Over the years, holistic veterinary care services have become more popular and added on as part of many treatment plans. Laser therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic services, and homeopathy are a few of the modalities that have been sought out by pet owners, and even traditional veterinarians. Traditional methods for treating ailments, such as arthritis, anxiety, muscle pain, and more haven’t always sufficed and additional therapeutic treatments can help.
Veterinary medicine is so broad in terms of the treatment options available for pets. Given the advancement of veterinary medicine, there is also an organization focused on holistic care. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association formed in 1982, to advance and educate people about holistic veterinary medicine.
According to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, “Holistic medicine, by its very nature, is humane to the core. The techniques used in holistic medicine are gentle, minimally invasive, and incorporate patient well-being and stress reduction. Holistic thinking is centered on love, empathy, and respect. It means taking in the whole picture of the patient.” (1)
Some pets dislike visiting the veterinarian. Some pets emphatically dislike visiting the veterinarian. All pets require veterinary care to maintain good health, so even emphatically displeased pets must become patients, and Bear was one of the most emphatic patients we’d seen. When Bear arrived at the veterinary clinic, he couldn’t have stood more than a few feet tall. A Miniature Pinscher, he stood his ground in the exam room, nonetheless. When we entered the exam room, he let out a low growl befitting his namesake. Bear’s fear threatened to impede his veterinary care because he snapped when we tried to touch him. Then entered Andy, a behavior consultant and certified Professional Dog Trainer — Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). Andy joined our veterinary practice in 2016. When he and Bear began their one-hour training sessions, Bear’s owner would have to leave the room. As soon as his owner left, Bear no longer felt the need to protect her. He relaxed. Then Andy could get to work.
Ten years ago, fear-free practices weren’t explicitly labeled, but several practiced low stress handling techniques to reduce the anxiety and fear a pet experienced at the veterinary hospital and others not so much. Labeling a pet as fractious or dangerous and using caution because the pet would usually bite indicated how the pet would behave in the clinic.
According to an article in 2014 by DVM360, “Fear, by definition, is an emotion that induces an animal to avoid situations and activities that may be dangerous. The emotional response occurs when an animal perceives that something or someone is dangerous. The key word here is perceives. Anxiety is the anticipation of future danger that may be unknown, imagined, or real. It can result in physiologic responses similar to those associated with fear. While a certain amount of anxiety or fear may be adaptive in some situations, an animal that experiences fear or anxiety frequently, especially if unable to safely escape from fear-inducing stimuli, will begin to suffer from stress and its effects.” (2)
At the time, struggling to restrain a patient or enlisting multiple assistants and technicians to help hold down a pet for a nail trim seemed normal. Sometimes scratches and bites occurred. Dr. Marty Becker, also known as “America’s Veterinarian,” stated in a 2016 interview, “Everything gets organized for the convenience of the veterinarian or the staff or to please the clients. Everything. But if you organize the practice to be compassionate to the animals first, you know as well as I do, you will be making a lot of changes.” (3)
As time progressed and new industry practices surfaced, the idea of “low-stress handling” and “fear-free practices” emerged. The emotional well-being of the pet and the case manager started to align, and proactive approaches alleviated the emotional distress both parties felt. Studies have shown that pets coming to a vet’s office experience very high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress. I have experienced cats jumping off the table, running up the walls, and trying to attack veterinary personnel when taken out of their carriers. Similarly, difficult to handle dogs would buck, kick, lunge, and try to bite without warning and on top of that didn’t allow safe placement of a muzzle.
Pets have become more important and integral members of the family. Pet patients require pet owners and veterinary professionals to become more intuitive about how they perceive certain situations. As a pet owner and a veterinary professional, it isn’t okay with me that my pet or pet patient experiences fear, anxiety, and stress when visiting the veterinarian’s office because these experiences will stay with that pet forever.
Pet behaviorists and trainers have started investing time in correcting behavioral issues and focusing on counterconditioning to create happy experiences. Helping a pet overcome their fears provides so much joy and happiness. It’s a rewarding experience and allows the veterinary team, pet owners, and the people in the pets’ lives to contribute to the solution, not the problem.
Considering the emotional well-being of pets has started to become more commonplace, and as an industry, continuing working toward this trend will lead to better patient visits and emotional responses to the veterinary team from the pet patient. In conjunction with considering the emotional well-being of a pet patient, additional avenues for medical conditions should be explored such as chiropractic and acupuncture for joint and muscle pain, as well as homeopathy for those pets who may not respond to traditional treatment methods.
For assistance finding holistic care veterinarians, speak to your veterinary team today. Who knows, they may even have someone in-training or on staff!
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, A Paw Partnership. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me via my webpage, or connect with me on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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- 2020. American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. What is Holistic Veterinary Medicine? https://www.ahvma.org/what-is-holistic-veterinary-medicine/.
- “The Physiologic Effects of Fear,” DVM360, August 1, 2014. https://www.dvm360.com/view/physiologic-effects-fear.
- Marty Becker, “Fear Free Pet Visits — How to take the Pet out of Petrified,” Fear Free, LLC, January 14, 2016.