Conventional and Holistic Veterinarians Working Together

Keep your options open when directing your dog’s healthcare.


Every day the already dazzling array of options for caring for your dog grows even more. There are myriad modalities in the realm of holistic care, including complementary and alternative options, as well as conventional veterinary medicine, with its low- and high-tech diagnostic and treatment procedures. Which way do you go when your dog has a health concern?

Choosing caregivers

Dog Health Care

There are a number of ways to integrate holistic and conventional care for your dog. Some veterinarians practice “integrative medicine,” using both holistic modalities and conventional care, in a fully equipped clinic. This situation is the easiest to manage because you are only working with one practitioner. “Unfortunately, some practitioners with [full] clinics are sometimes more conventional that you would hope,” says holistic veterinarian Eugene Aversa, DVM, of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

There are an increasing number of veterinary practices that include vets who practice conventional veterinary medicine and some who use holistic therapies. While you may work directly with two or more vets, these integrated clinics simplify sharing information between the vets. They facilitate active involvement of all parties in the care of your dog.

Unfortunately, these clinics tend to be the exception and not the rule. If you aren’t lucky enough to live close to such a clinic, it’s best to form your own team of veterinarians who are willing to work together. If you are already working with a veterinarian, and you have a strong relationship, open a dialogue with him or her about bringing another practitioner into the mix.

“The thing to do is find a [conventional] veterinarian who’s open minded to holistic and complementary approaches – more and more are,” says Allen Schoen, DVM, who practices integrative holistic animal health care in Sherman, Connecticut. Keep in mind that it is just as important that your holistic veterinarian is open to conventional diagnostic procedures and treatments if you decide to pursue them.

Regardless of whether your primary veterinarian is holistically oriented or very conventional, know his or her limitations regarding care for your dog. What are the clinic hours – is there any availability for emergencies? Does your veterinarian have surgery facilities? What about access to labs and other diagnostic procedures?

How some choose
For Janine Adams, of St. Louis, Missouri, her first call is almost always to holistic veterinarian, Dr. W. Konrad Kruesi. “Unless it’s a life-threatening emergency, I always try to contact Dr. Kruesi before I do anything,” she says. A holistic practitioner based in North Clarendon, Vermont, Dr. Kruesi provides Adams with critical initial guidance on what diagnostic tests to ask for, what treatments to consider immediately, and which to forego.

Adams second call is to her local, conventional veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Tate. He acts as the eyes, ears, nose, and hands for Dr. Kruesi, and runs blood work and any other diagnostic tests that might be necessary. Adams says, “I’m fortunate that both of my vets are very open and willing to work with each other within these parameters.”

After a thorough exam and necessary diagnostic tests at Dr. Tate’s clinic, Adams shares all of the results with Dr. Kruesi. He then formulates the holistically oriented treatment.

Lauren McCall, of Portland, Oregon, usually opts for a trip to her conventional veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Then, depending on the situation, may choose to go with the allopathic recommendations or consult a holistic veterinarian.

“While I generally think holistically, I’m not opposed to a short, sharp shock [with medication] to get the situation under control, then treat the issue holistically,” explains McCall.

When her Bernese Mountain Dog, Byron, was recently diagnosed with cancer, this was the exact approach McCall used. First she took Byron to her conventional veterinarian, who used standard conventional methods for diagnosing the tumor. Then she consulted with a veterinary oncologist to determine the optimal treatment plan for Byron. The tumor was surgically removed, and Byron’s diet was changed and supplemented. However, McCall opted not to pursue further conventional treatments.

“The oncologist wasn’t sure that chemotherapy would be of much benefit to Byron, and it would likely be very difficult for him physically and emotionally. We decided to consult with a holistic veterinarian and pursue an alternate treatment in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of the cancer,” she explains. So far, six months after diagnosis, he remains cancer-free.

