Veterinarians Talk: What’s Missing From Veterinary School?

Dog next to veterinary degree diploma

We want our pets to be safe and to give them the healthiest lives possible. Part of that means choosing the best experts and safest, most natural options out there for healing and living.

Because of this, many of us work with holistic veterinarians.

Holistic veterinary medicine is becoming more and more popular. And that’s great news, but why is this finally happening? Is something missing from veterinary education? 

Moving In A Holistic Direction

This shift to holistic treatment for our dogs is a really exciting one, but again, why is it taking place? Is it happening because more vets are now learning about holistic options for healthy living in vet school? Options like homeopathy, raw feeding or the issues with over-vaccination?

I’m not sure that’s what it is. 

In fact, I think it’s because so many vets finish school, and then realize something’s missing.

These vets start to practice and then see the problems that exist with some of what they learned in college. So, they start to do their own research. They change their perspective.

I also think it’s because these vets see the conflict of interest that exists in many schools. The conflict of interest with pet food reps teaching nutrition. Or with big pharma reps teaching about vaccines or flea and tick meds.

So, what is it that’s missing from veterinary education? What would holistic vets change about vet school if they could? I went to some of our vets and asked. Here’s what they had to say.

How Would I Like Veterinary Education To Change? – Todd Cooney DVM CVH

I graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Purdue in 1986, and practiced almost 20 years using conventional medicine and thinking, before taking a different path. I dove into studying and applying homeopathy and natural healing methods in 2008, and I’m amazed daily at the superior results that are part of my daily routine. So how would I change veterinary education based on my experience?

Dr Todd Cooney

First, I would expose each veterinary student to the wide world of holistic healing methods, and the amazing ability of the body to repair and maintain itself. Focus on the nature of disease and the wonder of true healing, not just the memorization of germs, parasites, diseases and treatments.

I would also emphasize the difference between the two opposing schools of thought in medicine. One school aims to block symptoms and suppress the body’s healing efforts, leading to overall worsened health. The other school focuses on assisting the body’s efforts, resulting in health restoration in many cases.

Discussions would focus more on true immunity, and less on vaccine immunity, and the important difference between the two. Emphasis on the concept of vaccinosis, and the pervasive presence of autoimmunity or immune-mediated diseases in our animal populations today, is important. We also need to talk about how to correct the effects of vaccinosis, restore immune balance, all without harmful drugs.

Finally, more emphasis on species-appropriate nutrition and helpful nutraceuticals is needed. This includes how to “let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food,” as Hippocrates once said.

Veterinary schools today seem to be fairly closed to alternative/complementary medicine for the most part, and homeopathy in particular. This is an unfair situation, based on a deep bias against anything outside the conventional drug/surgery paradigm. My hope is the next 100 years show more willingness to be open to the facts and obvious benefits of homeopathy, nutrition and other holistic methods.

What Would I Change About Veterinary School? – Dee Blanco DVM

If I could change anything in vet school it would be first to change the understanding about the relationship between people and animals. If the teaching foundation centered around respect, not domination, and learning non-English communication skills, students would approach any situation from an entirely different viewpoint. Students would learn to trust their own senses and instincts when relating to their patients. They would focus less on diagnostics, which can be wildly misleading and frequently present a one-dimensional view of the patient/animal.

Dr Dee Blanco

With this approach, students might learn that there is more to medicine than “science,” which is often wrong, inhumane and big business focused. Students might learn that medicine is as much of an art form as a science. Then their evaluation of issues like vaccines, diets, diagnostic procedures would be more rationally based, not financially motivated. With this sort of respectful mindset, viewpoints and treatments of all sorts would be naturally incorporated into the academic syllabus.

If I Taught At Veterinary College …  Deva Khalsa VMD CVA

If I taught at veterinary college, I would have a whole bevy of holistic courses. Acupuncture 101. Homeopathy 101. Chinese Herbs 101. I would also add a course on Prolotherapy as this is so effective with those all-too-common knee problems.

