More Than Just a Vet

9 People to Have on Your Dog’s Health Care Dream Team

Dog’s Health Care

Do you need a veterinarian?  The answer may surprise you.
You actually have several options when it comes to taking care of your dog’s health.

Read on to learn about the nine people you may want to have on your dog’s Health Care Dream Team. 

Let’s start with a Veterinarian. We’re going to talk about two types of vets. 

1. Conventional Veterinarian

Like a Family Doctor, the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) is your go-to health care provider for companion animals. Vets diagnose, prescribe medications, perform surgeries, treat wounds and broken bones and euthanize animals when necessary.

We use the term “conventional” to describe the type of mainstream, Western medical training that vets receive in their basic education. Conventional vets use medications and surgery to stabilize acute illness or trauma, suppress symptoms or reduce disability. Treatments are standardized (one size fits all).

This approach is effective to stabilize acute illness and emergencies, but less effective for correcting underlying causes, restoring health in dogs with chronic, complex conditions or addressing side effects created by pharmaceutical medications.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Conventional Vet?
You may need a conventional Veterinarian if:
1. You need to meet legal vaccination requirements for your dog e.g. rabies
2. Your dog needs surgery, medication or diagnostics for injuries and acute illnesses
3. Your dog requires significant pain control or safe, ethical euthanasia
4. You prefer a Western medicine approach

For tips on choosing the perfect veterinarian, read How To Choose a Vet 

2. Holistic Veterinarian

Some pet owners look for a vet that has a more natural approach to pet care. A Holistic Veterinarian works to prevent illness and address the underlying causes of health problems. We use the term “holistic” in this article, although vets with a similar philosophy are also known as Naturopathic, Integrative or Functional Veterinarians.

Holistic vets are fully licensed Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) with additional training in complementary therapies. They still have the same diagnostic and treatment options available to a conventional vet, but use a combination of mainstream and complementary medicine to personalize your dog’s care. For example,  holistic vets may adjust the dose of vaccinations for your dog, based on taking a blood titre (level of immunity). Conventional vets will give a standard dose to all dogs, regardless of  current immunity.

Vets who use naturopathic, integrative or functional medicine use nature-based treatments like diet, herbs and supplements to support the dog’s innate healing ability. Using the same example as above, two dogs with open wounds from scratching may receive very different treatments.  Although both will have their wounds treated, one dog may be switched to a different protein in their diet to reduce an itch-causing allergic reaction, while another might be given herbs to reduce inflammation.

A Holistic Vet is often sought when conventional medicine has run out of answers, and an animal’s condition is believed to be hopeless. There have been numerous cases of animals recovering from cancers and other serious diseases with nature-based treatments from licensed, knowledgeable Holistic Vets.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Holistic Vet?
You may need a Holistic Doctor of Veterinary Medicine if:
1. You need to meet legal vaccination requirements e.g. rabies but don’t wish to over-vaccinate
2. Your dog needs surgery, medication or diagnostics for injuries and acute illnesses
3. Your dog requires significant pain control or a safe, ethical euthanasia, but you’d like to try natural pain relievers first
4. You are willing to make changes to your dog’s diet and lifestyle to optimize his health
5. Conventional treatments are ineffective or your dog is palliative

For tips on choosing the perfect veterinarian, read How to choose a Holistic Vet  

3. Canine Chiropractor

Just like people, dogs can suffer from musculoskeletal ailments like muscle pain, limps, osteoarthritis and intervertebral (spinal) disc disease. Canine chiropractors can help with mobility issues affecting a dog’s ability to get up and move around comfortably, such as hip dysplasia.  

A chiropractor will assess the way a dog stands, look for any asymmetry, weakness, discomfort or unusual gait patterns. (S)he may order x-rays if this hasn’t already be done by your vet.  Treatment might include gentle manipulations of the spine and joints by hand or with a small tool (adjustor). 

A canine chiropractor must be licensed either as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) (for humans) or a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM). Each will have additional training to specialize in chiropractic care for dogs.

