My holistic awakening: becoming an integrative veterinarian

December 15, 2015

My holistic awakening: becoming an integrative veterinarian

From Dr. Jason Rowan:

I've been practicing veterinary medicine for 14 years, but it wasn't until our family had serious health challenges, that I awakened to the powerful world of natural medicine.

Back on the farm

My father was a small town veterinarian in Saskatchewan, and my earliest memories are of the physical side of rural medicine: pulling calves, pregnancy checking cows and spaying dogs and cats. Since I was a little kid, I knew I was going to be a vet. I went to school in Saskatchewan, and graduated practicing medicine within 100km of where I grew up. I was a good student with an open mind, but conventional medicine was all I knew: all I learned in veterinary school, and all that my colleagues used in rural Saskatchewan. I was happy with this approach to practice, until I discovered the world of "alternative" medicine.

Health challenges at home

My wife Arnica and I had been living in the Okanagan Valley for several years when her health took a turn for the worse. Arnica suffered for years from rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating disease that often leaves young women with extreme physical challenges. Due to the harsh immune system suppressing medication she was on, she developed brutal chronic infections. When conventional medicine failed us, we finally turned to a holistic approach. I admit I was skeptical, but wanted to see my wife get healthier. We read about anti-inflammatory diets from North America's leading integrative physician, Dr. Weil. Then we had long consultations with Ester, the amazing pharmacist who runs Prescription Health Studio on Tutt Street, Kelowna's integrative pharmacy. With that guidance, we quelled Arnica's inflammation. And then we started seeing Dr. Andrea Chambers at Mission Naturopathic Clinic, who once and for all, rid Arnica's body of the general infection she had been fighting for the last couple of years. I was amazed, relieved, and hooked... What were the implications for veterinary medicine? How much more could I help patients with chronic illnesses if I added natural medicine to my repertoire?

Let food be thy medicine

At home, I had already been experimenting with nutrition for our own pets. Our cat Haatim was a disaster in the litter box, until I started independently researching optimal cat nutrition. With a diet change and some probiotics, his digestive track got a lot healthier, and he was so much happier and friendlier. It was then that I decided I would not rely on veterinary food brands for nutritional research, but search for non-tainted data. This may seem obvious to you, but most veterinarians rely strictly on their suppliers for nutritional continuing education, and most pet nutrition research is funded by pet food companies. This one decision dramatically changed the way I practiced, and even the food (raw, and non-veterinary brands) that we carry in our clinic. To this day, our Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital staff does its own independent research, attending online conferences like Raw Round-up, enrolling in nutrition classes and consulting veterinary journals directly. Nutritional supplements have become a huge part of my management approach for illnesses such as digestive issues and inflammation.

Amazing, challenging herbal medicine

I'm a passionate learner, and realized I wanted some guidance from well-versed veterinarians who had other alternative tools in their veterinary toolkits. A few years ago, I began taking courses in Western herbal medicine from the College for Integrative Veterinary Therapies in Australia. It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole at first; there was so much to learn, and these traditional medicines were a lot more complicated than conventional drugs. To give you an idea, herbs have multiple actions, and can work on multiple symptoms; whereas the drugs derived from these herbs are simpler and usually only work for one or two ailments. There are also a lot of different herbs that do a good job helping the same problems, but depending on the animal's individual constitution, some herbs work better than others. Herbal medicine is complicated! Every day I learn something new, and one of my favourite things to do is make custom herbal remedies for individual patients. I'm happy to say that there are many pets I've been able to help extremely effectively with herbal medicine, and those successes spurn me on to keep learning. Some of our clinic's greatest herbal medicine successes are with urinary incontinence, arthritis management and anxiety.

Last year I took a herbal course that included the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) At the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference I attended in October, in Augusta, Georgia, I found myself drawn to sessions on mushrooms and other TCM approaches. There were board certified specialty veterinarians (oncologists etc) using traditional Chinese remedies extremely effectively, in concert with conventional medicine. There is also a lot of research happening in this field, compared to other veterinary modalities. Needless to say, my interest was peeked, and this coming year, I plan on taking some more courses in the Chinese diagnostic approach and even acupuncture.

Part of my holistic approach to pet health care has also been changing practices to do less harm. Sometimes we take what has been done before as the only truth, when in fact, we should look more deeply and keep challenges norms. A good example of this is our clinic's approach to vaccinations. Instead of routine adult dog and cat vaccinations, we suggest testing your pet's immunity against viruses with a titre test, then only vaccinating when necessary.

Lifelong learning for the best possible vet care

The moral of this story is the old dogs do learn new tricks! and continued learning has a huge influence on my practice of veterinary medicine.

I'm extremely grateful for the inspiration from my wife's healthcare team, who continue to support her excellent health. My amazing veterinary colleagues practicing holistic medicine around the world are some of the brightest and forward-thinking people I've met, and it's great company to keep and be challenged by. And so many of you, our clients, come to the clinic because of our open-minded approach: I thank you too, for continuing to trust me with your pet's healthcare and challenge me to keep learning more and more.
This year, keep your eyes peeled for some amazing advances in vitamin D testing and treatment, and more holistic care options.

Yours in holistic pet health and life-long learning,
Dr. Jason


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