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Finding and Using Holistic Veterinary Services

for Wildlife 


By Janice L. Facinelli, DVM, Shirley J. Casey and Allan M. Casey, III


This article was previously published in Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation, Winter 1997, Vol. 20, No.4, pgs 14-19. Used with permission from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.  



Increasing Interest in Holistic Medicine


The accompanying article in this issue of the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation entitled "Beyond Conventional Allopathic Medicine: Options Considered by Wildlife Rehabilitators" discusses the growing interest in holistic medicine and a variety of modalities.  Not surprisingly, a natural outgrowth of this trend is a growing interest on the part of a number of wildlife rehabilitators to explore the potential benefits these alternative approaches may yield in the rehabilitation process.  In addition to pursuing self-education, many rehabilitators are seeking the services of holistic veterinarians to provide guidance and assistance in this area. 


Holistic Veterinary Services


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), "holistic veterinary medicine is a comprehensive approach to healthcare employing alternative and conventional diagnostic and therapeutic modalities."  It incorporates acupuncture and acutherapy, botanical (herbal) medicine, chiropractic, homeopathy, physical therapy, massage and touch therapy, and flower essences (see bibliography for more information on specific modalities).  The AVMA recognizes the growing consumer interest in this area and subsequent rapid change in veterinary medicine.


Just as conventional medicine and surgery involve specialized education, skills and credentials, similar education, skills and credentials are also appropriate for the practice of holistic veterinary medicine.  While few conventional veterinary medical schools in the U.S. offer training in alternative and complementary modalities, a variety of other sources provide such training in many different countries.  Increasing consumer demand for these programs will likely increase the availability of specialized seminars, workshops and continuing education for veterinarians, veterinary technicians and others involved with animal health care.  


Learning about Alternative Health Care 


Before seeking holistic veterinary services, a wildlife rehabilitator should have some basic understanding of the different alternative and complementary modalities.  Many of these alternative approaches are significantly different from conventional medicine.  It is helpful for the rehabilitator to understand what is involved in each of these specific modalities, as well as the types of conditions found in injured, diseased and orphaned wildlife where application of these modalities might be beneficial.  This knowledge will also help the rehabilitator know what type of services to seek.  For example, if a rehabilitator wants to administer a homeopathic treatment, he/she should find a homeopath, not an acupuncturist or massage therapist, who would offer very different services.  Some of these modalities may be used on their own, while others may be used as an adjunct or complementary therapy to allopathic treatments.


In order to learn about the different modalities, the rehabilitator can turn to a wide variety of excellent introductory books on most of the common alternatives. There are numerous educational television programs, as well as the internet, that can also provide information on alternative health care.  Additionally, some health food stores or community colleges may offer brief introductions.  While many of these programs will be focused on the modalities' use with humans, the basic principles are the same.  Conferences with specialized programs or workshops for rehabilitators will offer information more focused on wildlife.  Talking with other rehabilitators about their observations can also be helpful.  It is important to remember that while alternative modalities may be useful with some conditions, they are not all equally effective in all circumstances.   


Locating Holistic Veterinary Services


One of the ever present challenges confronting almost every wildlife rehabilitator is finding a veterinarian who is knowledgeable, skillful, and interested in working with wildlife (and for reasonable rates!). Finding holistic veterinary services is similar, but one that is made even more challenging since there are currently fewer holistic veterinarians available.  While the membership of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has increased by approximately one hundred new members over the past few years, total membership currently stands at around 600 members (Johnson, 1997).


Referrals can provide valuable help.  Holistic professionals who are focused on human health (homeopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, et al) may be able to suggest veterinarians with similar interests.  In addition, pet supply or health food stores may be able to provide referrals.  Other rehabilitators, animal welfare groups, friends and family may also have suggestions based on their experiences.  Professional associations for the various holistic veterinary medical modalities are also an effective and informative source (see "Other Sources" below).  Some conventional veterinarians may also be able to provide names of holistic veterinarians with whom they have worked.  The internet and telephone directories are other sources of names, but tend to have much less complete data.


