Local Veterinarians: What to look for
By: Julia Henriques
Can you handle most of your dog’s minor ailments yourself?
You may be confident taking care of your dog at home. You feed a raw, whole food diet. You have plenty of information about natural remedies. And maybe you even do remote consults with a homeopathic or other holistic vet.
So … help is often just a phone call away.
But sometimes you need a hands-on exam or diagnostic testing. Or your dog might have a life threatening emergency.
And that means you need a local veterinarian. One who may not be holistic.
So … you might not always see eye to eye with the vet about nutrition, vaccines, treatments … or the need for surgery.
Veterinarian Opinions Differ
This is especially true if you …
don’t have complete faith in the safety or efficacy of vaccines
prefer herbs and homeopathy to drugs
want to avoid the stress and invasiveness of surgery
You may not have access to a good local holistic vet. Or you may find a “fauxlistic” vet who falls back on drugs and surgery.
And then you’re in the uncomfortable position of working with a conventional (allopathic) doctor.
And that means some day … you and your vet will have differing opinions on what your dog needs.
So how do you agree to disagree … and still maintain a good relationship with your vet?
Here are some tips that to help you to stick to your convictions … but still maintain a good working relationship.
Let’s talk about how to find a vet you can work with.
Finding A Holistic Vet
First of all, look for a holistic (or at least more holistically-minded) vet in your area.
There are a few directories you can search:
The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH): lists homeopathic vets but many practice other holistic modalities too.
Pitcairn Institute of Veterinary Homeopathy (PIVH): vets who’ve completed homeopathy training with Dr Richard Pitcairn. Like the AVH list, includes vets who practice other holistic methods.
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA): includes all types of holistic veterinarians.
Many holistic vets will do phone consults. Homeopathic ones are especially used to remote relationships.
Phone consults are a great way to work with the best holistic vets. I encourage you to find a truly holistic vet, even one thousands of miles away.
But still …
… Sooner or later, you’re going to need help locally. And a conventional veterinarian might be your only option.
Ask People About The Vets They Use
Here are some ideas to find the best local vets:
Ask other dog owners in your neighborhood.
Join a raw feeding or natural rearing group. Ask local members for recommendations
Ask other dog owners at your local dog park, kennel club or flyball tea
You may not have a holistic vet in your area. But that’s OK. You can work with a conventional vet too.
But if you can, find one who’s a bit more open-minded.
Once you have a recommendation, do some research of your own.
Do Your Homework on Local Vets
Start by visiting the vet’s website. It’ll tell you a lot!
Are They Truly a Holistic Vet?
For instance, you might find a doctor who says he’s holistic. And maybe he does some acupuncture or uses a few holistic remedies. But then you see he recommends regular vaccinations, flea, tick and heartworm medications or prescription kibbles.
That’s a big red flag … and it tells you he’s not really a holistic vet!
Conventional Vet … But Open-Minded?
So … try to find a veterinarian whose website describes an individually tailored approach to your dog’s care.
If he offers vaccinations and preventive medications, does he talk about adapting them to your dog’s lifestyle?
Does he offer titers in lieu of vaccines?
What about food? Does the website suggest he’s open to raw feeding … or even home-cooked food?
This vet might be more open to your natural health preferences.
Take A Pass On Vets Like This One
Or … you might find a website that recommends “Wellness Plans” that include things like …
Exams twice a year
A bunch of annual vaccines … not just core vaccines, but non-core ones like leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme or influenza
Annual or biannual deworming, fecal and urine testing
Annual dental cleaning
Unless you have no other choice, run a mile from ones like this.
Be Thorough With Your Research
Then … once you’ve found someone you think you can work with, do a bit more research:
Do a background check with the state veterinary board
Search for reviews online
Read up on individual vets at the clinic
Next, schedule a visit with the vet. You want to choose a vet before you need them in an emergency!
Meet The Vet
Make an appointment to introduce yourself.
You might want to go without your dog for the first visit. That way, if you really don’t like the clinic … you haven’t subjected your dog to an unpleasant experience.
But (whether with or without your dog) … go meet the vet. You don’t want your first meeting to be an emergency … when your dog’s in pain and you’re desperate for help.
While you’re there, you’ll get a good sense of how the clinic is run.
Is the vet punctual with appointments, or is the waiting room full of anxious pets who’ve been waiting for a long time?
How’s the waiting area? Comfortable and spacious, or cramped and crowded.
Is the clinic clean and bright, or dusty and dingy?
How do reception staff and technicians interact with people and pets?
During Your Visit With the Vet
When you first meet the vet, remember … this is a negotiation. You want the vet on your side!
Politely explain your preference for natural care.
Don’t be combative, hostile or critical about conventional medicine.
Take copies of articles or research with you. They’ll support your position on food, vaccines, pest prevention, medications or surgeries.
Be ready with your answers to questions or objections they may have.
Observe how receptive they are to your choices. He doesn’t have to fully embrace natural health care … but he should respect your choices.
Here are some topics to get out in the open.
If they don’t agree with your decision to raw-feed your dog, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But he should accept your decision … especially if your dog is active, fit and healthy!
