The Whole Picture: Working With Your Vet

A Day in the Life.

It's both amazing and humbling. The fact that the average veterinarian has gone through endless years of schooling, has studied in great detail numerous species of animals and knows them inside and out, makes house calls, (often in the middle of the night!), and performs delicate surgeries on and off site, is nothing short of astounding. Not to mention the dangers of dealing with creatures ten times their size! Without a doubt, veterinarians rank much higher in many books than any human doctor ever will.

The rapid rate at which researchers discover new and different information keeps these animal experts scrambling to stay up to date with the latest findings in medicine and nutrition. Staying on top of things with clients and keeping abreast of new information makes for a hectic schedule. Do you ever wonder who takes care of their animals?

And now (there's always a new wrinkle), we also want them to know about homeopathy, massage, herbs, and other complementary therapies, or at least to be considerate of our request to involve such treatments, and we even want to treat our animals ourselves after receiving a diagnosis. The typical veterinarians' schooling does not prepare them for all this.

Above and Beyond

Unless a veterinarian has been officially trained in any of the complementary therapies, he will probably prefer to practice using the methods that his conventional schooling has impressed upon him. As far as nutrition is concerned, his experience will most likely be limited to that from his schooling as well, for nutrition is more commonly the domain of the feed manufacturers. But don't give up; most are more than willing to find out information for you, or at least guide you in the right direction.

Consider yourself extremely fortunate if your veterinarian is familiar with the latest in nutrition, and/or knows anything about complementary therapies. The rare veterinarians who have gone above and beyond their traditional schooling by acquiring degrees of some sort in the complementary therapies are truly very special people indeed.

These dedicated people have taken the initiative to expand their already vast knowledge of medicine and medicinal substances. They have had to learn a whole new way of looking at animals, rather than picking them apart into each microscopic piece. They are paying attention to details and idiosyncrasies that were previously considered unimportant. And, they probably have had to unlearn many of their teachings to accomplish this, especially regarding the nature of disease.

Know Your Own

Keep in mind that we, in comparison, know little about the physiology of our animals. On the other hand, we, as caretakers, know much more about our animals as a whole than our veterinarians, unless they visit very frequently or live next door. We are the primary observers; we are the ones who notice a change in behavior or performance. As John Lyons indicates, there is always something that someone else knows that we don't know, and there is always something that we know that someone else doesn't know (or something like that!) Who knows our horse better than we do? When it comes to a whole-istic approach, the bulk of the necessary observations are ours. That is our responsibility and privilege as owners.

Yet we as owners generally lack the expertise to perform tests, and properly document the results. Blood work, x-rays, and other routine tests can be valuable tools - not only for diagnosis, but also to determine the early results of certain remedy programs, and to assess the rate at which the animal is improving. These aids should not be discounted.

What we can do as owners and caretakers is take notice, and take notes. Documentation of remedy administration or other treatment, and the results, is more than just helpful. It could be the verification that a particular therapy has been effective.

Share and Relate

Have you ever felt that stories of your surprising successes with remedies have fallen on deaf ears? Or worse yet, have you gotten that questioning grin, or the rolling eyes? You are not alone. Who hasn't reacted with skepticism when first hearing of such accounts? Veterinarians are professionals, and may or may not react openly as such. But the next time they hear a similar account, they may listen more closely.

Working with your veterinarian needs to be a sharing process for it to be worthwhile. It's a relationship that goes both ways. Don't be afraid to ask your veterinarians what their experiences are with a natural therapy that interests you. Share information with them about natural medicines and supplements that you have tried, or are currently using. It is important that they know this, especially with herbs, for reasons of possible drug combinations.

At best, sharing knowledge of alternative therapies with another will stimulate them to find out more about it. At worst, they will listen politely and perhaps make an honest comment. Let your veterinarian know that you are interested in doing things in a more natural way, and if you just want a diagnosis to do self treatment, be up front with them about it, before they go to the trouble of writing out a prescription.

Involving Additional Professionals

There are occasions when another professional, such as a farrier or equine dentist, may need to be involved. This can be difficult to arrange, especially on short notice, and may take some juggling of schedules, and may inconvenience all the parties involved.

Keep the animal's welfare in mind, do your best to accommodate the others' schedules, and encourage communication between the two professionals as much as possible. Nothing gets accomplished when an owner is left in a position to do their talking; interaction and cooperation between them is essential. But remember, you have the ultimate responsibility if a decision is to be made.

What to Look For:

When anticipating a visit from your holistic veterinarian, or any veterinarian, whether the appointment is a week or minutes away, it will be helpful to them if you observe the following.

1. Animal's attitude and emotional state

2. Manure and urine - be prepared to describe it by color, consistency, odor, frequency

3. Eating habits and food preferences

4. Drinking habits

5. Improvement or worsening noted from certain weather conditions, time of day, or season

6. Improvement or worsening noted from cold or warmth, from movement, or from touch

7. Peculiar habits and behaviors

8. Discharges - be prepared to describe them (or don't remove them prior to appointment)

9. Keep vaccination and deworming records handy.

These are some of the more common questions you may be asked. The more information you can give, the more precisely your veterinarian can choose the appropriate remedies or therapies.

Communication Breakdown

For some owners and clients, it is an all-too-common misconception that unless something is performed or prescribed, the veterinary visit is a waste. Please don't make the mistake of conveying such a message to your veterinarian. Many antibiotics and unnecessary prescriptions, dispensed by veterinarians as a "band aid" or "precaution", may be prescribed only to appease the owners. And most often, it is later reported that many of those prescriptions are never given to the animals.

Imagine how well that works for the pharmaceutical companies! It is rare enough as it is that an animal is examined and left with the suggestion that he be given a chance to get over it on his own, no matter how minor the ailment. The examination, whether it reveals a problem or verifies the absence of a problem, is well worth the visit and the charge.

Effective communication with your veterinarian is of utmost importance. Be honest, be inquisitive, be informative, and make your preferences known. Only then can your veterinarian fulfill your - and your animal's - needs.