Gathering Background Information 


After finding names of veterinarians who offer holistic services, it is helpful to gather more general information about their specialties (acupuncture, homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc.), preferences (livestock, small animals, exotics, etc.), professional associations, education, etc.. This information may be available as a brochure from their office, or result from a brief discussion with their staff.  Talking with others who have used their services for domesticated animals such as companion animals or livestock, or possibly even for wildlife, can be extremely helpful.


This is a very important step since it helps the rehabilitator decide if he/she wants to further pursue the contact.  It should be remembered that working with wildlife requires special considerations and not everyone is a good "fit" for a variety of reasons (type of practice, availability, attitude to wildlife, lack of communication with clients, fee structure, etc.).  Rehabilitators should give thoughtful consideration to who they want to contact further.   


Teaming with a Veterinarian Before a Crisis 

Rehabilitators are familiar with the importance of building relationships with a veterinarian before the crisis or immediate need arises. The same holds true with a holistic veterinarian. It can be helpful to start the connection by arranging for an appointment away from the hustle and bustle of the veterinarian's office appointments and the rehabilitator's also demanding schedule, such as a breakfast or lunch meeting.  


Since every veterinarian is not familiar with wildlife rehabilitation it is helpful to provide some general information on rehabilitation (i.e., native wildlife is not private property, releasing healthy animals back to the wild is the objective, relevant regulations) as well as information on the rehabilitator's activities (i.e., types of trauma and conditions, species rehabilitated, seasonal trends) and operational considerations (i.e., non-profit status, budget levels, training or expertise). It is also useful to talk about some of the philosophies regarding wildlife, such as not rescuing what does not need to be rescued, keeping wildlife wild, minimizing stress and handling, and euthanasia.


This conversation can be considered general outreach.  It also can help both the rehabilitator and the veterinarian consider possible future connections.  For example, the veterinarian may not be interested in treating wildlife, but will direct his or her staff to refer wildlife calls to the rehabilitator.  Perhaps he or she may be willing to make resource materials available, or share announcements on educational events and training opportunities.  Or he or she may request to see the rehabilitator's facility and learn more before making a commitment to provide their services. Another may be glad just to know that the rehabilitator and other veterinarians are helping wildlife, but are not interested themselves or available at that time.  These are all useful data points.


Should the veterinarian express an interest in providing medical care to wildlife, the discussion can then expand to the types of services he or she can provide.  The discussion should cover the types of wildlife he or she would be willing or able to treat (i.e., smaller versus large, mammals versus birds, non-surgical versus surgical traumas), plus the need for separation of wildlife from domestic animals at their facility.  It is also useful to discuss the veterinarian's possible level of involvement (i.e., phone consultation an hour a week; seeing wildlife patients a couple of hours a month; diagnosing problems then training the rehabilitator to administer the treatment).

The discussion should also address the "team" oriented nature of the relationship, since the rehabilitator will be providing most of the direct care for the wildlife at their rehabilitation facility (as opposed to the animal staying at the veterinary hospital for the full rehabilitation).  This may include some learning for the rehabilitator in order to administer different types of treatment (e.g., laser acupuncture; physical therapy).  The rehabilitator needs to be able to describe his/her own level of knowledge and skill so the veterinarian can assess what level of treatment the rehabilitator can handle on their own away from the veterinary clinic.


The cost of veterinary services, treatment and medications should also be discussed in a frank and open manner.  The veterinarian needs to be aware that most rehabilitators can rarely pay full costs for veterinary care.  As such, possible rate adjustments or deferred payment schedules should be discussed at this time.   While rehabilitators would greatly appreciate pro-bono services, they might not be available.   It is also important to discuss general protocols, such as how and when appointments should be scheduled.  


Offering Resources


After clarifying the relationship and future contacts, the rehabilitator can provide the veterinarian with general resources and printed materials that describe various aspects of the wildlife rehabilitation process (rehabilitation manuals, tips on handling wildlife, wildlife identification guides, state and local regulations and ordinances, etc.).  In some cases, it may also be helpful to offer the veterinarian some small cages that can be designated specifically for wildlife and can be easily isolated from the sights, smells and sounds of cages for domestic animals kept in the veterinary clinic.


