How I Came to Be a Holistic Veterinarian
When I graduated from veterinary school in 1984, my goal was to become the best veterinarian I could possibly be. I committed myself to learning and using the most advanced, up-to-date medical and surgical treatments that were available at the time. I poured over my textbooks and journals after clinic hours, took frequent continuing education classes, and even took courses in advanced orthopedic surgery and dental techniques. My dedication served me well. Through my early years in veterinary practice in Austin, Texas, I felt confident that I was able to offer my clients very high-quality, compassionate veterinary care for their beloved pets.
After a few years of practice, however, I began to question some of the standard veterinary practices that I had learned. Why, for instance, did we insist on lifelong yearly re-vaccinations for diseases that I had never seen occur in adult dogs and cats? Why was it that many of our patients’ common conditions could be treated, but would regularly re-occur down the road? Why was there no explanation for the occurrence of certain diseases in the first place? Why did the flea and tick products that we sold to our clients (and were assured were safe) get taken off the market following studies showing links to cancer and diseases of the immune system? My natural tendency to question authority had kicked in big-time.
When I did a bit of research on my own, I found no scientific search that supported the use of annual vaccinations for most viral diseases. It was well established that most vaccines given to puppies or kittens created life-long immunity. When I asked my boss about the issue, he admitted that most animals probably didn’t actually need the vaccines as adults. “How else are you going to get people to bring in their pets for annual exams?” was the thing I remember him saying. I researched further, and found potential links between vaccinations and several life-threatening diseases of the immune system. I was floored. If this most basic tenant of standard veterinary practice was of dubious value and safety, what else about standard veterinary practice was questionable?
At about the same time in my career, I started to observe a pattern in my patients that had long-standing (chronic), or recurring medical issues. It seemed that the the more aggressive I had to be in making a particular symptom resolve, the less healthy my patient became over time. A cat with a severe skin disease was a case that made a big impression on me: After exhausting every therapy I could think of with no improvement, I resorted to giving the cat a powerful immune-suppressing steroid injection. The cat responded beautifully, and all the skin eruptions cleared up completely – as long as we kept up the shots once a month. After about six months the client quit bringing the cat in for his injection, and I assumed that we had finally resolved his problem. A few months later I saw the cat again, this time for severe weight loss. His skin looked great, but x-rays showed his lungs were full of tumors. This case, and many more like it made me realize that I could treat “symptoms” with my vast arsenal of pharmaceutical drugs, but not the underlying “disease” itself.
So what was the true nature of these chronic diseases, and was there a way to help my patients that also supported their overall health and vitality? Still committed to being the best vet I could be, I began looking into alternative medical modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy. I discovered that all of these treatment approaches promoted and supported the patients innate healing capacity, and didn’t just focus on treating “symptoms.” After 10 years of practicing strictly conventional vet medicine, I decided to pursue what has become a lifetime of learning and practicing these “alternative” modalities. I took courses, attended lectures and read books. I began searching for more natural, and less potentially toxic alternatives to drugs and pesticides. In the last few years, I have pursued studies in clinical nutrition – about which I learned nothing in veterinary school, but which has proven to be one of the most important aspects of my current practice.
Practicing holistic medicine is not always simple or easy. It does, however, enable me to effectively manage, and sometimes completely resolve many disease conditions that I was unable to with conventional medicine alone. Another benefit I have found is that many of my patients with incurable cancers can live much longer than was thought possible, and often with very good quality of life. The holistic approach certainly requires more time for exams than is allowed for in a standard vet clinic, but the extra time spent allows me to better understand and address my patients individual needs. The result is a less stressful, more rewarding experience for everyone involved. More natural with fewer drugs, less surgery and pesticides… more vitality and true healing. What’s not to like?
Dr. Judkins is the owner of Animalkind Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Jacksonville, Oregon