What is it really?

alternative, complementary or integrative medicine


You've probably heard about alternative, complementary or integrative medicine. These are three names for the same idea. Medicine as taught to most doctors and vets in professional school is referred to as conventional medicine. 

Alternative, complementary and integrative medicine refer to therapies and methods that expand the scope of conventional medicine. Some of these therapies have been used for a long time, such as nutrition, acupuncture, massage, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Other therapies are less well known or more recently developed. We prefer the terms complementary or integrative medicine, as they best portray the spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness.

Holistic therapies
Musculoskeletal Manipulation – Chiropractic, Osteopathic

Osteopathy comes under the heading of CAM

Veterinary chiropractors and veterinary osteopaths both have advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that are particularly affected by the alignment of the spinal column and the limbs.

This means that both chiropractors and osteopaths are excellent resources when animals have mobility problems, or back and neck pain. Osteopaths may also treat other diseases that are affected by pressure on nerves or blood vessels.

Both chiropractors and osteopaths will manipulate an animal’s spine and limbs to resolve abnormal alignment, so it is important that the animal be reasonably cooperative.

Holistic medicine

Holistic medicine is the ideal approach for every patient. Holistic means that, regardless of what therapy is used for treatment, the goal is to improve the health of the whole individual. This means that we need to understand not just the patient’s physical symptoms, but also their mental and emotional state, and their physical and social environment.

Holistic medicine seeks the therapies best suited to a particular individual which minimise the possibility of side effects. 

Medical practitioners may practice holistically within a conventional framework. We find that the use of complementary therapies gives us more options to help patients, and fewer problems with reactions to medications.

Nutrition and environment

Nutrition and environment are two of the most important elements in attaining and maintaining good health. Foods today are grown on soils which are largely depleted of trace elements, after years of intensive farming practices. Organic foods can help, as can nutritional supplements.

Some individuals require more of certain substances in their diet, and patients with particular diseases can also be helped by carefully chosen supplements. Stress affects both people and animals; a stressful environment weakens the body and makes disease more likely.

Avoid situations and individuals that cause conflict and anxiety, and provide time for your animals and yourself to engage in natural, stress relieving behaviours.


Homeopathy is a system of medicine developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann over two hundred years ago, and is used extensively in many countries. Homeopathic medicines are safe, effective, and low in cost.

It works with the body’s natural defences to restore health, rather than just fight disease. Homeopathy is based on the premise that a substance (plant, element or animal product) that causes certain symptoms in healthy individuals can, in a highly diluted form, stimulate a healing response in a patient with an illness or condition characterised by those same symptoms.

Homeopathy has been particularly useful in situations where conventional medicine has undesirable side effects, such as anxiety, behaviour problems, chronic diseases and skin conditions.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is not the same as homeopathy, though it is easy to see how the two are confused. In homeopathy, herbs and other substances are highly diluted and potentised to make remedies.

Herbal medicine uses the herbs as whole plant parts, or as powdered or liquid extracts. A number of conventional medicines synthetically reproduce the active ingredients in herbs, but herbalists find that the use of the whole natural plant product is often more effective and gentler in action.

Many herbs are very safe, but attention must be paid to the dosage. They also can interfere with the action of other medicines in some cases.

Physical Therapy
Hydrotherapy/Therapeutic Swimming, Massage, Stretches

Hydrotherapy also comes under the heading of CAM

The field of rehabilitation medicine and physical therapy is growing as more people engage in activities with their athletic companions.

Any injured or geriatric animal will also benefit from these gentle therapies. Massage improves blood circulation, and stretches improve flexibility. Hydrotherapy is an excellent way for injured or geriatric animals to strengthen their muscles without the stress of bearing weight.

In addition, many rehabilitation vets will explain how people can employ massage and stretching techniques in a home fitness program, to speed recovery or maximise fitness.


Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine which is more than 4,000 years old. It uses an understanding of the body’s normal characteristics and the energy flow of the body to determine how to stimulate healing, relieve pain or resolve body imbalances by placement and manipulation of acupuncture needles.

Several sessions might be needed to see significant improvement in a patient. Often Chinese herbal combinations will help maintain and augment the improvement seen from acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture is best known for its relief of musculoskeletal pain, and it can be helpful with many other conditions.

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