Starting Slowly


It is helpful to limit the number of initial cases on which the veterinarian is consulted in order to gradually expand the relationship and experience base.  It is important to not overwhelm the veterinarian with numbers or cases demanding extensive time, thus potentially "burning out" a valuable resource.


Veterinarians providing holistic services consider many details about the animal that might not be required by conventional veterinarians, such as the animal's preference for hot or cold, general attitude, specific fears, time of day when conditions are better or worse. Thus it is necessary for the rehabilitator to provide the veterinarian with extensive observations and documentation on the animal.  The rehabilitator's experience and assistance with restraining wildlife during the examination or treatment may be helpful since it reduces the veterinary staff's need to be exposed to the risk of handling wildlife.  Minimizing the wild animal's time at the veterinary clinic is also important to reduce stress on the animal and the risk to the clinic staff. 


It is very important to show appreciation for the veterinarian's services.  In addition to "thank-you's", articles mentioning him/her in local media, plaques, and other types of public recognition are beneficial.  Referrals to paying clients are also valuable in furthering the relationship.


If a Holistic Veterinarian is Not Readily Available 


In some areas, local holistic veterinary services are not currently available.  Yet rehabilitators may still be interested in considering such modalities for wildlife.  There are at least two ways that a rehabilitator can still pursue veterinary assistance in holistic medical care.


First, in some cases, it may be appropriate for the rehabilitator to seek telephone consultation with a holistic veterinarian in another area. Certain modalities, such as herbal medicine and homeopathic remedies, can be handled over the telephone by skilled veterinary practitioners.  The observation and communication skills of the rehabilitator become critical to the success of this approach.  The veterinarian's rates should also be discussed before discussing the specifics of the case and incurring charges.


Secondly, there may be local veterinarians with conventional allopathic veterinary practices that might be interested in learning more about alternative modalities.  This may or may not be the veterinarian the rehabilitator works with most often.  Success with this approach depends on the initiative of the rehabilitator in approaching a conventional veterinarian, in an informed and tactful fashion.


It may be useful to start such a discussion with one's own primary wildlife veterinarian.  Clearly the discussion should focus on the fact that the rehabilitator is considering expanding the set of options available for treating wildlife, and not in any manner attacking or discounting the conventional services of the veterinarian.  It may be helpful to provide some general background information as to the reasons the rehabilitator is considering alternative and complementary veterinary medical practices.  The American Holistic Veterinary Association can also provide a short description of different alternative modalities.  The AVMA's Guidelines for Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine may be useful as well.


If the conventional veterinarian appears open and interested, it would benefit the discussion to share with the veterinarian some of the materials the rehabilitator has been studying.  Technical resources with a scientific orientation may be better received initially by the veterinarian, such as The Science of Homeopathy or Healing With Homeopathy.  Various educational programs for rehabilitators or veterinary staffs on these topics could also be discussed.  Providing the veterinarian with information on professional holistic veterinary organizations may also be helpful.  In some cases, the rehabilitator may even want to provide some of the resources (books, training, etc.) to the veterinarian as a gift. 


After developing a basic understanding, the veterinarian might be willing to support the use of one of the alternative modalities with wildlife.  First steps in the initial cases could be treating some condition that is extremely minor (e.g., "even if this treatment does not accelerate or treat the condition, the animal should recover just fine anyway").  Or, in a case when conventional medicine is not expected to resolve the problem (e.g., "there is not anything else conventional medicine can do for this animal, so before deciding to euthanize, let's give it a try").  Sharing information on results after treatment is also important.


It should also be mentioned that some conventional veterinarians may oppose some or all alternative modalities altogether, and possibly not want to work with rehabilitators who use holistic practices.  In such situations, where this veterinarian has been the primary resource for rehabilitation assistance, the rehabilitator must weigh the possible consequences of whether to use alternative health care or the help of holistic veterinarians.  It is important to factor into the decision any potential undesired outcomes before taking action.




As interest and research continues to grow in the potential benefits of holistic medicine, it seems inevitable that consumer demand for such products and services will see commensurate growth.  Though many of these modalities are described as more "natural" cures and ways of healing, they still require in-depth knowledge, skill and training to be used properly.  If used improperly, these treatments can be ineffective, or in some cases even harmful.  Therefore it is critical that a rehabilitator who is considering expanding the range of medical treatments available to wildlife rehabilitation seek out professional veterinary assistance in these various alternative and complementary modalities.


