I’ve been using a holistic vet for years now, and I can’t imagine not using one. My holistic vet is Donna Kelleher, DVM, here in Bellingham. A vet is not a vet is not a vet, and when it comes to holistic vets, the case is no doubt the same; every individual has to decide whether a health-care provider for your dog is the right fit.

The term holistic vet gives some folks pause, I think. What IS a holistic vet? When someone suggested I consider Dr. Donna for one of my Schips who was suffering from blisters along her lips, I remember wondering what she could do that my “regular” vet couldn’t. When Dr. Donna determined — in one visit — that my Schip was allergic to fish, chicken, and dairy, and my Schip’s blisters disappeared in about a week once I removed these foods from her diet, I was sold. I had spent over $700 in blood tests, biopsies, and other things that my regular vet suggested in trying to determine what could be causing the blisters. My regular vet had finally concluded the blisters were probably food sensitivity/allergy related, and suggested the “elimination” approach, which is potentially lengthy and tedious. Dr. Donna utilizes NAET in diagnosing allergies, and while NAET may seem like voodoo science (!) to some unsuspecting folks, I can assure you it works. NAET is the acronym for Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques; visit https://www.naet.com/.  NAET works for both diagnosing allergies and clearing them.

These days I differentiate my vets as either “Western Medicine” or holistic. To state the obvious, western medicine is GREAT for so many things. That said, western medicine has its limitations. A western medicine vet doesn’t have tools in her toolbox for all things. Nor does a holistic vet have all the tools for all things in her kit. Combining both types of vets, though, give a person (animal)  the best of both worlds. There is a lot to be said for modalities such as NAET, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and last but not least, preventive care. Was my western medicine vet a bad vet because she couldn’t diagnose my Schip’s allergies? No. It’s just that the tools and approach didn’t yield the results whereas NAET did. So when I suspect that a dog (be it mine or belonging to one of my clients) has allergies, which usually manifest themselves in blisters, itchy paws, hot spots, and so forth, my first step is to go to Dr. Donna and get an immediate diagnosis. Western medicine would simply treat the symptoms with medication. This is not the approach I want to incorporate; I want to get to the source, not suppress the symptoms.

Vet schools don’t teach all things. What I have learned is that there seems to be a lack of attention to diet and nutrition in vet schools. There seems to be an over-reliance on “veterinary prescription” foods (by Royal Canin and Hill’s), not to mention pharmaceuticals, to address certain issues. And certainly the pet food industry contributes to disease in our pets in the form of some very low quality foods (but that’s another topic). Dr. Donna has given me tailored diets (be they home-made or raw) to deal with allergies, pancreatitis, heart disease, and more. In all cases my dogs have benefited from her nutritional advice, and I’ve witnessed friends’ and clients’ dogs benefiting from her holistic approaches as well (including with cancer). Take a look at Dr. Donna’s website at www.wholepetvet.com to learn how a holistic approach to diet, vitamins, supplements, and more can put your pet in the healthiest position possible.

As I mentioned above, using both a holistic and western medicine vet for care can be a wise path. Sometimes, however,  it can be challenging to navigate opposing theories and approaches to a medical problem. I had to traverse a slippery slope with my Schipperke Tripp, a blue Schip with congestive heart failure, seizures, and pulmonary hypertension: There were various pharmaceutical drugs he needed to be on, but there were also some herbal alternatives (e.g., for Lasix) that were appealing to utilize. Tripp had a village of health-care providers and ultimately I had to make my own decisions about which types of approaches to utilize. Yes, it was scary. But in hindsight, Tripp had the best care; nothing horrible happened with my decisions. I listened to his health-care team and made sure they were all aware of each other’s opinions. It was a valuable experience. I would make the same decisions all over again if I had to.

Pharmaceutical drugs have their place. But there are some amazing herbal replacements that are less expensive and that pose no long-term risks for organs. I have several of my older Schips on Dr. Donna’s herbal concoctions (which can be either Chinese or Western herbs) for joint swelling and arthritis. The herbs work super well. I also have one of my Schips on some herbs to dissolve her kidney stones; the herbs are working.

My Schips also visit Dr. Donna for acupuncture and chiropractic care. Not all holistic vets might offer chiro care but I’m thrilled Dr. Donna does. (One-stop shopping is awesome!). I believe that regular chiro care is valuable for a wide range of dogs, be they older or involved in sports such as agility. I look at chiro care as preventive care.  I don’t want my agility dogs in particular suffering in old age from some problem that could have been addressed years earlier.

I realize that not all communities have access to holistic vets. We are super lucky to have Dr. Donna in Bellingham. Personally, I’m grateful to all the vets who have helped my pets over the years but I am particularly grateful to have options and choices in how I seek out care for them.