Many people have biases toward alternative forms of health care, because there is not much evidence based on research to support it. For them, more science and clinical data is needed to support acceptance of these therapies. Others are completely sold on the idea of alternative, or ‘holistic,’ medicine, because it is promoted as a cure for the source of problems and not just a treatment for the symptoms.
Alternative medicine for pets is referred to as Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine (CAVM) integrating multiple modalities for veterinary medical therapy such as acupuncture, acupressure, botanical medicine, chiropractic care, homeopathy and massage therapy.
“Some of the modalities include acupuncture, which is one of the oldest forms of traditional Chinese medicine and involves the insertion of a tiny needle into the skin to a predetermined area called an acupuncture point, to treat or prevent disease,” said Dr. M.A. Crist, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “With today’s modern medicine, we can also stimulate these points with electrical stimulation, injections, laser, ultrasound, ultraviolet and magnetic induction. Acupressure is the use of finger pressure on designated points on the body. Sometimes, a few points are taught to owners to supplement their acupuncture.”
Alternative veterinary medicine includes a wide variety of medicinal and herbal treatments other than acupuncture and massage. “Other methods of alternative medicine include veterinary chiropractic care, which is health care for animals involving manual spinal manipulation,” said Crist. “It is the interaction between the neurological system and the biomechanics of the vertebral column. Therapy is directed toward prevention and treatment of disease. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from herbal plants for cause-and-effect physiological or psychological response.
Veterinary homeopathy is based on the principle ‘like is cured by like,’ founded by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century. It is more important to understand that homeopathic remedies are medications, and the more diluted the remedy, the more potent it becomes. Veterinary botanical medicine includes the use of Western herbs, Chinese herbal medicine or herbs from India.”
Most alternative medicine treatments are based on clinically accepted medicine. However, it is difficult to find scientific data to support the theory that these modalities are safe and effective. More clinical data is becoming available, but it is a very slow process, because funding for the research is not readily available. “Owners need to understand that some of these modalities are slow and gentle and take time to take effect” said Crist. “Others may believe that alternative medicine does not work at all, because they might have waited too long in the disease process, and despite what therapy is used, nothing will work.”
To practice in any of these modalities, a veterinarian must be certified and well-versed in their area of interest within the scope of complementary medicine. “It is not just a weekend seminar,” said Crist, “it includes hundreds of hours of continuing education in that field, numerous examinations, multiple case reports and hours and hours of shadowing an expert in the field. It is important that if an owner requests any of these integrated modalities, that they are referred to a veterinarian certified in that field. It is also important that if they are referred by their regular veterinarian, the two work together to do the best for your pet.”
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