It’s National Holistic Pet Day! But What Is Holistic Pet Care?

There are many questions about what is holistic pet care. Is it the same thing as what your regular vet offers? There are many names for offering traditional medicine for pets. Some call it alternative medicine or natural healing. But are there specific definitions, and is holistic pet care a good choice for your cats and dogs? August 30 is National Holistic Pet Day, so it’s a good time to revisit asking these questions.


This gorgeous pup has fun in the “natural” undergrowth…but poison mushrooms are natural, too! Image Copr. D. Garding/Flickr


Is natural veterinary medicine that different than a conventional approach? Many pet products companies have joined the “natural” revolution but is this because they truly feel that’s better for our cats and dogs–or is it simply a marketing ploy? And how can pet parents decide what’s best for their cats and dogs, and see through all the hand-waving hype?

I write about holistic care in both of my CAT FACTS and DOG FACTS books but never would have done so before researching a much earlier work. New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats is available in all print & Ebook formats, including hardcover.

You can even get the audio version for FREE with a trial membership to Audible at this link.

holistic pet


Before researching the book New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats, I really didn’t know a lot–or think very much of–the “natural” wave of pet care since I’m a prove-it-to-me-with-science kind of person. But after interviewing dozens and dozens of scientific-type researchers and veterinarians who embraced some or all of these new-but-old-fashioned modalities (more than 70 for the book!), I not only learned a lot but began to respect the alternative viewpoint.

As with any trend, though, there are those who take advantage and dish up quackery alongside the quality options, so it’s still very much up to us to “vet” our pet care. The same is true for conventional medicine, too. There’s a reason they call it the PRACTICE of medicine–it is as much an art as a science, and what’s the best choice for my animal companions may be the wrong one for yours.

Conventional vs Holistic Pet Care: What’s the Difference?

Veterinarians provide the latest in terms of advanced diagnostic technology, cutting-edge drugs and surgery but many pet parents—and veterinarians—also embrace holistic medicine they feel is more natural. While traditional “western” medicine can’t be beat for addressing first aid and emergencies like broken legs and acute or critical health issues, holistic approaches may work better to prevent and treat chronic health challenges.

Here’s a broad example that compares “conventional” treatment to a holistic medicine approach. In mainstream western medicine, a drug can be given to stop the puppy’s diarrhea. But that’s like putting a cork in a bottle and may stop the symptoms without getting rid of the cause, so when the drug wears off the diarrhea returns. Instead, holistic practitioners seek to treat the patient as well as the symptom. Mainstream veterinary medicine does that, too, of course, but the approach is a bit different.

What Is Alternative Medicine?

The word holistic refers to a whole-body approach that addresses the health of the pet’s physical and emotional being. Alternative simply means “in addition to” and not specifically “instead of” other modalities. Learn about homeopathy in this post.

Rather than treating the “symptom” of disease, the holistic practitioner looks at the entire animal: diet, exercise, behavior, emotions, and even the environment. Conventional “western” medicine tends to focus on the disease, while holistic medicine focuses on the patient.

Other terms are used to describe holistic medicine, including “natural” and “alternative.” My favorite term, though, is “integrated medicine” because that means the best of all worlds—a combined approach of conventional partnered with holistic for the ideal help for your dog and cat.

Why A Natural Medicine Approach?

Holistic veterinarians would rather try to prevent problems like hip dysplasia and to support the body’s immune system to fight allergies rather than scramble to fix problems after they happen. They believe once chronic problems develop they continue to get worse even with ongoing conventional treatment.

This frustration with conventional western veterinary care inspired them to look for other options. Holistic or “natural” alternatives for many became the answer. Once they started to look, veterinarians found and began experimenting with therapies like herbal remedies, flower essences and homeopathy. They looked at natural medicines and treatments that had been used in human medicine for decades or even centuries.

They found out treatments like massage and acupuncture not only worked in people but equally well in pets. Some of these treatments raise eyebrows, such as sticking needles into your puppy to help relieve pain until scientists proved acupuncture can relieve pain and nausea and even help boost the immune system. Holistic vets have found that garden herbs and Grandma’s home remedies work as well or better than many modern drugs. They often contain the exact same ingredients, but don’t cause the side effects.

You Don’t Have to Choose: Use Integrative Veterinary Medicine

An integrated approach offers your pets the ideal care specific to his needs. Alternative/holistic veterinary medicine works great alongside much of mainstream medicine.

Conventional medicine can’t be beat when it comes to diagnosing problems, so X-rays or blood analysis can reveal a tumor or fracture before the veterinary chiropractor provides a treatment. If your puppy chews through an electrical cord and stops breathing, acupuncture resuscitation can start his heartbeat again until you can reach conventional trauma medicine help. Homeopathy can’t perform surgery, but may help a traumatized pet survive surgery and heal more quickly afterward.