In Connecticut, Dr. Schoen focuses on complementary and alternative modalities, but he requires that all of his clients also have a conventional primary care veterinarian. “Whenever possible, I like to have a ‘Western’ diagnosis for a client,” says Schoen. With that, he can then help the client explore the options of conventional versus complementary treatments, including the risks and benefits of each.

Dr. Schoen believes it is crucial to remain unattached to any particular modality or therapy, as he quips, “Don’t let your dogma kill my karma.” Instead, he always asks himself, what’s best to help this animal?

New Mexico’s Dr. Aversa also looks for a conventional diagnosis with a patient, to determine the best course of treatment in any particular situation. “Most of the time it’s pretty clear which road to take,” he explains. Just because you get a Western diagnosis, he says, doesn’t mean you have to use the conventional treatment.

Dr. Aversa may opt for a completely holistic regime, including homeopathy, nutrition, and chiropractic care, or, if appropriate, focus more on a conventional treatment, although he nearly always adds in some level of holistic therapy as support.

Chronic health conditions
When Janine Adams’ late Poodle, Kramer, developed several autoimmune conditions, her conventional veterinarian was running out of options and recommended that she seek advice from a holistic practitioner. After some exploration, she began working with Dr. Kruesi.

Many dog owners converted to holistic care after dealing with chronic health conditions, for which their conventional medical practitioners had no answers. Or, side effects from the allopathic treatments were too detrimental.

For instance, in the case of allergies, Dr. Schoen is likely to try natural approaches first, such as diet changes and supplementation, rather than the conventional allergy treatments including steroids and antihistamines. “Although, each animal is different and each client is different,” he says.

While many chronic health conditions can be successfully treated with holistic or alternative care, Dr. Aversa says, “there are plenty of instances where chronic disease or circumstances require conventional care.”

This is the case with my dogs. Both have Addison’s disease, an autoimmune condition that destroys the adrenal gland, rendering it unable to produce certain hormones. Booker requires conventional medication, as well as regular blood tests, to stay alive. At the same time, he’s received acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, herbs, nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies, and other holistic treatments over the years to improve his health.

By combining conventional and holistic approaches, Booker’s medications have been reduced to less than one-third the normal dose for a dog his size. And he’s a happier, healthier dog than if he were just receiving treatments from one side or the other.

Acute crises
“In a true emergency, you shouldn’t be putzing around with remedies at home,” says Dr. Aversa. It’s better to have a veterinarian, holistic or conventional, look at the animal, to ensure you aren’t dealing with a life-threatening condition.

When Adams’ dog, Kramer, developed bloat she rushed him to the emergency clinic. At the clinic, they took X-rays and were successful in decompressing his stomach. He was kept under observation for the night, and released the next day.

In the morning, Adams consulted with Dr. Kruesi. He provided valuable advice to aid Kramer in a swift recovery, and also helped Adams and her husband decide against prophylactic gastropexy surgery (stomach tacking) to prevent torsion in the event of a future bloat episode.

Some people may be reluctant to tell their conventional veterinarian that they want to (or are already) consulting with a holistic veterinarian. And the opposite may be true as well, for those using a holistic practition-er who are interested in pursuing a conventional Western diagnosis or treatment protocol.

“It can be hard to stand up to an authority figure, but we are our animals’ advocates,” explains Adams. “Besides, when you are up front with your conventional veterinarian about how you prefer to treat your animals, you have the opportunity to inform and educate him or her – helping him or her understand another way of thinking.”

When Adams moved back to St. Louis after a four year absence, she had completely changed the way she cared for her dogs. She contacted her former veterinarian, Dr. Tate, and explained to him that she now considered holistic veterinarian Dr. Kruesi to be the “primary” veterinarian for her dogs, though she needed a local veterinarian in St. Louis to provide physical exams and lab tests and any other services her dogs may need. Not only did Dr. Tate accept the parameters, he has referred clients to Dr. Kruesi. Not all doctors would be so accepting and accommodating.

The most important thing to remember is be informed in advance. This way you can make the best decision possible at the time. Know you have options – and, know your options!

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