Always involve your Vet in decisions to see other health care providers, like a chiropractor. Communicating with your whole team is the best way to solve problems and use resources most efficiently.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Canine Chiropractor?
You may need a canine chiropractor if:
1. You have a dog breed prone to spinal injury and disease like Dachshunds, Corgis and Bassett Hounds
2. You want to help your dog move more easily and comfortably
3. You have a working dog (like a police dog) or a canine athlete (agility dog)

4. Rehabilitation Specialist

Dogs experience injuries and surgeries that benefit from rehab services, just like humans. Dogs pull muscles from overactivity, get sore, stiff  joints, can become weak from nerve disorders or have surgeries that require weeks of down time with subsequent loss in muscle strength. Rehab specialists can also help obese dogs exercise without pain, thereby supporting weight loss.

Rehab specialists offer a wide range of treatments to help your dog get up and going as soon as possible.

Here are some ways a rehab specialist can help your canine friend:

Laser Therapy

Lasers are a non invasive way to relieve pain and speed healing. Laser therapy drives light energy into the target area stimulating tissues at the cellular level. This stimulation accelerates healing time and reduces pain through the release of endorphins.

Hydrotherapy

Water therapy involves placing the dog in a large tank with just enough warm water to make the dog buoyant, thus reducing weight on the joints. A treadmill in the tank allows muscles to strengthen through resistance and range of motion without the added stress of the dog’s full weight on land. The warm water also assists in pain reduction, increases blood flow and circulation, and helps with the elasticity of soft tissue. Hydrotherapy can improve recovery time after surgery, strengthen muscles and help with weight loss.

Assistive Devices

Dogs with weakness often just need help to get up from a sitting or lying position. Rehab specialists can recommend and fit dogs for harnesses that support the dog and allow the owner to lift the dog into a comfortable position.

Massage

Dog Massage

Canine Massage Therapy is the therapeutic application of hands-on deep tissue techniques to voluntary muscles. The purpose of this is to increase circulation, reduce muscle spasms, relieve tension, enhance muscle tone, promote healing and increase range of motion in all breeds of dogs. It is often used for sports injuries, but can also help to alleviate anxiety prior to other treatments.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Canine Rehab Specialist?
You may need a canine rehab specialist if:
1. Your dog is recovering from surgery or injury
2. Your dog is experiencing weakness related to poor muscle strength
3. Your dog needs help exercising to reduce excess weight

How to Choose a Canine Rehab Specialist

  • Ask your vet for recommendations and referrals. It is essential for your vet to be on board with rehab, so that (s)he can communicate important medical or surgical information. Some vets also provide a small range of rehab services.
  • Tour the rehab clinic. Ask to see their water tank and rehab equipment
  • Ask which therapies they offer
  • Ask how often you need to bring your dog to the rehab centre
  • Ask about how much “homework” is involved (at-home exercises or treatments)
  • If you have pet insurance, ask if rehab is covered

5. Reiki Practitioner

Reiki is a form of energy medicine that directs universal energy or “chi” into specific energy points in the body.  Reiki views illnesses and dis-ease as originating through subtle energy shifts at the cellular level. When these shifts become imbalanced, we see alterations in body, mind and spirit. In dogs, this can look like anxiety, fear, pain or chronic illness.

Reiki practitioners place their hands near specific energy points in the dog’s body to reduce stress and support the dog’s innate healing ability. There are no side effects, and Reiki can be used to complement any conventional treatment.

Reiki is well-researched and is becoming increasingly popular as a profoundly relaxing, healing therapy for people and pets

Reiki therapists are not licensed, however they achieve levels of certification through a combination of courses and mentoring under a Reiki Master.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Reiki Therapist?
You may need a Reiki Therapist if:
1. Your dog is anxious
2. Your dog is a rescue (or has a history of trauma)
3. Your dog is undergoing medical treatments or recovering from surgery
4. Your dog is experiencing pain
5. You want to understand what your dog is experiencing (communication)
6. You want to optimize health and prevent disease 

How to Choose a Reiki Therapist

  • Look for a Reiki Master, this is someone who has achieved the highest level of certification.
  • Look for someone who has specialized training with pets. Working with pets and children is somewhat different than working with adults, so having this specialty is important.
  • Ask if the Reiki therapist offers distance Reiki. This is very convenient, as you won’t need to leave your home to receive the benefits. Just like an in-clinic visit, you should receive an appointment date and time, along with time to talk about the session.
  • Ask if the Reiki therapist has health care experience. Registered Nurses, Physicians and other health professionals who practice Reiki with their patients can offer insights within the context of their general medical knowledge. Although they will not have the specialized animal knowledge of a veterinarian, they understand basic anatomy, functioning and medical terminology. They also know how to review scientific studies and tend to use the highest standards of evidence. Heath care providers who are licensed are obligated to follow high standards of care for people, and will likely follow these with their animal patients.

