In the past decade, the word “holistic” has become more commonly used. However, we are frequently asked what this really means.  Holistic medicine means an approach to medicine that looks at the body as a whole system, rather than as a symptom.  This separates holistic from the traditional western medicine that we have grown accustomed to here in the United States over the past century.

Traditional or western medicine is driven by identifying a symptom and choosing a drug that stops that symptom from occurring. For example, if the pet is experiencing diarrhea, an anti-diarrheal drug is chosen to stop diarrhea.  If the pet is experiencing an ear infection, a drug to stop the pain and infection in the ear is used.  Traditional medicine is wonderful for emergency care. In an emergency, the body is malfunctioning, and we do want to stop those symptoms and stabilize the patient. We need to move them out of crisis mode and this is done quite successfully with drugs.  There is a place for traditional medicine. However, there is also an important place for holistic medicine, which works to reset the bodies systems to work together again, in full function. Holistic medicine works to keep the body from malfunctioning in the first place…or if it does malfunction, it works to reset the body back towards health and to works to keep it there.

The word “holistic” is really an umbrella term that refers to all medicine that is not traditional/Western medicine. It would include nutrition, chiropractic, acupuncture, supplementation, rehab therapy, massage therapy, reiki, animal communication, essential oils, flower essences, EFT, medical Qi Gong therapy, Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, herbal medicine, and many different forms of energy work. The really cool thing about holistic medicine is that there are so many options! Traditional medicine only works if there is a drug to match the symptoms, and it works. But, if the drug isn’t working anymore, there aren’t a whole lot more options.

Holistic medicine has been around and documented for thousands of years. Traditional medicine has only been around for a couple hundred if that.  It’s funny that we trust traditional medicine over holistic, here in America, despite our constant demands for “evidence-based” medicine. The evidence for holistic medicine goes back much farther than traditional medicine. The “evidence-based” proof for holistic is also not studies that are done by corporate America or drug companies, who are really, ultimately, just trying to create a study that proves their drug works so they can sell it to you. There are, of course, inherent flaws in this process.

Let’s explore the different holistic options in a bit more depth.


Unfortunately, nutrition is the most overlooked medicine of all. This is something that we can all offer our pets, and for some reason, in America, we believe that healthy foods are “yucky” and that a “treat” has to contain “unhealthy” ingredients in order to be a “treat.”  I do understand why we have evolved to this way of thinking.  Thanks to Monsanto, et. al. the healthy foods have been so altered by genetics and raised commercially that they actually do taste “yucky.” There is not only any flavor or taste to these foods, but they also have no nutritional value anymore. So, there is really no reason to eat them. Sad, really.  Your pet’s body (and yours) needs these foods from nature in order to thrive. The United States is the most overfed, and undernourished country in the world. And this applies to our pets as well. We see more allergies, arthritis and other orthopedic issues, cancer, and obesity in our pets than ever before.  Nutrition in America has really become something that s only important to the athletes, and people who need their bodies healthy to perform their work (i.e. firemen, armed services, police, etc). The rest of us end up overweight and eventually ill because of our eating choices.  So, do our pets. This needs to change, as health care costs for our pets rise, we need to rethink our pet’s diet and work to keep them from getting sick in the first place. This starts by giving the body what it expects and what it needs. REAL food. Not food product, but actual real food, in balanced proportions for proper health. We need to start thinking about food, not as a treat, but rather as a medicine. In China, the word “food” and the word “medicine” is the same word. That is because they understand that what food goes into the body can either be a poison (leading to disease), or medicine that promotes strength and a healthy, disease-free body.


In animals, we call this “Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (VSMT).”  The goal of adjusting the spine is to support full nervous system function. The truth is that the nervous system rules the body.  If the nervous system is not thriving, the body cannot perform at full function. The nervous system tells the muscles to contract in order for our bodies to move, it tells the GI tract to digest the food, it tells the bladder to release the urine when it’s time, and it even tells the body to make antibodies to fight infections. The body cannot do anything until the nervous system tells it to do so.  The main pathway from our body to the brain to the body is in the spinal canal. By aligning the spine, we have a positive impact on the function of the nervous system, and therefore the whole body.  VMST is used for pain, just like humans, but it can also be used to prevent dysfunction if used on a routine basis.  VSMT is also great for things like urinary incontinence in older animals.  VSMT adjustments also boost the immune system and can be useful in treating viral infections.

Chiropractic must only be performed on animals by human chiropractors that have been certified to work on animals. The animal is quadrupeds with different spinal needs than humans. They also get different diseases to be aware of.  VSMT can be performed by a veterinarian who has had continuing education to learn how to properly perform a spinal adjustment.


Acupuncture is a wonderful, natural way to reduce pain and inflammation.

Acupuncture is one component of traditional Chinese medicine.  It works in a similar fashion to VSMT, in that it is the nervous system that is the system most affected by treatment.  The acupuncturist will make a diagnosis and choose acupuncture/acupressure points that help to reset the nervous system that is unbalanced and causing the patient’s symptoms. Needles or pressure are then applied to these points. The nervous system is reset and the patient feels better.  It is surprising how many animals do enjoy their treatments.

