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Alternative and Complementary Medicine

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Alternative and complementary treatments for dogs and cats have grown in popularity over the past several years. Guidelines for alternative therapies have been published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and many veterinarians now offer non-traditional approaches to treatment of pets.  These alternative treatments for dogs and cats can range from acupuncture, to massage therapy, to herbal medicines, to chiropractic care, to homeopathy.  Herbal or nutritional supplements that are thought to have medicinal powers are often referred to as “nutriceuticals.”

These therapies have been used to treat both physical and behavioral problems.  They often appeal to people along spiritual lines, but the clinical evidence supporting their use varies.  Acupuncture and chiropractic care have been used successfully to manage some types of chronic pain.  Glucosamine/chondroitin supplements have fairly well-established clinical benefits for joint health, at least in some pets.  Many other therapies, such as homeopathy, have less scientific support.

It is important to keep certain things in mind when considering alternative therapies:

  • Alternative treatments are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and therefore, do not have to meet standards of safety and efficacy.
  • The level of training and experience varies among practitioners.
    Nutriceuticals can vary in quality and potency between suppliers and (sometimes) among batches.
  • Alternative treatments can sometimes interfere with traditional medicines or therapies.

Before beginning any alternative treatment, it is a good idea to pursue a traditional diagnosis, so that you have as much information as possible about the nature of the problem.  This will involve a visit to your vet and possibly diagnostic tests, including blood work, x-rays, or other procedures.  After you know what you’re dealing with, talk to your vet about the pros and cons of pursuing alternative versus traditional treatments.  He or she may offer alternative therapies or may be able to recommend practitioners in your area.  It is not a good idea to stop traditional medications abruptly, so ask your vet before making any changes in your pet’s treatment.

Q&A

What types of alternative care are available?

Alternative therapies include acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal medicines, chiropractic care, homeopathy, and others.

What are nutriceuticals?

The term nutriceutical is a catch-all name for any herbal or nutritional supplement thought to improve health or prevent disease.

Are alternative treatments regulated by the government?

No; alternative therapies are usually not regulated and do not have to meet the standards of safety and efficacy set for traditional medical therapies.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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