Holistic Medicine

Holistic Medicine for Animals

Veterinary Holistic Medicine

with notes on reductionism


Holistic, Alternative, Natural or complimentary?

The Holistic vet

FAQ Holistic Medicine

Holistic Cure

or follow the links in this below:

Holistic Horse            Holistic Pony              Holistic Dog                Holistic Cat              Holistic Farm

Jan Smuts (1870 – 1950) is credited with coining the term ‘holism'

The word holistic has been mentioned a great deal on this site and you are bound to encounter it elsewhere. Not everyone understands what it means and not everyone who would purport to be using holistic medicine (holistic veterinary medicine) really is doing so. There is, in fact, nothing mysterious about the word ‘holistic‘ and its application is simple. It does, though, require scrupulous attention to detail and due diligence and to understand the term and its implications is important to an understanding of the work of a real holistic vet.

Holism or holistic treatment involves treating the body as a whole, including the mind and spirit and including a study of the diet, the lifestyle, the environment and the circumstances in which that body operates. It also recognises and works with the two-way interaction between the body and its environment. The holistic vet must take all this into account, to fit the description.

Nature tends to form systems. In any system, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The whole is not entirely explicable in terms of its parts. Each system has others within it. Within each system, each part interacts with every other part and is, in turn, acted upon by each other part. No part can be independent of the others and no part can be independent of the whole. Each part is unique, and cannot be compared with another, yet is essential to the functioning of the whole.

Each system in turn interacts with every other system. No system is independent of any other. Some may hear echoes of De Morgan’s parody of Jonathan Swift’s eloquent and elegant observation on fleas:

“Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their back to bite 'em
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum.”

All things are connected, as in Seathl’s words, whence came the Gaia Theory of our earth as a living organism.

Because holism knows no boundaries, we need to define a context, before we can communicate and discuss any ‘system’. In holistic veterinary medicine, we are referring to the animal patient ‘system'. We must then look both inwards and outwards, from our visual image of the animal, in order to understand the meaning of this system.

Looking outwards, the holistic vet finds that the animal operates within his environment and cannot be independent of it. Each part of his environment acts upon him and he, in turn, impinges upon it. He cannot usefully be considered outside this context. This explains why an animal may appear differently in a veterinary consulting room than at home and why he may appear to be ‘cured’ in hospital, for example, but not when sent home. The environments are wholly different and exert massive effects. This is also a possible explanation for one aspect of the scientific failure of laboratory animal experimentation. For any given patient, we must observe how his environment, circumstance and lifestyle play a part in his disease and in his health. In a working horse’s case, for instance, this necessarily also includes saddling, shoeing, stabling, feeding, riding etc.

Looking inwards, the holistic vet finds that each part of the animal interacts (two-way) with every other part and that no part is independent of any other, nor of the whole. This means that we cannot usefully consider one part of the animal in isolation. Although an organ has an existence and can be removed from the body and viewed in isolation, there is no such independent functional entity. As ‘specialisms’ develop in human and animal medicine, so there is a tendency for the patient to be broken down into more and more ‘separate' components (reductionism – see below), with a tendency to ignore the other parts of the body. This can lead to great misunderstandings of the body, because it is not a machine. The patient is a living entity, following the laws of holistic nature. The individual components have no independent function and no meaning, without the others and without the whole.

For this reason, Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (including Acupuncture), Herbal Medicine (herbs) and some other systems of natural medicine (e.g Ayurveda), which consider the body as a functional whole, within its environment (i.e. holistic), are often able to produce results, when a more conventional and ‘reductionist‘ approach has failed.

Homeopathy            Acupuncture            Herbs             Chiropractic            Natural Feeding

Christopher D, practicing at the Alternative Vet, is a holistic vet of more than 40 years' experience in holistic medicine, especially homeopathy and is willing to share experiences, understanding and ideas with veterinary colleagues, veterinary students and animal ‘owners' on any aspect of vet holistic medicine. The AVMC was the first dedicated holistic veterinary practice in the UK, founded in 1987. He offers holistic vet advice for each and every patient.

N.B. Many of the therapies used at the AVMC are restricted to use by a fully-qualified veterinary surgeon (Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966). On this site, each page describing a therapy has a note, explaining this.


Reductionism may be the opposite of holism. It is anyway very foreign to the methodology and reasoning of a holistic vet.

Reductionism has been explained as: a doctrine that maintains that all objects and events, their properties and our experience and knowledge of them are made up of ultimate elements, indivisible parts (Ackoff 1974).

Perhaps the 17th century French philosopher René Descartes (1596 – 1650) can be credited with the basis for this reductionist and mechanistic approach to the world and to living beings. However, it is not all down to him. The human brain appears to find it easier to think along mechanistic lines, rather than holistic lines. There is a desire to classify everything and to explain everything mechanistically. There is a fear of the wider and less explicable aspects of life. Reductionism is fundamentally opposite to the holistic way of thinking, in so many areas and has given rise to much of modern science.