Acupuncture in pets needs to be performed by an acupuncturist who has also been formally trained to work on animals, or by a veterinarian who has completed a certification in acupuncture for animals.


Supplementation is pretty much required, in order to attain true health, in America.  Our food chain has been so altered, over such a long time, that it is nutritionally deficient.  This means that you may consume a spinach salad, thinking you are getting good vitamins and minerals in your meal.  However, due to commercial farming practices and GMO seeds, that plate of spinach only has 40% of the nutrients that it had 50 years ago.  This is true of all our fruits and veggies.  So, yes, supplementation is important.  But not all supplements are created equally.  For example, glucosamine is a commonly used supplement for joint health.  Since it is commonly recognized as a supplement that works, there is a large market for it.  This means that there are companies out there looking to sell you glucosamine just to make a buck.  Sadly, there are limited regulations on supplements, which means that is actually legal to label a product as glucosamine and it doesn’t even have to have absorbable glucosamine in it. Working with a veterinarian trained in supplementation will help you sort out what products your pet would benefit from.

Rehab Therapy

This modality is really beneficial for pets that have had an injury and need to recover and heal from it. It can also be used to prevent injury in the first place.  Rehab is a wonderful treatment that has saved many animals. However, it is tedious and time-consuming and this does tend to deter people from offering this to their pet.  This is unfortunate, as some animals are euthanized as a result of their injuries that rehab could have helped.

Massage Therapy

Massage is not only a treat for your pet, but can be used as a treatment for pain.  Massage is even something that pet owners can be trained to provide at home for their own pets.  The trained pet massage therapist can determine a proper massage technique and routine designed for your individual pet’s needs and you can offer this treatment to your pet at home. This not only aids the pet physically but increases the human-animal bond between you and your furry friend.

Essential Oils, Flower Essences

These items are tools that can be used as medicine for a wide variety of symptoms. These are medicines. Medicine means something that is used to treat a symptom, to provide relief to the patient. The intent is that the product treats the symptom and gives the body time to heal itself, so the symptom doesn’t return.  If the symptoms we are treating with these products are persisting, we need to get to the bottom of the problem and treat that. A holistic veterinarian can help you with this, aiding to return your pet to health.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine is a style of traditional medicine based on more than 2,500 years of Chinese medical practice. TCM encompasses many different practices, including acupuncture, moxibustion (burning an herb above the skin to apply heat to acupuncture points), Chinese herbal medicine, tui na (Chinese therapeutic massage), dietary therapy, and tai chi and qi gong (practices that combine specific movements or postures, coordinated breathing, and mental focus). TCM is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 2,500 years. Traditional systems of medicine also exist in other East and South Asian countries, including Japan (where the traditional herbal medicine is called Kampo) and Korea. Some of these systems have been influenced by TCM and are similar to it in some ways, but each has developed distinctive features of its own.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world’s oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India.

It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. But treatments may be geared toward specific health problems.

Students of CAM therapy believe that everything in the universe – dead or alive – is connected. If your mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe, you have good health. When something disrupts this balance, you get sick. Among the things that can upset this balance are genetic or birth defects, injuries, climate and seasonal change, age, and emotions.

Herbal Medicine

There are quite a number of different herbal medicine approaches. There is Western herbal medicine, which is much like the Western medicine itself, which matches the herb to the symptom, rather than the drug to the symptom.  This is usually an approach that utilizes a single herb, rather than a formula or mixture of herbs to treat illness.

Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicines do reach to herbs to treat symptoms as well but are often a mixture of herbs and foods used to achieve the goal of overall health, in addition to treating the problematic symptom that is making the patient uncomfortable.

Energy Work

Energy work is such a broad category, that we cannot list all options here. The idea behind this medicine is that the body is an organized system of energy. When it is properly organized, we experience health, strength, and wellbeing. When the energy system gets disorganized for any reason, a disease state is a result. The energy worker identifies the disorganized system and works to reset the normal energy pattern in the body. The end result is that the patient feels well and moves towards health.  Energy work is well received by pets and humans alike. Examples of energy work include Medical Qi Gong therapy, animal communication, EFT, and reiki.

There are so many different ways to assist the body in being healthy. The body can only “do the best it can, with what it is given.”  Given our busy, hectic American lifestyles, the body doesn’t usually get all it needs to perform at full function. In the American culture, we don’t eat right, we don’t exercise enough, we don’t sleep enough, and neither do our pets.  When the body doesn’t get what it needs to thrive, it eventually breaks down and disease sets it.  If we reach holistic medicine and lifestyles, before disease sets in, we can prevent those pains and discomforts. Or, if the disease is already setting in, reach to holistic medicine to undo this disease process before the body is in crisis. Get help from a holistic care provider early on for best overall results.