Did you know that the average pet only lives to about two-thirds of their life expectancy? This alarming statistic haunted me in my early years as a veterinarian. Day in and day out, I found myself treating condition after condition. Sure, I was adept at it—after all, this skill set paid the bills and was the bedrock of my practice. Yet, a decade into this routine, I was frustrated by endless encounters with distraught families who were shocked to learn their young pet – barely in the prime of their lives -was ravaged by cancer and chronic illnesses. 

It was a heart-wrenching reality that begged the question: Could there be a way to prevent these ailments before they take hold? My quest for answers led me down the path of Chinese medicine, and around the same time, I crossed paths with Dr. Andrew Weil. Now regarded as a pioneer, Dr. Weil was then considered quite the outsider. His ideas on Integrative Medicine resonated with me, sparking a passion for learning more about Integrative Medicine and how and what I should incorporate into my own practice in order to help pets live longer lives. 

What Is Integrative Veterinary Medicine?

We have to start by answering the question – what is Integrative Veterinary Medicine? In essence, Integrative Veterinary Medicine seeks to marry the precision of Western scientific medicine with the holistic insight of alternative therapies. It’s a comprehensive approach to health, incorporating treatments like acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, shockwave therapy, rehabilitation or physical therapy, food therapy, gut biome health, and PRP. The cornerstone of this approach is treating the whole animal, not just isolated diseases.

Despite being relatively new to the mainstream, this approach has rapidly gained traction among pet owners and veterinary professionals alike. However, as with any emerging field, myths and misconceptions abound, fueled by a lack of understanding and skepticism towards the unfamiliar. It is crucial, then, to dispel these myths by shedding light on the science and success stories behind Integrative Veterinary Medicine. 

My goal is always to help pet owners make wise decisions when it comes to the health of their pets – because I know the emotional and mental toll dealing with a sickly pet can have on an owner. 

Myth #1: Integrative Medicine Is Unscientific

One of the most pervasive myths is that integrative approaches are unscientific or lack empirical support. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Decades ago, the notion of combining traditional Western medicine with alternative treatments was often dismissed by the medical community. Critics labeled these practices as unscientific, relegating them to the fringes of healthcare. However, as the body of scientific research in this area has grown, so too has the acknowledgment of its value. Today, Integrative Medicine is not only recognized but embraced in human healthcare, signaling a shift in how we understand and approach healing.

This evolution is mirrored in veterinary medicine, where an increasing number of studies and clinical trials highlight the efficacy of integrative treatments. Acupuncture, for instance, has been shown to manage pain and inflammation effectively, offering a non-invasive alternative to pharmaceutical interventions. Similarly, herbal medicine has garnered attention for its ability to support treatment of chronic conditions, providing relief where conventional medicine may fall short.

I’ve also spent decades practicing Integrative Veterinary Medicine and have witnessed firsthand the remarkable improvements in pets previously burdened by chronic illnesses such as allergies, diarrhea, and the debilitating effects of valley fever. Through the judicious application of integrative therapies alongside conventional treatments, we’ve seen pets thrive, regaining their vitality and zest for life.

Myth #2: It’s All or Nothing

Another common misconception is that pet owners must choose between conventional and integrative veterinary care. In reality, integrative medicine is not an alternative to but an extension of and complementary to traditional medicine. It’s not about abandoning traditional treatments but enhancing them with alternative options that address the pet’s overall well-being and help increase their longevity. 

Integrative care begins with a diagnosis and looking at the whole animal – their diet, exercise, environment, stress level, lifestyle, etc.

My favorite example of this was one dog I treated who had been to numerous vets and tried a number of western/traditional protocols – diets, medicines, etc. to help treat severe allergies. Nothing they did seemed to help much so by the time they brought their dog to us, they didn’t have much hope that anything would work. 

We took a step back and started looking at this pup’s microbiome, analyzing his diet, and lifestyle and were able to not just manage but reverse symptoms. I share this because if you don’t address these root causes – like inflammatory foods – no traditional medicine will truly help and will definitely not lead to healing. 

Myth #3: Integrative Treatments Are Only for Chronic Conditions

While it’s true that integrative therapies can provide remarkable relief for chronic conditions, their utility doesn’t stop there. Preventive care is a fundamental aspect of integrative medicine, aiming to maintain health and prevent illness before it starts. It also helps increase a pet’s longevity – which is something I am extremely passionate about. 

Sad Fact: Did you know that the life expectancy of a golden retriever used to be 13 years back in the 1970s, but now that number has dwindled down to 7? 

I don’t push for an integrative approach just because. I know the deep impact chronic health conditions and a lowered life expectancy have on pet owners firsthand. It is so heartbreaking as a veterinarian to care for a pet ravaged by cancer at 5 or 6 years old – especially when it may have been preventable. 

Myth #4: Integrative Medicine Is Prohibitively Expensive

Cost concerns often deter pet owners from exploring integrative options. However, when considering the long-term benefits of preventive care and the potential to reduce the need for expensive treatments for chronic conditions, integrative medicine can be cost-effective. For example, one of the most effective treatments for leaky gut which improves a dog or cat’s microbiome costs about $100 – $200 per month. The human equivalent of the very same treatment is $17,500 for a single treatment! 

While not the least expensive treatment, this $100 per month treatment can prevent chronic diarrhea and/or improve allergies, which would mean less costly vet visits and ongoing harmful medications throughout the course of your dog’s life. 

It’s also important to note that many therapies can be integrated gradually or tailored to fit a range of budgets.

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