Descartes formally declared that the mind was separate from the body. He attempted to apply certainty to philosophy and biology. His life was therefore close to being an oxymoron, in itself (it appears clear, in my work, that the only certainty is uncertainty – Chris Day, holistic vet).

In Rules for the Direction of the Mind (1625-28), he laid down the elements of ‘rational analysis' which, combined with experiment and observation, became the basis of modern scientific method. In De Homine, he held that animals could be reductively explained as automata.

In reality, animals (and humans) do not function in parts, we function as a whole and mind, body (with all its individual organs and parts) and spirit are an inseparable entity. This is a fact and to think and work otherwise will inevitably lead to failure.

Holistic Horse Holistic Dog Holistic Cat Holistic Farm

Note: Sometimes, we have been asked just to treat one of a horse's problems and not to bother about whatever else may be wrong or that we might find at the examination. This is not possible, as a holistic vet using holistic therapies such as acupuncture or homeopathy, in that it is the horse (or cat, dog, pony or other animal) as a whole that we are treating, not one of the symptoms or signs of disease. The entire symptomatology builds the patient picture that a holistic vet needs before selecting a treatment. We treat the horse and the horse is the one who heals. Hippocrates is credited with saying that: ‘The physician treats, Nature heals‘. This means that we cannot target one specific part of the picture, nor should we, as holistic vets, leave correctible problems unattended (e.g. ill-fitting saddle, bad shoeing etc.), as these can significantly impede the healing process and potentially lead to problems further down the line. Avoidable problems should be avoided.

Synonyms: ‘Holism' and ‘Holistic' are sometimes written ‘Wholism' and ‘Wholistic'.

N.B.: When a case is referred to us, it is much more helpful to receive the entire medical history, rather than selected detail from it. The holistic methodology and treatment are more effective, when based on the full medical history.

P.S.: In the USA, it appears that a veterinarian who uses a spectrum of natural, alternative and complimentary medicines is called a holistic veterinarian. This interpretation of the meaning of the term ‘holistic vet' is well demonstrated by the article in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_veterinary_medicine  (at the time of writing on 10th June 2010). According to the UK understanding, however, it is the methodology that makes one holistic, rather than the systems of medicine applied. One might only use one medical system but still practice it in a truly holistic way. This is simply a matter of varying definitions and common usage.

The Alternative Vet (AVMC) offers Holistic Veterinary Medicine for horses, ponies, dogs, cats and other species.

Main Treatments offered (see Therapies):

  • Homeopathic treatment
  • Acupuncture treatment
  • Herbal treatment (Phytotherapy)
  • Aromatherapy treatment
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Nutritional advice – Feeding advice
  • LASER treatment
  • Ultrasound treatment
  • Back manipulation – Back treatment
  • Bach Flowers
  • Holistic medicine – Holistic veterinary medicine
  • Flower Essences
  • Tissue Salts
  • Holistic therapy – Holistic treatment – Holistic care
  • Holistic advice
  • Anthroposophical medicines – Anthroposophy
  • Natural medicine – Alternative medicine – complimentary medicine
  • CAM – CAVM
  • Integrated medicine (Integrative medicine)
  • Natural Feeding – Natural Diet

Holistic Horse Vetting – Holistic Pony Vetting

Holistic Horse          Holistic Dog            Holistic Cat           Holistic Farm

These approaches represent a philosophy that is alternative to the current conventional norm but the use of alternative therapies does not do away with the need for a thorough examination and assessment. Nor does it preclude the use of modern diagnostic techniques where necessary. A holistic vet will take into account all these things, in addition to closely scrutinizing lifestyle, diet, environment, riding, tack, shoeing, grazing, stabling, management etc., depending upon the species.


Homeopathy Acupuncture Herbs Chiropractic Natural Feeding

N.B.: At the AVMC, we try not to be ‘bogged down' by terminology or ideology. Much argument accompanies discussions on nomenclature. We do not mind whether we are called holistic, complimentary, alternative or natural. Likewise, it does not matter whether we are described as a holistic, natural, herbal, homeopathic, chiropractic, acupuncture or integrated veterinary practice. The medicine we practice is the best we can offer, providing sympathetic care for each patient and it matters not whether it is perceived as holistic medicine, alternative medicine, complimentary medicine, natural medicine, complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM – CAVM) or integrated medicine. We offer traditional standards of professional care, in an integrated package. Although we specialize in alternative therapies, seeking alternatives to conventional drug therapy, we do not shun conventional therapy, per se, considering its worth in each case.

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