Alternative Medicine for Pets: Treatments That Work


Yesterday we looked at alternative therapies that are the veterinary equivalent to snake oil. Today, let’s consider a few that are scientifically proven. According to our expert, Dr. V, “There are some practitioners who solely do alternative treatments, though in my experience the majority of veterinarians use them as a complement to traditional Western medicine.”

Whichever treatment route you take with your animal, Dr. V suggests finding a specially-trained practitioner. “The good news is, for most of these modalities there are formal training programs to ensure your vet has at least a basic understanding of the principles before setting off into practice,” she said. “It’s a fair question to ask, and one any good vet should not be offended by, “˜What’s your training in herbs/chiropractic/acupuncture?’ If they just took a one hour course at a continuing education conference, I’d suggest you keep looking.”


Acupuncture is used to treat chronic diseases or for pain relief for conditions like arthritis. Most veterinary acupuncturists undergo rigorous training from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society or the Chi Institute where they learn the traditional Chinese medicine and the Western science that supports it. “Acupuncture can be a very helpful treatment modality in veterinary medicine,” she said. However, it’s important to recognize the limitations of acupuncture. “No holistic practitioner who wants to keep their license is going to recommend acupuncture to treat an open fracture, for example. Bacterial infections should be treated with antibiotics. With that in mind, a knowledgeable practitioner can incorporate alternative treatments to most disease processes.” To get the most bang for your holistic buck, work with a DVM and an acupuncturist to treat your pet’s condition.

Physical Therapy

When it comes to physical therapy, there are a range of specialties to choose from: chiropractic care, massage therapy, and physical rehabilitation, among others. While massage can do a lot of good for your companion animal, if you’re looking for a proven therapy, you can’t go wrong with a veterinary chiropractor. According to the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, a certified animal chiropractor can help your pet with a variety of problems like joint, spinal, or limb pain; surgery recovery; bowel, bladder, or other chronic internal medicine issues; and orthopedic disease. If you consult with a chiropractor, ask where she trained, what certifications she earned, and if she is a DVM or works in conjunction with a DVM. The great thing about holistic treatments is that you can combine several to provide your pet with top-notch, well-rounded care. For instance, for an acute injury, a trained physical therapist can assist your DVM or chiropractor with treatments like hydrotherapy.

Traditional Chinese Herbs

“At the end of the day, all medicine originated with herbs, didn’t it?” said Dr. V. “Make sure the person prescribing the herbs is someone trained in veterinary herbal medicine,” she said. “If you are also going to a Western vet, make sure they know about the herbs your pet is taking! They often do have potent measurable effects, and just like any medication have the potential to react with other meds.” Avoid the homeopathic black hole and consult with practitioners trained at respected schools like the Chi Institute.

The Bottom Line

Alternative medicine focuses holistic health and preventive care, whereas traditional Western medicine focuses on treatment of disease. “The two can and should go hand in hand,” said Dr. V. “I think anyone interested in a long and healthy life for their pet should begin with a thorough evaluation of what type of nutrition their pet is getting; the importance of this can’t be overestimated!”

Images: markhillary