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Why You’ll Want to Discuss Holistic Therapies with Veterinary Practices

By Pam Foster
March, 2018

The other day I ran into my friend Grace, who told me about her recent search for a practice that offers holistic medicine. She had just moved to North Carolina and was delighted to find a practice that offers traditional AND holistic medicine.

She said, “I want my dog to have the same access to natural health supplements, laser therapy, acupuncture, and other non-traditional therapies that I have in human medicine.”

Grace is not alone. Across the US and beyond, a growing number of pet parents are looking for natural products and alternative healthcare solutions.

With client demand at an all-time high, as well as documented cases and testimonials supporting holistic medicine, why do so many practices still resist or turn away from natural and holistic modalities?

To help you — the Distribution Sales Representative (DSR) — understand this question and consider discussing it with your customers…

We interviewed Nancy Scanlan, DVM, CVA, MS, one of our industry’s leaders in holistic medicine. As Nancy Scanlan, DVM, CVA, MSpast Executive Director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical (AHVM) Foundation, and also past board member and past president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), she has helped the organization raise money for research into holistic veterinary medicine.

Dr. Scanlan has had a holistic-only practice for 16 years, with additional years of using holistic medicine in a conventional veterinary practice. She’s certified in veterinary acupuncture and has had training in veterinary chiropractic, trigger point therapy, and herbal medicine. She speaks on the subject regularly at veterinary conferences including VMX.

Through her years of first-hand experience and countless hours of research and review of evidence, she’s convinced that “holistic treatments address chronic problems better than most conventional treatments.”

We asked her to expand on this subject with the following questions.

First, please tell us why you’re a holistic practitioner and what that has meant to your practice, patients, and clients over the years.

“I started using supplements and herbs because I was looking for answers for cases that looked hopeless, especially geriatric and chronic problems. They worked well enough that I developed a reputation of being the person to go to when all else failed.

It meant longer, healthier lives for those pets, and happiness and gratitude from pet owners whose only other option was euthanasia. It is wonderful to be able to help in that way, and I had more than enough of the kind of cases I really like.”

What are some of today’s most common and popular holistic products and services?

“Acupuncture is the most common veterinarian-only holistic service. More holistic veterinarians have training in acupuncture than any other modality. Chiropractic and laser therapy are also commonly used. Rehab practices often include acupuncture and, to a lesser extent, chiropractic in their practices. Now that rehab has been incorporated into conventional practice and a university setting, it is no longer viewed as strictly holistic. 

Products are bountiful and include:

  • Natural or holistic diets: a big part of a holistic practice. For many, this means raw, but veterinarians and pet owners also look for canned and dry foods without artificial flavor, color, preservatives, or other chemicals. Getting pet owners to upgrade to a food without those items will often result in better coats and better stools. They are also concerned about BPA in cans.
  • Probiotics: big in holistic medicine, and conventional medicine is starting to look at them. Any animal getting antibiotics should get probiotics after the antibiotic is stopped. Saccharomyces is a type of antibiotic that can be given along with antibiotics, since this beneficial yeast is not affected by antibiotics. When beneficial organisms are depleted too far, it can cause a problem with inflammation in the gut. Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is on the rise, can benefit from probiotics. Bifidobacteria are often needed more than lactobacillus.
  • Prebiotics (beneficial fiber) are also beneficial. Prebiotics alone can cause an increase in beneficial bacteria in the gut.

One thing to be aware of: both prebiotics and probiotics can be great for one animal and horrible for the next one. Instead of using one product with dozens of bacteria, it is often best to start with one type, then switch if that one type creates gas or diarrhea. This is especially true for pets with inflammatory bowel disease. 

  • Herbs are also used by many holistic veterinarians. Most Chinese herbs require special training to use, but there are a few whose use matches specific problems. Example: excess bleeding in hemangiosarcoma can be helped by a Chinese herbal formula called Yunnan Bai Yao. 

Non-Chinese herbs are easier to use in a way similar to the way conventional drugs are used. We see a few of these increasingly used by conventional vets - such as Silymarin from milk thistle, used in Denamarin.”

Why do you think there’s a gap in — or resistance to — adopting holistic methods? 

  • “The cost in time and money for special training… and sometimes for equipment (for example, laser therapy)
  • The idea that some treatments may sound weird to conventional veterinarians
  • A fear of contaminants (especially for Chinese herbs)
  • The belief that most herbs are or can be toxic (because in vet school that's mostly what we hear about for those plants)
  • Repeated articles about tests of bottles of herbs and supplements that show either none in the bottle, or less than what the label says. (There is an organization, NASC, that verifies pet products to prove that the contents match the labels, as well as track adverse events… but most vets are not aware of them)
  • The FDA premise that, for animals, whatever goes in their mouth is either food or a drug. They insist that anything with medicinal properties must go through the same million-plus processes that drugs do.
  • Because of the FDA, herb and supplement companies can't quote research directly on their website showing effectiveness. So, the average veterinarian can't see the proof behind their use.
  • A big one in some circles — there are a few very vocal veterinarians who believe that all holistic medicine is snake oil. No matter what the research is, they believe it is invalid.”

What should DSRs do to help more practices adopt holistic measures? 

“Start with items that work as well as, or better than, drugs for chronic problems (which do not have effective conventional treatments). 

  • Herbal products often work for resistant infections, for instance.
  • There are herbal products that help urinary incontinence AND fecal incontinence.
  • There are herbs and supplements which help arthritis, especially in pets who can't tolerate COX 2 inhibitor drugs.

As DSRs gets to know more about holistic products, they can ask things like, ‘What is one

problem where you wish you could find an effective treatment?’ or ‘Ever wish you could help ease the problem of fecal incontinence?’”

What resources can DSRs use for practice education?American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation

Beyond visiting the AHVMF website to see recent articles about holistic medicine research findings… as well as the AHVMA peer-reviewed journal, Dr. Scanlan recommends:

  • “Look for sales sheets from companies that employ veterinarians as consultants. You should be able to contact them about anything on the sales sheet that’s too vague or unclear. Look for sales sheets that list concrete research, not vague things like "supports bone health."
  • Some websites also list research -— it can be somewhat hidden because of FDA requirements. If the DSR finds anything like that on their own, it could be beneficial to print it out.
  • Reference the book, Veterinary Herbal Medicine, by Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougere, both veterinarians with training and certification in herbal medicine.
  • The Alternate Medicine Group on VIN (Veterinary Information Network) — where consultants (including me) love to talk to veterinarians about specific and general questions about items such as extra training.
  • The major veterinary conferences (WVC, VMX, etc.), which have complementary and alternative veterinary medicine tracks.
  • State and local conferences may also have conferences. Some of the bigger herb and supplement companies supply veterinarians who give talks about their products without turning it into one big sales talk.”

Two more ideas to ease your clients into the use of holistic therapies, if they’re resistant: 

  • Look through your distribution catalog to identify the wide range of holistic products you can introduce to support specific seasons, frequent conditions, and even client requests
  • Talk to holistic practices in your territory and show other customers how well those practices are doing to enhance patient outcomes, client satisfaction, and even profits.

Topics: Holistic