5 Big Differences between Holistic and Conventional Veterinary Care

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by Jenny Smiechowski

You use holistic medicine to support your health, so when it comes to the health of your furry or feathered friends, it only makes sense to take a more natural approach too. But if you’ve only ever brought your pet to a traditional vet, you may be wondering what to expect from your first visit to a holistic vet. How will it differ from your usual vet visit?

Well, traditional and holistic veterinary care differ in a number of ways, just like traditional and holistic medical care for people. In fact, they take vastly different approaches to diagnosing and treating disease. Here’s a quick rundown of the five biggest ways a holistic vet differs from the traditional vets you’ve visited in the past:

A holistic vet considers the health of your pet’s whole body.

If you bring your pet to a holistic vet because they have a sore paw, he or she will examine your pet’s paw but will also look at your pet’s overall state of health to see how that’s influencing your pet’s current ailment (1). Conventional veterinary care, on the other hand, takes a reductionist approach to the body and health (similar to conventional medical care for humans) (2). This means that when a symptom manifests in a certain body part (like your pet’s paw, for example) conventional vets only search for the root cause within that body part (3).

A holistic vet uses drugs and surgery as a last resort.

When you visit a traditional vet, they almost always rely on drugs and surgery to help your pet overcome health challenges (2). That’s because prescription medications and surgical procedures are the primary treatments that traditional vets are trained to offer you when they attend veterinary school. Holistic vets take the opposite approach by avoiding these treatments as much as possible in favor of gentler, less invasive options (4). That’s not to say a holistic vet will never turn to drugs or surgery. But they typically view these as a last resort, only to be used when all other options fail or your pet’s life is at risk.

A holistic vet uses more diverse treatments.

Since holistic vets don’t turn to drugs and surgery as often, they need an array of alternative treatments to offer their furry and feathered patients…and they have quite a few! The term “holistic” refers to any treatment that treats the whole animal—body, mind, and emotions—rather than treating individual body parts (5). Therefore, a lot of alternative healing modalities can be categorized as “holistic,” including acupuncture, herbal supplements, homeopathic medicine, chiropractic, aromatherapy, flower essences and nutrient therapy (6). Interestingly enough, some of these treatments offer better results for common pet health problems than drugs and surgery. In fact, one study found that curcumin, an active compound in the herb turmeric, can reduce inflammation more efficiently in dogs with osteoarthritis than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (7). Different holistic vets will offer a different combination of treatments and therapies, so if you have a specific treatment style in mind, do your research to find a holistic vet near you that offers it.

A holistic vet may believe in less frequent vaccination.

If you’re a pet owner (especially a dog owner), then you’re probably used to making a yearly visit to your vet for a round of vaccinations. While vaccinations are important (and in some cases legally required), there’s been evidence that over-vaccination in the conventional veterinary industry could be taking a toll on the health of our pets (7). In fact, your conventional vet may have already reduced your dog’s vaccination schedule for certain vaccines from once a year to once every three years because of increasing evidence that some yearly vaccinations are unnecessary (8). When you make an appointment with a holistic veterinarian, you can ask about his or her philosophy on vaccinations so you can determine the vaccination schedule that’s right your pet.

A holistic vet understands the importance of a healthy diet.

Besides the diverse list of holistic treatment options mentioned above, one of the most effective and widely used treatments among holistic veterinarians is diet. Just like people, animals today eat a processed diet that’s a far cry from what their bodies are equipped to handle. Many of these conventional pet foods contain ingredients like grains, corn, and soy that can lead to inflammation and health problems (9). As a result, holistic vets may suggest you feed your pet a raw food diet rather than the dry kibble and canned food you’re used to. Or they may take a more moderate approach and suggest you switch to a higher-quality, natural canned food and kibble. Traditional vets are unlikely to offer much nutritional guidance, even though it’s one of the best ways to improve your pet’s overall health. That’s because they only receive a small amount of nutrition training in veterinary school (10).

Before you make the switch to a holistic vet, it’s important to know that both conventional and holistic veterinary care serves a purpose in the health and wellness of your pet. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to use both. In life-threatening situations, conventional veterinary care can save your pet’s life. Conventional veterinary care also offers many diagnostic tools that can help you figure out exactly what’s causing your pet’s ailments.

Luckily, many holistic vets use a combination of traditional and alternative approaches, so you get the best of both worlds. Of course, if you have a conventional vet you like and trust, you could also go to your usual vet for diagnostics and turn to a holistic vet for alternative treatment options. Whatever works best for you and your animal companion. If you need help finding a holistic vet near you, check out the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s searchable database.

Jenny Blogger Profile (2)


1. Asp, Karen. “Should You Switch To A Holistic Vet?” Prevention.com. 16 Feb. 2012. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/alternative-treatments-pets;.

2. Dym, Michael Dr. “Holistic vs. Conventional Veterinary Medicine.” 1-800-PetMeds. 2 Dec. 2011. Web 6 Jun. 2017.<https://blog.petmeds.com/ask-the-vet/holistic-vs-conventional-veterinary-medicine/;.

3. Ahn, Andrew C., et al. “The Limits of Reductionism in Medicine: Could Systems Biology Offer an Alternative?” PLoS Medicine. 2006 Jun; 3(6): e208. doi: 1371/journal.pmed.0030208. Web 7 Jun. 2017.

4. “What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine?” American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. N.D. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <https://www.ahvma.org/what-is-holistic-veterinary-medicine/;.

5. “Holistic.” Merriam-Webster.com. N.D. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/holistic;.

6. “Holistic Veterinary Therapies.” American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. N.D. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <https://www.ahvma.org/holistic-veterinary-therapies/;.

7. Colitti M, et al. “Transcriptome modification of white blood cells after dietary administration of curcumin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in osteoarthritic affected dogs.” Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 30 Jun 2012;147(3-4):136-46. doi: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2012.04.001. Web 15 Jun. 2017.

8. Rodier, Lisa. “Beware of Over-Vaccinating Your Dog.” Whole Dog Journal. 6 Oct. 2016. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/13_8/features/Over-Vaccinating-Your-Dog_20036-1.html;.

9. Jergler, Don. “Find Out Why Once Every Three Years is the Trend in Vaccinations.” Veterinary Practice News. 2 Apr. 2015. Web 6 Jun. 2017. <http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/Find-Out-Why-Once-Every-Three-Years-is-the-Trend-in-Vaccinations/;.

10. Marion, Kristi. “Is Grain Free Dog Food the Way to Go?” Canine Journal. 11 Apr. 2017. Web 8 Jun. 2017. <https://www.caninejournal.com/grain-free-dog-food/;.

11. Alinovi, Cathy Dr. “Why is Veterinary Nutrition Different?” 1 Aug. 2016. Web 8 Jun. 2017. <http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/why-is-veterinary-nutrition-different/;.

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