More horse owners seeking alternative therapies

Veterinary and alternative therapies can be part of an integrated treatment plan

Acupuncture needles are placed on specific points along the coronary band for the treatment or prevention of disease.  Photo: Carol Shwetz

Seeking solutions to help horses heal and feel better outside of traditional and conventional veterinary medicine is becoming increasingly commonplace. Horse owners are not necessarily rejecting conventional medicine, rather they simply feel that alternative modalities offer complementary approaches. For example in addition to using anti-inflammatory drugs to ease muscle pain, they may also use chiropractic, acupuncture, or osteopathic manipulation.

This practice of complementing conventional medicine with alternative approaches has given rise to the term complementary medicine. Presently, alternative medicine is most commonly referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

As conventional veterinary practitioners become familiar with alternative approaches, these approaches are being integrated into conventional medicine, which is giving rise to the term “integrative medicine,” in which a combination of therapies representing the best of conventional and alternative medicine is used. The concept of integrative medicine has been around for many years but only recently has it begun to receive more recognition as people are looking for other possibilities to heal the body and prevent disease.

There are dozens of alternative therapies with chiropracty, acupuncture, and bodyworkers leading the way. One can readily expand the definition of alternative therapies to include craniosacral therapy, osteopathy, essential oils, aromatherapy, Bach Flower remedies, kinesiology, herbology, magno- therapy, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, animal communication and even sound and colour therapy. The term is extremely broad in scope and in its simplest form refers to anything used in alternative to conventional medicine.

Owned by neither alternative or conventional medicine, the discipline of nutrition, diet, and supplementation, is an emerging field which is unmistakably important to a well-balanced approach as well. Inappropriate or suboptimal nutrition will undermine the ultimate success of most therapies and medicine. There really isn’t a formal definition or category of this burgeoning discipline. Its best fit seems to be with integrative practices. When veterinarians and alternative therapists are well versed in the topics of diet, nutrition and supplement, it is of tremendous benefit to their patients and clients.

The safety and efficacy of many of the alternative practices remains largely unknown, yet public demand for such practices is rapidly growing. Advising owners who seek alternative treatments presents a professional challenge.

Presently, horse owners will find veterinarians who are reluctant to recommend alternative therapies, as well as veterinarians who willingly embrace complementary therapies, even practising these therapies on horses themselves. Understandably this can present a confusing dilemma for well-meaning horse owners.

It is important to remember that veterinary medicine is not to be excluded when alternative therapies are sought, rather it is even more important that veterinarians are included. Alternative therapies are in no way a replacement for conventional veterinary medicine, rather an adjunctive treatment procedure.

Since there is no policing of alternative therapies, it is a buyer beware market. Unfortunately, a poorly chosen alternative therapy can be harmful to the horse. Well-schooled, experienced and competent practitioners of alternative therapies will highly regard and include the veterinary community. The reverse is also true whereby a veterinarian will recognize the value of a competent and experienced practitioner of alternative therapies. As a result, the list of health-care providers for a high-level-performance horse may include a veterinarian, a chiropractor or bodyworker, and an acupuncturist.

Many alternative therapies are sought when behavioural, training issues or chronic problems ensue and conventional veterinary medicine fails to reveal a physical or metabolic cause. Oftentimes, the integrative practices will address the emotional and mental health of the horse. Surprisingly remarkable results can be experienced when a horse’s emotional patterns and state of mind are acknowledged and addressed appropriately.

Common sense and some homework is best when considering alternative therapies. A knowledgeable client will understand the modality chosen, its intended and appropriate purpose, and educate and/or familiarize themselves with the hallmarks of a qualified and competent practitioner.

About the author


Carol Shwetz is a veterinarian focusing on equine practice in Millarville, Alberta.

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