Needles, Adjustments and Herbs, Oh My!

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Acupuncture for iguanas? Chiropractic adjustments for cats? If you’re Dr. Carolyn Love, that’s all part of a day’s work. love, who with her veterinary partner Dr. Geoffrey Wisbrock, runs Love  Pet Hospital, practices alternative veterinary medicine alongside Western medicine, which means the treatments for her patient roster in any given day might include acupuncture, chiropractic care and the use of Chinese herbal medicine.

If you’re surprised that Fido can be treated with herbs, don’t be–Austin’s veterinary health care options are as diverse as its human health care. And vets like Love say they have seen alternative veterinary care treat what allopathic medicine sometimes can’t.

Love is quick to make clear that she doesn’t discredit Western medicine. But after seeing amazing results when she turned to Chinese medicine for her own health issues, Love said a natural approach can help balance an animal’s body in a way that drugs don’t.

“I myself had chiropractic 
treatment for the first time in 1990. Before that, I had blinders on, thinking there must be something wrong with it,” Love said. “So I was blown away with that. Then four or five years later, I had some exposure to acupuncture. I was very, very tired, and had some Western medicine testing done, but nothing showed up. So I went to an acupuncturist. it turns out I had a spleen chi deficiency. After two or three treatments, I felt like a windup toy–all my energy came back.”

Now her alternative health care offerings range from ozone therapy, which uses a saturated IV solution to oxygenate tissues, to using computers paired with acupressure points to treat allergies. Love, who opened her practice in 1994, said there’s a high demand for alternative vet services around Austin, fueled by an open-minded nature among its residents, and she predicts it will keep growing in popularity.

“Austin attracts a cosmopolitan, eclectic mix of people,” she said, “and if you look at statistics for the natural supplement industry, it’s increased over the last few years. People are doing their own homework for themselves, so they’re applying the same principle to their pets.”

Dr. Betsy Harrison, who practices homeopathic medicine on both animals and humans, said the benefits of homeopathy range from an overall enhancement of a body’s immunity, and the knowledge that you’re not using chemicals with potential side effects, to lower health care costs. Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that uses remedies called homeopathics to treat patients. It uses a “like cures like” principle, that a disease can be treated by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people– or pets.

Harrison got her start practicing allopathic, or traditional Western, veterinary medicine. However, like Love, a personal experience led her to shift toward homeopathy in her practice. Harrison’s daughter had been suffering from recurring strep throat and headaches that kept reappearing when she went off antibiotics. Harrison finally tried a homeopathic treatment that involved plant and mineral substances and said she hasn’t seen the strep and headaches in her daughter since. “I think that unfortunately, too many people come to it as a last desperate measure,” Harrison said of homeopathic veterinary care. “Which of course makes it a little more difficult, but also quite satisfying sometimes. It would be my hope that in the future people would use it as a primary modality, rather than waiting until allopathic medicine can do all it can do.”

Harrison said she’s seen some major health turnarounds in her practice. Homeopathic treatments cleared problems for one dog, who had a case of distemper so serious it was starting to impact the animal on a neurological level. She said that a common trend leading to dogs’ allergy issues is their diet; she recommends a balanced, raw and natural diet as opposed to processed pet food. And she said she also sees plenty of pet patients with skin problems, which she attributes to over-vaccinating and bad diets.

Dr. Will Falconer, a longtime Austin homeopathic veterinarian, also sees cause for concern when it comes to over-vaccinating animals and stresses that vaccine boosters do little good for an animal’s health. Like Harrison, Falconer said a raw and balanced diet is also a key component in an animal’s overall health.

Falconer also started out as an allopathic veterinarian and said that while he enjoyed his patients, he felt there was something else out there for him. He began researching publications from the American Holistic Veterinary Organization and became interested in the role nutrition and treatments such as acupuncture could play in veterinary medicine. Falconer said that by 1990 he began practicing alternative veterinary medicine and eventually turned his entire practice into classical homeopathy. He said he sees clients who have either explored homeopathy for themselves and want to practice it with their pets or who have come to the practice after spending a lot of money for conventional medical treatment and becoming fed up. In progressive and animal-loving Austin, Falconer said he sees a pet ownership that actively seeks out holistic care for their pets.

“There’s more and more veterinarians getting trained in these methods as the years go on,” he said.

Practitioners such as Love, Harrison and Falconer brim with energy and excitement about the relatively new applications of some very old medicine in animal health, and have the results to back up their enthusiasm. The next time you suspect your furry loved one has a health problem that may need the eye of a different type of veterinary provider, you’ll find no shortage of alternative options around the city. Your puppy’s chi may, after all, just need a hypothetical shot in the arm.

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