What Is a Holistic Veterinarian? How a Holistic Vet May Be Different from a "Regular" Vet

What Is a Holistic Veterinarian?

Holistic veterinarians are becoming more and more popular, but what the practice means is still perhaps a bit misunderstood. Find out more here about the different ways these vets choose to run their practices and treat their patients.

The theory of holism is not a new one, but its mainstream expansion to animal care is a bit more recent. Holistic medicine in general is relatively new to western cultures, so you may be wondering what your expectations should be if and when you bring your pet to a holistic veterinarian.


The practice of holism is very simple: it treats the body as a whole. A holistic doctor attempts to treat the condition, rather than the symptoms of the condition. In human terms, for example, a holistic doctor treating a case of heartburn may recommend diet changes instead of an antacid. A holistic practitioner will take a look at everything going on with their patient, including their emotional well being. Medications may be part of the treatment they ultimately prescribe, but a holistic doctor is also likely to suggest an overall lifestyle adjustment to deal with persistent issues.


“Holistic medicine” is not necessarily synonymous with homeopathic or naturopathic medicine, or with disciplines like chiropractic or acupuncture. However, all of these methods and applications may be part of holistic diagnosis and treatment. Traditional western medicines and techniques, and/or nutritional strategies, may also be employed as part of holistic treatment. Many holistic veterinarians are “integrative,” meaning they apply a combination of disciplines.


A visit to the holistic vet is a lot like a visit to a “regular” vet. They’ll examine your pet and discuss any issues you may be having. Depending on the issues your pet is dealing with, they may ask you bring in a stool or urine sample. They may take blood from your pet, check teeth and gums, and look in your pet’s ears and eyes. They’re likely to feel your pet’s body to ascertain muscle mass, check for water retention, feel for bloat or gas, and check for any unusual lumps or bumps.

The primary differences you’ll experience may or may not include the following:

  • Many holistic vets do away with stainless steel tables in the exam room, and instead prefer to see pets on the floor or on a comfortable pet bed.
  • You should be prepared to answer questions about your vet that veer away from the physical, and touch on the emotional.
  • You should prepare to spend a bit more time talking with a holistic vet than you may with a traditional vet.
  • A holistic vet’s treatment recommendations may require some effort from you that you’re not used to. For example, adding herbs or homeopathic remedies to your dog’s food; exercising your pet more; or changing their diet.


Holistic medicine has been known to produce overwhelmingly positive results. In some cases, holistic medicine has saved the lives of pets in situations where traditional veterinarians ran out of options. That said, holistic medicine is not hocus pocus, and its practitioners are not magicians.

Holistic medicine, while often turned to as a very last resort, is in reality most effective when it’s employed prophylactically, or preventatively. Pet parents who take a lifelong interest in their dog’s lifestyle -- including an exercise regimen, diet, and the pet’s overall wellness -- tend to run into fewer health problems in the long run. By gently treating small maladies throughout a pet’s life, you’re more likely to stave off serious illness in old age.

These wellness principles are the principle of holism. If adhered to throughout a pet’s life, holistic medicine is a great way to help your pet have a long, healthy, happy life.


Some traditional vets can turn quickly to invasive curative methodologies like surgery. Holistic vets are less likely to go this route as a first option. Holism alone may not be enough to sure your pet’s problem. However an integrative approach tends to work more quickly, and reduce healing time overall. A few examples of successful treatments include...

  • Holistic vets can successfully employ homotoxicology in the case of certain skin conditions -- the expulsion of various toxins through the use of liquid homeopathic remedies.

  • Holistic methodologies can be employed alongside traditional cancer treatments to help a pet achieve some comfort, and maintain a standard of living, while they’re undergoing chemo or radiation.

  • Chinese herbs are often used with success to resolve issues of incontinence in both cats and dogs.

  • Some holistic vets have successfully used acupuncture as an alternative to spinal surgery and knee surgery. Even dogs who have experienced some paralysis have recovered fully through the use of homeopathic remedies, Chinese herbs, and acupuncture, alongside muscle relaxers and steroid injections.


Special licenses or accreditations are not required to make the “holistic” claim. Many vets will claim to use a holistic or integrative approach without any formal training. This isn’t always cause for alarm. Holism, as mentioned above, incorporates many disciplines, and is more of a philosophy than a practice. Many holistic principles can be self-taught. Some can be learned through apprenticeships with practitioners. So it’s possible that your unlicensed holistic veterinarian is perfectly capable (as long as they are licensed as a veterinarian!).

That said, there are licenses and accreditations for specific disciplines, including acupuncture, homeopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine. To find out if your local holistic vet has specific credentials, visit the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture and search for your vet.

Use a vet finder to find the right veterinarian for your pet.
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