Deva Khalsa

When I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School in the late 70s and early 80s, I would spend summers in Knoxville, TN. I worked part-time at the veterinary school for the Dean. My job was to write papers on homeopathy and acupuncture so the students could become aware of these kinds of therapies. We would likely all agree that this was commendable. I also worked at some pet shops introducing a more holistic approach to handling the pets for sale. Many veterinary schools now have Holistic Clubs or something of the sort for students who have an interest in this. Yet, all veterinarians should be aware of these modalities and have some idea of how and why they work.

What I Didn’t Learn In Veterinary School – Jean Hofve DVM

Jean Hofve

Veterinary school is great for learning “big” concepts, but as for practical advice … not so much! For instance, we learned how to do a hip replacement, but we were not taught how to treat a cat bite abscess, something you see every week in practice.

We didn’t learn anything about pet nutrition, other than how to use the “alphabet” diets from a certain large pet food company, whose rep taught the class. On our exam checklist, there wasn’t even a question about what the pet was eating. Now, that’s one of the first questions I ask. It’s so foundational to healing!

What Would I Change About Veterinary School? – Katie Kangas DVM CVA 

I would like to see the expansion of veterinary school curriculums to include topics that support wellness, nutrition, preventative and whole body health.

Currently, medical schools in both human and veterinary fields focus much more on treating disease vs supporting health. With expanding knowledge and information available to not only medical professionals but also to the public at large, we are beginning to realize the need to make a shift in our mindsets and our approaches to achieve better health for ourselves and for our companion animals.

Katie Kangas

Strengths of conventional medicine generally apply well for acute illness or injury, while holistic approaches are more useful for managing chronic conditions and nourishing or supporting the body back to a healthy status and also to prevent disease.

I have a personal passion for nutrition and functional medicine, and also for combining the strengths of holistic medicine and conventional western medicine into more comprehensive and integrative health care.

In my opinion, it’s time for nutrition to be respected for its crucial role in the health of all living beings. However, nutrition training must be upgraded from the days of old. This means evolving beyond the days of minimal training, based mostly on research performed by pet food companies.

Fortunately, I believe the wave of the future is heading toward integrative medicine for both animals and people.

I hope to see veterinary medical schools making changes to support this needed shift in healthcare, and I believe this would be applauded by growing numbers everywhere!

What I’ve Learned Since Leaving Veterinary School – Judy Morgan DVM

The one thing I’ve learned since leaving college is how little we are actually taught about pet nutrition. We are instructed to blindly trust all big pet food manufacturers to have the animals’ best interests at heart and to trust that only high-quality nutrients are utilized to produce pet food. We were never taught how to balance a homemade diet or that homemade diets were even a possibility. We were taught it would be impossible to do, basically. Even if very simple recipes were given for pet owners to use for pets suffering from kidney failure, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, or any acute or chronic illness, it would have been extremely helpful. It would be incredibly great if they would recognize the value of “species-appropriate” feeding instead of admonishing against it.

Judy Morgan

We were also taught that there is a lot of “one size fits all” medicine, when in fact, every animal is different. You can’t possibly treat all kidney disease patients the same. There are too many variables!

We were taught very little about behavior problems and anxiety, two of the leading reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters.

There certainly is no “one size fits all” vaccination schedule and more time should be spent explaining the potential pitfalls of over-vaccination instead of downplaying any side effects or long-term effects on the body. Immunology is taught as a very dry, textbook subject, when it should be taught as a very real “day in the life” (or “years in the life”) regarding how vaccination affects the body.

As far as holistic healing, that wasn’t even on the radar (of course, I’m a dinosaur, having graduated 34 years ago). It would be so nice if they included at least a list of available options for further exploration, WITHOUT BIAS. The bias part is hard because, for many, it is difficult to believe that homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, herbs, food or energy medicine have a base in reality. Hundreds of years of proof should be acceptable, but the professors and schools want double blinded scientific studies backing everything. Unfortunately, they accept and promote “prescription diets” without this study or proof.

Conclusions 

So what’s missing from veterinary school? A lot, apparently.

Thankfully we seem to be moving in the right direction, even if very slowly. This move is being headed up by some courageous and inquisitive vets who really do have our animals’ best interests at heart. We owe our animals’ health to their hard work. 

Thank you so much to these amazing holistic vets for taking the time to talk to me. 

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