Holistic Medicine

What is Holistic Medicine Anyway??

By: Dr. Karin Derfuss

Holistic is a term that has come to mean many different things to different people. A Google search gives the following definitions:


  1. characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
  1. characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.

I believe the word should be whole-istic rather than its current spelling. I receive phone calls on a regular basis looking for the “holistic vet” from people who don’t want to use regular medicine on their pets, or think that holistic is a particular type of medicine. It can be very difficult convincing some people that what they are expecting doesn’t really exist (at least not at my practice). Human medicine, as well as veterinary medicine, has moved away from treating the whole patient, or holistic based treatment, to so many specialties that the patient is no longer seen as an entire entity, only a part that corresponds to that particular doctor’s specialty. This is fantastic in so many ways, but can also be disastrous when there is a lack of communication amongst the doctors or lack of truthfulness or knowledge on the part of the patient, or for veterinarians, their owners. 

Treating a patient holistically means using whatever methods are available to address the issues at hand for the whole patient. Those treatment options will change from patient to patient, and should be individualized. Sometimes drugs are necessary, sometimes surgery is necessary, or it may be acupuncture, herbal therapies, Reiki, chiropractic, essential oils, nutritional changes, behavior modification, evaluating the home situation, consulting an animal communicator, or even several or many of the above options. Of course, very few doctors are well versed in many forms of treatment, but it is still possible to be open minded and advise our clients / patients that there are other options available and even refer properly for alternative forms of treatment.

Holistic medicine isn’t magic. Using a holistic approach requires time, attention to detail, thorough review of the patient’s medical history, a thorough exam, and maybe even admitting that this patient would be better off with another doctor or practitioner of another non-medicine modality. The proper solution may not be what the patient or client came looking for. This is where the proper experience and expertise will be essential and beneficial for the care of the whole patient.

My version of holistic medicine is integrative veterinary medicine. I embrace my traditional veterinary education, knowledge and skills which include medicine, dentistry and surgery, and enhance them with Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine which includes acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, as well as incorporating Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma therapy. I addition to these excellent and successful treatment options, I also know when I need to incorporate modalities that I am not skilled in such as veterinary chiropractic care, animal communication, behavior modification and training, and Reiki.

In conclusion, let’s consider “Wholeistic” medicine instead of “Holistic” medicine and get on track to doing a better job in treating ourselves as well as our families and pets!