Other Energy Modalities

Reiki is one of the most popular forms of energy medicine, however other modalities include:

  • homeopathy
  • flower essences
  • aromatherapy
  • sound therapy
  • acupuncture
  • acupressure
  • healing touch
  • qi gong
  • animal communication
  • visualization
  • Bowen therapy
  • Tellington touch

6. Acupuncturist

Acupuncture is a painless energy-based healing modality that involves sticking tiny sterile needles into energy points and lines (meridians) to stimulate healing, circulation and release of pain-reducing endorphins.

There are two types of acupuncture:

  • Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, which focuses on restoring the fluid movement of Chi (energy) throughout the body. This type of acupuncture is typically used by Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners in addition to other therapies. Treatments may be lengthier, and performed in a healing space, with a focus on prolonged stillness and herbs.
  • Medical (Western) Acupuncture, which is evidence-based and performed based on diagnosis. Most vets and rehab specialists who perform acupuncture use this medicalized version. Treatments are typically very brief and performed in clinic.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Canine Acupuncturist?
You may need a canine acupuncturist if:
1. Your dog is experiencing pain
2. Your dog’s immunity is compromised e.g. from chemotherapy or long term steroid use
3. Your dog has musculoskeletal problems like arthritis, hip dysplasia or nerve 
injuries
4. Your dog has problems with his liver, kidneys, stomach, heart, skin or lungs

How to Choose an Acupuncturist

  • Search online for an acupuncturist near you, using terms like “acupuncture for dogs, canine acupuncturist, TCM acupuncture for dogs”
  • Always ensure the acupuncturist specializes in dogs. Like many energy modalities, dogs (and children) are treated in slightly different ways
  • Ask what type of acupuncture is used – Medical (Western) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). You may want to try both to see which one your dog responds to best
  • Ensure needles are sterile, used only once and that the acupuncturist counts each needle going in and out
  • If you can’t find a TCM acupuncturist who specializes in dogs (not easy to find), ask your vet or rehab specialist for a referral to a medical acupuncturist for dogs

7. Canine Herbalist

When a dog’s body is showing symptoms of illness, a herbalist supplements with natural herbs to bring

Pet Herbs

the body back into balance. Herbs are gentler than pharmaceutical medications, have few to no side effects and act synergistically to restore health.

Herbs are ideal for most dogs, who are naturally intuitive about what they need for their health. They used to be able to roam the fields and nibble on alfalfa, chamomile, dandelion root or willow bark to supplement themselves. Now, many dogs live in polluted cities, with exposure to chemicals, pesticides, processed food and have no access to nature and its healing properties.

Herbalists assess your dog’s overall condition, nutritional status and health concerns. They may assess whether your dog has a “hot” or “cold” condition, based on the principles of traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Or perhaps they will determine imbalances in the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. The herbalist might show your dog a few different herbs and see which one(s) the dog intuitively gravitates toward. The herbalist will then recommend herbs to bring your dog back into balance, naturally.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Canine Herbalist?
You may need a canine herbalist if:
1. Your dog is experiencing pain
2. Your dog’s immunity is compromised e.g. from chemotherapy or long term steroid use
3. Your dog has problems with digestion (eating and eliminating)
4. Your dog has problems with his liver, kidneys, stomach, heart, skin or lungs
5. Your dog has a chronic illness or is experiencing side effects from medications

How to Choose a Canine Herbalist

  • Ask how they learned about herbalism. Courses are important, but don’t disregard the value of experience and mentoring with traditional healers
  • Ask where the herbalist gets her herbs from. Some herbalists grow and process their own herbs. A herbalist should be sourcing high quality organic herbs
  • Ensure that your herbalist is familiar with conventional pharmaceutical drugs. If your dog is on prescribed medications, always inform your herbalist as there can be interactions or substances can work against each other.
  •  Talk to your vet before starting herbs. Some vets are familiar with commonly used herbs like milk thistle, turmeric and CBD. If your vet is not knowledgeable or is closed to the idea of herbal medicine, have an open discussion to determine next steps. The vet might talk directly with your herbalist, or you may choose to seek out a holistic veterinarian.

