs. Since its inception in 2013, WATCVM representatives have assisted various AVMA-accredited veterinary colleges including Iowa, Ohio, St. George’s, Oregon, Ross, Tuskegee, North Carolina, Colorado and Washington. TCVM is also promoted by WATCVM-BODs in their native counties or regions on the world, including China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia and Japan.


B. Chi CVM Scholarships — These scholarships are offered by the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Founded in 1998, Chi Institute offers educational programs in TCVM modalities, including acupuncture, Chinese herbal and food therapy, and Tui-na. Promoting TCVM in veterinary colleges is the main purpose of the Chi CVM Scholarships. Chi grants, a total of $40,000, are awarded to veterinary students, veterinary college faculty, residents and graduate students (com/Resources/CVMScholarships.aspx).

C. IVAS Scholarships – The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS, org) is one of the first international organizations (it was started in 1974) to offer veterinary acupuncture certification. Currently, IVAS offers a 50% tuition scholarship to fourth-year veterinary students for its acupuncture course. IVAS has been working on scholarship fundraising; it has also awarded one full tuition scholarship to a veterinary faculty member in the past (personal communications).

The promotion of IVM education as a part of veterinary curriculum is a promising trend and one that should result in more conventional practices offering integrative therapies.


1Shmalberg J, Memon MA.A retrospective analysis of 5,195 patient treatment sessions in an integrative veterinary medicine service: Patient characteristics, presenting complaints, and therapeutic interventions”. Veterinary Medicine International, (open access journal), Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 983621, 11 pages,
2Memon MA, Shmalberg J, et al (18 additional authors). “Integrative Veterinary Medical Education and Consensus Guidelines for an Integrative Veterinary Medicine Curriculum within Veterinary Colleges”. Open Veterinary Journal 6:41-56, 2016,

3Memon MA, Sprunger LK. “Survey of colleges and schools of veterinary medicine regarding education in complementary and alternative veterinary medicine”. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 239: 619-623, 2011.

Prof Emeritus, Dept of Vet Clinical Sci., Washington State University, Pullman, Washignton
Integrative Reproduction Consultatnt, Loving Touch Animal Center, St Mountain, Georgia Executive Director, World Association of Traditional Chinese Vet Med, Gainesville, Florida What is this section referring to?

Acknowledgments: The information in this article is adopted from manuscripts authored or co-authored by the author and are cited as references, and were presented at the annual AHVMA Conference in October. The author is grateful for the encouragement and assistance provided by Dr. Christina Chambreau, Associate Editor for IVC Journal.