This entry today comes after many discussions on my Facebook group, Canine Nutrition and Natural Health – and I promised to do it, so here it is. In the midst of a thread about finding a “holistic vet”, on the group –  I ventured in to say, as I have in past, better to find a really good conventional veterinarian than a not-so-great holistic one. This was met with a little pall of silence, as for many people, THE deciding factor in which vet to choose, is, whether they have added that “Holistic” qualifier to their job description.

Well, it isn’t for me, and this entry will talk a bit about why that is.


In my dayjob, I get to work with veterinarians from all over North America; some would self-identify as holistic, and others would most definitely not. In my experience, vets range in their knowledge of and attitude towards nutrition, from the very knowledgeable and open minded to, well, the Skeptvet (no one but a board-certified DVM has the foggiest notion about feeding dogs).
There are very savvy, educated holistic vets who have taken the time to study herbs(yes it is a vast field of knowledge and much more complex than recommending a formula for a condition) and there are those who don’t know anything about herbs and will tell you upfront that they don’t.
There are those who are enjoying the additional benefits of the “holistic” claim but really know very little about diet, and either have the client use a recipe from a book or else a “varied raw diet” – which is absolutely not for every dog and most definitely NOT for therapeutic cases.

In my work, I often encounter the holistic vet who is using Chinese herbs ( I don’t understand why so few are versed in Western herbs, but that’s another entry) without any of the depth of knowledge it takes to really work in that system. They simply dispense a formula for a condition instead of a drug. Many clients tell me, the vet opened a book and looked up what to do, right in front of her.

Any seasoned herbalist will tell you, formulations need to be developed on an individual basis.


I could go on, but the point is, vets (like every other profession under the sun)  are all over the map – good ones and average ones and brilliant ones and some to avoid, IMO…

Basically – what I am seeing is twofold.
First, that the idea all holistic vets are better, by definition, than conventional ones; this is  completely and utterly false.

Second, the idea that all holistic vets are created equal – they most definitely are not.
I see clients on a regular basis who have come to me after much expense and disappointment with the raw- diet- and- commercial -Chinese- formulas they were given as a matter of course, by their holistic vet.

I also see clients referred by a holistic OR conventional vet, who realized that a specialist in herbs and nutrition could go further with the dog than they could. Those are great to work with, mutual learning and dialogue, but they are not the majority anymore.


I’ve had the experience, too, of developing what I consider a beautiful protocol(herbs and diet) for a complex case, and had the “holistic vet” come in and say some flippant and inaccurate thing about energetics, or some “naturalnews” type thing about alkalinity –  and destroy the client’s confidence in everything I did.
Short version – YOU, the client, the one with the dog? you need some tools to evaluate  your new holistic vet. If they are going to use that term, and charge so much more – they should live up to a few standards, just as people like myself who work with herbs and nutrition should.

I’m going to offer some ideas for you here today. I hope some of it is useful, and I welcome discussion both here and at the FB group.

  1. When your holistic vet recommends a home made diet, ask what the therapeutic goals are. Example: if it’s a renal diet,  is protein restricted? If so, why? Phosphorus? By how much? (You need to do a little quality research on many of these issues, I grant you that!) Are specific foods to be avoided, as with some liver conditions?  Don’t just say ok, thanks – check in as to what the therapeutic goals are and what you as the client can expect to see. better blood values? How soon? If it fails, what next will the vet want to try?
  2. If the vet recommends raw diet, ask if he or she ever uses cooked. Ask why raw is preferable in your case.One generic approach to diet is never a good sign. If they recommend vague guidelines, instead of a real recipe (and it’s a definite nutritionally-responsive condition) I’d walk away.
  3. Whether the diet is raw or cooked, ask if the recipe is NRC balanced for your individual dog. because that’s what it ought to be. If it’s not, or if it is but it’s also from a book – I would question that.
  4. If a diet is obviously unbalanced, such as an elimination diet, ask how long your vet feels A) the dog needs to be on it and B) how long is safe, with multiple overt deficiencies?
  5. If your vet recommends  herbs, ask what his or her background is. Some vets have extensive training in herbalism, others none at all. Ask if the formulation is geared to the dog or will they be selling a commercial product? I know it might seem like you’re being confrontational but it is YOUR nickel and your dog. I am personally always happy to  share my background, philosophy and experience  with clients – and your vet should be, too.


There are things I feel owners can watch out for, such as using guesswork for recipes (BIG no no), always emphasizing foods and not talking about nutrient manipulation (anyone can do that, it takes knowledge to work with nutrient levels) and – yikes – suggesting that just a multivitamin will balance the diet.

There is also the issue of energetics; TCM, Ayurveda and Western Herbalism all employ specific systems of energetics, and it’s a warning sign if the vet has no knowledge about this, or else mixes them up willy-nilly. I’m doing an entry on energetics soon and this will make more sense to you after I do, if you are new to the concept. But to greatly simplify: some herbs are heating (think; raw garlic, cayenne pepper) some are cooling – the same is true for foods – and your dog’s condition will manifest as hot or cold (or excess/deficiency)…those subtleties are very powerful in terms of food and herb selection and a well trained HOLISTIC vet will know them well. If a vet is using a Western integrative approach – NRC values, Western herbs – and suddenly throws in a little Ayurveda or TCM,  I question that. For me, the most powerful healing happens when the practitioner is consistent. It’s never that one tradition is superior to the other, but that the person practising it knows their stuff well.. or, maybe, doesn’t.



So look for a vet who can demonstrate that they really know nutrition, have more than one trick up their sleeve, nutritionally speaking. One who will work with the science and the dog at hand. Who has formal training in whatever form of herbalism they practise, and who will formulate for YOUR unique dog, not sell formulas like a healthfood store. Or else find a trained and experienced herbalist/nutritionist to work with your regular vet.
Because, you know, specialists really do need to have specialties, and not simply claim that they do.

Hope this helps some of you out there who are feeling a little lost in terms of the holistic vet conundrum. And I wish you a great vet and happy, healthy dogs. 🙂