Holistic or Conventional Medicine: Which is Right for my Pet?

Written by Dr. Michael Dym VMD, 8/28/2020

As a veterinary medical practitioner of 30 years clinical experience as both a conventionally trained veterinarian, skilled in medical and surgical practice, as well as one who has embraced more natural options of wellness and chronic disease treatment, clients are often confused on which approach may be best for their animal companions. And the short answer to this complex question is that it will often vary from animal to animal, as well as even vary within that same animal's life time. For example, conventional medicine usually shines when there is an acute crisis situation that arises for a given animal, including severe traumatic events, where there are possible fractures and/or open wounds, as well as if an animal is risk for severe dehydration, as can be seen with severe diarrhea and/or vomiting, which may accompany serious diagnoses such as Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE), or acute pancreatitis. In the first type of situation, as may occur when dogs or cats are hit by cars or in dog fights, a full workup including radiographs, blood work, and intravenous fluids and antibiotics are often needed to initially stabilize the patient. If there are fractures, various types of stabilization are often required from splints to orthopedic surgery, with pin and/or plate placement to stabilize the fractures. Certainly, homeopathic remedies can also help in these situations to help accelerate bone and/or wound healing in the days and weeks ahead (as we will be speaking about in future blogs), but initial conventional medical stabilization is critical for a successful case outcome in these situations. When I work my holistic clients from around the country, I will often counsel them on the appropriate use of conventional medicine in these emergency situations, by what I call the ABC acronym of emergency medicine. That means if there are any disease states that affect the Airways (such as acute asthmatic attacks, collapsing trachea flare-ups, suspected heart disease, etc), Breathing (if gum color is no longer pink and/or pet is gasping as can occur with these situations), or Circulation (as can accompany states of shock and dehydration, which may need shock doses of intravenous fluids, such as the above situations, or if there is possible obstruction of the digestive or urinary tract from foreign body ingestion or urinary tract stones, acute neurological or seizure events), then it is best to seek out an excellent conventional veterinary medical facility to address these acute emergency situations. I teach my clients about these "ABC's" of emergency conventional medical stabilization, and when to use their local conventional veterinarian.

However, the decision may become a bit more confusing for an animal guardian when addressing chronic disease tendencies in their animals. The short answer here is that it will depend on both the historical details of the individual case, (in whether that patient has been managed with prior conventional drug therapies, such as antibiotics, steroids, insulin or other hormone therapies), as well as the patience of the animal guardian, and the ability to tolerate the localized inflammations, discharges, and/or return of suppressed symptoms, that are actually viewed as important aspects of healing from a holistic medical perspective. This latter aspect can be quite tricky for animal guardians to navigate, as this will involve the appearance of symptoms in the healing process, which animal guardians may interpret as suffering in their animal companions. Our society has certainly become conditioned both for our own and our animals' health care for quick- fix relief of symptoms when comfort is compromised. For example, a dog with severely itchy ears or the appearance of allergic hot spots on the skin may be quickly relieved with topical and/or systemic cortisone/antibiotic formulations, as well as with the newer drugs now available with Apoquel and/or Cytopoint injections. Working through these symptoms, holistically speaking, will take much more time and patience, in not only using more gentle and soothing agents topically, but in slowly working on strengthening and/or balancing the immune system and detoxification mechanisms of the body with oral herbal therapies, homeopathics, and/or dietary therapies. The goal of holistic treatment is to gradually lessen the susceptibility to future flare-ups, of not only the skin and ear inflammation, but other flare-ups of disease elsewhere in the body, which holistic and homeopathic practitioners view as part of a single chronic disease imbalance affecting various body organ systems at different points over the life of the animal. The conventional medical perspective looks at organ systems like the circulatory system, nervous system, and the digestive tracts as separate parts or compartments of the body that are addressed separately, often by seeing various specialists, who study and practice only on those individual systems. Holistic or homeopathic practitioners treat all of these systems as part of ONE body in health, and ONE DISEASE process pervading the whole organism, even when symptoms in these various parts appear at the same or different times. For example, holistic practitioners will often work on the digestive tract health of the animal, which is viewed as the gateway to the health of other organ systems, in what is being increasingly recognized as a "leaky gut" present in many animals. This "leaky gut" may result in recurrent skin/ear disease, allergic airway disease, or even neurological symptoms, including seizures or behavioral changes. At the end of this article, I will include some excellent holistic wellness supplements for many animal companions that may help improve the health of the gut and possibly symptoms in these other systems. So whereas conventional medical drugs or surgical procedures provide quicker relief of symptoms, and more rapid return to function, future relapses are possible, and which may require higher doses or additional medications to address these future flare-ups; Not to mention the risk of side effects seen with higher doses or additional drug therapies. With all of these factors being considered, it is important for animal guardians, who are interested in incorporating holistic approaches to their animals' health care regimen, to consult with veterinarians properly trained in both conventional and holistic medicine, and can help in those decisions of which may be more appropriate for a given animal and situation.

In most situations, the following type of supplements can help improve the health of the digestive tract, and may lessen the tendency to the development of a "leaky gut" situation. For general prevention, I will typically recommend BOTH an excellent quality probiotic (in order to help maintain optimal healthy gut bacteria), digestive tract enzymes (to help with digestion of most processed or commercial pet food diets), and an omega 3 fatty acid, to help with any low-level gastrointestinal inflammation. My favorite products here are the outstanding high potency VetriScience Vetri Mega Probiotic, Naturvet Digestive Enzymes, and the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet. I have used this trio of products together for years with often outstanding clinical results in patients.