Try not to get into a lot of discussion about your dog’s diet. Mention it once or twice … and then let it go.
Find other topics to discuss with your vet to build a rapport. That way he won’t feel threatened or preached to.
Once they are comfortable … he may surprise you by asking questions about raw feeding!
Know your stance on vaccines before you go to the clinic. Even if they disagree with your position, you should still be able to work with him.
(Just be prepared for a guilt trip … and stories of all the dogs he’s seen die of parvo, lepto, or whatever vaccine he’s pushing.)
This is where your wealth of knowledge about vaccines will come in handy. Be prepared to explain what you know about:
Vaccine risks and adverse effects
Duration of immunity of vaccines
Core and non-core vaccines, and which ones your dog might need
Titers to show your dog is already protected
Having this information will give you the confidence to say no … nicely but not defensively.
You can be as direct as you want. Just say “no thank you.” Or, if that makes you uncomfortable … tell him he’s given you something to think about (then don’t mention it again).
Either way, your vet will soon catch on to your wishes.
Feeling The Pressure to Vaccinate?
If you feel yourself caving, remember that vaccines will always be available … but once you vaccinate you can’t undo any damage done.
Never feel like you have to decide on the spot. If your vet’s willing to work with you, he’ll respect your decision to think over his recommendations.
If you feel pressured, insist on titers before you make a decision to vaccinate. Proving your dog is protected might get them to back off!
Remember, only rabies is required by law. Whatever your vet or his staff may tell you, other vaccines are not compulsory.
What About Rabies?
In this discussion, education is your friend. Research rabies vaccination laws in your city, state, province or county.
Know whether your state laws allow a rabies exemption. If they do, talk to your vet about a rabies exemption letter for your dog. A vet who’ll write an exemption letter is a very good find!
If you do end up agreeing to a rabies vaccine, make sure they give a 3-year vaccine. Don’t accept a 1 year shot. Or you’ll be stuck having to repeat it next year.
Be aware of possible symptoms your dog could develop after rabies vaccination.
It’s a good idea to detox your dog. And be ready to consult a holistic veterinarian to resolve any after-effects. Homeopathy can be especially helpful in relieving symptoms of rabies vaccine damage.
Treatment Options for Your Dog
Some day, your dog may have an emergency that needs conventional treatment. Their style will be a factor in your comfort level:
Does he discuss treatment options with you?
Does he provide time for you to make treatment decisions? Or do you feel pressured into immediate action?
Does the vet offer various options for you to consider? Or does he just recommend one treatment plan?
Does he agree not to provide treatment unless you’re present? Will always ask for your consent? (Unless in an extreme emergency, of course. When your dog’s life is in danger is not the time to question procedures.)
Does he discuss both the risks and the benefits of all treatments?
If you answered no to more than one of these questions, then you might want to look for another one.
What To Look For
When it comes to treatment and surgical decisions, your vet should explain exactly …
what issue your dog may have
what it means for his health
which treatment options are available
the risks and benefits of each treatment
Maybe you think there’s a holistic treatment worth exploring. If so, tell him you’d like to think over the options. That’ll buy you time to research your dog’s issue … or speak with a holistic veterinarian.
Then you can consider all options. There can be herbs, homeopathic remedies or other holistic ways to help your dog.
If your vet opposes holistic options … you don’t have to explain your intentions. Just tell him you need to think it over … or consult with your partner or spouse.
If your vet does support holistic alternatives … be clear that you’d rather try the natural route. Then share your research with him.
Remember again that allopathic treatment is readily available. But once you’ve started down that road, it can be hard to turn back.
So … make sure that’s really your best choice before you fall back on drugs or surgery.
Agree To Disagree With Your Vet
You and your vet may not see eye to eye on every issue. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work together. They will understand you’re going to take an educated and active role in your dog’s care.
For example, my dogs’ homeopathic vet is 1,000 miles away. I consult with her regularly by phone. But I go to a local, conventional vet when my dogs need diagnostic testing or a hands-on exam.
The local vet I chose knows and accepts that …
I won’t vaccinate my dogs. Their files are marked “No Vaccines.”
I raw feed (even though she disapproves).
I won’t use pharmaceutical pest or parasite prevention.
I don’t deworm my dogs.
I won’t use drugs or surgeries for treatment … except in a true emergency (and never without my consent).
I always want to be present at my dogs’ appointments. My dogs will not be going “in back” without me, unless I know exactly what they’re going to do.
I may ask her to diagnose a problem … and she will tell me her treatment suggestions.
But … I’ll most likely use natural treatment options with our homeopathic vet.
And she’s OK with it. She actually quite likes it, because she loves diagnostics. And she gets to keep me as a client.
She may be skeptical about my natural treatment choices. She acknowledges (though may express surprise!) when they work. And once in a while, she learns something that might help her other patients!
Remember: It’s Your Dog!
Remember, you and your dog have to live with the consequences of your decisions … not your vet.
Make the effort to become an educated advocate for your dog. Your vet should always be working with you, not against you. You pay him for his services!
Treat him with respect … but never be afraid to become more of an equal partner in the relationship. Once your vet understands you’re making educated decisions … he’ll be more willing to treat you as an equal too.