It also seems inevitable that with the growing membership in the holistic veterinary community, it is only a matter of time before many of these modalities find their way into the full range of expected and accepted options of medical care used in mainstream wildlife rehabilitation.  The purpose of this article has been to provide some suggestions and guidance to those rehabilitators who desire to accelerate that process.  




AVMA Guidelines for Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine, The AVMA Network Internet Website


Bonham, Margaret, 1996. "How to Choose a Holistic Veterinarian", Natural Pet, September/October.


Day, C., 1992.  The Homeopathic Treatment of Small Animals.  England, Daniel.  


Hanks, Lisa, 1996.  "The Pet Owner's Holistic Resource Guide".  Natural Pet, October, pp. 48-57. 


Heimerman, John, 1983.  Healing Animals with Herbs.  UT, BiWorld Publishing.


Hoffman, David. The Holistic Herbal.  England, Element Books, 1988.


Jonas, Wayne, M.D., and Jacobs, Jennifer, M.D., 1996.  Healing With Homeopathy: The Complete Guide . NY, Warner Books.


Johnson, Jennifer, 1997.  "Holistic Vet Shortage Continues", Natural Pet, December.


Klide, Allan and Kung, S., 1977.  Veterinary Acupuncture .  USA, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.


Mayell, Mark and editors of Natural Health Magazine, 1994.  The Natural Health First Aid Guide.  NY, Pocket Books.


Moore, A. and Joosten, S., ed., 1997.  Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation, National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association.


Ody, P., 1993. The Complete Herbal.  NY, Doringling Kindersley.


Pitman, V., 1996. Herbal Medicine.  NY,  Barnes and Noble Books.


Pitcairn, R. and Pitcairn, S., 1995.  Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.  PA,:  Rodale.


Scheffer, M., 1988.  Bach Flower Therapy.  VT, Healing Arts Press.


Schwartz, Cheryl, 1996. Four Paws, Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs .  CA, Celestial Arts Publishing.


Stein, D., 1993. Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats.  CA, The Crossing Press.


Sullivan, K., 1997. The Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies .  NY, Barnes and Noble Books.


Tellington-Jones, L., 1992. and Taylor, Sybil.  The Tellington Touch. NY, Viking.


Vithoulkas, George., 1980. The Science of Homeopathy .  NY, Grove Press.


Other Sources of Information on Alternative Veterinary Medicine


Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, 751 N.E. 168th St., N.Miami, FL  33162; 305-652-1590; fax 305-653-7244. Send SASE and $2 for brochure and list of specialists.  is an internet site with short articles on various types of alternative veterinary care as well as internet links to a wide range of related sites, including many professional veterinary associations.  The AVMA Guidelines for Alternative Medicine can also be accessed from this site.


American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, 2214 Old Edmund Rd., Bel Air, MD 21015; 410-569-0795; fax 410/659-2346. Send SASE for brochure and list of specialists.


American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, 623 Main St., Hillsdale, IL  61257; 309/658-2920.  Send SASE for brochure and list of practitioners.


International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy, 334 Knollwood Ln., Woodstock, GA 30188; 770/516-7622. Send SASE for brochure and list of members in various countries. Send SASE for brochure and list of practitioners.


International Association of Holistic Health Practitioners, 5020 Spring Mountain Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89121; 702/873-4542. Send SASE for brochure and list of practitioners.


International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, P.O.Box 1478, Longmont, CO 80502. 303/682-1167.  Send SASE for brochure and list of acupuncturists.


About the Authors


Janice Facinelli, DVM,  owns and operates Holistic Care for Animals, a veterinary clinic in Denver, Colorado.  Dr. Facinelli received her veterinary degree from Colorado State University in 1972.  She practiced conventional veterinary medicine for many years before becoming interested in various holistic veterinary practices.  She received her accreditation by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 1988, her certification from the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy in 1991, and her certificate from the Academy of Classical Homeopathy (2 yr. program) in 1996. 


Shirley and Allan Casey are licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Evergreen, Colorado. See About Us for more info.

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