Evaluating Claims

Be sure to evaluate the claims of different holistic treatments before rushing into therapy. Sadly, when the term “natural” became very popular, some companies simply slapped on the label to increase sales. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective—poisonous mushrooms and venomous snake bite is natural, too.

It’s difficult sometimes to figure out odd-sounding therapies that work from quackery, so ask questions and do your research. Look for studies that back up the claims of a treatment’s effectiveness. Your holistic vet will provide proven science when it’s available. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies alternative care options for people and many of these apply to pets as well. Veterinary journals also publish studies and measure the effects of different techniques.

When a technique or product is very new there may not be scientific studies available. Because some of these therapies are “natural” there’s not much money to be made and so costly evaluations may not be embraced by drug companies. In these cases, testimonials from other pet owners and veterinarians may provide convincing “anecdotal” evidence. Just take some claims with a grain of salt depending on who makes the claims—someone with a monetary gain could be suspect. But other puppy owners and animal health professionals able to recognize true health improvements are more credible.

Choosing A Credible Holistic Veterinarian

When choosing a holistic veterinarian, look for doctors that have training in natural and alternative treatments. Professional veterinary associations or holistic organizations offer study and accreditation. Some of these organizations include:

Do you use natural, holistic or otherwise “alternative” veterinary options with your pets? Do tell! And if you decide to get the newly released NATURAL HEALING pet care book, please post a review and let me know what you think!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give-aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!


31 thoughts on “It’s National Holistic Pet Day! But What Is Holistic Pet Care?

  1. We visited a holistic vet with Lola as soon as we got her osteosarcoma diagnosis. Unfortunately, the cancer was already multiplying too quickly. We tried a few things to hold it off – will never know if they actually bought us the 6 weeks we had or not, but I’m glad we made the connection and will go back to that vet anytime in the future.

    • I’m so sorry that you and Lola had to go through this. There are a number of holistic therapies used as adjunct treatments for cancer alongside conventional ones. Of course, quality of life is paramount.

  2. Thank you for the resources you provided! I am going to see if we have a holistic vet near us. I like our vet a lot but I am curious. I would go about it as I do the humans in our family and take a mixed approach. I prefer holistic but have a great appreciation for modern medicine as well. Great article, truly!

  3. I love the idea of combining conventional with natural health practices for both my pets and myself. However, I am sometimes disappointed by conventional vets and medical doctors disinterest in incorporating natural practices into their treatment plan.

    • I think that “conventional” vets and doctors DO incorporate holistic care in their practices (more or less) but just call it something else. *shrug* I mean, an ice pack on an injury is a time and true home rememedy.

  4. Fortunately two my dogs are pretty healthy, so they just see a conventional vet once a year plus a visit for the occasional ear infection. Nelly has suffered from allergies, but so far we have only taken her to the conventional vet. I know dogs who have reaped a lot of benefits from acupuncture and massage therapy. I think there is something to alternative and holistic medicine that shouldn’t be dismissed.

  5. Very well thought out article Amy. Alternative/Holistic Care can be an effective form of treatment, but, as you mention, it is very important to do your homework before hand. It seems like your book would be a perfect place to start for someone looking to find more, credible, information on the subject

  6. Another great source for finding a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is this site: One thing to note, is that all veterinarians, including holistic recieve the same foundation schooling. Holistic veterinarians then continue their education with other modules. Great post!

  7. Excellent post! I do integrate both as well, and under the guidance of my vet…with Gibson, who was my epileptic dog, a combination of traditional and holistic was my approach, traditional meds to treat, and alternative to support. I’m very interested in your book! Pinning, too!

  8. Great explanation. Thanks for providing this background. We haven’t used a holistic care provider, but there are quite a few in our region that we can access should the need arise.

  9. I believe in an integrated approach. I get frustrated with “Natural Medicine” without good research and training with humans and pets and with a purely traditional approach that may be outdated. No doubt that certain herbs, massage and funnily enough patting dogs and cats can be great medicine so why wouldn’t we look further and combine the best. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Although I love the idea of holistic options, I’m not ready to totally turn my back on modern medicine so I favor the integrated approach. I think it delivers the best of both worlds.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  11. This is a good read. I work at an animal hospital and, where we are not considered a “holistic vet”, we have respected some owners that are all about holistic care with their pets. We have not had very many, but one in particular wanted essential oils rubbed all over the pet before, during and after surgery. Totally against our standards in the surgery suite, so we made her sign a more extensive waiver, but we did it for her. It was a mass removal, the owner wanted the oils massaged on the site of the mass removal. The pet ended up passing away a few short months later from unrelated causes…we will never know if those oils helped or harmed him I guess =(

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