8. Dog Behaviourist

Sometimes, despite training, love and a safe environment, your dog develops behaviours that are unsafe or unmanageable. Don’t hesitate to engage the skill and training of a canine behaviourist. These trainers have experience with  the most common challenging behaviours.

Behaviourists use a variety of techniques to modify how a dog reacts, including:

Positive Reinforcement. This involves rewarding the dog immediately when they demonstrate a positive or wanted behaviour. You probably did this by using treats when you trained your puppy to sit or bark at the door to go outside. Rewards typically start with food and then get replaced with praise.

Environmental Modification is a way of modifying the dog’s reaction by changing the environment. If your dog barks loudly and jumps at the front window every time someone walks by, a simple fix might be a window blind, distracting sounds or removing access to the room.

Other interventions could include clicker training and counterconditioning.

Your behaviouralist will want to observe how you interact with your dog to identify ways to improve. Often, a tense, frustrated owner stresses the dog, and this needs to be addressed.

Always consult your vet before hiring a Behaviouralist. There may be medical reasons that your dog develops challenging behaviours. Fore example, a dog that stops sitting on command may have painful arthritis. A dog that growls when touched may have develop vision or hearing loss.

Bottom Line: Do I need a Canine Behaviourist?
You may need a canine behaviourist if:
1. Your dog has developed fearful or aggressive behaviours
2. Your dog begins to growl, guard or become territorial
3. You dog is not adjusting to a change in the family dynamic e.g. a new chid or pet, divorce or move
4. You are unable to safely walk your dog or manage him

How to Choose a Behaviourist

  • Ask your vet if they provide behavioural interventions. Some vets do additional training to become a certified veterinary behaviourist, or they may be comfortable providing some tips to try first. Your vet might even suggest starting with a simple trainer or obedience class before engaging a behaviourist.
  • Ask your vet for recommendations. You want an ethical, reliable and effective behaviourist.
  • Ensure that they use positive, no-touch reinforcement only. If a behaviouralist suggests hitting, tapping or yelling at your dog, walk away.

9. Animal Communicator

Wouldn’t you love to know what your Fur Baby is thinking? Are they happy? Lonely? Is the food you give them agreeing with them?

Many people have an intuitive bond with their pets and instinctively know what they’re thinking. You think about a walk outdoors, and your dog runs to get his leash without a word! Others engage in meditative practices to connect on a deeper level with their dog.

Sometimes you notice that your dog is just a little “off”, but your vet reassures you that he’s healthy and not to worry. This might be a good time to consult with an animal communicator. Communicators are trained to tune in and connect energetically with animals, picking up on thoughts, issues and messages to their owners. You might be surprised at how much wisdom and advice your dog has for you.

Bottom Line: Do I need an Animal Communicator?
You may need an animal communicator if:
1. Your dog is acting “out of sorts” and there isn’t an obvious medical or behavioural 
reason
2. You would like to know what messages your dog might have to share
3. You would like to give your dog a message or help them understand an upcoming change e.g. surgery, move, new baby, divorce

How to Choose an Animal Communicator

  • Ask for recommendations. Search online for “animal communicators, dog communicators or animal psychics”.
  • Ask how the person communicates. Is it through meditation, psychic mediumship, Reiki, tarot cards?
  • Discuss any health or behavioural recommendations with your vet before acting on them. e.g. if a communicator suggests adding kelp due to energetic imbalances around the thyroid gland, discuss relevant blood work and treatment options with your vet and herbalist.

Summary:  You have several options for taking care of your dog’s heath.  You can choose one, two or all of the 9 people we consider essential to your dog’s Health Care Dream Team: Conventional Veterinarian, Holistic Veterinarian, Chiropractor, Rehab Specialist, Herbalist, Reiki Therapist, Acupuncturist, Behaviourist and Animal Communicator.  

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